The Supreme Court on Monday questioned its own order last year making it compulsory for cinema halls to play the national anthem, asking why it should bear the burden of making such rules. However, it refused to modify last year’s directions. This means that cinema halls will continue to play the anthem before the start of movies and the audience will have to stand up and show respect – at least, till the next hearing on January 9.

Nonetheless, this was a drastic change from the position reflected in the interim order passed by the court in November in response to a public interest litigation alleging widespread violations of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971. A bench headed by Justices Deepak Misra and Amitava Roy had listed guidelines laying down how respect should be show for the national anthem. One of its instructions was that the anthem should be played in theatres before the start of movies.

The matter came up for hearing again on Monday. This time, the composition of the bench hearing the matter was different. Since Deepak Misra has become the chief justice of India, the matter was posted before a three-judge bench he heads. The other two judges were AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud.

Attorney General KK Venugopal agreed with the position that national anthem should be played in cinema halls. But senior advocate CU Singh, who was appearing for a film society, said that if the idea was to foster patriotism and respect for the national anthem, cinema halls, where people come for entertainment, were not the best place to do so.

Justice Chandrachud then asked the attorney general some questions, wondering why the Centre had not amended the rules governing the use of national symbols.

“Tomorrow if someone says don’t wear shorts and t-shirts to cinema halls because national anthem is being played, then where do we stop this moral policing?” Chandrachud said. “Should patriotism be worn on our sleeves?”

In last year’s interim order, the bench had stated that the directions were being issued because love and respect for the motherland are reflected when citizens show respect for the national anthem as well as the national flag. “That apart, it would instill the feeling within one, a sense committed patriotism and nationalism,” the order said.