National Anthem: Supreme Court Must Review its OrderPlaying the national anthem before the start of a movie, with the national flag fluttering on the screen is nothing new. I remember it was done mandatorily in all movie halls when we were kids. The practice started in 1962, after the war with China, and was discontinued in 1975 when it was found that instead of inculcating a spirit of nationalism, it was leading to people showing disrespect to both the national flag and the anthem. Hence, the recent Supreme Court order once again making it mandatory for cinema halls to play the anthem in tandem with showing the national flag on the screen is improper and a case of judicial overreach for two simple reasons. First, the court has ordered this to inculcate a spirit of nationalism in the citizens but past experience shows that it leads to instances of disrespect and might even sprout vigilantism. In any case, it is extremely difficult to police such an order. Secondly, there is no law that mandates this. The court has imposed a self-made law, which is beyond its jurisdiction.
By Sunil Garodia
Respect for the national flag, the national anthem and other national symbols cannot be imposed by such decrees. It is a feeling of pride and honour that the citizens must have in their hearts. Only then will they rise and maybe hold a hand to their heart when the anthem is being played. To make something a compulsion is the first step towards making it lose its relevance in peoples life. They then start treating it in a matter of fact manner and after an initial period of compliance, things begin to drift. This is what happened in the period 1970 to 1975, after which the government was forced to withdraw the order. This time around too, after the initial euphoria and a burst of nationalism, people will start ignoring the order to rise and pay respect, leading to ugly fights inside movie halls. It happened sometime back in Mumbai (the anthem is played before movie screenings in Maharashtra) where a family was targeted by vigilantes for not standing up when the anthem was playing. Cinema hall staff is least equipped to enforce the order. They can just play the anthem but cannot ensure that all cine-goers will rise and pay respect. Obviously, you cannot have lathi wielding policemen inside cinema halls asking every person to rise. Hence, the order is not likely to achieve the objective for which it has been made.
Then there is the question of knowing where to draw the line. Immediately after the order, a plea to play the national anthem in courts was dismissed by the apex court which said that its order should not be stretched. Now the question arises that why the anthem should not be played before starting the court proceedings? After all, the courts and the legal fraternity are the keepers of the legal conscience of the nation, which by extension means showing respect for the Constitution and the national symbols. If the national anthem is to be mandatorily played anywhere, the courts and the legislatures should top the list. Hence, why does the court think that asking for the same is stretching its order? It is a very reasonable plea that should be looked into seriously by the court. If you get the drift of my argument, you will come to realize that there is going to be no end to such demands. Soon, people will start petitioning the court for a similar order before the start of each sporting event or plays in theatres or even the Ganga aarti at Varanasi. This is a very convoluted view of imposing nationalist feeling among the citizenry and the court should review its order.