NEW DELHI -- The Supreme Court's directives to moviegoers to pay allegiance to the national anthem has triggered a debate on whether patriotism can and should be enforced by law. But the directive issued on Wednesday is just one of the several that the petitioners are seeking regarding what constitutes respect for the national flag.
The petition to which the Supreme Court has responded is not just about whether the national anthem should be played in cinema halls, and whether movie-goers should stand while it is being played. It is about how every citizen should behave whenever the national anthem is played in a public place across the country.
The petition wants the Supreme Court to issue strict guidelines on how people should behave when the national anthem is played, what constitutes insult or disrespect to the national anthem, and what penalties should be imposed upon those guilty on these counts.
The orders issued by the Supreme Court on Thursday were interim directives and not the final judgment. The petitioner Shyam Narayan Chouksey, a retired engineer from Bhopal, and his lawyer Abhinav Srivastava are expecting the Supreme Court to respond to overarching questions which the petition raises.
"The sense of patriotism has to be brought forward," Srivastava told HuffPost India. "There is a vaccum in law at what constitutes respect and disrespect of the national anthem." "You can't see it at a micro level but at macro level. What do we want as country," he said.
In his petition, Chouksey argues that it is necessary for the Supreme Court to lay down the law or at least guidelines, because India lacks statutory provisions on what constitutes abuse and disrespect towards the national anthem.
Section 3 of Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, only covers the obstruction or prevention to the singing of the national anthem, by making loud or contemptuous noise, which can be punished by three years imprisonment and a fine or both. The petition says that the "Orders relating to National Anthem" provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs is just an information sheet and the orders "are also not being followed by the people as strictly as they should be as they have no statutory backing."
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court issued directives for the national anthem to be played before every movie screening in cinema halls, for the national flag to be displayed on the screen while the national anthem is played, and for everyone inside the hall to stand for the duration of 52 seconds when the anthem is being played. The apex court also said that the national anthem cannot be dramatised or commercially exploited, and it has also banned the printing of the national anthem on any "undesirable" object.
The petitioners also want the national anthem not to be played without prior warning, not be sung before people who do not understand it, and not be played when it is not practically possible for people to stand up.
The petitioners also want the national anthem to be be played in all public and private schools, including in Jammu and Kashmir, before students start their day, and for a uniform code of conduct to be followed by the Central and State governments.
Chouksey's 15 year-long battle for people to show respect to the national anthem was triggered by the treatment of national anthem in the Bollywood blockbuster Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham in which a boy forgets the lines to it. He was dismayed that people in the cinema hall did not rise to their feet when the national anthem was being played in the movie.
The retired engineer moved the Madhya Pradesh High Court at Jabalpur to get the movie banned until the scene with the national anthem was deleted. The Supreme Court then overturned the decision of the High Court to ban the movie, but kept the question of law open until a similar case came up for hearing.
Ten years on, Chouksey filed a fresh petition, and this time his grievances extended far beyond just movies to real life instances of what he felt was gross disrespect to the national flag.
The petition cites instances such as Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi not standing up for the national anthem during the flag hoisting on Republic Day in 2002. In 2015, the petition notes, the national anthem was not played for its full duration of 52 seconds at Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha's oath taking ceremony. One instance that Chouksey found particularly deplorable was of a district collector serving food on paper plates that had the national anthem and the national flag imprinted on them.
"It is evident that the National Anthem is being subjected to insult quite frequently by the common man as well as the dignitaries holding the constitutional position," the petition says.
"Clarity is required regarding the standards that need to be followed when the National Anthem is being played or sung failing which this would have far reaching legal implications," it adds.
The next hearing for Chouksey's petition is on 14 February.
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