The Bombay High Court has held that a teacher cannot be forced to fold his hands while standing in the school prayers or hold his hand in the front while taking oath of the preamble of the Constitution.
"Forcing a teacher to do so will be a violation of the fundamental rights conferred on him under the Constitution," observed a bench of Justice Abhay Oka and Revethi Mohiti-Dhere on October 29 while hearing a petition filed by a teacher professing Buddhist faith.
Though the petitioner is bound by the discipline of the school, during the prayers sung at the beginning of the day of the school, he cannot be forced to fold his hands, the judges said. Sanjay Salve worked as a teacher in Matoshri Savitribai Phule Madhyamik Vidyalaya in Nashik town of Western Maharashtra.
The school authorities did not give him higher pay-scale after observing that he had indulged in "indiscipline" by not folding hands while standing for school prayers and holding out his hand at the time of taking oath.
However, the teacher took the stand that he did not show any disrespect to the prayers as he stood along with others. He felt that the prayers were religious and hence did not fold his hands.
Also, at the time of taking oath of the preamble of the Constitution, he stood with other teachers and took part in the exercise, but did not hold out his hand. "We have perused the confidential reports of the petitioner (teacher) for the relevant year. His Reports show that his performance as a teacher is excellent. However, the authorities have found fault with him for not maintaining the discipline when the prayers are being sung," the judges said.
"We concur with the findings recorded by Education Officer that the petitioner fulfils the criteria for granting higher pay-scale. In the confidential reports, it is noted that as the petitioner was not folding his hands when the prayers are being sung, his behaviour is not proper," the bench noted.
The education officer is right in holding that the petitioner cannot be forced to sing the prayers and fold his hands. At the same time, the latter will have to ensure that the school discipline is maintained, the judges said.