A viral video trending in social media shows a group of persons in a movie hall in Bengaluru shouting at few persons who chose to remain seated during the playing of the national anthem before the movie screening.
"Not able to spare 52 seconds for the country, but you have the audacity to sit here and watch a three-hour movie? Are you Pakistani terrorists?" a man can be heard saying on video, as he and a group of others heckled those remaining seated in their seats.
"Our soldiers are fighting for us in Kashmir and you guys are sitting here and don't even stand for the national anthem. Get out of this place," one man in the group was heard shouting.
The video has elicited sharp responses in social media, with opinions pouring in both in support and opposition of the acts of those featuring in the video.
In this context, it is pertinent to ask : Is it mandatory to stand up during the playing of national anthem in a movie hall?
Before looking for the answer to this, it might be useful to understand the background of the issue.
On November 30, 2016, the Supreme Court ordered that playing of the national anthem was mandatory in all cinema halls before the movie show. The bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Amitava Roy said that the order was necessary to instill a sense of "committed patriotism and nationalism" in people.
The order stated that "all present in the hall are obliged to stand up to show respect to the National Anthem".
The mandatory direction to play national anthem in movie halls was withdrawn by the Supreme Court on January 9, 2018. The Court clarified that playing of national anthem in theaters before movie show was optional. This was based on a request from the Union Government which sought the modification of the order on the ground that Government has constituted a committee to frame guidelines on the playing of national anthem.
During the hearing which led to the recall of the November 30, 2016 order, Justice D Y Chandrachud, who was part of the bench, made oral observations questioning the rationale of imposing national anthem on movie goers.
Justice Chandrachud asked: "Tomorrow, there may be a demand to stop people from wearing shorts and T-shirts while going to cinema halls, because national anthem is being played. Where is the end for such moral policing?"
Justice Chandrachud added: "Why should we assume that if you don't stand during the playing of national anthem, you cease to be patriots?"
What does the statute say?
According to Section 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, "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."
This law nowhere mentions about 'sitting' or 'standing' while the national anthem is playing. As can be seen from the provision, it punishes one who intentionally "prevents the singing" or "causes disturbances to any assembly engaged in singing" of national anthem.
So the mere act of not standing up during national anthem is not expressly treated as an offence under the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act.
Standing up the proper way to show respect
At the same time, one must keep in mind that the Supreme Court has observed that standing up is the proper way to show respect to national anthem.
While holding that refusing to sing national anthem did not amount to disrespect to it, the Supreme Court observed in Bijoe Emmanuel vs State of Kerala that "Proper respect is shown to the National Anthem by standing up when the National Anthem is sung".
This observation was referred to by the Court later in its order passed on January 9, 2018.
"Citizens or persons are bound to show respect as required under executive orders relating to the National Anthem of India and the prevailing law, whenever it is played or sung on specified occasions", the Court ordered even as it withdrew the mandatory direction for playing national anthem in movie halls.
What are the executive orders relating to the National Anthem, which a citizen is required to obey as per the SC direction?
The Ministry of Home Affairs has issued an instruction in this regard stating :
"Whenever the 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".
The statue which is governing the subject - Prevention of Insult to National Honour Act 1971 - does not penalize the refusal to stand up during the singing of national anthem.
However, there is a clear Supreme Court direction that a person should show respect as per the executive orders when national anthem is played or sung.
According to the prevailing executive order, a citizen is expected to stand to attention whenever national anthem is played.
So, refusal to stand up during national anthem, though may not amount to an offence under the Prevention of Insult to National Honour Act 1971, can result in the violation of an order of the Supreme Court.
It may be also noted that the SC has exempted persons who are wheel chair users, those with autism, persons suffering from cerebral palsy, multiple disabilities, parkinsons, multiple sclerosis, leprosy cured, muscular dystrophy and deaf and blind from the ambit of its direction.
That said, intimidating persons who refuse to stand up is clearly a violation of law. No one can take law into own hands.