The Vigilantes Return, This Time at a Cinema Near You

Anthem Policing in Cinemas

compulsory singing of national anthem

Rise of vigilantism was on the expected lines when the Supreme Court in its recent order directed movie theatres across the country to play the national anthem before the start of a film. The apex court, in its controversial order, made it mandatory for all movie goers to stand as a mark of respect when national anthem would be played in halls.

While passing the directive it appears that the apex court has forgotten that turning objects and symbols connected with national identity into Constitutional propriety would lead to forced patriotism with unseemly ramifications. And this is what has been seen in Kerala, Chennai, Kolkata and other places across the country. As many as 12 people, including some journalists were detained by police after they refused to stand when the national anthem was being played at the International Film Festival in Thiruvananthapuram on December 12.

Similarly, eight people, including three women were assaulted by a group of youth when they did not stand while the national anthem was being played in a hall in Chennai. Even as they were recovering from this humiliation, police came and booked them under the Prevention of Insults to National Honours Act, 1971. Of course, in order to instill patriotism in citizens, such measures were adopted in these metros of the country. But there are more important questions which need to be asked: What about individual freedom? What about Constitutional guarantee of protecting fundamental rights and freedom of individual citizens? Have they become perishable under the weight of super nationalism being forced upon people by the court?

Display of grotesqueness

It should be understood that the idea of wearing hard-core patriotism on our sleeves is tantamount to subjecting ourselves into a steel frame of fundamentalism, which, perhaps, goes against the narrative of the country’s democratic values. Besides, it should be remembered that by just standing in cinema halls during the play of the national anthem does not mean one has become patriot and those who refuse to stand, have become traitors.

Despite this, it is unfortunate to see that by covering national anthem under its judicial outreach the apex court has attempted to encourage parochialism across the country. Rather attack on individual cinema-goers by so called patriots or booking them under a case after they refuse to stand during the play of the national anthem, has led to development of chaos or creation of law and order problem. Can judiciary, which is a custodian of law, allow mayhem or bad blood to take place in the country in the name of patriotism and nationalism?

What is National Honours Act?

Police across the country book violators of the Supreme Court order on standing during the play of the national anthem in the movie halls under the 1971, National Honours Act. But Constitutional experts maintain that this law neither mandates the singing of the national anthem nor does it demand that people stand up when it is being sung. This law imposes punishment on those who intentionally prevent the singing of the national anthem or disturb the assembly where it is being sung. Therefore, experts in general suggest that judiciary should have left the law making job into the hands of legislators instead of usurping that power into its own hand.

What is government’s stand on the controversial judicial directive?

The central government has recently made it clear in Parliament that it is not making the signing of the national anthem mandatory even in primary schools. That means it does not support the apex court’s order. But there is a contradiction. The Ministry of Home Affairs issued a letter to all central and state government machineries in April this year asking them to ensure that “whenever the anthem is sung or played (in cinema halls), the audience shall stand to attention. However, when the course of a newsreel or documentary 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 bring in disorder and confusion rather than add to the dignity of the anthem.”

Why political parties are silent?

Political parties are well aware of the fact that the Supreme Court’s directive is full of possibilities of creating bad blood in the society, yet they are silent. This is what is beyond the comprehension of common people. They are not able to understand that politicians who, on a short notice, spring to their toes while opposing anything right or wrong, have not questioned the very controversial nature of the apex court’s order. Are they afraid of getting ‘contempt of court’ notice in case they criticize the judicial order? What is making them keep silent even as innocent people are being subjected to harassment in the name of nationalism?


As a forced patriotism is being drilled into public sense through the judicial outreach, it has become a sort of norm for radical elements to punish those who don’t follow their dictates. Rather in their blind observance of nationalistic zeal, these people fail to see that any respect for symbols of national importance comes from within; it can’t be forced upon people. And if it happens, it can create only trouble for the society or the country at large. In that case, incidents of Kerala, Chennai or Kolkata may serve as an eye opener.


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