Should Religion Be Taught In Schools?

 Fr. Anand Muttungal

The debate on teaching Bhagwad Gita has again come to the forefront with the recent statement of the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh that Bhagwad Gita would be included in the state’s school curriculum. “Teaching Gita is no crime and the government would include the teaching of Gita in educational curriculum.” Shivraj Singh Chouhan said while addressing a function organised by the RSS-backed Saraswati Vidya Pratishthan.

Political parties, and secular and faith-based organizations have taken a different stand. Political parties and secular organizations say that religion should be kept out of the educational curriculum. They say it is against the spirit of the Constitution of India. They quote the Constitution’s Article 28(1,2&3) which states that no religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of State funds or receiving state aid. It makes clear that no children can be compelled to attend such classes either. Article 27 further says that tax payers’ money should not be used to promote any particular religion or anybody can be compelled to pay tax for the same.

Faith-based organizations say that religion can be a subject in the school. India witnesses many issues related to communalism. An optional subject in the school curriculum can provide children right knowledge about all religions. It can mould better citizens to live in India. It need not be called religious studies but as a subject of eternal wisdom. It can reduce communal tensions. They say that Constitution of India very well allows it. In the landmark case of S.R. Bommai vs. Union of India (1994), Hon’ble Supreme Court reiterated that secularism was a part of the basic structure of the Constitution.  The Indian State will not identify itself with or be controlled by any particular religion. We hold that no one religion should be given preferential status or unique distinction, that no one religion should be accorded special privileges in national life or international relations for that would be a violation of the basic principles of democracy and contrary to the best interests of religion and Government. So teaching all religious teachings would not violate the spirit of the Constitution. 

The spirit of Indian concept of Secularism can be well-understood in the statement of the great statesman-philosopher Dr. S Radhakrishnan who said, “When India is said to be a secular State, it does not mean that we reject reality of an unseen spirit or the relevance of religion to life or that we exalt irreligion.” Fundamental Duties demanded in the Indian Constitution Article 51-A, (e) that every citizen shall “promote harmony and spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities”. Basing on these teachings, a subject of eternal wisdom would enhance the spirit of the Constitution of India.

We also have a third opinion that the decision by the Chief Minister is purely political. It is trying to whip up the emotions of the majority community. Religion is a personal affair of people and teaching religion is basically the duty of parents and religious communities. Teaching religion as a subject can cause problems as the teachers’ knowledge on all religions would be very limited and at times misinformation can be taught to children which may lead to communal tensions. They quote the Father of the Nation Gandhiji who wrote in Harijan (1946): “I swear by my religion. I will die for it. But it is my personal affair. The State has nothing to do with it. The State will look after your secular welfare, health, communication, foreign relations, currency and so on, but not my religion. That is everybody’s personal concern.” 

Even though we are confused with the varied views, we need to listen to the judgemental view of the Supreme Court of India in the case of the S.R. Bommai vs. Union of India [1994 (3) SCC -1] which, while holding that the values enshrined in the Constitution impose a positive duty on the State to ensure the attainment of secular values, observed that “the actions of the state government which are calculative to subvert or sabotage secularism as enshrined in the Constitution can lawfully be deemed to give rise to a situation in which the government of the state cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.”  It has further held that the encroachment of religion into secular activities is strictly prohibited. Secularism in India has acted as a balance between socio-economic reforms. A State which doe not protect secularism or does any act to destroy secularism would, according to the Supreme Court, be amenable to action under Article 356 of the Constitution.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 December 2011 on page no. 2

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