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Mumbai students move Bombay High Court against ban on hijab, caps and stoles in university dress code

Dress code guidelines for universities face legal challenges from students

June 15, 2024

Nine students from a Mumbai university have approached the Bombay High Court challenging a college directive imposing a dress code that bans students from wearing clothes such as burqas, niqabs and hijabs that reveal their religion. The students argue that this guideline, which will take effect from the new academic year in June 2024, is illegal, arbitrary and unreasonable.

The university’s notice stipulates that boys must wear full or half shirts and trousers, while girls must wear “any Indian/Western non-revealing dress” on campus. The students, all of whom have B.Sc. in Computer Science, were informed of the guidelines through messages distributed by teachers on WhatsApp groups for second and third year courses.

Aggrieved by this dress code, the students approached the Supreme Court arguing that the board, affiliated with the University of Mumbai and aided by the state of Maharashtra, does not have the authority to issue such restrictive guidelines. The petition, filed through lawyer Altaf Khan, claims that the notification is “illegal, arbitrary and unreasonable,” and seeks a declaration from the Court to annul the directive.

The plea emphasized that the notice or direction is not binding on the petitioners and must be issued without the authority of law. The Division Bench of Justices AS Chandurkar and Rajesh Patil are likely to hear the plea on June 18.

This legal challenge comes in the context of a wider national debate over the wearing of religious attire in educational institutions. Notably, the Supreme Court is yet to make a final decision on the validity of a 2022 Karnataka government order that gave government schools in the state the power to ban the wearing of hijabs.

The Karnataka High Court had upheld this hijab ban in March 2022, leading to an appeal in the Supreme Court. A Division Bench of the Supreme Court delivered a split judgment in October 2022, which led to the case being referred to a larger Bench of the Supreme Court, where the matter is currently pending.

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