New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday made it mandatory for cinemas to play the national anthem before every screening and for everyone in the audience to stand up and show their respect.
Maharashtra and Karnataka adopted such a rule over a decade ago, but the Madras high court in 2015 had refused to allow Tamil Nadu to follow suit.
A bench comprising justices Dipak Misra and Amitava Roy said the slew of directions in a public interest litigation case would “instill a sense of committed patriotism and nationalism”.
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The court’s directions also make it compulsory for the national flag to be displayed on the screen and the doors of the cinema to be locked while the anthem is being played.
“The abridged version of the national anthem made by anyone for whatever reason shall not be played or displayed,” the last of the seven directions specifies.
Shyam Narayan Chouksey had moved the apex court seeking guidelines on when and how the national anthem must be played in accordance with the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971. The Act, along with advisory guidelines issued by the home ministry prohibits desecration of or insult to the country’s national symbols, including the national flag, the Constitution, the Indian map and the national anthem. Offences under this law are punishable by imprisonment of up to three years.
According to senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, the court’s order, although well meaning, might be difficult to implement.
“It is inappropriate to compel playing of national anthem in a place of public entertainment and ensure respect. This is precisely why an old practice of playing the anthem after every movie was discontinued,” Ramachandran said.
However, the court said, “A time has come, the citizens of the country must realize that they live in a nation and are duty-bound to show respect to national anthem which is the symbol of the constitutional patriotism and inherent national quality.”
Taking a tough stand on exceptions, the court added, “any different notion or the perceptions of individual rights that have been individually thought of have no space. The idea is constitutionally impermissible.”
The government and multiplex chains welcomed the order. “It is a very good decision. It will inculcate a sense of patriotism among people, particularly the younger generation,” M. Venkaiah Naidu, minister for information and broadcasting, told the Press Trust of India.
“Every incident comes with some opportunity and we see a great one (in this) for advertisers who can own sponsorship right before the national anthem. That’s a premium spot,” said Devang Sampat, director of strategic initiatives, Cinepolis India.
The ruling, however, was criticized for diluting civil liberties by making it punishable for anyone failing to stand up during the national anthem.
“Freedom of expression and liberty cannot be diluted and made criminal offences for not standing up for national anthem,” said Karuna Nundy, a Supreme Court advocate.
In an earlier ruling in 1986, the apex court had said that no provision of law obliges anyone to sing the national anthem and not singing it does not amount to showing disrespect.
“This will give a push to a nationalist chauvinistic view. Now a fresh demand will come for a law and punishment which will vitiate the political atmosphere,” said Abhay Kumar Dubey, a New Delhi-based political analyst associated with the Centre for Study of Developing Societies.
The apex court also asked the states and union territories to “scrupulously follow” the order within 10 days.
The case will be heard next on 14 February.
Lata Jha and Pretika Khanna contributed to this story.