Activist countries

Hijab controversy in Karnataka: A look at the list of countries that have banned headscarves and burkas

Image source: AP

Muslim women take part in a march against the ban on Muslim girls wearing the hijab from attending classes in some schools in the state of Karnataka in southern India

Strong points

  • Mass protests for and against wearing the ‘hijab’ escalate in several educational institutions
  • Karnataka HC has ruled that no religious symbols are allowed for students until their final decision
  • The hijab controversy has taken on a political color and has drawn the ire of several activists, leaders

Hijab controversy: Massive protests for and against wearing the ‘hijab’ have intensified in several educational institutions and colleges in Karnataka. Protests turned violent at one location earlier this week, after which the Karnataka government declared a three-day vacation for educational institutions. Meanwhile, hearing petitions challenging the hijab ban in colleges, the Karnataka High Court ruled that no religious symbols were permitted for students until its final order, thus banning both the hijab and saffron shawls in school and college premises.

The unrest began when a few Muslim female students were denied entry to classes at Udupi Women’s Pre-College University because they were wearing the hijab. The protests escalated when a Muslim girl wearing a hijab entered the college, while a group of boys wearing saffron headscarves shouted “Jai Shri Ram”, trailing behind the woman. Since then, the row has spread to different parts of the state, with other students in the community also responding by showing up in saffron shawls. The controversy also took on a political color and drew the ire of various political parties, activists and leaders.

The issue of restricting religious dress is gaining momentum around the world. As the Karnataka hijab controversy escalates, here’s a look at countries that have banned face coverings, including hijabs, burqas, full-face helmets and balaclavas. Austria, Denmark, France, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, China, Sri Lanka and Switzerland are among the countries that have banned the face veil.


In March 2021, Switzerland banned the headscarf in public, including the ‘burqa’ or ‘niqab’ worn by Muslim women after a far-right proposal to ban face coverings won a narrow victory in a binding referendum. The measure to change the Swiss constitution passed by a margin of 51.2 to 48.8 percent. However, the Swiss Central Council of Muslims said it was “a dark day” for Muslims.


France was the first European country to introduce a blanket ban on the wearing of the burqa in public. In 2011, France banned face coverings with the “law 2010-1192: law prohibiting the concealment of the face in public space”. The law prohibited the wearing of face-covering headgear, including masks, helmets, balaclavas, niqābs, and other face-covering veils in public places. The ban also included the burqa if it covers the face. People who break the ban are fined €150 (£130) and anyone who forces a woman to cover her face faces a €30,000 (£25,900) fine.


In 2017, China banned burqas, veils and long beards in a predominantly Muslim province as part of its crackdown on religious extremism. People wearing headscarves, veils, burkas or clothing with a crescent moon and star and long beards are prohibited from using public transport.


Like France in 2011, Belgium banned the wearing of full-face coverings in public, such as the burqa or niqab, which covers the lower half of the face. In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights upheld Belgium’s ban on the Islamic veil following a legal challenge. People who break the law can face a fine or up to seven days in jail. Notably, Belgium has only around one million Muslims and of these, only 300 wear the burqa or the niqab.


In Denmark, burkas were first banned in August 2018, months after the law was passed in May of the same year. Hundreds of demonstrators marched through Copenhagen to protest the introduction of Danish laws banning veils that fully cover the face of the wearer. The law imposes a fine of up to €135 for offenders.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has become the latest country to ban the veil in all its forms in public places “for reasons of national security” under government legislation which came into force on April 29, 2021. The wearing of the burqa has been temporarily banned in 2019 after the Easter Sunday suicide. the bombings killed more than 260 people.


Germany’s parliament in 2017 backed a law banning face coverings for the country’s judges, civil servants and soldiers.


In 2017, a legal ban on face-covering clothing was passed by the Austrian parliament.


In 2016, a ban on wearing face-covering clothing in public was passed by the Bulgarian parliament, with violators facing a fine of up to €750. However, it has provided exemptions for people practicing a sport, at work or in a house of prayer.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands enacted a ban on face-covering clothing, popularly described as the “burqa ban”, in January 2012. The ban applies to burqas, veils, full-face helmets and balaclavas. The burqa ban came into effect on August 1, 2019 in schools, public transport, hospitals and government buildings. The ban came into effect here after 14 years of debate. In the Netherlands, a face covering in public can result in a fine of at least €150.


In 2018, the Norwegian parliament voted to ban the burqa in schools and universities.


In December 2019, the municipality of Skurup banned the wearing of the Islamic veil in educational establishments. Previously, the municipality of Staffanstorp approved a similar ban

Republic of Congo

In May 2015, the Republic of Congo – also known as Congo-Brazzaville – became the first country in Africa to implement a burqa ban, although the country has never been the target of an Islamic terrorist attack.

READ ALSO | Karnataka Hijab Controversy: What is Article 25 and Government Ordinance?

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