The Supreme Court has ruled that the national anthem should be played before the screening of films in cinema halls, and that all should “stand up in respect.” “…people should feel that they live in a nation and show respect to the national anthem and the national flag,” Justice Dipak Misra said in the ruling.
There have been legal interventions on playing the national anthem in theatres in the past. In 2003, the Maharashtra Assembly passed an order mandating the playing of the national anthem before the start of a movie.
In the 1960s, the national anthem would be played at the end of the film. But as people simply filed out after the movie, this practice was stopped.
The most famous case of punishing someone for not singing the national anthem was that of three children from Kerala. The school students, in Bijoe Emmanuel vs State of Kerala, were expelled for not singing the national anthem, although they remained standing. At the time, the Supreme Court had observed, “There is no provision of law which obliges anyone to sing the National Anthem nor is it disrespectful to the National Anthem if a person who stands up respectfully when the National Anthem is sung does not join the singing.”
Existing laws don’t penalise or force any person to stand up or sing the national anthem. The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 states: “Whoever intentionally prevents the singing of the Jana Gana Mana 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.”
The official duration of the anthem is 52 seconds, though what is usually played in cinema halls exceeds that length.
A Home Ministry order in 2015 stated, “Whenever the Anthem is sung or played, the audience shall stand to attention. However, when in the course of a newsreel or documentary the Anthem is played as a part of the film, it is not expected of the audience to stand as standing is bound to interrupt the exhibition of the film and would create disorder and confusion rather than add to the dignity of the Anthem.”
And the law until now, specifically says that it has been left “to the good sense of the people” not to indulge in indiscriminate singing or playing of the national anthem. There are even specific rules as to whom the national anthem should be played for (the President and not the Prime Minister), and when people can indulge in mass singing of the anthem.
While the application of the Supreme Court order and the penalties for its violation are not clear, there are definitely precedents for “individually perceived notions of freedom”, which this court order says are overindulged, being upheld over nationalistic causes.
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