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This article is written by Niharika Agrawal, from IFIM Law School. This article deals with the legal journey of the national anthem and emphasizes constitutional patriotism.


The legal journey of the national anthem started long back. It started in 1987 with the case of Bijoe Emmanuel v. the State of Kerala and continued till 2018 in the case of Shyam Narayan Chouksey case v. Union of India. There has always been the question of ‘respect’ towards the national symbols such as the national flag and the national anthem. There have been many debates in the society and petitions were filed in the court as to whether and why it is important to stand whenever the national anthem is played and also if it has any effect upon constitutional patriotism. Constitutional patriotism is nothing but a feeling of love and respect towards the Constitution of the country rather than the national culture. The current position of this issue was recently decided in the case of Shyam Narayan Chouksey case v. Union of India by the Apex Court. 

This article has composed a brief analysis of the entire legal journey of the national anthem and its regulating laws and the judicial and the Government approach towards it.  

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Laws relating to the national anthem

 The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971

This Act was enacted by the Parliament of India in 1971. It prohibits the violation or insult to any national symbols which include the national flag, the Constitution of India, the national anthem, and the map of India. This Act provides punishment for any person who disrespects the national anthem under Section 3 of the Act. According to this section, “Any person who intentionally refuses or prevents the singing of the Indian National Anthem or if causes any disturbance in the assembly engaged in such singing, would be punished with imprisonment up to the term of 3 years or with fine or with both.” 

Article 51 A of the Constitution of India

Article 51A of the Indian Constitution constitutes it as a constitutional duty. It makes every citizen’s duty to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the national flag, and the national anthem. 

The general provision of the orders issued by the Government of India on 5th January 2015

The Ministry of Home Affairs in its order of 2015 stated that whenever the national anthem is sung or played, the audience shall stand in an attention position to pay respect to the national anthem. However, in the case of newsreels and documentaries, the audience is exempted from following the above order as that might instead of adding dignity of the anthem may interrupt the exhibition of the film and might create disorder and confusion among the individuals. 

Thus, the former part of the provision tries to obligate the audience to stand whenever the national anthem is played and the latter part creates an exception.

Judicial approach

Bijoe Emmanuel Case v. State of Kerala (1986)

Facts of the case

The facts of this case relate to one school in Kerala where children who believe in Jehovah’s religion refused to sing the national anthem as it was against their faith, however, they stood up when it was being played during assembly. The Head Mistress of the school expelled the students as such an act was observed to be unpatriotic and causing disrespect to the national anthem.


Whether the act of the students who were standing but were not singing the national anthem during the assembly amounts to disrespect towards the national anthem?


The Supreme Court, in this case, held that this act of the children has not caused any disrespect to the national anthem. They have the right not to sing the anthem and that would not amount to any disrespect. The Court also observed that there is no such provision in the law that mandates any person to sing the national anthem nor does it cause any disrespect to the national anthem when the same is not followed.  It is enough if the person is standing respectfully when the national anthem is being played or sung and joining to sing is not mandatory. In this case, more stress was given to respecting the national anthem whenever sung or played.

Shyam Narayan Chouksey v. Union of India (2018)

Facts of the case

This case originated in 2003. In this case, the petitioner filed a petition in Madhya Pradesh High Court accusing director Karan Johar of insulting the national anthem in one of his movies named Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. He alleged that no one except the petitioner and some other person stood when the national anthem was played. Further, he has filed a PIL with the issue of demanding due respect to the national anthem. 

Court orders

Justice Dipak Mishra observed that it is impermissible to have a corrosive attitude towards the honor of national sentiments. The dramatization of the national anthem is against the constitutional philosophy. It was held that if any person shows disrespect to the national anthem in any manner, he/she would be considered to be involved in the anti-national activity. Being a citizen of the country, it is important to remember that every word, every deed, and every thought by him or her must indicate respect for the Constitution and the national anthem. 

The Court ordered to remove the film from the theatres unless the scenes that were depicting the national anthem were deleted and also asked other respondents to withdraw the movie from all other cinema halls and restrained theatre owners from showing the film. However, in 2004 the famous director Karan Johar filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against the judgment pronounced by the MP High Court in 2003. It was held that whenever a national anthem is played in the course of any newsreels, documentary, or a movie, the viewers or the audience is not expected to stand as that may interrupt the exhibition of the film and might create disorder or confusion among the people instead of dignity to the national anthem. Hence, the order of the High Court of MP was set aside and the petition was allowed. 

In 2016, the Court threw light on the legal journey of the national anthem in the present case. The Supreme Court made it compulsory to play the national anthem in the cinema halls. It directed all the cinema halls across the country to play the national anthem in the background before every film with the national flag on the screen. The Court also ordered the audience to stand with all respect when the national anthem is played because India is a country where people should feel that they live in a nation where respect is shown to the national flag and national anthem which are symbols of constitutional patriotism. The court also asked the cinema halls to close all the entry and exit doors of the hall when the national anthem is being played.

Interim orders

 It had also set some interim orders for inculcating constitutional patriotism. They are as follows:

  1. The national anthem should not be used for any commercial benefit or any other benefit. 
  2. There should not be a dramatization of the national anthem and neither should it be a part of any variety show.
  3. The national anthem should not be displayed or presented in any disgraceful manner.
  4. It is the prime duty of every individual in the country to respect the national anthem. 
  5. It should be ensured that there is no disturbance during the exhibition of the national anthem.
  6. There should be no display of an abridged version of the national anthem. 
  7. One should have the national anthem playing in the background and the national flag on the screen and patriotism in the heart. It is because the singing of the national anthem and the concept of protocol associated with it, have their inherent roots in national identity, national integrity, and constitutional patriotism.

Final verdict in the case

The final verdict of this case was then given in the year 2018. In the judgment of this case, there have been certain modifications related to the previous judgment of 2016. In this case, the three bench judge has opined that it is mandatory for all the people to stand while the national anthem is played provided that there is an exception for the person with a disability. This includes wheelchair users, and those with autism, cerebral palsy, multiple disabilities, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, leprosy, muscular dystrophy, or hearing and visual disabilities from its directives. However, in this case, the Court has made it optional to play the national anthem in the cinema halls and has removed the obligation. It is upon the discretion of the theatre owners during the screening of a film. The following judgment was given by a three-judge bench headed by Justice Dipak Mishra.

  1. The Committee that is appointed by the Union Government should submit the recommendation to the concerned authority in terms of notifications for following up the actions, provided that such recommendations must not be influenced by the interim directions of the courts and also competent authority must not be constrained by any interim directions. 
  2. The orders passed in 2016 were modified to the extent that playing the national anthem before the screening of the movie in the cinema hall is not compulsory anymore but is optional and discretionary upon the owners of the cinema hall. 
  3. Every citizen is bound to respect  the national anthem of India as required under executive orders and prevailing law, whenever it is played or sung on any specific occasion. 

Dr. Tawseef Ahmad Bhat v. State of J&K & Anr. (2021)

Facts of the case

In this case, there was a party arranged for the celebration of a successful surgical strike. The celebration started with the singing of the national anthem. Few students in the party claimed that one of the lecturers had shown disrespect towards the national anthem by not standing when the national anthem was being played. However, the lecturer contended that he was standing along with his staff during the same. Also, the students claimed that it is a violation of Section 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971.


The Jammu and Kashmir High Court held that not standing for the national anthem or singing it may amount to disrespecting the national anthem and also is a failure to adhere to the fundamental duties provided in the Constitution. However, such actions do not amount to the offense under  Section 3 of the Prevention of Insult to National Honour Act, 1971. The Court also observed that it is the fundamental duty of every citizen, who also claims fundamental and statutory rights from the country, to obey our Constitution, to show respect to its ideals and institutions, and to hold the national flag and national anthem with utmost high esteem. Any infringement in this regard shall be treated as a breach of fundamental duties.


There are no rules or regulations that mandate the playing of the national anthem, but just a practice that is followed by the theatres. It is the place for presentations of artist creation. The recent judgments given by different courts have been pronounced with utmost good faith which tries to keep the sense of not just patriotism but also constitutional patriotism that is love and respect for the constitution and nation alive. There have been various precedents with regards to the legal perspective of the national anthem for decades. The current position of this issue in which the cinema hall owners are given discretionary power to play or not to play the national anthem has made it easy for the citizens to enjoy their rights as well as to practice their constitutional duty. 



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