Experts & Views
The judgment of the Supreme Court in Shyam Narayan Chouksey vs. UOI (Writ Petition(s) (Civil) No(s). 855/2016) lays down several directions regarding behavioral conduct around the national Anthem. The direction that has caught maximum attention is that “all cinema halls shall play the National Anthem before the feature film starts and all present in the hall are obliged to stand up to show respect to the National Anthem.”
The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 (the Act)
Interestingly, the sole legislation that the judgment refers to is “The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971”. The legality and relevance of the direction issued must be understood in the light of this Act.
Section 2 of the Act provides what amounts to insult to the national flag and Constitution of India and Section 3 of the Act, relevant for the purpose of the direction of the Court, lays down the position on what actions amount to an offence with respect to the singing of the national Anthem. It reads as under:
“Prevention of Singing of National Anthem
Whoever intentionally prevents the singing of the Indian National Anthem 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.”
Interpreting what amounts to prevention of singing the National Anthem
A critical reading of the section shows that performance of the following two actions may amount to an offence punishable under the Act:
a) An ‘intentional’ act of preventing the singing of the Anthem. The word intentional is significant. Thus, the section envisages a willful act of prevention of singing of the Anthem and not an unmindful act that ends up preventing the same. It means that the section covers only those instances of disobedience where a person yells anything disrespectful during the course of the singing of the national Anthem such that people around are coerced to discontinue the singing.
b) An intentional act of causing disturbance. Going by the section once again, since intention is necessary, it implies that if a father or mother causes disturbance to people in the vicinity when their toddler starts crying or gets fidgety in the cinema hall during the singing of Anthem, there is no act of violation.
Now, it is important to note that while the section envisages acts of prevention or disturbance to others during the singing of the Anthem, the language of the section also seems to imply a conscious gathering of people specifically with the purpose of exhibiting activities of patriotic fervor including the singing the Anthem.
I find it difficult to digest that the section intends to cover people who have actually come together for an entertainment activity such as watching a feature film and that such activity is to be precluded by singing of the Anthem. In fact, there is no provision under this Act that pertains to an assembly of people who are mandated to sing the Anthem before they could embark upon a horror flick or a romantic comedy!
Environment of a Cinema Hall and the solemn occasion of singing the National Anthem – a dichotomy of sorts!
Even if we for once put the Act aside, there is no denying the fact that there is a complete mismatch in the mindset of families and friends gathered together to watch feature films of varied genres, and the absolutely solemn occasion of singing the National Anthem!
How can one expect that men and women with pepsi cans and popcorn tubs in their hands...awaiting the start of dramatized visuals for pleasure…to willfully stand up and emote far more serious feelings of depth, pride and gratitude. How can the ‘picnic’ mood quickly translate into ‘I love my country’ mood and then go back to the ‘picnic’ mood as the trailers and commercials immediately follow! Practically speaking, this super quick mind shift is impossible to achieve! As a result, majority of the assembly gathered to watch the feature film fail to realize or ‘feel’ the depth of the Anthem when it plays in the movie theatre.
I strongly believe that making people stand up and sing the Anthem in a cinema hall environment may simply compromise the supremely important ideals of national integrity and constitutional patriotism suffer the most. And that I believe is a greater disgrace and insult to the Anthem than anything else.
Singing the Anthem should give you goosebumps and not make you impatient and weary! And the latter is exactly what happens when the Anthem is played in Cinema Halls.
Fundamental Duty to respect the National Anthem under Article 51A of the Constitution
This takes me the Fundamental Duties of citizens of India as enshrined under Article 51A of the Constitution. Out of the eleven Fundamental Duties, the first one is to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem.
Obviously, there is no doubt that every citizen of the country must honor and respect the Constitution, the Flag and the Anthem. But here again, enforcement of such fundamental duty cannot be divorced from the context and environment in which people are expected to fulfill it. As I said, how can one expect people sitting for an 10.30 pm show of ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’ to all of a sudden ‘realize’ that they live in a nation and hence must exhibit national quality! Frankly speaking, I cannot fathom what fundamental duty will be served …in its true sense...in such a scenario.
The unfortunate possibility of patriotism turning pretentious
In fact, coming from an Army family, patriotism flows in my blood. Hence, when I am in the cinema hall, and the national anthem is playing, it hurts me to see that people are disinterested, standing with a slouching posture, with an “Oh I can’t wait to dig into my plate of nachos!” expression on their faces. But then, I understand that a cinema hall is just not the place for anyone to feel a gush of patriotism all of a sudden! It is certainly neither the occasion nor the mood to make sense of the National Anthem!
If one feels patriotic in the cinema hall, it is really good. If one does not, let us be neutral to them. ‘Making’ them do something to practice patriotism and nationalism, completely misses the essence of patriotism and ends up lowering its value.
In any case, by the very nature of fundamental duties, the desire to fulfill them must come from within…the hearts and minds of the people. They should not be ‘enforced’. Patriotism is a very valuable feeling…it’s the soul of a country. However, enforcing it with directives strikes it at its very heart, unless of course, we wish to create a pretentiously patriotic society. And that is a path I don’t want my country to take.
Our Anthem deserves much more than cinema hall fanfare right? In fact, our nation deserves so much more.