What constitutes disrespect to our National Anthem??
The recent incident of Actress Priety Zinta throwing out a boy out of the movie theatre for the reason that he refused to stand up for the National Anthem brings into light a very interesting question. What all constitutes as disrespect to our National Anthem? Morally, of course all citizens and even non citizens should stand up or join in the national anthem as a courtesy if not anything else. However, legally speaking, the position is somewhat different which is explained in the ensuing paragraphs.
Article 51-A (a) of the Constitution of India 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”. Although it is the duty of every citizen to respect the National Anthem it is not clear as to what will constitute disrespect. Section 3 of the Prevention of Insult to National Honour Act, 1971 states that whoever intentionally prevents the singing of the Indian National Anthem or causes disturbance 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. A logical interpretation of this Section implies that only those who “intentionally prevent” or “cause disturbance” to the singing of the National Anthem are liable to be prosecuted under the Act. Again the question arises: What is intentionally preventing and causing disturbance?
In the landmark verdict of Bijoe Emmanuel v. State of Kerala, the Supreme Court held that there is no provision of law which obliges anyone to sing the National Anthem nor is it disrespectful to the National Anthem if a person who stands up respectfully when the National Anthem is sung does not join the signing. This fairly settles the point that not joining in the National Anthem is certainly not an offence however a corollary to it is that the person should at least stand respectfully while the National Anthem is being sung. There have been numerous occasions where people have been arrested and charged with outrageous charges such as sedition or as in the Priety Zinta incident thrown out of a public place for not standing. On a bare reading of the provision it can be inferred that until and unless somebody intentionally prevents or causes disturbance to the singing of the National Anthem he cannot be booked under the Act. Therefore the legislative intent of Parliament is clear in this regard that even sitting peacefully during the National Anthem should not be a crime. However, there can be conflicting views on it
In N.R. Narayan Murthi v. Kannada Rakshana Vakeelara Vedike, a question arose as to whether playing musical version of the Indian National Anthem instead of singing it, is an offence punishable under Section 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971? Further in Joy Kaitharath v. Shashi Tharoor a question arose whether singing of National Anthem with the hands placed on the hearts instead of standing in attention position violated Section 3 of the Act. Thankfully, the Court dismissed both the cases on the grounds of non merit finding that the defendants in both the cases had not intended any disrespect.
However, in Shyam Narayan Chouksey v. Union of India where the question before the Madhya Pradesh High Court was whether the depiction of National Anthem in the movie Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham violated the aforesaid provision of law. It was contended that the suddenness of the introduction of the National Anthem created a shock in the audience as a whole and since the audience was not in a position to react it amounted to insult to the national anthem as it can never be sung anywhere as a surprise item. The Court remarkably held that this amounted to an insult to the national anthem and directed the said scene to be deleted from the movie. It is pertinent to note Clause V (1) of the Orders relating to the National Anthem of India issued by the Government of India which states: “Whenever the Anthem is sung or played, the audience shall stand to attention. However, when in the course of 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.” Consequently the said judgement was set aside by the Supreme Court in Karan Johar v. Union of India.
Nationalism, Patriotism and unquestioning allegiance to your country are undoubtedly duties of every citizen of this great nation; however such nationalism cannot be coercive in nature. It cannot and should not be imposed on people especially through such superficial and inane notion that if you don’t stand up for the National Anthem you are anti-national. Nationalism is not a concept that can always be put on display but is a belief that involves an individual identifying with or becoming attached to one’s nation and for that surely, the fact that you stand up or not is inconsequential.