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In this blogpost, Priyanka Kansara, a student from National Law University, Jodhpur writes on is it necessary to stand when the National Anthem is playing and what are the laws related to it.

As per section 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act 1971[1], whoever intentionally prevents singing of the Indian National Anthem or causes disturbance 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[2]. Though there is no provision of Law, which obliges anyone to sing the National Anthem nor it is disrespectful to the National Anthem, if the person, who stands up respectfully when the National Anthem is sung does not join the singing[3]. However, Article 51A of the Indian Constitution[4] states that it is the duty of every Citizen of India to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flags and the National Anthem[5].

Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution[6] states that All Citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, but at the same time, as per Article 19 (2) of the Constitution[7], Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such the law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the rights conferred by the said sub-clause in the interest of the (Sovereignty and Integrity of India[8]), the security of the State friendly relations with other States, public order, decency, or morality, or in relation to the Contempt of Court defamation or incitement to an offence[9].

The National Anthem is sung on several occasions, for which the Ministry of Home Affairs provides the directives as to on certain specific occasions, the National Anthem can be sung; as per the directives[10], the National Anthem shall be played on any other occasion for which special orders have been issued by the Government of India[11].

The General Provision of the directive says that whenever the National Anthem is sung or played, the audience shall stand to attention. However, when in course of a newsreel or documentary the Anthem is played as a part of the Film, it is not expected of the audience to stand as standing is bound to interrupt the exhibition of the film and would create disorder and confusion rather than add to the dignity of the Anthem[12]; the same provision was upheld in the Case of Karan Johar vs. Union of India[13], wherein the National Anthem was shown in the middle of the movie as a part of it, so there was no need of standing in the mid as it could interrupt the exhibition of the Movie.

Is it mandatory to stand up while the National Anthem is being played-?

Maharashtra has made it mandatory by an executive order to play the National Anthem before the screening of the Movie since 2003. Different exhibitors have started playing different versions of the National Anthem, which could sometimes go for about ten (10) minutes. The Constitution provides for the exhibition of films under State List[14]. Despite not having a proper list of the occasions, wherein the Anthem could be played, the mass singing of the Anthem is allowed under the Directives[15].

A person, with his family, was thrown out in Maharashtra for not standing, while the National Anthem was being played[16], this matter raises a question before us that whether standing is mandatory as per section 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act 1971[17]. The careful perusing of this provisions clearly states that ‘whoever intentionally prevents singing of the Indian National Anthem or causes disturbance to any assembly engaged in such singing’; it means that a person, who avoids standing or singing without any intention to prevent the singing or causes disturbance, will not amount to an offender as the ‘not standing phenomenon’ does not indicate disrespect necessarily.

It also raises another question, whether throwing out of that person for not standing during the National Anthem disrobes his Fundamental Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression. The National Anthem and the Constitution are, undoubtedly, our Pride; they signify the Dignity, Integrity & Sanctity of our Nation. But, above all, the protection of the persons’ Fundamental Rights shows the Constitutional Spirit; any Law, which is against the Constitutional Values and Constitutional Spirit, is not a Law at all. The matter is simple for the persons, who cannot stand because of the Physical Disability; though it is not mentioned anywhere in the Rule or other Legal Provisions. But, the situation turns its face, while dealing with this complex matter.

Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution talks about Freedom of Speech and Expression on the benchmark of Reasonable Restrictions in the Public Interest. The Reasonable Restriction phenomenon depends upon the Basic Structure of the Constitution and besides that as per 1951 Amendment State was allowed to make laws with the objective of imposing reasonable restriction on the exercise of the Article 19 (1) (a) in the interests of[18]

  • Security of the State,
  • Friendly relations with the Foreign States,
  • Public Order,
  • Decency or Morality,
  • In relation to the Contempt of Court,
  • Defamation,
  • Incitement of an Offence,
  • Sovereignty and Integrity of India[19].[20]

Whether it is a moral responsibility of the Citizens of the Nation to stand to show respect towards the National Anthem-?

After looking into all these above-mentioned points, it is interesting to think whether ‘not standing up’ infringes Security of the State, or Public Order, or Morality, or, Sovereignty & Integrity of the Nation. The Logic behind making it mandatory to stand up while the National Anthem is being played is to pay respect, love & to be  Proud of the National Anthem.

The provision of running the National Anthem before the exhibition of the Movie was also a general phenomenon in West Bengal, but there it is a matter of choice, not a matter of compulsion to play the National Anthem. If the playing of National Anthem is a matter of choice for the exhibitors, then how it could be a matter of compulsion for the spectators to stand up which it’s being played to show the respect for it.

Conclusive Remarks

People would prefer to go some 15-20 minutes late in the cinema theatre just to avoid this ‘formality’ of standing up for the National Anthem while it is being played. It is also clear that it is not a part of the movie. Hence, it makes necessary for the people to stand up in respect of the National Anthem. But what makes an obligation as mandatory is not just the private morality, but the public morality at large, as what is moral for a certain group of person doesn’t make it moral for all. The concept of morality should be measured on the benchmark of constitutional spirits.

Making it mandatory by way of rules does not make an action legally binding. For making it legally valid, one has to look into whether those rules are not infringing someone’s Fundamental Rights and whether the so-called rules can make any change or will it be beneficial for the attainment of the objective for which, it was enacted. The author doesn’t mean that the State Government Rules are not sustainable. But, it is also true that sometimes a compulsion makes the people lawbreakers.

[1] The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act 1971: Act No. 69 of 1971 (hereinafter the Act 1971), 23rd December 1971, http://home.bih.nic.in/Acts_Rule/Prevention_Insults_National_Honour_Act1971.pdf (accessed on December 16, 2015).

[2] id, s. 3, the Act 1971.

[3] Bijoe Emmanuel & Ors. vs. State Of Kerala & Ors., AIR 1978 SC 748.

[4] The Constitution of India, Government of India: Ministry of Law and Justice (as modified up to the December 1st, 2007), http://lawmin.nic.in/coi/coiason29july08.pdf (accessed on December 16, 2015).

[5] id, Article 51A (a), Part IVA, Fundamental Duties; Ins. by the Constitution (Forty Second Amendment) Act, 1976, s. 11 (w.e.f. 3-1-1977).

[6] Supra Note 4.

[7] id.

[8] id, Ins. by the Constitution (Sixteenth Amendment Act), 1963, s. 2.

[9]Supra Note 4.

[10] Orders relating to the National Anthem of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, http://www.mha.nic.in/sites/upload_files/mha/files/pdf/NationalAnthem(E).pdf (accessed on December 16, 2015).

[11] id, Section II (3).

[12] id, Section V (1).

[13] (2004) 5 SCC 127.

[14] Article 246, List-II: State List, No. 33, Theatres and dramatic performances; cinemas subject to the provisions of entry 60 of List I; sports, entertainments and amusements, http://lawmin.nic.in/olwing/coi/coi-english/Const.Pock%202Pg.Rom8Fsss(35).pdf (accessed on December 16, 2015).

[15] Supra Note 9, Section III (4).

[16]Family evicted from theatre for ‘disrespecting’ national anthem, Namrata Joshi, THE HINDU, December 1, 2015, http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/news/family-evicted-from-mumbai-theatre-for-disrespecting-national-anthem/article7934105.ece (accessed on December 16, 2015).

[17] Supra Note 1.

[18] The Constitution (First Amendment) Act 1951, http://www.constitution.org/cons/india/tamnd1.htm (accessed on December 16, 2015).

[19] Supra Note 7.

[20] Supra Note 17.

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