People do not need to stand up in cinema halls to prove their patriotism and 'cannot be forced to carry patriotism on their sleeves', the Supreme Court said on Monday, asking the Centre to consider amending the rules to regulate the playing of the national anthem before a film.
The top court also observed that it cannot be assumed that if a person does not stand up for the national anthem, then he is 'less patriotic'.
Observing that the society did not need 'moral policing', a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra said the next time, 'the government will want people to stop wearing T-shirts and shorts to cinemas saying this would disrespect the national anthem'.
It said it will not allow the government to 'shoot from its shoulder' and asked it to take a call either way on the issue of regulating the playing of the anthem before a film.
The bench also indicated that it may modify its order of November 30, 2016, by which the playing of the anthem was made mandatory in the movie halls before the screening of a film, and may replace the word 'shall' with 'may'.
"People go to cinema halls for undiluted entertainment. Society needs entertainment. We cannot allow you (Centre) to shoot from our shoulders. People do not need to stand up in cinema halls to prove their patriotism," the bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, said.
"Desireability is one thing but making it mandatory is another. Citizens cannot be forced to carry patriotism on their sleeves and courts cannot inculcate patriotism among people through its order," the bench said.
The court's strong remarks came on a petition filed by Kodungallur Film Society, Kerala to recall the November order passed on a public interest litigation filed last year by one Shyam Narayan Chouksey seeking directions that the national anthem should be played in all the cinema halls before a film begins.
In contrast to Monday's remarks, a bench headed by Justice Misra had ordered the theatres across the country in November last year to 'mandatorily' play the national anthem before a movie and the audience must stand and show respect, in a bid to 'instil committed patriotism and nationalism'.
During Monday's hearing on the PIL, Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, said India was a diverse country and the national anthem needed to be played in the cinema halls to bring in uniformity.
He said it should be left open to the government to take a call on its own discretion on whether the anthem should be played in theatres and whether people should stand up for it.
"What is stopping you from amending the Flag Code? You can amend it and say where to play national anthem and where it can't be done. Nowadays, anthem is played during matches, tournaments and even Olympics where half the crowd does not understand its meaning," Justice Chandrachud said.
The bench said, "You (Centre) take a call. Government should not show any reservation to the amendment as the court would not allow it to shoot from its shoulders".
Justice Chandrachud said the practice of playing national anthem in theatres was earlier discontinued in Mumbai because people used to move out of the halls when it was played.
"If the court is supposed to enforce respect for the National Anthem on citizens, it should also enforce the other fundamental duties in Article 51A," Justice Chandrachud said, adding that cultural and social values are inculcated by parents and teachers and not through court orders.
The court then asked the Centre to consider taking a call by January 9, the next date of hearing, on amending the national flag code for regulating the playing of national anthem in cinema halls across the country.
It said the Centre has to take a call uninfluenced by its earlier order on the playing of the anthem in theatres.
The apex court had in its last November order said that 'love and respect for the motherland is reflected when one shows respect to the national anthem as well as to the national flag'.
It had also barred printing of the anthem or a part of it on any object and displaying it in a manner at places which may be 'disgraceful to its status and tantamount to disrespect'.
Passing a slew of directions, the court had then said that fundamental duties in the Constitution 'do not allow any different notion or the perception of individual rights that have individual thought, have no space. The idea is constitutionally impermissible'.
"The directions are issued, for love and respect for the motherland is reflected when one shows respect to the National Anthem as well as to the National Flag. That apart, it would instil the feeling within one a sense committed patriotism and nationalism," it had then said.
It had also said proper norms and protocol should be fixed regarding its playing and singing at official functions and programmes where those holding constitutional office are present.