Panel of India’s top court split on decision about hijab in class

Indian female students who were barred from entering their classrooms for wearing hijab, a headscarf used by Muslim women, arrive at their college in Udupi, India, Feb 7, 2022. (PHOTO / AP)

NEW DELHI – A panel of India's top court said on Thursday it was divided on a decision to allow hijabs in classrooms, and referred the matter to the chief justice, who will set up a larger bench to hear the case.

It arises from a ban in February by the southern state of Karnataka that forbade students to wear the headgear in classrooms, unleashing protests by Muslim students and their parents, as well as counter protests by Hindu students.

"We have divergence of opinion," said Justice Hemant Gupta, one of the two panel judges, as he delivered Thursday's decision, but the judges did not say when the larger bench would be set up, or when the next hearing would be held.

Muslims are a sizeable minority in India, accounting for 13 percent of the population of 1.4 billion in the south Asian nation where Hindus make up the majority.

READ MORE: Indian court upholds Karnataka state's ban on hijab in class

Some Muslim students challenged in the Supreme Court a ruling by a state court that upheld the ban in March.

Critics of the ban say it is another way of marginalizing a community, and that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, which rules Karnataka, could benefit from the polarization.