The apex court found the petition raises a crucial issue of whether a secular state is compelling students from diverse faiths and beliefs to recite prayers “based on Hindu religion” under the threat of punishment.
Morning prayers at Kendriya Vidyalaya BEML Nagar. Credit: kvbeml.com
New Delhi: Under a revised education code, over a 1,000 Centre-run Kendriya Vidyalayas in the country, the students – irrespective of their faith – are being compelled to fold their arms, close their eyes and recite Sanskrit and Hindi verses during morning assemblies or “face public humiliation in front of the entire school”. A public interest litigation (PIL) has challenged the constitutional validity of this practice being followed and questioned if these institutions could promote a particular religion. It has sought that the mandatory prayers be discontinued since the Kendriya Vidyalayas are run by the government.
A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Rohinton F. Nariman and Navin Sinha agreed to examine the issue on Wednesday (January 10) and sent a notice to the central government to respond to the PIL which, according to an Indian Express report, also alleged that this practice of the schools propagates Hinduism.
The apex court found the petition raises the crucial issue of whether a secular state could compel students from diverse faiths and beliefs to recite prayers “based on Hindu religion” under the threat of punishment.
According to The Hindu, the petition was filed by one Veenayak Shah – whose children have graduated from one such Kendriya Vidyalaya – who through his counsel alleged that the revised education code of the Kendriya Vidyalayas violate Article 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 “wholly maintained out of State funds”.
Article 92 of the Revised Education Code for Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan 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”.
As per Shah’s petition, the common prayer in the central government-run schools amounted to “religious instruction” and the practice created obstacles in the development of scientific temperament among 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”.
According to the Times of India, morning prayer in these schools begins with the recitation of a Sanskrit shloka, followed by a prayer in Hindi.
Kendriya Vidyalayas are a system of central government schools in the country which were instituted under the aegis of the human resource development ministry and have been operational for five decades. There are about 1,125 such schools throughout the country.
(With PTI inputs)