Since January 26, 2003, it had become mandatory for all cinema theatres in Maharashtra to play the National Anthem. In November 2016, the order was extended throughout the country by a judgment passed by the Supreme Court. It had led to a lot of debates with many feeling that the national anthem should be mandatorily played. But many felt that it was a way of forcing patriotism down the throats of patrons who have simply come to watch a film and have a good time. A few viewers refused to stand and there were reports of them being heckled and attacked by fellow moviegoers. Then in a shocking incident, a wheelchair-bound man was abused in Guwahati for not standing during the National Anthem in a theatre.
But now in a relief for those against the compulsory playing of National Anthem, here’s some good news. The Supreme Court today ruled that it was not mandatory for cinema hall owners to play the national anthem before screening of a film. They therefore recalled its 2016 order. The ruling came a day after the Centre suggested the apex court to modify its earlier order. They also said that an inter-ministerial committee has been set up that would frame guidelines that would list the circumstances and occasions on which the National Anthem can be played or song, and that observing proper decorum on such occasions requires extensive consultations. The Supreme Court accepted the submission and also added that the exemption for disabled persons from standing in cinema halls during the National Anthem shall remain in force.
The latest position adopted by the Central government is drastically different from the submission of Attorney General K K Venugopal, who had said on October 23 that India was a diverse country and the national anthem needed to be played in cinema halls to bring in uniformity. The Supreme Court however observed that people do not need to stand up in the cinema halls to prove their patriotism. It asked the Centre to consider amending the rules for regulating the playing of the National Anthem before the screening of a film. The Court had said so when it was a hearing a PIL filed in 2017 by Shyam Narayan Chouksey seeking a direction that the national anthem should be played in all cinema halls. A year before that, in 2016, the Supreme Court had in its November 30, 2016, order said that “love and respect for the motherland are reflected when one shows respect to the national anthem as well as to the national flag”.