College dress codes should be non-discriminatory: Experts

NEW DELHI - Educational institutes can impose any dress code provided it is not discriminatory or not targeted at a particular community, experts say, amid a controversy over a Karnataka college banning a student from wearing a burqa.

According to senior Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, presently no state legislature or department of education mandates the wearing of uniforms or specific dress codes.

“They (private institutes) can have their own dress code but it has to be non-discriminatory,” Bhushan told IANS.

“Indian law has no separate clause for dress codes in schools or colleges, but if imposing or prohibiting a particular dress is targeted at a particular community, a student can seek legal action against the institute for violation of fundamental rights,” the lawyer maintained.

“It is like private clubhouses. In a golf club or at a tennis court you are asked to wear golf shirts, sneakers or even shorts. You cannot challenge that. The same is true about private educational institutes,” Bhushan said.

Wearing uniforms or conforming to a particular dress code is a practice schools in India follow up to the Class 12 level to help maintain order and discipline. However, no such practice is followed at the college level. Thus, recent instances of dress prohibition in some colleges in India have triggered furious reactions from students.

The latest in the league is Karnataka’s Sri Venkataramana Swamy College that did not let 19-year-old Ayesha Ashmin attend classes because she insisted on wearing a burqa. The B.Com first year student of the Mangalore college complained she was being persecuted for her religious beliefs.

The college has denied this, blandly saying the girl had violated the rules of the institution.

In June, four colleges in Kanpur banned students from wearing jeans, saying this move would help check the harassment of women.

Well-known lawyer Pinki Anand said the college or institute “you are joining is a matter of your choice”.

“If they have a certain code, they have a right to impose it and you are bound to follow that. However, if the dress code violates fundamental rights like your right to live and right to religion, then it cannot be imposed. Having a dress code is okay if it is not contrary to the constitution of India,” she said.

According to Supreme Court advocate Kamini Jaiswal, if a dress code is imposed to maintain discipline and order, “what is wrong in that?”

“There is no legal provision for and against it, but every institute has its own code. So it is good to follow a particular dress if it saves students from a lot of problems,” she contended.

Renowned Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan also favoured following the college code for discipline.

“If a college has a rule to not wear a burqa, that should be followed and respected. If you don’t agree, you can quit the college,” Khan, who has authored 10 books on Islam, said.

Fareeda Khan, who teaches at the capital’s Jamia Millia University, echoed these views.

“The burqa has become the symbol of rigidity and has nothing to do with Islam. You should accept that the burqa, a part of subcontinental culture, has been misused for suicide bombings. Why not avoid the burqa? It is not part of any Islamic dress code,” she contended.

“I also suggest to my students to not wear a burqa in the university. What is the big deal about it?” Fareeda, who is Wahiduddin Khan’s daughter, argued.


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