The Supreme Court on Monday referred to a Constitution Bench a plea questioning a revised education code followed by the Central government-run, 1,125-strong Kendriya Vidyalaya schools, which compels students to recite Sanskrit and Hindi verses with folded palms and closed eyes during morning assemblies or face public humiliation in front of the entire school.
A Bench led by Justice Rohinton Nariman found that the petition raises an important issue where a secular state, which is supposed to have no religion, is compelling students drawn from diverse faiths, beliefs, minority communities and many who may be coming from agnostic, sceptisist and rationalist family backgrounds, to recite a prayer which is “based on Hindu religion”, under threat of punishment.
The Supreme Court had issued notice to the Centre on the petition filed by Veenayak Shah, who is represented by advocates Satya Mitra and Pallavi Sharma, in January last year.
Violates Art. 19, 28(1)
The petition said the revised education code of the Kendriya Vidyalayas violates Articles 19 (right to freedom of speech and expression) and Article 28(1), which prohibits the state from providing any religious instruction in an educational institution run on public funds. The petition said the common prayer amounted to “religious instruction”.
Kendriya Vidyalayas function under the aegis of the Ministry Of Human Resource Developmemnt. The Union Minister is the Chairman. The schools, which have been in existence for over 50 years, constitute one of world’s largest chain of educational institutions spread over regions with diverse languages, culture and traditions.
The petition pointed to Article 92 of the revised code, which mandates that “all students irrespective of their faith and belief, have to compulsorily attend the morning assembly and recite the prayer. 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 prayer without fail. Any student failing to do so is punished and humiliated in front of the entire school”. The petition said it is constitutionally impermissible to impose the prayer on students of other faiths and beliefs.
Stalls scientific temper
Students have a fundamental right to pray according to the practices of their religion or not pray at all.
Besides, the practice is an obstacle to fostering a scientific temperament among the students as the “whole idea of God and religious faith is given immense priority and the same is instilled as a thought process among the students”. The practice would encourage students to take refuge in supernatural rather than developing a practical resolve to overcome the hurdles of everyday life, the petition said.