The Supreme Court on Monday decided to refer to a larger bench a PIL seeking “forthwith” discontinuance of the Hindi and Sanskrit morning prayer followed in Kendriya Vidyalaya’s on the ground that it was “based on Hindu religion” and was being imposed on the students.
A bench of Justices R F Nariman and Vineet Saran said the petition raised questions of “seminal importance”, in particular as to the “correct interpretation of Article 28 (1) of the Constitution”. Article 28 (1) of the Constitution prohibits religious instruction in schools funded by the state.
The petitioner, Veenayaak Shah, a Madhya Pradesh-based lawyer, has challenged the Revised Education Code of Kendriya Vidyalaya Sanghatan which the petition said was revised in December 2012 and required “compulsory attendance” of students in the morning assembly where they have to recite the prayer.
The bench observed that the matter deserves to be looked into preferably by a Constitution bench of five judges and directed that it be placed before the Chief Justice of India to be allotted to an appropriate bench.
Appearing for the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the petition deserves to be dismissed.
Referring to the Sanskrit hymn ‘Asatoma Satgamaya, Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya…’, he said it only meant lead me from falsehood to truth and from darkness to light. “This is universal truth, there is nothing religious about it,” he contended.
Justice Nariman pointed out that the verses were drawn from the Upanishads. Mehta responded that in some schools, children are taught that honesty is the best policy and “that does not make the school communal”.
The court however said the submissions must be made before a larger bench.
Mehta remarked that even the emblem of the Supreme Court had the verse from the Mahabharata. “It says Yato Dharma stato jaya ha. Now this does not make your lordships religious,” he said.
Shah quoted the prayers in the petition and said it “is being enforced throughout the country in all Kendra Vidhalayas. As a result, parents and children of the minority communities as well as Atheist and others who do not agree with this system of Prayer such as Agnostics, Sceptisists, 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 whether the “state” could “impose” the “common prayer” on students and teachers throughout India.
The bench also directed that another petition filed by Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind on the same matter be placed before the CJI.