Indian scholars, activists criticize school hijab ban ruling

Indian scholars, activists criticize school hijab ban ruling
The dispute began in January when a government-run school in the city of Udupi, in Karnataka, barred students wearing hijabs from entering classrooms. (AP)
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Updated 02 April 2022

Indian scholars, activists criticize school hijab ban ruling

Indian scholars, activists criticize school hijab ban ruling
  • Muslims protested, and Hindus staged counterdemonstrations
  • Soon more schools imposed their own restrictions, prompting the Karnataka government to issue a statewide ban

NEW DELHI: A recent court ruling upholding a ban on Muslim students wearing head coverings in schools has sparked criticism from constitutional scholars and rights activists amid concerns of judicial overreach regarding religious freedoms in officially secular India.
Even though the ban is only imposed in the southern state of Karnataka, critics worry it could be used as a basis for wider curbs on Islamic expression in a country already witnessing a surge of Hindu nationalism under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party.
“With this judgment, the rule you are making can restrict the religious freedom of every religion,” said Faizan Mustafa, a scholar of freedom of religion and vice chancellor at the Hyderabad-based Nalsar University of Law. “Courts should not decide what is essential to any religion. By doing so, you are privileging certain practices over others.”
Supporters of the decision say it’s an affirmation of schools’ authority to determine dress codes and govern student conduct, and that takes precedence over any religious practice.
“Institutional discipline must prevail over individual choices. Otherwise, it will result in chaos,” said Karnataka Advocate General Prabhuling Navadgi, who argued the state’s case in court.
Before the verdict more than 700 signatories including senior lawyers and rights advocates had expressed opposition to the ban in an open letter to the court’s chief justice, saying, “the imposition of an absolute uniformity contrary to the autonomy, privacy and dignity of Muslim women is unconstitutional.”
The dispute began in January when a government-run school in the city of Udupi, in Karnataka, barred students wearing hijabs from entering classrooms. Staffers said the Muslim headscarves contravened the campus’ dress code, and that it had to be strictly enforced.
Muslims protested, and Hindus staged counterdemonstrations. Soon more schools imposed their own restrictions, prompting the Karnataka government to issue a statewide ban.
A group of female Muslim students sued on the grounds that their fundamental rights to education and religion were being violated.
But a three-judge panel, which included a female Muslim judge, ruled last month that the Qur’an does not establish the hijab as an essential Islamic practice and it may therefore be restricted in classrooms. The court also said the state government has the power to prescribe uniform guidelines for students as a “reasonable restriction on fundamental rights.”
“What is not religiously made obligatory therefore cannot be made a quintessential aspect of the religion through public agitations or by the passionate arguments in courts,” the panel wrote.
The verdict relied on what’s known as the essentiality test — basically, whether a religious practice is or is not obligatory under that faith. India’s constitution does not draw such a distinction, but courts have used it since the 1950s to resolve disputes over religion.
In 2016, the high court in the southern state of Kerala ruled that head coverings were a religious duty for Muslims and therefore essential to Islam under the test; two years later India’s Supreme Court again used the test to overturn historical restrictions on Hindu women of certain ages entering a temple in the same state, saying it was not an “essential religious practice.”
Critics say the essentiality test gives courts broad authority over theological matters where they have little expertise and where clergy would be more appropriate arbiters of faith.
India’s Supreme Court is itself in doubt about the test. In 2019 it set up a nine-judge panel to reevaluate it, calling its legitimacy regarding matters of faith “questionable”; the matter is still under consideration.
The lawsuit in Karnataka cited the 2016 Kerala ruling, but this time the justices came to the opposite conclusion — baffling some observers.
“That’s why judges make for not-so-great interpreters of religious texts,” said Anup Surendranath, a professor of constitutional law at the Delhi-based National Law University.
Surendranath said the most sensible avenue for the court would have been to apply a test of what Muslim women hold to be true from a faith perspective: “If wearing hijab is a genuinely held belief of Muslim girls, then why ... interfere with that belief at all?”
The ruling has been welcomed by Bharatiya Janata Party officials from Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, the federal minister of minority affairs, to B. C. Nagesh, Karnataka’s education minister.
Satya Muley, a lawyer at the Bombay High Court, said it’s perfectly reasonable for the judiciary to place some limits on religious freedoms if they clash with dress codes, and the verdict will “help maintain order and uniformity in educational institutions.”
“It is a question of whether it is the constitution, or does religion take precedence?” Muley said. “And the court’s verdict has answered just that by upholding the state’s power to put restrictions on certain freedoms that are guaranteed under the constitution.”
Surendranath countered that the verdict was flawed because it failed to invoke the three “reasonable restrictions” under the constitution that let the state interfere with freedom of religion — for reasons of public order, morality or health.
“The court didn’t refer to these restrictions, even though none of them are justifiable to ban hijabs in schools,” Surendranath said. “Rather, it emphasized homogeneity in schools, which is opposite of diversity and multiculturalism that our constitution upholds.”
The Karnataka ruling has been appealed to India’s Supreme Court. Plaintiffs requested an expedited hearing on the grounds that a continued ban on the hijab threatens to cause Muslim students to lose an entire academic year. The court declined to hold an early hearing, however.
Muslims make up just 14 percent of India’s 1.4 billion people, but nonetheless constitute the world’s second-largest Muslim population for a nation. The hijab has historically not been prohibited or restricted in public spheres, and women donning the headscarf — like other outward expressions of faith, across religions — is common across the country.
The dispute has further deepened sectarian fault lines, and many Muslims worry hijab bans could embolden Hindu nationalists and pave the way for more restrictions targeting Islam.
“What if the ban goes national?” said Ayesha Hajjeera Almas, one of the women who challenged the ban in the Karnataka courts. “Millions of Muslim women will suffer.”
Mustafa agreed.
“Hijab for many girls is liberating. It is a kind of bargain girls make with conservative families as a way for them to go out and participate in public life,” he said. “The court completely ignored this perspective.”


Indian village goes for evening ‘detox’ to break digital addiction

Indian village goes for evening ‘detox’ to break digital addiction
Updated 06 October 2022

Indian village goes for evening ‘detox’ to break digital addiction

Indian village goes for evening ‘detox’ to break digital addiction
  • Mohityanche Vadgaon in Maharashtra introduced daily breaks from electronic devices in August
  • Digital addiction has come to attention of Indian authorities, parents following 2 years of online classes

NEW DELHI: When a siren goes off at 7 p.m., residents of one Indian village turn off their TV sets and mobile devices to observe a self-imposed blackout, a measure they hope will help protect their children from digital addiction.

The daily routine started in Mohityanche Vadgaon on Aug. 15 when India celebrated 75 years of independence. Since then, the village in the Sangli district of Maharashtra has been trying to observe its own liberation — 90 minutes of freedom from digital clutter.

“Everyone observes self-discipline,” village head Vijay Mohite told Arab News. “It’s digital cleansing for the whole village.”

Digital addiction has come to the attention of Indian authorities and parents following long coronavirus pandemic restrictions which kept children away from school and group activities for nearly two years.

Soon after online classes started in 2020, a study by a city hospital in the northern Indian city of Jaipur warned that 65 percent of the minors surveyed had shown symptoms of addiction to mobile phones, making them unable to leave their devices for more than 30 minutes.

In March, Electronics and IT Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar told the parliament that more than one-third of Indian children were experiencing reduced concentration due to mobile phone use.

In Mohityanche Vadgaon, the fallout from virtual online learning was observed as well.

“COVID-19 lockdowns and the online classes for school kids made the majority of school-going boys and girls addicted to mobile phones and that was affecting the academic and emotional behavior of youngsters,” Mohite said.

“We know that it’s like going against the tide, but digital detox is important if the parents in the village want their kids to have a bright future.”

The agrarian village, which survives mainly on growing sugarcane, has two government schools. Jayvant Vitthal Mohite, who teaches history at one of them, said he had noticed that after two years of online learning there was a significant drop in his students’ academic performance, and they would remain connected to their phones even during classes.

“The initiative that the village head has taken, and the parents’ awareness have made a difference in the behavior and attitude of the kids in school.”

He noted that daily digital detox, even for as short a period of 90 minutes, helped improve the well-being of kids, and even after one month his students demonstrated more creativity and focus.

“They look more relaxed and at ease than before,” he added.

Fifteen-year-old Gayatri Nikam now turns off her phone when loudspeakers at a village temple sound the digital break time in the evening.

She told Arab News: “My academic performance has improved over one month, and I have not played any mobile games for some time now.”

Parents in Mohityanche Vadgaon follow the discipline of detox too to support their children.

“We don’t switch on the TV, we don’t use mobile phones, and take only calls which are necessary,” Nikam’s father, Anil, said. “I have two daughters and I want them to do well in life.”

For her mother, Anuradha, the regular 90-minute digital-free sessions come with a sense of relief.

She said: “You hear stories of how children get spoiled by mobile addiction. The initiative in the village has really made me happy and I feel the kids are becoming more creative by being away from mobile phones.”


Six facing criminal charges over Indonesia stadium disaster: police chief

Six facing criminal charges over Indonesia stadium disaster: police chief
Updated 06 October 2022

Six facing criminal charges over Indonesia stadium disaster: police chief

Six facing criminal charges over Indonesia stadium disaster: police chief
  • The six suspects include three police officers and three people responsible for the match and its security
  • The announcement came as anger grew over the police response to a pitch invasion

MALANG, Indonesia: Indonesia’s police chief on Thursday said six people were facing criminal charges over a football stadium disaster that killed 131 people at the weekend.
“Based on the investigation and sufficient evidence, we have determined six suspects,” national police chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo told a press conference.
The six suspects include three police officers and three people responsible for the match and its security, including the head of Arema FC’s organizing committee and one of the club’s security officers, he said.
The announcement came as anger grew over the police response to a pitch invasion.
Officers reacted by firing tear gas into packed stands as fans of Arema FC tried to approach players following their defeat to fierce rivals Persebaya Surabaya on Saturday evening.
Hundreds of people fled for small exits, resulting in a crush that left many trampled or suffocating to death.
Police described the pitch invasion as a riot and said two officers were killed, but survivors accused them of overreacting.
Officers responded with force, kicking and hitting fans with batons, according to witnesses and footage, pushing the spectators back into the stands where many would die after tear gas was fired.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced an investigation after the tragedy and called for a safety review of all stadiums.


UK government talks tough on immigration — again

UK government talks tough on immigration — again
Updated 06 October 2022

UK government talks tough on immigration — again

UK government talks tough on immigration — again
  • "It's not racist for anyone... to want to control our borders," said Home Secretary Suella Braverman x
  • "It's not racist for anyone... to want to control our borders," said Home Secretary Suella Braverman The 42-year-old anti-EU right-winger pointedly vowed to get tough on asylum seekers who do not "meet the needs of the country"

LONDON: Accusing asylum seekers of “abusing the system” and urging the need to “take back control,” the UK government is once again talking tough on immigration.
But its latest pledge to reduce crossings from northern France in small boats comes with a blatant promise to defy international conventions.
“It’s not racist for anyone... to want to control our borders, it’s not bigoted to say that we have too many asylum seekers who are abusing the system,” said Home Secretary Suella Braverman.
The stance earned Braverman, whose parents emigrated to Britain from Kenya and Mauritius in the 1960s, a standing ovation at this week’s Conservative party’s annual conference.
The 42-year-old anti-EU right-winger, who has been in the job for the past month, pointedly vowed to get tough on asylum seekers who do not “meet the needs of the country.”
“If you deliberately enter the United Kingdom illegally from a safe country, you should be swiftly returned to your home country or relocated to Rwanda. That is where your asylum claim will be considered,” she said.
Successive Conservative governments since 2010 have been promising to drastically reduce the number of migrants but to no avail.
Since the beginning of the year, a record 33,500 people have crossed the Channel in small boats.
More than half of them came from Afghanistan (18 percent), Albania (18 percent) or Iran (15 percent), according to the Home Office.
Since 2018, Iranians and Iraqis have accounted for almost half of all migrants intercepted on the route.
Zoe Gardner, an expert on British migration and asylum systems, said while the pro-Brexit Tories have never managed to reduce immigration, they have made a tougher for asylum seekers to settle.
“For a long time, it (immigration policy) has been a way to gain support, when every other area of policy seems to be a failure for them,” she told AFP.
“Every time the government of Boris Johnson had a bad week in the newspapers, you can be sure they would announce another plan to target immigrants just to distract people.”
The strategy, though, is in danger of running out of steam, she added.
Britons are overwhelmingly in favor of taking in refugees, according to polls, but are now more concerned about a cost-of-living crisis.
Proposing to ban access to asylum would be a violation of the UN Refugee Convention to which Britain is a signatory.
It states that a migrant can travel in any way he or she wishes — or can — to a country to seek refuge, without being harmed by the mode of arrival.
For some experts, such a ban would result in court action, just as it did when the government attempted to deport the first batch of failed asylum seekers to Rwanda.
In June, a plane bound for Kigali was grounded after last-minute legal challenges in the English courts, and a ruling at the European Court of Human Rights.
Braverman, a former attorney general and successor to another hard-liner Priti Patel, blasted the ruling of the “foreign court,” which Britain helped set up after World War II.
She told conference delegates with a smile that her “dream” for Christmas would be to see “a front page of The Telegraph with a plane taking off to Rwanda.”
According to Braverman’s own department, 94 percent of the 50,000 or so migrants who arrived in the UK across the Channel between January 2018 and June 2022 applied for asylum.
Some 82 percent of those applicants were still waiting for a decision, but the majority who have received a response were successful.
“We are talking about people with good reason to seek asylum in UK, with no other way of doing so because the government has closed the majority of other options,” said Daniel Sohege, a refugee law specialist who heads the association Stand For All.
As the law currently stands, a migrant must be physically in the UK to start the asylum process.
But there is “no way” that London would allow them to arrive in the country and seek refuge, Zoe Gardner said.
The UK also relies on its island status and believes that it does not have to take in migrants who have traveled through other so-called safe countries.
With this impossible equation for refugees, “the UK receives fewer asylum applications than France, Germany or Italy,” said Gardner.


North Korean warplanes stage bombing drill after two ballistic missiles fired

North Korean warplanes stage bombing drill after two ballistic missiles fired
Updated 06 October 2022

North Korean warplanes stage bombing drill after two ballistic missiles fired

North Korean warplanes stage bombing drill after two ballistic missiles fired
  • The latest missiles were launched 22 minutes apart from the North’s capital region

SEOUL/TOKYO: South Korea scrambled fighter jets after North Korean warplanes staged an apparent bombing drill on Thursday, Seoul’s defense ministry said, as allied warships held missile defense drills and Pyongyang fired off the latest in a series of ballistic missiles.

The rare bombing drill by at least eight North Korean fighter jets and four bombers prompted the South to deploy 30 fighters. The warplanes swarmed each side of the heavily fortified border amid rising tensions over a string of missile tests by Pyongyang.

North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea on Thursday in the direction of Japan, just an hour after condemning the repositioning of a US aircraft carrier to the region, and a UN Security Council meeting held in New York.

North Korea has launched about 40 missiles this year, including its largest intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and appears ready to hold its first nuclear test since 2017, officials in Seoul and Washington have said.

Thursday’s launches followed the return of the carrier, USS Ronald Reagan, to waters off the Korean peninsula, and a UN Security Council meeting held in response to the North’s recent tests.

The missile launch was the sixth in 12 days and the first since North Korea fired an intermediate-range missile (IRBM) over Japan on Tuesday, which prompted joint South Korean and US missile drills in which one weapon crashed and burned.

The launch was reported by South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Japanese government.

“This is the sixth time in the short period, just counting the ones from the end of September,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters. “This absolutely cannot be tolerated.”

The launch came after North Korea condemned the United States for talking to the United Nations Security Council about Pyongyang’s “just counteraction measures” on joint South Korea-US drills, suggesting its missile tests are a reaction to the allied military moves.

In a statement, the reclusive nation’s foreign ministry also condemned Washington for repositioning the US aircraft carrier off the Korean peninsula, saying it posed a serious threat to the stability of the situation.

The carrier and its strike group of accompanying warships were abruptly redeployed in response to North Korea’s IRBM launch over Japan.

The carrier strike group joined destroyers from South Korea and Japan in maritime missile defense training, the South Korean military said on Thursday.

“This training focuses on mastering detection, tracking and interception procedures through shared target information under a scenario of (North Korea) conducting ballistic missile provocations,” it said in a statement.

A State Department spokesperson said the United States condemned Thursday’s launch as a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions and a threat to regional neighbors and the international community.

The spokesperson, however, added that Washington was committed to a diplomatic approach and called on the North to engage in dialogue.

Thursday’s first missile probably flew to an altitude of about 100km and a range of 350km, while the second had an estimated altitude of 50km and covered 800km, probably taking an irregular trajectory, he said.

South Korea’s JCS said the missiles were launched from near the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

The United States and its allies have stepped up displays of military force in the region, but there appears little prospect of further international sanctions by the UN Security Council, which has already passed resolutions banning the North’s missile and nuclear development.


Ex-policeman kills at least 36 people, mostly children, at Thai nursery

Ex-policeman kills at least 36 people, mostly children, at Thai nursery
Updated 06 October 2022

Ex-policeman kills at least 36 people, mostly children, at Thai nursery

Ex-policeman kills at least 36 people, mostly children, at Thai nursery
  • Attacker Panya Kamrab also kills wife, son before turning gun on himself
  • He had been sacked from the police in January on charges of drug possession

BANGKOK: At least 36 people, most of them children, were killed by an ex-policeman at a preschool daycare center in Thailand’s northeast on Thursday, police and hospital officials said.

The attack took place in the Na Klang area of Nong Bua Lamphu province in the early afternoon.

Authorities at Nong Bua Lamphu Hospital said 24 of those killed were children. A further 12 people were injured in the attack.

Police identified the killer as 34-year-old Panya Kamrab, a former police sergeant who was dismissed from service in January. According to a police report seen by Arab News, he was sacked after being found in possession of narcotics.

Panya is thought to have gone to the daycare center to find his son but when he failed to find the boy he began shooting. He then returned home, where he killed his wife and child.

“He (Panya) was already stressed after going to court to hear the case against him for narcotics possession. When he didn’t see his child, he carried out the attack with a gun and a knife,” local police spokesperson Paisan Luesomboon said.

“He left the children’s development center for his home, which is around 2 kilometers away. He collided with people on the road and also fired at them. He returned home and saw his wife and kid. He then shot them before killing himself.”

Video footage and images shared on social media showed the distraught relatives of the victims standing beside ambulances outside the daycare facility as police and rescuers dealt with the aftermath of the attack.

Another image showed the body of a woman lying beside a motorcycle on a roadside.

It was not immediately clear if the death toll included the killer and his family or the people attacked on the road.

Nong Bua Lamphu is a province in northeastern Thailand, about 500 km from Bangkok.