Standing for Anthem: Between choice and convention

Is it mandatory to stand during the Anthem, or to sing along? What can happen to someone who does not do so? What is the legal position on this matter?

Written by Sagnik Chowdhury , Utkarsh Anand | New Delhi | Updated: November 30, 2016 4:16 pm
pvr couple_759 The Youtube video was uploaded on November 29. (Source: Screenshot)

A video of a group of people being allegedly asked to leave a cinema theatre in Mumbai for not standing up during the National Anthem has gone viral. Is it mandatory to stand during the Anthem, or to sing along? What can happen to someone who does not do so? What is the legal position on this matter?

What does the law say about the National Anthem?

Section 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, says, “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.”

Does the Act make it mandatory to stand for the National Anthem?

The Act limits itself to prescribing punishment for someone who prevents others from singing the National Anthem, or disturbs those who are singing the Anthem. The law is silent on ‘sitting’ or ‘standing’ while the Anthem is playing.

What has been the government’s stand on this issue?

The General Provision of the orders issued by the Government of India on January 5, 2015, states: “Whenever the National Anthem is sung or played, the audience shall stand to attention. However, when in the 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.”

Therefore, while the first part of the provision seems to make it mandatory to stand whenever the National Anthem is played, the second part creates an exception. But the rules nowhere prescribe a penalty for not adhering to it and, therefore, it has to work in accordance with the Act.

Further, under the Cinematograph Rules, 1983, a “feature film” has been defined as a “fictionalised story film exceeding 2,000 metres in length in 35 mm or corresponding length in other gauges or on video”. Hence, a “feature film” may not be in the ambit of the government’s instructions at all.

Has there been an authoritative ruling by the Supreme Court on this subject?

In 1987, a two-judge Bench of the top court ordered a school in Kerala to take back three children who had been expelled for not singing the National Anthem, although they stood during the Anthem. The children desisted from singing because of their conviction that their religion did not permit them to join any rituals except in their prayers to Jehovah, their God.

The court ruled that there is no legal provision that obliges anyone to sing the National Anthem, and it is not disrespectful to the Anthem if a person who stands up respectfully when it is being sung does not join in the singing. The court, however, did not deal with the issue of whether it would be disrespectful if a person chose not to stand during the National Anthem. The judgment ended with the message: “Our tradition teaches tolerance; our philosophy preaches tolerance; our Constitution practises tolerance; let us not dilute it.”

What did the Madras High Court say in its September 15 order on the issue?

Madurai-based lawyer R Pandi Maharaja had filed a public interest petition in the Madras High Court, seeking directions to owners of cinema halls in the state to stop playing the National Anthem before the screening of films. He complained that only a few stand up to give respect to the Anthem, while the majority continue to sit. The HC said that “the nature of disrespect alleged is vague”. Also, playing of the National Anthem is permitted under the General Provision of orders issued by the Government of India. The court dismissed the PIL.

So, what is the final position on this matter?

As things stand now, there is no judgment by the apex court, or a legal provision, or an administrative direction that makes it mandatory for people to stand during the National Anthem. That they do so is essentially an expression of personal respect.

IN KERALA, SEDITION CHARGE ON YOUTH

IN AUGUST 2014, police in Kerala slapped IPC Section 124A (sedition) on seven people, including two women, after they failed to stand when the National Anthem was being played in a Thiruvananthapuram theatre. One of them, M Salman, 25, was arrested for allegedly “sitting and hooting” as the Anthem was played. He was also charged under Section 66A of the IT Act for allegedly posting a derogatory comment about the National Flag on Facebook.

IN SEPTEMBER 2014, the Kerala High Court granted Salman bail. Justice A Hariprasad observed there was no offence amounting to the security of the nation against the accused, and that the prosecution had not produced anything to show that Salman was involved in a criminal case.

POLICE HAVE now submitted the chargesheet against the accused. However, the trial in the case is yet to begin.

This story appeared in print edition on December 1, 2015

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