The BJP-ruled government in Madhya Pradesh was Friday ordered to not make 'surya namaskar' and 'pranayam' mandatory for students in schools.
Responding to a petition filed by the Catholic Church, the Madhya Pradesh High Court in an interim order directed the state government to not force surya namaskar (worship of sun, the Hindu solar deity) and pranayam (yogic breathing exercise) on students as part of extra curricular activities.
Two years ago, the BJP had made surya namaskar compulsory for students in all schools and colleges. Understandably, the move brought in strong protests from Christian-run minority institutions. The Muslims also opposed the same.
Appearing for the Catholic Church, Adovcate Rajesh Chand informed the High Court that the state government directive was in violation of the Section 25 to 30 of the Fundamental Rights of the Constitution under which the minority institutions are governed.
He also pointed out that it has gone against the interim order of the High Court passed in the same matter in 2007.
Chand demanded that state government immediately stop exerting pressure on students and also action be taken against officials who violated the earlier court order.
The division bench headed by Chief Justice A.K. Patnaik has issued notices to the chief secretary, principal secretary education, education commissioner, and district education officer in Jhabua and Rajgarh region. They were ordered to respond within four weeks.
The petitioner, Fr Anand Muttungal, said: "We think that the Court has indirectly asked the Government to uphold the secular values of the Indian Constitution." Archbishop Dr. Leo Cornelio, the Chairman of the Catholic Bishops' Council, also welcomed the court order.
Meanwhile, there is valid speculation that the BJP government is to make 'bhojan mantra' compulsory before government-sponsored midday meals at schools from September 5, this year.
"The schoolchildren in the state will have to recite the 'bhojan mantra' (Hindu prayers) before their midday meals. This will come into force from Sep 5 – Teacher's Day this year," says a notice from state School Education Minister Archana Chitnis.
Minister Chitnis said, "The mantra would be recited in all schools without any discrimination on grounds of caste and creed. It will be made mandatory for all wards availing themselves of government-run midday meals."
She denied the charge that the mantra had a 'saffron' agenda.
Several Muslim organisations and leaders, including Hafiz Saghir Jilani Chishti of Jamiat Ulema Chishtia, Maulana Javed of Jamiat Ahle Quraish and Muslim Raeen Panchayat's Noorul Islam, have opposed the move.
"The Muslim community recites 'Bismillah' before having meals and under no circumstances would recite the 'bhojan mantra' as directed by the minister," said Madhya Pradesh Jamaat-e-Islami Hind spokesman Anwar Shafi.
The opposition Congress has also criticized the move. "India is a secular country where every individual has the right to live as per his/her religious beliefs," Congress spokesman Arvind Malviya said.
"The midday meal is a central scheme and the state government has no right to implement its agenda on it by asking teachers and students to recite bhojan mantra," media quoted him saying.
"Instead of dividing the community, the government should focus on providing quality and nutritious food to children and check malnutrition deaths in the state," he added.
Court to BJP govt: Surya namaskar not be made mandatory for students
Published 01 September 2009 | Babu Thomas