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National anthem in cinema halls: Supreme Court may have gone way too far this time

The Supreme Court’s order making it mandatory to play the national anthem in cinema halls before screening of films has once again exposed the shortcomings of judicial activism that often attracts criticism from various quarters.

analysis Updated: Dec 01, 2016 11:52 IST
Satya Prakash
Satya Prakash
National anthem,Supreme Court,SC order
The SC interim order requires all cinema halls to play the national anthem before the screening a film.(Mohd Zakir/HT File Photo)

The Supreme Court’s order making it mandatory to play the national anthem in cinema halls before screening of films has once again exposed the shortcomings of judicial activism that often attracts criticism from various quarters.

There can hardly be any disagreement with the idea that the national anthem and national flag should be respected by one and all. The court has rightly put an end to commercial exploitation and dramatisation of the national anthem and banned its display in disrespectful manner.

“It is the sacred obligation of every citizen to abide by the ideals engrafted in the Constitution. And one of them is to show respect to the National Anthem and National Flag,” the court said.

But the top court may have gone way too far this time. The interim order requires all cinema halls in India to play the national anthem before the screening a film while viewers are obliged to stand up for the duration of the national anthem.

The order is difficult to implement and would be a nightmare for law enforcement authorities. It runs the risk of being violated on a large scale, leading to law and order problems as it is bound to give rise to vigilantism.

The court has cited the fundamental duty of citizens under Article 51-A of the Constitution that says, “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem.” The Constitution does not, however, provide for enforcement of the duties.

Read | Supreme Court says yes to national anthem at the cinemas. Where next?

This is not the first time that the top court has passed an order for mandatory screening of government films. In Union of India versus Motion Picture Association, the Supreme Court had in 1999 upheld the government’s order for compulsory screening of educational, scientific or documentary films on current events, saying it promoted free speech.

Controversies abound over alleged disrespect of protocols while national anthem is played
  • OCT 20, 2016: Writer and poet Salil Chaturvedi, who is wheelchair-bound due to a spinal injury, was assaulted for not standing up while the national anthem was being played before the screening of a film at a multiplex in Panaji. Salil also represented India in wheelchair tennis at the Australian Open
  • MAY 23, 2015: Jayalalithaa created a controversy after playing a shortened version of the anthem during her swearing in ceremony for the fifth time. There is an official 20-second version of the anthem, but playing that during swearingin ceremonies is a violation of the Union home ministry’s rules
  • OCT 21, 2014: A gang of five abused and thrashed a media executive Mahek Vyas after his girlfriend Nicole Sobotker, a South African national, did not stand when national anthem was played. The police officer whom the duo went to file a complaint, told Vyas that Nicole should have stood up
  • OCT 8, 2014: Actor Preity Zinta asked a man to leave a theatre when he refused to stand as the anthem was played. She tweeted: "#bangbang be4 Bang Bang! Had2 throw a guy out of the theater as he refused 2stand up4 our National Anthem! Can u believe it? Now movie time"
  • 2008: Congress MP Shashi Tharoor was dragged to court in 2008 by an activist alleging that he interrupted the national anthem at a function in asking the audience to place their right hand on the chest instead of standing in attention. In 2013, a court discharged him
  • 1985: An educational institution in Kottayam expelled 3 for not singing the anthem. Belonging to a Christian sect called ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ they told that their faith did not allow them to do so. In 1986, the SC held that the school violated norms and ordered it to re-admit them.

But the current order doesn’t deal with dissemination of such information. Also, it appears to be in contrast with the court’s verdict in the Jehovah’s Witnesses case in which it upheld the right of schoolchildren belonging to this religious sect to refrain from singing the National Anthem during a school assembly. The children had contended that their religious belief precluded them from singing the National Anthem, though they were prepared to stand by respectfully while fellow students sang it.

People go to cinema for entertainment and certainly not for a lesson in patriotism. The National Anthem has its own sanctity and citizens have their own way of expressing nationalism. Playing it in every cinema hall and multiplex before each show and making it obligatory for each one present to stand up is not the way forward.

It would be a logical argument now to seek playing of the national anthem in courts before the start of the day’s proceedings.

Views expressed are personal

First Published: Dec 01, 2016 00:48 IST