Not Standing During National Anthem- Is it Illegal?

A person and his family were pushed out of a theatre in Maharashtra for not standing when the National Anthem was being played, therefore the question is that Is it Illegal to not to Stand When National Anthem is Played or Sung?

The Insults to National Honour Act,1971 has been enacted to prevent disrespect and insult to the national flag and the Constitution of India. 

Section 3 of the Act states that whoever in the public place within the public view burns, mutilates, defaces, defiles, disfigures, destroys, tramples upon the Indian National Flag or the Constitution of India will be punished with imprisonment for a term of three years, or with fine, or with both.

Further Article 51-A of the Constitution imposes a fundamental duty on every citizen to “abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the national flag and the national anthem”

But none of the provision dictates that it is mandatory to standup when national anthem is being played.

In November 2016, the Supreme Court passed a direction making it mandatory to play national anthem in cinema halls before the movie starts. A Division Bench of Justice Dipak Mishra and Justice Amitava Rao passed the order reasoning that this is to instill a sense of nationalism and patriotism in citizens.

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The court specifically directed that

“All the cinema halls in India shall play the national anthem before the feature film starts and all present in the hall are obliged to stand up to show respect to the national anthem”

Further before playing the national anthem all the entry and exit gates shall be closed so that no disturbance be caused during this process of playing national anthem.

But in January 2018 a larger bench of three Judges made playing of the national anthem in cinema halls optional rather than mandatory. The Supreme Court clarified this on the request of the central government which also informed that the government is in the process of framing guidelines on conditions when the national anthem is to be sung and played. Further, the court exempted persons on wheelchairs and persons having other disabilities.

In 1986, in the case of Bijoe Emmanuel & Ors vs State Of Kerala, the Supreme Court held that “proper respect is shown to the national anthem by standing up when the national anthem is sung”

However the Court also added that not joining in singing does not mean disrespect to the national anthem.

In October 2018, the Home Ministry issued an order stating that

 “whenever the anthem is played, the audience shall stand to attention. However, when in the course of a 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,”

Therefore it can be inferred that law as such does not have any provision penalising for not standing when the national anthem is played but the observation and directions  of the supreme court does mandate standing when the national anthem is played.

The Committee formed by the Ministry of Home Affairs for framing the guidelines has still not finalized the guidelines, and as per the news reports Government is willing to make it optional to stand while national anthem is played or sung.

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