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.
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.
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.
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