The Supreme Court, on Wednesday, ruled that the national anthem must be played at all cinema halls prior to movie screenings. The new directive, which will be in affect in one week across the country, also demands that everyone present in the hall stand at attention for the duration of the anthem. All exits will remain shut during this time, and the Tricolour will be displayed on the screen.
The bench, comprised of justices Dipak Misra and Amitava Roy, said, “Time has come for people to realise that the national anthem is a symbol of constitutional patriotism…people must feel they live in a nation and this wallowing individually perceived notion of freedom must go…people must feel this is my country, my motherland.”
While the Supreme Court was passing this judgement, a total of 61,436 cases were pending with the court, as of October 31.
For Indian social media users, the verdict was ripe fodder for humour.
Prior to this ruling, there had been no judgement or legal provision which made it mandatory for movie-goers to stand during the national anthem.
The law was restricted to Section 3 of the 1971 Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, which read: “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.”
While the Act prescribed punishment for people preventing others from singing Jana Gana Mana, or causing disturbance during the singing of the national anthem, there was no clear law on those caught sitting.
The General Provision of the orders issued by the Government of India on January 5, 2015, stated: “Whenever the National 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.”
In November 2015, a video of a family being forced out of a movie theatre for not standing up during the anthem went viral on social media. In another such instance of nationalist vigilantism, actress Ameesha Patel was trolled for refusing to stand, while the national anthem was playing at a theatre in Mumbai. On another occasion, in October 2014, actress Preity Zinta threw a young man out of a movie hall in Mumbai, for refusing to stand during the national anthem.
In March 2016, the Madras High Court had asked all private schools to make singing the national anthem compulsory in Tamil Nadu.
Social media users came up with helpful suggestions of other situations that could do with a dose of patriotism.
There have also been calls for Members of Parliament to sing the anthem, to instil a sense of patriotism.