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The Article ‘Dress Code and Freedom of Religion’ describe that the subject of religious liberty has been brought to people’s attention as a result of a school in Karnataka rejecting the admission of six girls who wore the headscarf. The author explicates the various constitutional provisions which reflect the right to practice one’s own religion freely. Various case laws have been discussed so that the readers can grasp the essentials of religious practices and also make understand the decisions of the apex court regarding freedom of religion. The author prescribes the situation of bringing uniforms but it cannot be put above education.
Introduction: Constitutional Protection for the right to practice one’s own religion
A statement to the effect that India is a secular state can be found in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution. The freedom to practice one’s religion is guaranteed throughout the Indian Constitution, namely in Articles 25 to 28. The fundamental rights have been defined under Part-III of the Indian Constitution. Under Article 25(1) of the Constitution, one has the fundamental right to freedom of religion, as well as the ability to practice, profess, and spread their own beliefs.
As a result, it is the duty of the state to make certain that this freedom is not constrained in any way, and it must do so without any failure. On the other hand, the state possesses the authority to place limitations on an individual’s right to keep and bear arms in the interest of maintaining public order, decency, morality, health, and other governmental objectives. Religious expression is protected by Article 26 of the Constitution so long as it does not endanger public order, morality, or health. No person shall be made to pay taxes for the purpose of promoting or maintaining any particular religion, as stipulated in Article 27 of the Constitution.
The case of SR Bommai v. Union of India was heard in 1994 by the apex court and led to the decision that the government of India should have no religious affiliations.
How does the judicial system see the freedom of religion?
In the case of the Shirur Mutt, which came before the Supreme Court in 1954, the court ruled that the term “religion” encompassed all religious ceremonies and practices. The term “essential religious activities” is what is used when determining how significant religious rituals and practices are.
In the case of Sri Venkataramana Devaru v. the State of Mysore, the court reached the conclusion that even though the right of a denomination to bar members of the public from participating in temple worship is safeguarded by Article 26(b), that right must give way to the overriding right of members of the public to enter a temple for the purpose of worshipping, which is safeguarded by Article 25(2) (b).
When it came to the essential religious practices test, how did the court previously read it?
In 2004, the Supreme Court came to the conclusion that the Ananda Marga sect did not have the constitutional right to perform the Tandava dance in public because it was not an essential religious practice. This decision was reached due to the fact that dance was not an essential religious practice.
The Supreme Court of India has ruled that a Muslim airman who grew a beard in 2016 should have been kicked out of the Indian Air Force. This decision differentiates the airman’s case from that of Sikhs, who are permitted to grow beards. The court came to the conclusion that wearing a beard during Islamic rites is not required.
Those individuals “whose faith prohibits cutting or shaving” are exempt from this requirement, as stated in Requirement 425 of the Armed Force Regulations of 1964. This regulation was created in 1964. Students who adhered to the Jehovah’s Witness religion were granted permission in the case of Bijoe Emmanuel v. State of Kerala (1986) to refrain from playing the national anthem on the grounds that doing so went against their religious views.
In the case of Multani, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the freedom of a Sikh student to carry a kirpan on campus without endangering the safety of other students (2006).
What kind of decisions have the courts made so far on the hijab issue?
There is a lack of consensus among the justices on this court’s decisions concerning the right of Muslim women to dress in a manner that is in conformity with their religious beliefs.
In 2015, a number of applications were submitted in the state of Kerala challenging the requirement that applicants for the All India Pre-Medical Entrance Examination must adhere to a dress code.
The restriction in question was introduced by the Council for the Betterment of Secondary Education (CBSE) with the intention of discouraging pupils from engaging in unethical behaviours such as concealing items under their clothing. The High Court of Kerala has given an order to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) directing them to carry out additional checks on students who wish to wear attire that is religiously appropriate but does not breach the dress code.
When an observer asks them to, the petitioners have the obligation to take off their head coverings and shorten their sleeves if they are wearing long sleeves. As a result, it was proposed that all examiners working for the CBSE be provided with general direction on how to maintain discipline without hurting religious sensibilities.
However, the High Court of Kerala came to the conclusion that wearing a headscarf is an essential part of religious practice, but they did not overturn the ruling made by the CBSE.
The court stated that it continues to stand behind the additional procedures and safeguards that have been put into place.
In the case of Fathima Tasneem v. State of Kerala, the High Court of Kerala stated that the rights of an institution as a whole take precedence over the rights of an individual petitioner (2018). Students are not permitted to attend school while wearing a headscarf as a result of this policy. The precepts of the Koran require all Muslim women to cover their heads with a headscarf.
What further issues did the situation involving the uniforms bring up?
In the 1990s, school administrators may have mandated uniforms as a way to deter pupils from engaging in fashion rivalry with one another. At the moment, there is no single legislation that applies across the entirety of the state. Because of the current scenario, it’s possible that an administrative decree at the state level would be issued ordering college students in the state of Karnataka to wear uniforms. It was anticipated that the attitude of a government that places a higher value on uniformity than on diversity would be unsatisfactory.
Additionally, the general public has many questions. If it is not acceptable for a female student to wear a hijab, why do male Sikh students wear a turban? Is it acceptable for students who appear to have broken a severe code of behaviour to be denied admission to public colleges? Is it possible that wearing a headscarf or even covering one’s entire body could affect one’s academic performance? A government that is committed to protecting the right of women to education cannot ignore the inappropriate clothing worn by female students.
Which of the following is more important: educating everyone or strictly enforcing a dress code? In the not-too-distant future, it is predicted that a constitutional court would hear arguments about these concerns.
Implications about the religious freedom
Pluralism and inclusiveness are defining characteristics of religious freedom. The organization places a great priority on embracing a diverse and inclusive membership.
Even if the boundaries are reasonable, there must not be any interference with religious beliefs that is unwarranted or biased in any way. It is possible that a teacher needs to be able to see the faces of their students in order to effectively manage a lesson.
Face veils, on the other hand, are not allowed under any circumstances. It is imperative that we look for balance wherever it is available. People who live in societies that are deeply divided need to embrace a constitutional worldview in order to be able to exercise their religious freedom. The religious fundamentalism that exists in the world today has had an impact on the secular mosaic, and this is true regardless of the proportion of the population that adheres to and practises it.
- Freedom of Religion and Attire, Available Here
- Apurva Vishwanath, Explained: Freedom of religion and attire, The Indian Express, Available Here
- Sanjay Hegde, The interpretative answer to the hijab row, Thehindu.com (2022), Available Here
- Soumyadip Sinha, Clothing and the right to religious freedom, Available Here