The Supreme Court today clarified that one need not or no one can be compelled to stand up in attention position if the national anthem is played in a movie or a documentary. Modifying its earlier order ordering that everybody must stand while the national anthem is played in theatres, the Supreme Court today said the audience need not stand if the anthem is part of a film. “It is clarified that when the national anthem is played as part of the storyline of a film, newsreel or a documentary the audience need not stand,” the court said. According to the apex court it is not compulsory to sing the national anthem in cinema halls. There is also no need to stand up if it is a part of film.
On November 30 last year, the Supreme Court had ordered cinema halls across the nation to mandatorily play the national anthem before screening of a movie and the audience must stand and show respect. A bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Amitava Roy had observed that “The time has come when citizens must realize they live in a nation and are duty-bound to show respect to National Anthem which is a symbol of constitutional patriotism and inherent national quality.” The ruling was based on a petition by Shyam Narayan Chouksey, who runs an NGO in Bhopal.
“Citizens are duty-bound to show respect to the national anthem which is the symbol of the constitutional patriotism,” the top court had said in the order. “The love and respect for the motherland is reflected when one shows respect to the National Anthem as well as to the National Flag,” the judges commented. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi submitted before the court that the home ministry on the directions of the court has issued guidelines on how people with disabilities can show respect when the national anthem is being played in movie halls or public functions, saying they should not move and position themselves “maintaining the maximum possible alertness physically”.
Days after the November order, there were instances of people at movie theatres being assaulted and arrested for not standing during the anthem. There have been instances of people beaten up for not standing up for the anthem and complaints have been lodged in several states across the country. Last October, award-winning writer Salil Chaturvedi – who suffers from spinal injury – was allegedly beaten up at a Panaji multiplex for not standing up while the national anthem was being played. The aftermath of this ugly, absurd incident is that Chaturvedi has not gone back to the movies. “I can’t go,” he says, “I’m afraid someone will hit me even harder, and worsen my spinal injury. I just don’t understand why it seems impossible for so many people to express patriotism in a non-aggressive manner.” On 16 Dec 2016, a case has been registered against seven people, including a woman, being beaten harshly fornot standing up for the national anthem in a cinema hall in Chennai. A group of students were allegedly manhandled after they refused to stand up when the national anthem was being played inside a movie theatre in Chennai’s Vadapalani on 11 Jan 2017. A 59-year-old man was allegedly assaulted in a movie theatre here for not standing up when the National Anthem tune was played on screen in a scene of the film ‘Dangal’, on 23rd Jan 2017.
Section 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 states: “Whoever intentionally prevents the singing of the Indian National Anthem or causes disturbances to any assembly engaged in such singing shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.” In the National Anthem Order, the Division Bench refers to Fundamental Duties as prescribed under Article 51A(a) of the Constitution. As per the said article, it is the constitutional duty of every Indian citizen “to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem”. It has been argued that: “Standing during the national anthem does not necessarily mean respect for the national anthem. Nor does sitting during the anthem mean disrespect or qualify as a crime. What qualifies as crime is a “willful act” committed to insult the National Anthem.”
The National Anthem Order was a topic of debate as it has tried to introduce a new doctrine in Indian jurisprudence, i.e. Constitutional Patriotism. As per the order, the concept of protocol associated with the National Anthem has ‘its inherent roots in National identity, National integrity and Constitutional Patriotism’. By invoking a vague concept as “Constitutional Patriotism”, the Supreme Court was leading towards following the path of judicial inconsistency. The National Anthem order failed on the parameters on judicial ethics, judicial process and constitutional principles.
We can also take the reference to what Dr. Ambedkar had said, while moving the Draft Constitution in the Assembly (Constitutional Assembly Debates: Official Reports Vol.VII: November 4, 1948, page 38):
“While everybody recognized the necessity of diffusion of constitutional morality for the peaceful working of the democratic constitution…it is perfectly possible to pervert the Constitution, without changing its form by merely changing its form of administration and to make it inconsistent and opposed to the spirit of the Constitution.” It is therefore concluded that the National Anthem order by deviating from Constitutional Morality had gone against the spirit of the Constitution and in a way tends to pervert the Constitution, against which Dr. Ambedkar had warned.
Indore Institute of Law