The recent Supreme Court ruling on directing cinema halls to play the national anthem before screening to “instill committed patriotism and nationalism” has received mixed reactions from the society with some users, including celebrities, questioning why any person should be compelled to stand up as a sign of respect, while others pondering whether it is even a way to show patriotism.
However, it was not the first time that the issue has cropped up.
On August 11, 1986, in the Bijoe Emmanuel & others vs State of Kerala case, the Supreme Court had ruled in favour of three students in Kerala who stood with other schoolmates when they sang the national anthem one July morning in 1985, but refused to sing with them, because they believed in worshiping only Jehovah-the Creator and none other.
Their father, V.J. Emmanuel, retired college professor V J Emmanuel, who fought the legal case on behalf of the three, had instructed his three children Bijoe, Binu and Bindu, students of a school in Ettumanoor in Kottayam, not to salute the flag or sing the anthem because their faith didn’t allow them to do so.
He said: “I went to court not to protect the right of my children to study in a school. It was meant for freedom of worship of all members of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
The three siblings, Bijoe Emmanuel, Binu, and Bindu studying in of NSS High School, did rise from their seats while the other students sang the national anthem, but they refused to sing it.
They were suspended from school after a complaint that they didn’t sing the national anthem. The school, run by the Hindu organisation Nair Service Society, had 11 students from Jehovah’s Witnesses at the time.
“For Jehovah’s Witnesses, only Jehovah should be worshiped. The national anthem is a prayer, and we should pray only to Jehovah (God) as per our faith,” Emmanuel had said.
Armed with the Supreme Court order, Emmanuel got his and other children from Jehovah’s Witnesses sect re-admitted in school. He said this was “a gesture to show we had won the legal battle”.
According to Bindu, they had clear conviction about their faith.” If we missed school and classmates, that loss was set off by the support from the family and our community. Getting a degree is not important in education.”
Binu said they are happy as “we find pleasure from God”.
As per Emmanuel, he has no issues with the current SC verdict as they stand in respect when the national anthem is sung.
Emmanuel’s grandchildren continue to uphold their religious faiths and don’t sing the national anthem in schools.