SC says no need to stand when National Anthem plays in theatres to prove patriotism: The controversial case so far

On Monday, the Supreme Court said that people do not need to stand up in cinema halls to prove their patriotism, asking the Centre to consider amending the rules that regulate playing of the National Anthem before a movie.

Observing that the society did not need "moral policing", the bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said that in the future, "the government will want people to stop wearing T-shirts and shorts to cinemas saying this would disrespect the National Anthem." The bench said it will not allow the government to "shoot from its shoulder", and asked it to take a call either way on the issue.

The government has until 9 January to respond, which is when the case will be heard next. Here is how the case evolved since the Supreme Court ruling last year:

The idea of playing the national anthem in movie theatres

There are several theories relating the seemingly unrelated subjects of the National anthem — a matter of reverence — and cinema — a media form usually directed at recreation.

According toThe Guardian, the practice to play the National Anthem in cinema halls in India was first introduced after the 1962 India-China war.

Those were the times of high national fervour, with India facing a mightier enemy at its borders. But then the National Anthem was played at the end of the movies. The moviegoers, ignorant of the diktat, would file out of the cinema hall soon after the end of the movie, and this was probably why the practice slowly faded and was eventually discontinued, until 2003.

In 2003, as The Huffington Post reported, "Narendra Verma of the Nationalist Congress Party lobbied and got the Maharashtra government to order cinema halls to do it again." There have also been incidents, in the select few states where it is a law, of people heckling others for refusing to stand up during the National Anthem. Since then, there have been several campaigns to bring back the practice of playing the National Anthem in movie theatres.

The original Supreme Court order

File image of Supreme Court. AP

File image of the Supreme Court. AP

On 30 November 2016, the Supreme Court ordered that the National Anthem must be played in public theaters across the country before a movie, without any dramatisation. It also ordered that the national flag be shown on screen when the anthem is being played.

A bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Amitava Roy said that this would instill a feeling of constitutional patriotism and nationalism. "It is the duty of every citizen to abide by the ideals ingrained in the Constitution and as such show respect to the National Anthem and the national flag," the bench said.

The court's order came on a public interest litigation (PIL) by Shayam Narayan Chouksey seeking framing of guidelines on the playing of the National Anthem.

Earlier in October 2016, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to the government on a plea for directions to make playing of the National Anthem mandatory in all cinema halls. The plea mentioned that Maharashtra, Goa and several southern states already had the practice of playing the National Anthem in theatres and also observed that a few decades ago it was mandatory to play it at the end of the screening of a movie.

Subsequent controversy

The Supreme Court ruling invited sharp criticism, with many asking if patriotism can be forced upon citizens. Some critics pointed out the order was likely to embolden right wing groups pushing a strident brand of nationalism aimed at curbing dissent, while others said it raises questions on an individual's fundamental rights.

While former attorney general Soli Sorabjee said courts cannot direct the public to stand up and do anything, senior advocate KTS Tulsi said the judiciary should not go into the areas which do not belong to it.

However, others such as Meenakshi Lekhi, a lawyer and BJP MP from New Delhi constituency, said the order "causes no harm". "National anthem is sung at various places like schools, public functions, events etc. What's the harm in playing it at another venue? It causes no harm and it is natural to stand up when the anthem is played," she said.

Incidents of violence since then

Since the order, several movie goers who either refused to or could not stand up for the national anthem before the movie were forced to face violence from others in the hall, if not an arrest by the police.

On 21 August, three engineering students, originally from Jammu and Kashmir, were booked for allegedly disrespecting the National Anthem by not standing when it was being played in a cinema hall in Hyderabad.

On 2 October, a wheelchair-bound disability rights activist was allegedly heckled and called a Pakistani at a theatre in Guwahati after he couldn’t stand when the National Anthem was played.

Government's stand

During Monday's hearing, Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, said India was a diverse country and the National Anthem needed to be played in the cinema halls to bring in uniformity.

Venugopal, opposing a recall of the 30 November 2016 order, said it should be left open to the government to take a call on its own discretion on whether the anthem should be played in theatres and whether people should stand up for it.

On revisiting the original order

On Monday, the bench, comprising Misra along with Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud observed that it cannot be assumed that if a person does not stand up for the National Anthem, then he is "less patriotic". "Desireability is one thing but making it mandatory is another. Citizens cannot be forced to carry patriotism on their sleeves and courts cannot inculcate patriotism among people through its order," the bench said.

Responding to the government's representative Venugopal, Chandrachud said, "What is stopping you from amending the Flag Code? You can amend it and say where to play National Anthem and where it can't be done. Nowadays, anthem is played during matches, tournaments and even Olympics where half the crowd does not understand its meaning."

The bench added, "You (Centre) take a call. Government should not show any reservation to the amendment as the court would not allow it to shoot from its shoulders". Chandrachud said the practice of playing National Anthem in theatres was earlier discontinued in Mumbai because people used to move out of the halls when it was played.

"If the court is supposed to enforce respect for the National Anthem on citizens, it should also enforce the other fundamental duties in Article 51A," Chandrachud said, adding that cultural and social values are inculcated by parents and teachers and not through court orders.

With inputs from agencies


Published Date: Oct 24, 2017 12:45 pm | Updated Date: Oct 24, 2017 01:05 pm


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