HIJAB WEARING AND THE VERDICT ON NATIONAL ANTHEM – Dr.Mathew Joys, Las Vegas

Decades back, while studying in schools and colleges, most of my studies, somehow happened to be in Christian institutions. Especially in primary and high schools, the schools started with an assembly of all students lined up and teachers watching around. We had Christian songs and National Anthem promptly in entire decorum during the assembly. We had all denominations of Christians, Hindus, and a few Muslims. There was no compulsion for others to sing Christian songs, but all happily used to sing together. We had no ill-feeling how Muslim boys wore dhothis from the left side, or with their shaven heads,  nor with the Muslim girls wore a scarf ( thattam) to cover their hairs. We lived in harmony and no space left for hatred or intolerance.

“India’s great curse is caste; but English education has already proved a tremendous power in levelling the injurious distinction of castes” – said Keshub Chunder Sen.

Now, what are the ulterior motives behind inflating the politics and casteism within the hijab? Let the Hindus who like to wear the bindi and the Christians who wear the crucifix wear it, let alone those who wear the hijab. The concept allows Islamic women to maintain their modesty, morals, and freedom of choice. Islam says that there is no historical basis in the Qur’an for the primary responsibility of observing the hijab.

There is an important legal battle to keep in mind when the hijab is politicized in colleges in Karnataka and becomes a matter of litigation in the courts. Please recollect the legal battle between a family in Koodalloor, Kottayam district and the state government of Kerala. On July 26, 1985, the NSS  School at Kidangoor near Kottayam took a weird decision. Three high school students, all three siblings, were suspended. They were suspended by the school’s Head Mistress on the instructions of the district education authorities. The crime was that these children were not ready to sing the Indian national anthem, Janaganamana.

These children were members of the community of Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, a Christian denomination, Jehovah’s Witnesses have different faith approaches from the mainstream Catholic and Protestant denominations. One is that they do not praise anyone but Jehovah. Their faith does not allow Jehovah’s Witnesses to vote in elections, to hold public office, to serve in the military, or to salute the national flag.

When the national anthem is sung in high school, these three children stand up but do not sing. Their brothers, who had attended the same school before them, had taken the same stand. At that time, no one questioned or caused any trouble. Children of Jehovah’s Witnesses were in crisis in 1985 when school authorities demanded that students attending school assemblies sing the national anthem. The problem came out

of the school when the school authorities confirmed that the children could not sing the national anthem and when they had to sing it.

Officials said the children could not be said to be disrespecting the national anthem, but not singing it was unacceptable. The headmistress expelled all three from the school after the students insisted that the national anthem could not be sung. The father of the children Emmanuel  was an English teacher in a nearby college. He approached the Kerala High Court, stating that not singing the national anthem is a part of religion and a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution. The single and division benches of the High Court dismissed Emmanuel’s complaint. Following this, Emmanuel approached the Supreme Court.

After detailed arguments, the Supreme Court ruled on August 11, 1986. The court ruled that what the school authorities had done was a violation of a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution and that the children should be sent back to school. The Supreme Court has ruled that the national anthem must not be sung compulsorily and that it is not disrespectful for a person to stand up when the national anthem is being sung. Article 51-A of the Constitution states that the Constitution and the values, institutions, national flag, and national anthem that it upholds must be respected. By standing up while the national anthem is being sung, the children of the complainant are being given the honor of not singing the national anthem.

Key points of the Judgment and its Important References

The Supreme Court pointed out that Article 25 of the Constitution has special significance. It is the provision that ensures that even the smallest minority in the society can find their identity under the Constitution. “This should be borne in mind when interpreting Article 25.” The bench’s verdict,  of which Justice Dutt was also a member,  was written by Justice Chinnappa Reddy. Although Justice Reddy was an atheist, his tolerance for religion was ingrained in him

In his judgment, Justice Reddy cited a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Justice Reddy upheld the ruling, which states that students have the protection of the U.S. Constitution to refrain from saluting the American flag. In an article in the Indian Express when Justice Reddy died in 2013, Justice K.T. Thomas described him as one of the rarest of the rare  judges in India.

Even after 35 years Indian jurisprudence remains the same. Hence the verdict ruled out in respecting and singing National Anthem needs to be compromised with the issue of Hijab wearing by minority students.

 

 

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