Constitution bench to hear case on Sanskrit prayers in Kendriya Vidyalayas
A bench of justices RF Nariman and Vineet Saran said the petition filed by Madhya Pradesh-based advocate Veenayak Shah raised questions of “seminal importance”, in particular as to the “correct interpretation of Article 28 (1) of the Constitution”.Updated: Jan 28, 2019 23:39 IST
The Supreme Court on Monday took a view that the challenge to compulsory recitation of Sanskrit and Hindi prayers in Kendriya Vidyalaya schools across the country requires a debate before a larger bench, preferably a Constitution bench of five judges.
A bench of justices RF Nariman and Vineet Saran said the petition filed by Madhya Pradesh-based advocate Veenayak Shah 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 wholly maintained by the State. The petitioner was specifically referring to the recitation of the prayer, Asato Ma Sadgamaya, and said this was mandatory irrespective of a student’s faith and belief.
“Substantial question of Indian Constitution arises in the fact of this case. List it before the Chief Justice of India (CJI) before an appropriate bench,” the court ordered, brushing aside solicitor general Tushar Mehta’s argument that the petition doesn’t need a hearing. Mehta appeared for the Centre, which in an affidavit filed earlier sought to distance itself from the controversy.
When the matter came up for hearing before the SC, Mehta asked for some time to file a revised affidavit. At this, justice Nariman said the petition raises an important constitutional issue. “We shall indicate that the matter should be listed before a constitution bench,” it said.
SC rules do not allow a two-judge bench to refer a matter directly to the Constitution bench. Therefore, justice Nariman said the bench would send it to the CJI for appropriate orders.
Mehta, however, differed with the judge’s view. Asatoma Sadgamaya, Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya just means “lead me from darkness to light”, he said. “This is universal truth, there is nothing religious about it,” he argued.
But justice Nariman said the lines were taken from Upanishad and said the arguments were meant to be made before a larger bench. Once the order was pronounced, Mehta pointed out that an emblem in every courtroom of the Supreme Court has a line taken from the Mahabharata: Yato Dharma Tato Jya. “Now this does not make your lordships religious. These are universal truths,” he said. The line pointed out by him means, “where there is justice, there is victory” and is actually the motto of the SC.
The bench also allowed a fresh petition filed by Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind to be placed before the CJI. The plea has raised similar concerns as Shah and sought quashing of Article 92 of “The Code” of Kendriya Vidyalayas that mandates all schools to have a common prayer.
Defending the government order on compulsory recitation of the prayers , Mukul Kanitkar of the Bharatiya Shikshan Mandal, an offshoot of the RSS that works in the education sector, said, “ In 2013, Indonesia, which has 87% Muslim population, gifted a 16-foot-high statue of Goddess Saraswati, [the Hindu goddess of education and wisdom] to the United States and it is installed in Washington DC. If a nation with a high Muslim population still worships Saraswati, I don’t see how prayers can hurt anyone’s sentiments in schools. This is just a political stunt.”