Schools That Rigidly ‘Enforce’ Patriotism Violate SC Ruling

Mandatory singing of the National Anthem is not only undemocratic, but also Illegal

3 min read
Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani, who’s in charge of education, being garlanded by party workers. (Courtesy:<a href=""></a>)

In a democracy, only demagogues would demand that patriotism and ‘nationalist values’ be enforced, rather than inculcated, or best left to individuals to choose according to their ideologies. And in India, not singing the national anthem is increasingly being taken as treachery or seditious. There have been incidents in the recent-past of people being heckled and even arrested and jailed for not standing up while the anthem was being sung.

Now it seems that the CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) is taking due care to ensure that students are suitably ‘disciplined’ so that they don’t land themselves in danger in the future. In case that is the intention, then it’s a perfectly justifiable decision. Bu the only hitch is that its rigid implementation, especially by certain overzealous teachers, could well end up violating the law laid down by the Supreme Court.

Should Patriotism Serve as a Character Index?

In its 10 November circular, the CBSE directed the principals of all institutions affiliated to it to ensure that Jana Gana Mana is sung in the morning assembly session. This circular states that the CBSE is only acting in compliance with a Calcutta High Court ruling delivered on 22 September last year.

The circular states that there should be no deviations from the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation, Manual for Teachers, Classes VI to VIII, which is a trainer’s manual for teachers, and contains a set of “behavioural descriptors” for student-assessment.

Singing the national anthem and “patriotic songs with decorum” is part of the “value systems” the Board wants to drill into students. Of course, no one is rooting for causing commotion or pandemonium, but what if a student refuses to sing the anthem? Would the school penalise her/him? And, in case the school doesn’t do so, would it earn the Board’s ire?

The Supreme Court of India (Photo : Reuters)&nbsp;
The Supreme Court of India (Photo : Reuters) 

SC: Can’t Compel Anyone to Sing National Anthem

This question assumes significance because of a 1986 judgement of the Supreme Court, popularly known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses Case. And Supreme Court judgements are the law of the land, as Article 141 of the Constitution declares.

The Supreme Court held that the freedom of religion protected the three children belonging to the Jehovah’s Witnesses denomination of Christianity—from penal action if they declined to join the national anthem when it was sung daily in their school. The judgement noted that though the children didn’t join in the singing of the national anthem, “they used to stand up in respectful silence” when it was sung.

This protection not to sing was granted on the basis of freedom of religion, since members of the denomination are forbidden by their religious tenets from singing the national anthem of any country, or swearing allegiance to any entity other than Jehovah.

The CBSE’s latest directive has not caused a furore, or inconvenienced any student. Yet. But it is only a matter of time before a controversy erupts, and HRD Minister Smriti Irani and the government face flak from many corners. Hence, a hasty rethink is urgently necessitated.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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