Kottayam V.J. Emmanuel, a retired college teacher, on whose petition the Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgment on the freedom of expression, died due to age-related ailments here on Wednesday evening. He was 78. He is survived by wife, five daughters, and a son.
Emmanuel, who retired from the Department of English at KE College, Mannam, was an ardent preacher of the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect. The funeral was held at his family’s residence at Koodalloor on Thursday .
The case, Bijoe Emmanuel vs State of Kerala, in which he challenged the State Department of Education in 1986, stands as one of the pillars of free speech in India. It pertained to the suspension of his children Bijoe Emmanuel, a Class 10 student, Binu, and Bindu from their school at Kidangoor on July 26, 1986 on the ground that they refused to recite the national anthem during the morning assemblies.
In their response, the students held that singing the national anthem was against the tenets of their religious faith. Though a single-member commission appointed by the government found that the students showed no disrespect to the national anthem, they, along with nine other students from the same sect, were suspended from the school on the instruction of the Education Department.
Emmanuel filed a writ petition in the Kerala High Court seeking to restrain authorities from preventing their school attendance, though to no avail. He subsequently appealed the decision in the Supreme Court, which found that their expulsion was in violation Articles 19 and 25 of the Constitution and held that “no provisions of law in the country expressly obligates individuals to sing the national anthem”.
Armed with the Supreme Court order, Emmanuel got his children readmitted to the school but the family then decided not to continue formal schooling for any of their seven children.
“All of us completed education through parallel schooling and then submitted ourselves in service to God, as wished by our father,” says Bindu, one of Emmanuel’s daughters.