Even as the Supreme Court Tuesday said that it does not want “moral policing” for enforcement of its order on the national anthem, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi pressed for a review of a 30-year-old judgment that permitted people belonging to Jehovah’s Witnesses sect to not sing the anthem as part of their right to profess religion.
The top law officer sought a stricter order by the apex court, saying a debate must also start why mandatory singing of the national anthem be not included in the school curriculum since “it is extremely important to instil a sense of nationalism from childhood”.
WATCH VIDEO | People Not Obligated To Stand Up When National Anthem Played In Movie Clarifies Supreme Court
Rohatgi said that the time had come to revisit the 1986 judgment by the Supreme Court, allowing Bijoe Emmanuel’s petition on behalf of his children, citing religion as the reason to safeguard their right to not sing the national anthem at school. Emmanuel’s plea held that forcing the children to do so violated their fundamental right to religion.
On November 30, 2016, a bench led by Justice Dipak Misra had directed that all cinema halls in India would play the national anthem before the feature film starts. This order also made it mandatory for all present in the hall “to stand up to show respect to the national anthem” as part of their “sacred obligation”.
As the matter came up for hearing Tuesday, a bench led by Justice Misra clarified that the previous order was an interim order and not a final judgment. “It is an interim order subject to a debate. Besides, there is a misconception that there is a compulsion to sing. We have only limited our order to stand up when the national anthem is played. We have not gone beyond the Emmanuel case,” said the judge.
The bench also observed that “there should be no moral policing at all” by private people in their endeavour to enforce the court order.
At this, the AG said that Emmanuel case now needed a review. “I strongly oppose any plea for recall of this order. The national anthem is a matter of pride. To have a sense of patriotism is very important. Sometimes, restatement of values becomes necessary. These are things that have become absolutely necessary now,” he said.
Rohatgi then responded to the court’s observation regarding Emmanuel’s case, saying: “At some time, that will also have to be debated in this matter. When you want to instill patriotism, it must start with the children in schools. Emmanuel was also a two-judge bench like the present strength of the court. We could have a three-judge bench and review Emmanuel’s case. The law and legal position does not remain static and it must change with the change in times.”
The bench, on its part, said that it would first hear various parties in the case and take a call whether the matter required to be referred to a larger bench. “We need to first examine the right of the petitioner as well as arguments made by the interveners. There are various intervention applications filed in this matter,” it replied.
Fixing the hearing of the matter on April 18, the bench also clarified that the audience need not stand when the national anthem is played as a part of the storyline of a film, newsreel or documentary. The AG, however, said that this should not be construed as an injunction against those who would still want to stand to show respect.
Amicus curiae Sidharth Luthra pointed out that a new law on disability has been notified and that the government required to come out with a fresh notification, recasting its clauses on not requiring differently-abled to stand up. The court accepted his views and asked the government to issue a new notification within a week.
Stating that the issue would need a “larger debate”, the bench said that it would hear all arguments, including the need to recall its interim order, at the next hearing.