What Supreme Court said on National Anthem, respect and tolerance, 30 yrs ago

No provisions of law obliging anyone to sing the National Anthem... our tradition teaches tolerance, our philosophy preaches tolerance, our Constitution practises tolerance, let us not dilute it: SC in 1986.

Updated: December 1, 2016 11:39 am
national anthem, supreme court, national anthem in movies, national anthem before movies, movies national anthem supreme court national anthem, india news People stand as Jana Gana Mana is played at a theatre in Goregaon, Mumbai, on Republic Day in 2003. (Express Photo: Vasant Prabhu)

On Monday, the Supreme Court said all cinema halls across the country should play the national anthem and that those present “must stand up in respect” to “instill a feeling within one a sense of committed patriotism and nationalism”. The order has touched off an old debate on whether forcing someone to sing the anthem infringes on certain fundamental rights. In August 1986, a Supreme Court bench of Justices O Chinnappa Reddy and M M Dutt had, in Bijoe Emmanuel & Ors vs State Of Kerala & Ors, granted protection to three children of the Jehovah’s Witness sect, who didn’t join in the singing of the national anthem at their school. The court held that forcing the children to sing the anthem violated their fundamental right to religion. Excerpts from the judgment, authored by Justice Reddy:

WATCH VIDEO: Supreme Court Makes Playing National Anthem At Theaters Mandatory

On the children and prayer

“The three child-appellants, Bijoe, Binu Mol and Bindu Emmanuel, are the faithful of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They attend school. Daily, during the morning assembly, when the National Anthem ‘Jana Gana Mana’ is sung, they stand respectfully but they do not sing. They do not sing because, according to them, it is against the tenets of their religious faith — not the words or the thoughts of the Anthem but the singing of it… The children were left in peace and to their beliefs. That was until July 1985, when some patriotic gentleman took notice. The gentleman, (an MLA), thought it was unpatriotic of the children not to sing the National Anthem… So, he put a question in the Assembly. A Commission was appointed… The Commission reported that the children are ‘law- abiding’ and that they showed no disrespect to the National Anthem… (But) under the instructions of Deputy Inspector of Schools, the Head Mistress expelled the children from the school from July 26, 1985… Finally the children filed a Writ Petition in the High Court seeking an order restraining the authorities from preventing them from attending school. First a learned single judge and then a Division Bench rejected the prayer of the children…”

On the High Court ruling

“We are afraid the High court misdirected itself… They considered, in minute detail, each and every word… of the National Anthem and concluded that there was no word or thought… which could offend anyone’s religious susceptibilities. But that is not the question at all. The objection of the petitioners is not to the language or the sentiments of the National Anthem: they do not sing the National Anthem wherever, ‘Jana Gana Mana’ in India, ‘God save the Queen’ in Britain, the Star-spangled Banner in the United States and so on…”

On Articles 19(1)(a) and 25(1)

“Now, we have to examine whether the ban imposed by the Kerala education authorities against silence when the National Anthem is sung on pain of expulsion from the school is consistent with the rights guaranteed by Arts. 19(1)(a) and 25 of the Constitution.” [Article 19(1)(a) guarantees freedom of speech and expression, and Article 25(1) upholds the right to practise and propagate one’s religion]

“We may at once say that there is no provisions of law which obliges anyone to sing the National Anthem nor do we think that it is disrespectful to the National Anthem if a person who stands up respectfully when the National Anthem is sung does not join the singing. It is true Art. 51-A(a) of the Constitution enjoins a duty on every citizen of India “to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem”. Proper respect is shown to the National Anthem by standing up when the National Anthem is sung. It will not be right to say that disrespect is shown by not joining in the singing…

“Standing up respectfully when the National Anthem is sung but not singing oneself clearly does not either prevent the singing of the National Anthem or cause disturbance to an assembly engaged in such singing so as to constitute the offence mentioned in s. 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act…”

On Article 25 of Constitution

“Article 25 is an article of faith in the Constitution, incorporated in recognition of the principle that the real test of a true democracy is the ability of even an insignificant minority to find its identity under the country’s Constitution. This has to be borne in mind in interpreting Art. 25.”

On West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette verdict

[In 1943, the US Supreme Court delivered a 6-3 opinion, holding that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution protected students from being forced to salute the American flag. Justice Chinnappa quoted from the verdict, which was delivered by Justice Robert H Jackson]

“Government of limited power need not be anaemic government. Assurance that rights are secure tends to diminish fear and jealousy of strong government, and by making us feel safe to live under it makes for its better support… If there is any fixed star in our Constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”

On the question of tolerance

“We are satisfied, in the present case, that the expulsion of the three children from the school for the reason that because of their conscientiously held religious faith, they do not join the singing of the National Anthem in the morning assembly though they do stand up respectfully when the Anthem is sung, is a violation of their Fundamental Right to freedom of conscience and freely to profess, practise and propagate religion…

“We, therefore, find that the Fundamental Rights of the appellants under Art. 19(1)(a) and 25(1) have been infringed and they are entitled to be protected. We allow the appeal, set aside the judgment of the High Court and direct the respondent authorities to re-admit the children into the school… We only wish to add: our tradition teaches tolerance; our philosophy preaches tolerance; our constitution practises tolerance; let us not dilute it.”


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  1. S
    Dec 4, 2016 at 9:37 am
    though i am not verymuch inclined to agree with the judgement of honble SC, the case quoted here is not relevant to the present judgement.The facts are totally different and the judgement deals with the obligation of a citizen to sing it himself when he is standing in honour of the anthem.it is in this context that the court has held it non obligatory.
    1. A
      Dec 1, 2016 at 5:36 am
      Recently in a movie theater a Muslim family of twenty one man and his four wives with 15 children refused to stand up for national anthem and were ready to open their best in the name of Allah. This ruling is for them. This ruling is also for pope and his men who molest kids in churches. In the name of Jesus they will molest kids in missionary schools while singing lead kindly lord.
      1. A
        Allan Raju
        Nov 30, 2016 at 7:26 pm
        I feel playing the national anthem inside a movie hall, where all kinds of movies, comedy and adult scenes are shown, may be disrespectful to the national anthem itself. Most people, even without any supreme court ruling stand up and stop moving whenever they hear the national anthem, whether it be a restaurant, school or even a mall. lt;br/gt;Furthermore, differently abled individuals, those with health problems, pregnant women... all of them should be allowed to sit if they want. It is very sad that recently in a movie hall, a wheelchaired individual was thrashed first because he didnt stand up for the national anthem. The foolish mob thrashed him first, and didnt even care to listen to him when he told them he couldnt walk. Such idiocy should be frowned upon and common sense should prevail...rest will be cool. Our democracy is what we make of it..... of the people, by the people, for the people.
        1. D
          Dec 1, 2016 at 2:56 am
          O yeah! I don't know about this verdict, and i also don't like the lyrics of anthem,and next time when the anthem will play i will not stand because standing for 59 secs is painful for my legs just for a mere song.
          1. F
            Nov 30, 2016 at 10:38 pm
            Author, the SC has directed the audience to stand and pay respect when the National Anthem is pla something that should be done without saying so please dont spread rumors that one needs to sing.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;As for those who thrash individuals (those who dont stand) are not doing any service to the nation. They should be arrested.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;We as a nation should give more respect to our country than to religion. Country unites religion divides.
            1. S
              Dec 1, 2016 at 4:57 am
              It must be made mandatory to stand respectfully while the national anthem plays before withdrawing money from ATMs also. It must also be mandatory before doing/starting anything. Why must the installation of national pride be left to cinema halls, especially before a Sunny Leone movie? What about those who do not watch movies in halls, or those who dislike movies in general, what about their national pride? Before court begins there must be mandatory standing respectfully by all members of the court, then we can feel patriotic enough. Its hypocrisy to expect others to do their mandatory "national duty" but not mandatory for those who enforce it. I have no problems standing respectfully for it, however it must be enforced at all times for each event. The film making industry cannot be the sole custodian of installing patriotic duty.
              1. C
                Dec 3, 2016 at 2:54 pm
                Well said
                1. R
                  rational nationalist
                  Dec 2, 2016 at 6:40 pm
                  At least SC does not make vande mataram mandatory......grateful
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