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The Supreme Court today (Monday, Jan 28) said Constitution Bench should decide a petition challenging the compulsory recital of Hindi and Sanskrit prayers by Kendriya Vidyalaya students in the morning assembly.

The apex court directed that the plea be placed before Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi for referring it to an appropriate bench, said media reports.

The petition, filed by Madhya Pradesh-based lawyer Veenayak Shah, has challenged the Article 92 of the “Revised Education Code of Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan” terming it as “unconstitutional” on the grounds that it contravenes Articles 28(1), 19(1)(a) and 25(1) of the Indian Constitution.

In his petition, Shah said the practise of prayer created obstacles in developing scientific temperament among students as the whole idea of God and religious faith is given immense priority and instilled as a thought-process among the students.

“Students as a result learn to develop an inclination towards seeking refuge from the almighty instead of developing a practical outcome towards the obstacles and hurdles faced in everyday life, and the spirit of enquiry and reform seems to be lost somewhere,” the plea said.

Shah said the prayers are “based on Hindu religion” and was being “imposed” on students irrespective of their faith and belief.

According to the Revised Education Code for Kendriya Vidyalayas implemented in 2013, “compulsory attendance” of students in the morning assembly is required where they have to recite the prayers.

“The common prayer is in Sanskrit and Hindi, and all the students irrespective of their faith and belief have to perform the prayer in a respectful manner by closing their eyes and folding their hands. All the teachers share the collective responsibility of supervising the assembly and making sure that every student folds his/her hands, closes his/her eyes and recites the prayers without fail,” the petitioner contended and alleged that “any student failing to do so is punished and humiliated in front of the entire school”.

Shah quoted the prayers in the petition and said it “is being enforced throughout the country in all Kendra Vidyalayas. As a result, parents and children of the minority communities as well as atheists and others who do not agree with this system of prayer, such as agnostics… rationalists and others would find the imposition of this prayer constitutionally impermissible.”

The petition claimed that “a perusal of the prayer shows that it is based on Hindu religion and it is very different, both in substance and form from the prayers of the other religious/ non-religious orientations mentioned above”.

He added that this raised the question of whether the “state” could “impose” a “common prayer” on students and teachers throughout India.

Shah also submitted before the court that the common prayer is a “religious instruction” within the meaning of Article 28 of the Constitution and should therefore be prohibited. Article 28(1) says that no religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of state funds.

The plea was being heard by a two-judge bench of Justice Rohinton F Nariman and Navin Sinha.

“We think this is an issue of seminal importance… a Constitution Bench should examine it,” Justice Nariman told solicitor general (SG) Tushar Mehta, who appeared on behalf of the Union government.

“We think this is an issue of seminal importance… a Constitution Bench should examine it,” Justice Nariman told solicitor general (SG) Tushar Mehta, who appeared on behalf of the Union government.

Mehta contended that singing of Sanskrit hymn ‘Asato Ma Sadgamaya’ at the school assembly every morning does not amount to imparting religious instructions. “It is a universal truth, recognised by all texts, all paths of religion. It cannot become religious only because it is in Sanskrit. You have Christian schools saying ‘Honesty is the best policy’. Will that make the statement religious? I don’t think so,” Mehta said.

Justice Nariman said, “But this hymn ‘Asato Ma Sadgamaya’ is directly from the Upanishad.”

The SG replied that the official logo of the Supreme Court also carries a hymn from Bhagvad Gita. “The logo, which is there behind every judge of this Court says ‘Yato Dharmas Tato Jaya’, meaning where there is Dharma, there is victory. There is nothing religious or communal about it,” Mehta said.

However, Justice Nariman was convinced that this matter should go to a larger bench. He ordered that the petition will be placed before the Chief Justice of India for setting up an appropriate bench.

In the previous hearings, the court had issued notice to the Centre asking for its response on the move.

The bench comprising Justices R F Nariman and Navin Sinha had described it a “serious constitutional issue” which needs to be examined.

 

Tags: Supreme Court, Constitution Bench, Kendriya Vidyalaya, Hindi and Sanskrit prayers, religious instruction

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