National Anthem: Supreme Court Guidelines
Context: An executive magistrate in Srinagar has sent 11 men to jail after they were detained for allegedly not rising for the National Anthem. Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971:
- The law was enacted on December 23, 1971.
- It penalises the desecration of or any insult to the national symbols like National Flag, National Anthem, Indian Map as well as the contempt of the Constitution of India.
- Section 3 of the Act prescribes jail up to three years and/ or a fine for intentionally preventing the singing of the National Anthem or causing disturbance to any assembly engaged in such singing.
- The court granted protection to three children belonging to the millenarian Christian sect Jehovah’s Witnesses, who did not join in the singing of the National Anthem at their school.
- The court held that forcing them to sing the Anthem violated their fundamental right to religion under Article 25 of the Constitution.
- The Supreme Court said that Article 25 was 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.
- Standing up respectfully when the National Anthem is sung but not singing oneself 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 under the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act.
- The Supreme Court passed an interim order that:
- All the cinema halls in India shall play the National Anthem before the feature film starts.
- All present in the hall are obliged to stand up to show respect to the National Anthem.
- However, in its final judgement in the case passed on in 2018, the court modified its 2016 interim order.
- It said that the order passed in 2016 is modified to the extent that playing of the National Anthem prior to the screening of feature films in cinema halls is not mandatory, but optional or directory.