• Legis Scriptor

Case Analysis: Bijoe Emmanuel v State of Kerala

Authored by Shubhangi Sahu

Keywords: National Anthem, Article 25, Article 26, Constitution of India, Worship of God, Patriotic ceremony

Citation: 1985 SCC OnLine Ker 300

Case Number: W.A. No. 483 of 1985

Bench: Malimath, C.J. and Sukumaran, J.

Date of Judgement: December 7, 1985

Parties to the case: Bijoe Emmanuel and Others (Petitioners) and State of Kerala and Others (Respondents)


This article deals with the Bijoe Emmanuel case where it was argued that chanting of National Anthem involves worship of God and thus should allow exemption of the religious denominations who believe in single God worship. Court has justified that it is only a patriotic act but it very necessary for every citizen and does not violate Article 25 and 26 of the Constitution.


The singing of National Anthem is a Fundamental Duty because it creates an environment where we as a citizen of India learn to respect the Nation, its great deeds and develop inside us the feeling of patriotism. But does our National Anthem involve worship of God, does it promote religious activity, is National Anthem a religious act? The present case answers all these questions where court has explained how the national Anthem is only glorifies beauty of the nation and in no manner involves any religious act. In this case, court has literally explained words of the anthem and how they do not imply to any worship of God.

Material Facts

The petitioners who are students of age range ten to fourteen years in a school near Kottayam have complained that singing National Anthem offends their religious freedom. These students belong to the religious sect known as Jehovah’s witnesses and its tenets insist upon the worship of only one God and none else. According to the petitioners singing National Anthem involves worship of God other than Jehovah and thus they are pleading for exclusion from chanting National Anthem.

Procedural History

Before the present appeal, petitioners went to the District Educational Officer and Government requesting for the exemption from singing National Anthem which was rejected. The original petition was filed before the Single judge who held that the Jehovah’s witnesses are only the members of charitable society and not a religious denomination thus not entitled under Article 25 and 26. The Judge also held that they are bound to sing National Anthem as it is political duty and not singing is a conduct of disrespect and will endanger the security of the nation.


Whether singing National Anthem violates religious freedom under Article 25 and 26?


The present appeal is writ appeal filed under Article 226 of the Constitution.

· The first question court looked at is whether Jehovah’s witnesses are part of a religious denomination, for which court referred to a decision given by Australian High Court[i] and assumed for the purpose of the appeal that they constitute a religious denomination and thus entitled to the provisions of Article 25 and 26.

· Then the Court looked at the powers of court vis-à-vis religious matters where it referred to various cases and stated that Courts have power to decide upon whether rites or observances are regarded as an essential tenet of religion.[ii]

· Further court started discussing about the concept of National Anthem, the genesis of Jana Gana Mana and the history of anthem and its adoption as a National Anthem. The counsel for petitioners pointed out to certain words such as Adhinayaka, Vidhata, Shubh Name, Shubh Ashish involved concept of God to which court answered that the word Adhinayaka will ordinarily refer to superiority of leadership or over-lordship, Vidhata means creator or doer of all actions, auspicious names refer to Shubh Name and Shubh Ashish refers to auspicious blessings, thus no concept of God involved. National Anthem is essentially a secular exercise and the Anthem only means poet’s well-tuned song which glorifies India that is Bharath. The National Anthem is not a religious ceremony but a patriotic ceremony[iii] which intends to inspire devotion the motherland and not in a remotest sense involves worship of God.

· Court also emphasized on the secular character of the Constitution and said that the secularism is an essential[iv] and basic feature of the Constitution[v] and such a secular Constitution will never promote worshipping of God through the National Anthem. Court also added that the members of Constituent Assembly who accepted the anthem as a National Anthem belonged to different political hues and views, different religious convictions, different religions including those religions which do not believe in God. Also, the poet of the anthem i.e. Rabindranath Tagore who is said to be a person of liberal views and himself agreed on non-belief of God.

· In addition to this, Court also said that there are many minority religions in the country with their own beliefs and tenets, for instance, Islam insists upon Allah as the only God and Mohamed as the prophet but people from this community or any other community never asked for such exemptions which weighs upon the conclusion that National Anthem does not interfere with any integral or essential part of religion.

· Court took note of the reiteration about the National Anthem by the Parliament i.e. through the enactment of “The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971” and Article 51A which made it a fundamental duty to respect National Anthem and National Flag and such actions by the Parliament makes it very clear that the National Anthem is only a patriotic ceremony and noting else.

· Lastly court looked upon the meaning of the word ‘worship’ for which it referred to the New Webster’s Dictionary of English Language[vi] which defined it as a performance of devotional acts in honour of the Deity and chanting of National Anthem does not involve any element of the religion. Thus, court finally concluded that the chanting of National Anthem is not a religious act and does not violate Article 25 and 26.


In the present case the bench made it clear that singing of National Anthem is purely a patriotic ceremony and does not involve any element of worship of God, thus emphasized upon the secular nature of the Constitution. The bench beautifully explained about the concept of National Anthem, the genesis of Jana Gana Mana and the history of its adoption as a National Anthem and also explained the words which were pointed out by the Counsel for petitioners as involving concept of worship.

However, one may argue that dismissing the writ petition and upholding the judgement given by the Learned Single Judge that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are bund to sing the Nation Anthem as a forceful action given by the court but Court made it explicitly clear that the national integrity and patriotism should be a priority of each and every citizen of the nation and should be given the utmost importance.


The Indian judiciary through this case has made it very clear that the respect for National Anthem and National Flag is a patriotic act and a fundamental duty of every citizen of the nation without any compromise. Being the secular country, the Constitution has nowhere diluted patriotic acts with the religious acts thus it cannot violate beliefs of any religion.


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Foot notes:

[i] Adelaide Company of Jehovah’s Witnesses Inc v The Commonwealth, 67 C.L.R. 116. [ii] Jagdishwaranand v Police Commissioner, Calcutta, (1983) 4 SCC 522. [iii] Engle v Vitale, 370 U.S. 421. [iv] St. Xavier’s College v State of Gujarat, (1974) 1 SCC 717 [v] Kesavananda v State of Kerala, (1973) 4 SCC 225. [vi] Webster’s Third International New Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged