February 2, 2024

A nation’s anthem tells the story of its people, their customs, their difficulties, and their journey through time. Usually, it’s a patriotic song, a piece of music that the nation’s government or constitution has formally recognized. In the case of bijoe emmanuel vs state of kerala, students in a Keralan school faced expulsion for not singing the national anthem during their prayers.

bijoe emmanuel vs state of kerala analysis

Facts of the Case:

  • The three children were expelled from their school in July 1985 for not wanting to perform India’s national song, “Jana Gana Mana.” They refused to sing the school song because they said it went against their Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious beliefs, so they stood silently during the morning assembly.
  • A commission was established to look into the situation. The panel believed that the children in question were law-abiding, well-behaved citizens who had not previously been charged with insulting the national anthem.
  • Following the expulsion, their father filed a writ suit in the Kerala State High Court, arguing that the expulsion violated their right to freedom of expression and their right to practice their religion, which is guaranteed by Articles 19 as well as 25 of the Indian Constitution, respectively.

Issues Involved in the Case:

  • Whether the three children’s expulsion from school for refusing to sing India’s national anthem was in line with their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression (Article 19) and right to freedom of religion (Article 25)?
  • Whether the expelled students’ actions violated Section 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act (1972) and Article 51A of the Indian Constitution of 1950?

national anthem case kerala: Arguments by the Parties

Arguments Raised by the Petitioners:

  • According to the petitioners in the national anthem case, the children honestly thought that performing the national anthem would go against their religious beliefs.
  • They argued additionally that they were fully within their fundamental rights as granted by Article 25 and Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution by not participating in the national anthem and by keeping silent.
  • Law-abiding children who had never before been charged with insulting the national anthem made up the expelled students.
  • Additionally, the petitioners argued that the students’ actions did not in any way disrespect the national anthem; rather, they stood politely while others sang it, in accordance with Article 51A of the Constitution and Section 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act.

Arguments Raised by the Respondents:

  • The respondents contended that as there were no offensive or insensitive words or lines in the national anthem that went against the petitioners’ religious beliefs, the expulsion did not violate Article 25 of the Indian Constitution.
  • The defendants additionally contended that the expulsion of the students was neither arbitrary nor unlawful because the right to freedom of speech and expression under the virtue of Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution was subject to reasonable restrictions under Section 19(2) of the Indian Constitution.
  • The respondents argued that the expelled students had violated both Article 51A of the Indian Constitution and were subject to the punishment specified under Section 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act.

national anthem case judgment

  • In its ruling, the SC found the students not guilty and ruled in their favour. It is clear that forcing all students to sing the National Anthem in spite of genuine worries that it may offend their religious convictions is against their constitutional rights under Articles 19(1)(a) and 25(1) of the Indian Constitution.
  • It concluded that the student’s basic right to freedom of conscience and religion under the virtue of Article 25 of the Constitution of India was breached by their expulsion for refusing to salute the flag and sing the national anthem.
  • The petitioners are law-abiding, well-behaved citizens, the court further noted, who stood silently while others sang the national anthem and would do so in the future. As such, their actions did not violate Section 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act (1971), or the fundamental duties enshrined in Article 51A of the Indian Constitution.
  • Declaring that “Our tradition promotes acceptance, our philosophy preaches tolerance, and our Constitution embodies tolerance; let us not dilute it,” the State of Kerala was instructed to allow the children back into school.

Other frequent queries include whether it is appropriate to place one’s hand over one’s heart during the playing of the National Anthem, if it is permissible for musical renditions of the song to be performed, and whether it is offensive to do so. While citizens need to appreciate their national anthem, they should not be forced to use a way that is not officially punished, provided that it is one of the recognized ones.

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