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Anthem redux: How it came back in play

On November 30, the Supreme Court ruled that all cinemas in the country must play the national anthem prior to the screening of a film, with all doors closed. The order has become a talking point among millions of cinema-goers who visit thousands of theatres that dot India’s landscape where numerous films are screened every day. The Hindu breaks down the verdict and its implications for the benefit of this population that spends money and time at the movies ever so often:

In light of the interim order by the Supreme Court making it mandatory for cinemas to play the national anthem before the screening of a film, which are the States that have already made it compulsory for theatres to do so?

Maharashtra, Chattisgarh and Goa are among the States that have passed orders to this effect.

Under what law did these States make it mandatory?

The States have done this under the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971. The Act got presidential assent on December 23, 1971. It has been amended twice since then.

What does this Act entail?

The Act, which addresses insults to the Constitution, the national flag and the national anthem, has its genesis in Article 51 (a) of the Constitution, which enjoins a duty on every citizen of India to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the national flag and the national anthem. The Act states that whoever intentionally prevents the singing of the 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.

Why was the Act given punitive provisions?

The objects and reasons for this Act said that cases involving deliberate disrespect to these national symbols were discussed in both Houses of Parliament and members urged the government to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.

How was the national anthem played in theatres before?

Yes, it was a practice to play the national anthem after a film ended. But with people walking out even as the anthem was playing, the practice was discontinued.

In Tamil Nadu for instance, the anthem was played in all theatres until about 30 years ago. Even now a few theatres do. Given that people were not standing in attention as it played, the practice was given up.

A petitioner went to the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court last year asking for a ban as people were moving about when the anthem is played. The court dismissed the petition.

Can the recent interim order of the Supreme Court be reviewed?

Yes, those aggrieved can file a modification application to address the omissions and contradictions in the recent Supreme Court Order.

Who can file the interventions?

The Cinema Owners Exhibitors’ Association of India can, for instance, plead that the order is in contradiction of an earlier Supreme Court order ordering cinema theatres to keep their doors open, after a fire killed 59 people in Uphaar Theatre in 1997. Differently abled groups can seek exemptions from the order.

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