Case BriefsForeign Courts

Another one to read, from the Foreign Court, now 6 days have passed in a very interesting matter wherein a question arose in Karnataka High Court on the wearing of “headscarf” from a Government Order, let’s read this decision from the year 1994, where a government official was asked not to wear ‘purdah’.

In this matter, a woman used to wear a black ‘purdah’ as a part of her daily attire during office hours and the said ‘purdah’ used to cover the whole o her body from head to foot, leaving only a slit in front, exposing her pair of eyes.

The crux and focus of the issue in the matter arose when a Government Order was issued pertaining to the dress code for civil servants, as per which the women officers were prohibited from wearing jeans, slacks, shorts and any dress which covered the face during office hours.

In view of the said circular, the woman was asked not to wear something which would cover her face, but she continued wearing the attire during work on the ground that as a Muslim, she was required by the Quran and hadith of the Prophet to cover her face and not to expose it in public.

The woman was dismissed from her service for not following the rules pertaining to the dress code for civil servants.

The counsel who was representing the woman submitted that by refusing to allow her to wear the purdah, her constitutional right under Article 11(1) to profess and practise her religion was infringed.

Article 11(1) of the Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion, where every person has the right to profess and practice his religion. However, such a right is not absolute.

Supreme Court of Kuala Lumpur (Federal Court of Malaysia) deciphered that such prohibition as stated in the Government Order did not affect the constitutional right to practice her religion.

To elaborate its reasoning, Bench expressed that it accepted the opinion of Dato’ Mufti Wilayah Persekutuan that Islam as a religion does not prohibit a Muslim woman from wearing, nor requires her to wear a purdah. Secondly, the Court noted that,

“…there seem to be a myth or misconception by certain groups of Muslim in Malaysia regarding the wearing of purdah which covers the entire face except the eyes. They believe that it is one of the Islamic injunctions which must be followed strictly.” 

“It is noted that purdah in its present form has not been specified in the Holy Quran. However, the Holy Quran uses the word ‘hijab’ meaning a screen or covering.”

Observing the above, in the opinion of the Court wearing purdah had nothing to do with the constitutional right of the aggrieved woman to profess and practice her Muslim religion.

Details of this case: Hjh Halimatussaadiah bte Hj Kamaruddin v. Public Services Commission, Malaysia, Civil Appeal No. 01-05-92, decided on 5-8-1994

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To Wear or Not to Wear? Precedents on dilemma of wearing ‘Headscarf’ from the Kerala High Court

Is the Bhinder case relevant in Hijab ban row? Canadian SC’s decision in Rule conflicting with religious tenet of an employee

Did You Know? What Bombay High Court held when a Muslim girl raised the issue that asking her not to wear a “headscarf” in school violates her fundamental right under Article 25 of the Constitution of India?

OP. ED.SCC Journal Section Archives

 A TWO judge bench of the Supreme Court,1 in Union of India v. Paul Manickam,2 a case challenging the preventive detention of the respondent’s daughter as unlawful has observed as under:3

It is appropriate that the concerned High Court under whose jurisdiction the order of detention has been passed by the State Government or Union Territory should be approached first. In order to invoke jurisdiction under article 32 of the Constitution to approach this court directly, it has to be shown by the petitioner as to why the high court has not been approached, could not be approached or it is futile to approach the high court. Unless satisfactory reasons are indicated in this regard, filing of petition on such matters, directly under article 32 of the Constitution is to be discouraged.

This observation of the apex court that before a person complaining of violation of his fundamental rights approach the Supreme Court under article 32 should approach the high court first under article 226, raises serious questions as to the true scope and ambit of article 32.

In the instant case the respondent who is the father of the detenue who was detained under section 3(1)(i) of the Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act, 1974 for possessing a huge quantity of contraband articles, addressed a representation on her behalf to the President of India. He also filed a habeas corpus petition before the Madras High Court challenging the detention order. The court dismissed the writ petition but on his application for review it quashed the order of detention. Hence this appeal by the Union of India to the Supreme Court.

Thus, it was not the petitioner who approached the Supreme Court by way of a writ under article 32 for setting aside the order of detention. Instead it was the Union of India which approached the Supreme Court by way of appeal under article 136 of the Constitution by raising various contentions, inter alia, that:4

[R]enegades who disturb peace and tranquillity of citizens are like termites which corrode financial stability of the country with vicious designs file petitions full of falsehood and at times approach this court under article 32 even without approaching the jurisdictional High Court.

What made the Union of India to take this pea is not clear from the facts of the case since the petitioner had not approached the apex court directly. It was against this plea, the Supreme Court, while dismissing the appeal by the Union of India in the instant case expressed the above quoted view.

 To read the full text of the article, click here 

NOTE: This article was first published in the Journal of the Indian Law Institute 47 JILI (2005) 102.

* Associate Research Professor, Indian Law Institute, New Delhi.

1 Doraiswamy Raju and Arijit Passayat JJ.

2 (2003) 8 SCC 342 : AIR 2003 SC 4622.

3 Id. at 4630. (Emphasis added).

4 Id. at 4624.