On January 24, the Kerala High Court said that schools cannot impart religious education without permission of state government.
During a hearing, the single bench of Justice Muhammed Mustaque observed that the state government could close down or de-recognize if schools are found violating the order.
The court asked the Kerala government to issue an order stating that all private schools functioning under the Right to Education Act cannot impart religious instructions or religious studies without the state government’s permission.
Judge Mustaque said imparting religious lessons and teachings to one community and barring students from other communities could pose a serious threat to the secular fabric of the country.
A year ago, the Kerala government shut down a school that was providing exclusive religious instructions and admitting children of one particular committee. Following the closure, the school moved the court against the state government’s decision to shut down the school.
The school – Hidaya Educational Charitable Trust of Thiruvananthapuram – did not have an affiliation to CBSE nor state government recognition and has admitted more than 200 children, all of them adherent to Islam. The state government acting on an intelligence report issued the order of closure. The state government noted that admission was being given exclusively to children belonging to one particular community. The school argued that since it was not receiving government aid, therefore it could run on its own curriculum.
The court observed, “A private body that discharges public functions must adhere to constitutional values regarding the discharge of public functions. It cannot adopt any character contrary or repugnant to constitutional morality or value. Individual freedom available to a private body to promote its own belief or faith is not available to a private body when it discharges public function. It is bound by public morality conceived in the Constitution.”
The court also said, “The status of minority institutions in relation to imparting elementary education is relatable to a State function. Minority institutions, therefore, cannot shrug off their role as State functionaries and protect sectarian education under the garb of Articles 29 and 30.
The High Court said that schools requiring government recognition cannot impart exclusive religious texts. However, the HC added that private school could teach religious studies based on religious pluralism only after the state government permits.
It is not the first time that a state government has taken action against schools imparting religious studies.
On December 14, the Assam government passed a resolution to disband all state-run Sanskrit schools and madrassas. Assam education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma announced that all madrassas would convert into regular schools and Sanskrit schools would become centres of ancient studies within six months. The education minister said the resolution was passed to “secularise” education. The education minister had earlier said that the Assam government “cannot allow teaching religious education with public money”.
However, the Assam government’s decision has drawn criticism. The decision also did not sit well with minority organizations, with many protesting against this decision. Some minority leaders warning of legal actions the BJP-led government for implementing this decision.