Sanskrit prayers in Kendriya Vidyalayas: Issue goes to Constitution Bench

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday referred to a Constitution Bench the question whether compulsory recitation of morning prayers in Sanskrit by students of Kendriya Vidyalayas, irrespective of faith and belief, violates their fundamental right. A bench of Justices R F Nariman and Vineet Saran said the question would be examined by a Constitution Bench and referred the matter to Chief Justice of India for listing it before a larger bench.

“We think this is an issue of importance and a Constitution Bench should examine it,” the bench said. The apex court was hearing a petition filed by Jabalpur-based advocate Veenayak Shah who has challenged the compulsory recitation of morning prayers in Sanskrit by students of the Vidyalayas across the country. During the hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, submitted that Sanskrit ‘shlokas’ embody a universal truth and merely because the shloka is in Sanskrit, does not make it communal.

He also pointed out that the words “Yato Dharma Stato Jaya,” which are inscribed on the emblem in every courtroom of the Supreme Court, had been taken from the Mahabharata. ‘‘This does not mean that the Supreme Court is religious”, he said.
The bench then said that let the issue be examined by a larger bench. Besides Shah, a Muslim body, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, has also challenged in the apex court the Revised Education Code for KV Sangathan with regard to compulsory recitation of a common prayer.

“The prayer is being enforced across the country in all Kendra Vidyalayas. As a result, parents and children of minority communities as well as atheists and others who do not agree with this system of prayer — such as agnostics, sceptics and rationalists — would find the imposition constitutionally impermissible,” Shah said in his petition. His counsel sought direction from the court to forthwith discontinue any form of prayers in the morning assembly and to instead promote scientific learning among the students.

Meanwhile, Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind has said in its plea that the question is whether or not the prescribed common prayer stipulated in the Code for KV Sangathans is in consonance with the personal laws of the minority communities. The said code, by mandating recitation of a common prayer which was based on a particular religion, is clearly violative of the Article 25 of the Constitution,” the Muslim body has pointed out. KVs are a system of Central Government schools which were instituted under the aegis of the Ministry of Human Resource Development. These schools have been operational for over 50 years now.

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