The case of Bijoe Emmanuel v. State of Kerala
is popularly also known as the
National Anthem Case. This case went on to evolve the concept of the Right to
Silence, which came to be included under the heading of freedom of speech. A
landmark judgement of its time regained its popularity during the recent Hijab
Ban case. Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia cited this case, stating that it squarely
covered the Hijab Ban issue. This case was also cited in the case of Naveen
Jindal v. Union of India (National Flag Case).
Since childhood, it has been taught to us to always respect the national flag
and stand whenever we hear the national anthem being sung. The national anthem
Jana Gana Mana written by Noble Laurette Rabindranath Tagore originally
consisted of 5 stanzas. It was named "Bharoto Bhagya Bidhata", written in
Sanskritized Bengali. It was later translated into Hindi by Captain Abid Ali.
The present-day national anthem comprises only one of the five stanzas of the
originally composed anthem.
The year 1986, in which the case was decided, is counted as the time when the
judiciary was establishing its authority and independence. The judgement
pronounced on the subject of religion was remarkable in itself, besides the fact
that it also widened the scope of freedom of speech and expression and freedom
This case involves the recognition of a minority religious group called
Jehovah's Witnesses. They believe in the concept of one God, and not the trinity
of gods. Accordingly, they refuse to take an oath of allegiance to the King or
other constituted human authority.
The appellants-three children belong to a sect called Jehovah's Witnesses, who
worship only Jehovah-the Creator and none other. They refused to sing the
National Anthem: 'Jana Gana Mana' because, according to them, it is against the
tenets of their religious faith, not the words or the thoughts of the National
Anthem, but the singing of it.
The main issue was that the children refused to sing the national anthem but
they stood respectfully. Their elder sisters used to do the same, and the school
never raised any objections in the aforesaid matter. It was until a member of
the legislative assembly noticed the same and objected to it.
Upon report furnished by the inquiry, it was told that the students possessed
peaceful behaviour and were law-abiding citizens. Yet, the headmistress expelled
the three children on the ground of disrespect to the national anthem
The appellants first approached the headmistress who communicated her
helplessness in the matter, after which a writ was filed in the High Court,
whose prayers were also rejected and finally appealed to the Supreme Court.
The case was presided over by Justice O. Chinnappa Reddy. The case was
pronounced in the favour of appellants. He cited various American and Australian
cases to support his decision. He also examined and answered on various points
raised regarding Freedom of religion as provided under Articles 25 to 28 of the
He opined on the point that there is no provision of law that obliges anyone to
sing the National Anthem nor is it disrespectful to the National Anthem, if a
person who stands up respectfully when the National Anthem is sung, does not
join the singing.
The court allowed their prayers and concluded the judgement with the quote:" Our
tradition teaches tolerance; our philosophy preaches tolerance; our constitution
practices tolerance; let us not dilute it."
This is not the first time in judicial history when Jehovah's Witnesses had a
conflict on point of law. A similar event happened in the United States of
America, the case was named as West Virginia State Board Of Education v. Barnette.
In a similar manner, school students were expelled for not saluting
the flag. The court decided in the favor of children. There are multiple
judicial decisions that have decided cases of the like manner in favor of Jehavoh's Witnesses.
The aforementioned minority, even though having very few followers, got
recognisable status by the supreme court, even though other courts decided to
grant against it. This case is a prominent example of judicial activism and how,
even though the judge was bound to protect the integrity of the national anthem,
decided to interrogate a deeper injustice being done to peaceful minority
The following sites were referred to while crafting this analysis: