By Shivam Goel, 3rd Year Law Student at VIPS, Delhi (Online Intern @LawOF)


“All present in the hall are obliged to stand up and show respect to the National Anthem.”

Such might be the words we’ve heard from a stern teacher to her students on certain occasions. Yet, the Supreme Court’s interim directions in Shyam Narayan Chouskey vs Union of India on November 30th, 2016 had a much bigger impact on the citizens, beyond words, putting upon a big question mark on Judiciary and also, has divided the country into two.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the present case relying on Article 51A(a) directed all cinema halls across the country to play the national anthem before every film, along with the Indian flag on the cinema screen. The Court then directed cinema-goers to stand up to “show respect” while the anthem was being played. The Article 51A(a) reads as:

“Article 51A Fundamental duties- It shall be the duty of every citizen of India (a) to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the national Flag and the National Anthem.”

It is pertinent to note here that the Fundamental duties in Part IVA of the Constitution of India can at their best, be regarded as gentle reminders to the citizen about their obligation to society and their country and in such way; “good manners” endorsed by the Constitution to the Country and hence, cannot be enforced as binding on its people.

The Supreme Court’s order putting a mandate on standing for National Anthem in the cinema halls all over India has raised many questions in the minds of people, most commonly being, in case a citizen is found sitting and quietly eating his lawfully purchased popcorn during the National Anthem within the closed doors of a cinema hall, can he/she be penalised for the same? Certainly, the answer should be NO; there is no law that prescribes any punishment for not standing for National Anthem. In spite of tremendous powers of Judiciary, it cannot make a penal law or provision for the same. Such directions can only be held valid when they are backed by a law on the point passed by the Legislature which is rightfully competent to perform such tasks.

In addition to making the national anthem mandatory before movies, the Supreme Court ruled that the national anthem should not be dramatized or commercially exploited, and that it should not be printed on “undesirable” object. This point seems much more practically applicable and realistic as it prevents direct insult to the National Anthem. While there are many supporters to the move of the Supreme Court, the basic point is that one should not insult National Anthem. Also Chanting of the national anthem is not violative of the freedom of speech under Article 19 but being forced to chant the national anthem is certainly not a clear sign of freedom.

The matter is still far from over yet. The question so raised also puts forth another question of what really constitutes respect for the national symbols and how people should show respect to different symbols and also the penalties for showing such disrespect. Also, wouldn’t playing National Anthem before an ‘Adult Grade’ movie constitute disrespect to the Nation and National Anthem? Such questions are expected to be answered by the Supreme Court and the Government very soon.

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