The National Anthem debate was back after a video went viral in which a group of thugs masquerading as nationalists goaded a youngster for not standing in the theatre when the National Anthem plays.
The very nature of the debate over the anthem would’ve really tickled the man who wrote it – Rabindranath Tagore.
Tagore had vehemently rejected the Nationalism, almost echoing John Lennon’s Imagine when he wrote:
“India has never had a real sense of nationalism. Even though from childhood I had been taught that the idolatry of Nation is almost better than reverence for God and humanity, I believe I have outgrown that teaching, and it is my conviction that my countrymen will gain truly their India by fighting against that education which teaches them that a country is greater than the ideals of humanity.”
In fact, it’s fair to say with a certain degree of certainty that Tagore would’ve been thrashed in this day and age for his views on nationalism which goes much against the grain of what is considered ‘patriotic’.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said a 12-member inter-ministerial committee said in set up by the Centre, would take a final call on the playing of national anthem in the cinemas. The committee finally decide to make it optional.
The Centre’s decision had come after the top court had in October in 2017 observed that the people “cannot be forced to carry patriotism on their sleeves” and it cannot be assumed that if a person does not stand up for the national anthem, he or she is “less patriotic“.
However, while the playing of National Anthem is optional, there’s no word on what to do if the theatre owner plays it.
Meanwhile, a June 2019 report states that the Home Ministry was likely to keep the playing of the National Anthem optional with 22 states including BJP and Congress ruled ones not taking a clear stand on the matter.
Some members of the committee headed by Special Secretary of Home Affairs Brij Raj Sharma stated that perhaps a shorter version could be played. However, none of them had any final say on standing.
To stand or not to stand?
Now here’s the catch, the SC didn’t say what you should do when the national anthem is being played in the theatre. It laid no guidelines for what to do if theatres exercise their option to play it.
Now here’s what a Ministry of Home Affairs guideline from 2015 said:
“Whenever the Anthem is sung or 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. (2) As in the case of the flying of the National Flag, it has been left to the good sense of the people not to indulge in indiscriminate singing or playing of the Anthem.”
Furthermore, not standing for the National Anthem could run foul, of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act 1971 even though it specifically doesn’t mention anything about standing or sitting.
The Section 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act 1971 says:
“Whoever intentionally prevents the singing of the Indian National Anthem or causes disturbances 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.”
The Act limits itself to singing the national anthem or disturbing those who are singing it. So, on the balance of things, it’d be a good idea to stand when the National Anthem is played in theatres, just to ensure one's movie-going experience isn’t ruined by overzealous patriots who view nationalism and patriotism through a narrow prism.