National anthem before movies – read how it became mandatory, and how it has now become optional

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that it is not mandatory for cinema halls to play the national anthem before every movie.

This ‘relaxation’ provided by the Supreme Court bench headed by CJI Dipak Misra was a result of the Modi government filing an affidavit before the court, requesting it to recall the order making national anthem mandatory, till an inter-ministerial panel finishes reviewing the rules. The decision to whether play the national anthem, now rests with the cinema hall owners.

Such a ruling might finally put to rest the circus which came to town, after the Supreme Court passed the order on 30th November, 2016 making the playing of national anthems mandatory before every movie screening.

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This supreme court order was a result of a very interesting struggle by a private citizen named Shyam Narayan Chouksey, which began in early 2002 when he decided to head to a Bhopal cinema hall for watching Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham.

In that movie when Shahrukh Khan’s son was singing the national anthem, Chouksey decided to stand in respect, but to his shock people sitting behind him, objected and mocked him for blocking their view. Chouksey interpreted it as an insult to the national anthem, thus began his crusade.

He first approached the cinema hall’s manager to complain and when no action was taken, decided to stage a ‘satyagrah’ outside the theatre to create awareness among people, about the need to respect the national anthem. This too didn’t result in people standing for it, thus he went to the local administration, state police, and finally to the Madhya Pradesh High Court.

The MP High Court incredibly decided to ban the movie Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam itself, and ordered its producers to delete the national anthem scene as according to the court, people were unknowingly disrespecting it by not standing up. They were also asked to pay Chouksey’s legal expenses. The producers as a result rushed to the Supreme Court which set aside this order.

Chouksey though wasn’t willing to give up and kept knocking on the doors of justice. He also upped the ante by adding to his petition, scenarios like television shows and events where there could be disrespect to the national anthem.

In October 2016, he finally managed to get the Supreme Court to issue notice to the union government regarding this matter, and his efforts attained fruition on the ‘historic’ day of 30th November, 2016, when the Supreme Court declared that playing national anthem before every movie was mandatory and people will have to stand up in respect.

In this, the court incidentally ordered that “all present” must stand up in respect till the national anthem ended. This terminology created a problem for differently abled persons like wheelchair users and those with other special needs.

Soon the Supreme Court thankfully modified its order where differently abled persons falling under Section 2(i) and 2(t) of the Disability Act, 1995, were exempt from standing up for the national anthem. Things though were being taken so ‘sincerely’ that the attorney general informed the court that the Central government would issue guidelines regarding how differently abled persons shall show respect to the national anthem.

To much outrage, the guidelines were indeed issued, which included asking those with disability to position themselves to the extent of maximum alertness and attentiveness with or without appropriate aids, during the course of the anthem.

On October 23rd, there was an indication that this order was not going to last long, after differences had emerged between Justice Dipak Misra and Justice D Y Chandrachud regarding this matter, with the latter commenting that, “one need not wear patriotism on his sleeve”.

Eventually the ball was thrown into the centre’s court and the Modi government, many might agree, did the sensible thing by filing an affidavit calling for a withdrawal of the order till an inter-ministerial committee, which it decided to constitute, comes up with its findings within the next six months.

This committee would be headed by the additional secretary (border management), part of the Home Ministry and would also consist of representatives from defence ministry, external affairs ministry, ministry of culture, child and women development ministry and the ministry of parliamentary affairs.

Now that the playing of the national anthem is as good as optional, it remains to be seen whether Chouksey would enter the battle field once again to fight against this setback to his crusade.

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