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Constitution Bench May Examine Hindi, Sanskrit Hymns in Schools; Govt Says Even SC Logo Quotes Gita

The government said singing of Sanskrit hymn 'Asato Ma Sadgamaya' at the school assembly every morning does not amount to imparting religious instructions at all.

Utkarsh Anand | CNN-News18

Updated:January 28, 2019, 6:26 PM IST
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Constitution Bench May Examine Hindi, Sanskrit Hymns in Schools; Govt Says Even SC Logo Quotes Gita
A file photo of the Supreme Court. (PTI)
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New Delhi: Calling it a question of "seminal importance," the Supreme Court on Monday favoured a scrutiny by a Constitution Bench on issues of imparting religious instructions in schools in the form of Sanskrit and Hindi hymns and verses.

A two-judge bench, led by Justice Rohinton F Nariman, was dealing with a petition relating to compulsory recitation of Sanskrit and Hindi hymns in the morning assembly of Kendriya Vidyalayas.

"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, on his part, said singing of Sanskrit hymn 'Asato Ma Sadgamaya' at the school assembly every morning does not amount to imparting religious instructions at all.

"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 then 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.

The writ petition, filed by Jabalpur-based lawyer Veenayak Shah, has claimed that prayers at Kendriya Vidyalayas promote Hindu religion and violate articles 19 (right to freedom of speech and expression) and 28 (1), which prohibits the State from providing any religious instruction in an educational institution run on public funds.

It maintained that the compulsory singing of Sanskrit hymn 'Asato Ma Sadgamaya' at the school assembly every morning strangles the spirit of scientific enquiry and amounts to “religious instruction”, prohibited under the Constitution.

The petition has challenged the revised education code for KV schools. This set of regulations, compiled in 2012 and implemented from 2013, requires morning assemblies to begin with the Sanskrit verse as a “common prayer” and end with another Sanskrit hymn, 'Om Saha Navavatu' (May God Protect Us Both).

The petition added the practice “creates a lot of obstacles in developing a scientific temperament” and that the prayers tend to develop in students an inclination towards seeking refuge from the Almighty instead of developing a practical outcome towards the obstacles and hurdles faced in everyday life.

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