The petition was filed by Veenayak Shah of Madhya Pradesh.
Shah pointed out that the Indian constitution prohibited any school or institution maintained by the government from imparting any kind of religious education.
In his petition, Shah took objection to two prayers, which he said made children seek to depend on supernatural beings instead of developing practical approaches in times of troubles.
The first prayer, he pointed out, started with the verse “Asato ma sat gamaya, tamaso ma jyotir gamaya, mrityoma amritam gamaya, Om, shanti, shanti, shantihi!” and ended with “Om, saha navavathu saha nau bhunaktu, saha veryam karavav hain…”
The translation of the verses, said the petitioner, is as follows:
“Om, Keep me not in the Unreality (of the bondage of the Phenomenal World), but lead me towards the Reality (of the Eternal Self) (O Lord) Keep me not in the Darkness (of Ignorance), but lead me towards the Light (of Spiritual Knowledge),
(O Lord) Keep me not in the (Fear of) Death (due to the bondage of the Mortal World), but lead me towards the Immortality (gained by the Knowledge of the Immortal Self beyond Death), Om, (May there be) Peace, Peace, Peace.”
There is also a second prayer starting with the words “Daya kar, dan vidya ka hamein parmatma dena…” which translates to “Oh God, give us knowledge, grant us abundant spirit, give us purity of soul… ”
Shah said the prayer was detrimental to the development of self-reliance and a scientific temper among students.
“Students as a result learn to develop an inclination towards seeking refuge from the almighty instead of developing a practical outcome towards the obstacles and hurdles faced in everyday life, and the spirit of enquiry and reform seems to be lost somewhere,” he said in his petition.
All the students irrespective of their faith and belief have to compulsorily attend the Morning Assembly and recite the prayer, Shah said in his petition.
“All the Teachers share the collective responsibility of supervising the Assembly and making sure that every student folds his/her hands, closes his/her eyes and recites the Prayer without fail. Any student failing to do so is punished and humiliated in front of the entire school,” he added.
“The above prayer is being enforced throughout the country in all Kendra Vidhalayas. As a result, parents and children of the minority communities as well as Atheist and others who do not agree with this system of Prayer such as Agnostics, Sceptisists, Rationalists and others would find the imposition of this prayer constitutionally impermissible,” he added.
A Bench of Justices R.F. Nariman and Navin Sinha issued notice to the government.
He pointed out that Article 28(1) of the Constitution says that no religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of state funds.
He urged the court to issue directions to stop the prayers and “to promote scientific learning among the students”.
The Kendriya Vidyalayas are a system of Central government schools in India which were instituted under the aegis of the Ministry Of Human Resource Development.
The network expands to about 1,125 schools, ensuring a uniform curriculum and syllabus all over India, thus making it one of world’s largest chain of schools.
The prayers have been in place for several decades.