Freedom of speech and expression is a rudimentary right that is given to every citizen in our country. As powerful as the thought is in theory, an utterly conflicting view is being inculcated by our law makers. Correcting the void between the two, the Supreme Court has declared that moviegoers shall not be compelled to stand up during the national anthem that is played before every film screening. Concurring with an enormous part of India’s population, Justice Chandrachud has mandated the Central Government to react to the order by January 9 next year, which shall be followed by the next hearing of the case.
For the interlude between the two hearings, we’ve traced the series of episodes that led to the prevailing conditions. The law draws its origins from a custom that was practiced after the 1962 Indo-China war, to make certain that patriotism towards the homeland was imbibed by the general public — however this was discontinued. Following this is the infamous lobbying by Narendra Varma of the Nationalist Congress Party, who worked towards getting the anthem to be played in theatres of Maharashtra. Illuminating the common folk about wrongful interpretations of our legal codes, the Judiciary responded to school authorities when three students in Kerala were expelled on account of not singing the national anthem. The SC had observed, “There is no provision of law which obliges anyone to sing the national anthem nor is it disrespectful to the national anthem if a person who stands up respectfully when the national anthem is sung does not join the singing.”
Planting the seeds of doom in the minds of the Judiciary, Shyam Narayan Chouksey found his way around the legality of the issue and filed a public interest litigation in the High Court of Madhya Pradesh, claiming that while watching a screening of the film ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham’ in 2003, not a single person stood up during the scene with the national anthem in the background, and submitted that the inaction aggravated him. He finally moved the High Court in November of last year mandating individuals against their personal will making Chouksey the epicentre of the legal blight.
This verdict by the Judiciary has been regressive in nature, in light of the occurrence in Goa last year, where a social activist, Salil Chaturvedi was assaulted and abused for not standing up during the national anthem, later on explaining that he was wheelchair-bound with a spinal cord injury! With this series of chronicles over the past few years, it’s high time our beloved leadership rises to the cause. The Legislature has the foremost responsibility to maintain harmony in the ecosystem, largely in view of the fact that the change of law lies in their hands. Here’s to hoping that they use the time given to them judiciously and respond with utmost rationality.
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