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Appropriateness of reciting 'asatomaa satgamaya, tamosomaa jyotirgamya' in KVs goes to Constitution Bench


New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday referred to a Constitution Bench a plea questioning the compulsory recitation of Sanskrit and Hindi hymns, including "asatomaa satgamaya, tamosomaa jyotirgamya", during the morning assembly of Kendriya Vidyalayas (KV) across the country.

Noting that 'asatomaa satgamaya, tamosomaa jyotirgamya' is taken from the Upanishads, a bench of Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman and Justice Vineet Saran said it needs to be examined by a Constitution bench.

The court directed the registry to place the matter before Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi for referring it to an appropriate bench.

As Justice Nariman said that 'shloka' 'asatomaa satgamaya, tamosomaa jyotirgamya' is from 'Upanishad', Solicitor General Tushar Mehta pointed to the 'shloka' that is inscribed in every court room 'Yato Dharma Tato Jayah'.

Mehta contended that mere reciting of 'asatomaa satgamaya, tamosomaa jyotirgamya' in the morning assembly of Kendriya Vidyalayas does not amount to imparting religious instructions.

Solicitor General said that 'Yato Dharma Tato Jayah' that is written in every court room behind the judge's seat was directly from 'Bhagvad Gita'.

The court favoured the scrutiny of the issue by a Constitution bench while hearing a PIL by one Veenayak Shah from Sidhi in Madhya Pradesh who had contended that the compulsory recitation of 'shlokas' and prayers invoking God impede nurturing of reasoning and scientific temper among impressionable young minds.

The mandatory recitation of the prayer by children belonging to minority communities as well as atheist, agnostics, sceptics, rationalists and others, the PIL had said, was "constitutionally impermissible".

The PIL was filed in 2017.

A perusal of the prayer in the school's morning assembly, the PIL petitioner had said, shows it is based on Hindu religion and is very different both in substance and form from prayers of other religions, including that of people with non-religious orientations.

The petitioner had said that compulsory recitation of 'shlokas' rooted in Hindu religion and prayer in morning assembly was contrary to Articles 28(1), 19(1)(a) and 25(1) of the Indian Constitution.

Article 28(1) says: "No religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of state funds." Article 19(1)(a) says: "All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression."

Shah had contended that the common prayer is a "religious instruction" within the meaning of Article 28 of the Constitution and should be prohibited.

The petitioner had challenged Article 92 of the "Revised Education Code of Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan" that governs the Kendriya Vidyalayas in the country.

In its response to the PIL last year, the Ministry of Human Resource Development had on September 4, 2018, washed its hand of the mandatory recitation of Sanskrit and Hindi hymns during the morning assembly of Kendriya Vidyalayas (KV) across the country, saying the Sangathan was an autonomous body headed by the Board of Governors.

Admitting that the HRD Minister was Chairman of the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS) and it functioned under its aegis, the Ministry had said that it has nothing to do with the contentious practice of mandatory recitation of Sanskrit 'shlokas' and Hindi prayers based on Hindu religion in the morning prayers.

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