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Ramakrishna Ashram backs lawyer representing Muslim students in hijab row

The lawyer is attacked for supporting a cause against the Hindu religion because he represented Muslim students in court. This perception, according to the Swami, is absolutely “unwarranted and groundless”.

The Ramakrishna Ashram in Karwar has criticized the hijab controversy raging in educational institutions in Karnataka as “unnecessary and not in the interest of peace and harmony”. Photo: PTI

Ramakrishna Ashram in Karwar has denounced the hijab controversy raging in educational institutions in Karnataka as “unnecessary and not in the interest of peace and harmony”. They also expressed support for lead attorney Devadatt Kamat, who has been targeted by right-wing groups for representing Muslim students in the case.

The lawyer had been attacked for citing Islamic scriptures to defend female Muslim students, who filed a petition in the Karnataka High Court, to fight for their right to wear the hijab in schools and colleges.

The ashram’s chief priest, Swami Bhaveshanand, said in a statement that there was an “unnecessary” discussion going on about the dress code for Muslim girls in schools/universities. And that it is “painful” to see this “raging controversy” taking place at different levels of society.

“It is certainly not in good taste and in the interests of peace and harmony in society,” Swami Bhaveshanand said. But what pained him the most was how the name of Devadatt Kamat, a senior lawyer at the Supreme Court, is dragged into this controversy simply because he was representing a party in the court as a attorney.

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The lawyer is attacked because he supports a cause against the Hindu religion because he represented Muslim students in court. This perception, according to the Swami, is absolutely “unwarranted and baseless”.

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A lawyer who represents a client in court fulfills his professional duty and discharges a responsibility. “It cannot be called a cause against the Hindu religion,” Swami Bhaveshanand added.

The lawyer’s background was a strong believer in the philosophy of Ramakrishna Vivekanand, he said, calling the attacks on Kamat “unwarranted and orchestrated baseless propaganda” perpetrated by “unscrupulous elements”.

On Thursday, February 13, Kamat had argued before the three judges of the Karnataka High Court that the religious headscarf was part of the culture of Muslim female students and that this right could not be infringed.

But on February 5, the Karnataka government passed an ordinance exercising its powers under section 133(2) of the Karnataka Education Act 1983, which allows the state to issue directives to followed by public educational institutions. In 2013, under this provision, the state issued a directive making uniforms mandatory for educational institutions.

Referring to this 2013 directive, the latest directive clarifies that the headscarf is not part of the uniform and is not an essential religious practice for Muslims that can be constitutionally protected. The order cites three different High Court judgments in concluding that the headscarf ban does not violate fundamental rights, in particular freedom of religion.

But Kamat had argued that a person’s basic right is held hostage by the college’s development committee. The government order (GO) says the headscarf ban is not a violation of Article 25, but the GO is not as harmless as the state government says, Kamat pointed out.

He also quoted verses from the Quran that said it was obligatory for girls to cover their heads in front of anyone other than close family members.

The hijab controversy erupted in Karnataka in late December when a group of Muslim female students from a government college in Udupi protested the inability to wear the hijab. There were counter-protests by fellow students who began wearing saffron scarves and the row snowballed into major controversy as incidents of violence began to emerge in parts of the state. This led the state government to quickly close high schools until Monday February 14 and middle schools until Wednesday February 16.