Bijoe Emmanuel & Ors. Vs. State of Kerala & Ors: Nationalism and religious rights.

After reading this case, you will learn that the Supreme Court upheld the freedom of expression that no one shall be compelled to affirm a belief, which he/she does not follow.


TITLE Bijoe Emmanuel & Ors. Vs. State of Kerala & Ors. 
COURT Supreme Court of India
JUDGES/CORAM Justice O. Chinnappa Reddy

In this case, the High Court failed to see the religious belief of the individual. The Court stated that “no nationalism will affect the religious right”. Religion, all over world is an area of polity neutrality. Followers of religions strongly spread the faith on God instead of nationality or other things. However, the Supreme Court stated that “they showed minimum respect by standing and there is no disturbance made by them for this long year”. The decision was not sudden and the Court focused on its previous practices. Compelling someone to speak or express the feeling which was not real, violates Article 19 (1). Restricting their religious practice by forcing them to do an act that is against their policy and morals affects the rights conferred on them under Article 25 of the Constitution.


The facts of the case are as follows: The appellants, three children, belonged to a sect called Jehovah’s Witnesses. They worship only Jehovah-the Creator and none other.  They refused to sing the National Anthem ‘Jana Gana Mana’ as it was against the tenets of their religious faith which preach that none shall utter any words or the thoughts of the National Anthem. They desisted from actual singing only because of their aforesaid honest belief and conviction. They used to stand up in respectful silence daily, during morning assembly when the National Anthem was sung. A Commission was appointed to enquire and report over the matter. It reported that the children were “law abiding” and that they showed no disrespect to the National Anthem. However, under the instructions of Deputy Inspector of Schools, the Head Mistress expelled the appellants from school from July 26, 1985.

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The father of the children made a representation to the Education Authorities  requesting that the children  may be permitted to attend the school pending orders from the Government. Having failed, the appellants filed  a Writ  Petition in the High Court. They sought for an order  restraining the  authorities from  preventing them from attending the  school. A single Judge and then a Division Bench rejected the prayer of the appellants. Allowing the appeal by Special Leave, to this Supreme Court. 


The main issues in the case were: 

  1. Whether or not the act of school Head Mistress and Deputy Inspector of education violated Article 19(1)(a) and 25 (1).
  2. Whether or not the act of children was an offence under the section 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act.


The Fundamental Rights of the appellants under Article 19(1) (a) and 25(1) had been infringed and they were entitled to protection. The  School expelled the three children from school  for the reason that they conscientiously held their religious faith and did not join the singing  of the  National Anthem. In truth, the children, always used to stand  respectfully when the National Anthem was sung in the morning assembly. The expulsion resulted in a violation of the fundamental rights of freedom of conscience  and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion. 

Therefore, the respondent authorities were  directed to re-admit the children into the school, to permit them to pursue their  studies without hindrance  and to  facilitate the pursuit of  their  studies  by giving them necessary facilities. 

The Court observed that there was no provision of law which obliged anyone to sing the National Anthem nor was it disrespectful to the National Anthem if a person who stood up respectfully when the National Anthem was sung did not join the singing. Proper respect was shown to the National Anthem by standing up when the National Anthem is sung. The Court held that standing up respectfully when the National  Anthem is sung but not singing oneself clearly does not either prevent the singing of  the National  Anthem or  cause disturbance to an assembly engaged  in such  singing so  as to  constitute the offence mentioned  sub domine Section 3 under Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act.

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The author agrees with the point of Supreme Court as well as the High court. Firstly, the High Court noted that nationality doesn’t affect religious rights. We brought this freedom irrespective of the religion.

Secondly, the author agreeing on the point of the Supreme Court that their right to education denied on grounds of the disrespect towards the national anthem by the Head mistress was not justifiable. The arguments and the judgement focused on the Article 19 (1) a and 25 stating that they are individual freedom. 

The Constitution framers stated that the right to freedom of speech and expression was applicable only to the extent permitted by law. Reference to the Constituent Assembly debates and plain text of provision provide the same intention. Hence the High Court gave its judgment referring to the limitation on the basis of public-interest at large. This will affect the harmony of the country.


The particular case is comparable to the new incident of ‘National Anthem in the theatre’ which the Court mandated in 2016. It was held by the same Court in 2018 that it is not necessary to show ‘the love for mother land in the place of entertainment’. In this case also, Court changed its decision by referring to this case that there was no provision stating that singing was mandatory. However, respecting by standing was enough. Section 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act can be invoked only when a person interrupts or disrupts that song with an intention to insult. 

From the point of view of a common man, this case may be unnecessary. From the point of the jurist it is a case which explains the patriotism and unity. There are still many people who are proud to talk about their nationality. These people show respect even though their religion doesn’t allow. 

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