Forced nationalism and the follow ups of the Supreme Court order on National Anthem

December 27, 2016

*PUDR Press Release (21st December 2016)*

On 30th November 2016, the Supreme Court of India issued an interim order
laying out seven directives to be followed marking respect for the National
Anthem of India. These included the requirement for all to stand whenever
the national anthem was played as well the compulsory playing of the
national anthem at all cinema halls before every screening. The directives
were issued with an intent to ‘instill a sense of committed patriotism and
nationalism’ and that people were ‘duty bound to show respect to National
Anthem as a symbol of Constitutional Patriotism’.

In an expected fallout of this interim order, criminal charges are being
slapped on people for not complying with an order that has no legal
standing. The order invokes article 51(A) of the Constitution stating it is
the Fundamental duty of every citizen to respect the national anthem. While
Fundamental duties are in form of directives to be followed and no one can
be prosecuted for its non-abidance, even the law on the *Prevention of
Insults to National Honours Act* does not legally support the demands of
this order. Section 3 of the law penalizes the act of ‘intentionally
preventing the singing of the Indian National Anthem or causing
disturbances to any assembly engaged in such singing’ which nowhere amounts
that any person can be legally charged for not standing for the anthem.

Despite there being no legal basis, reports of people being charged for
violating Supreme Court directives are coming in from different parts of
the country. On 12th December, twelve persons were arrested for not
standing when the national anthem was played before the screening of a film
at the ongoing International Film Festival of Kerala in Thiruvananthapuram.
The persons were charged and arrested after the activists of *Bharatiya
Yuva Morcha, *youth wing of BJP, complained to the DGP against their
‘anti-national’ act. A day before on 11th December in Chennai, a group of
college students were manhandled and threatened inside a movie theatre
because they didn’t stand when the national anthem was playing before the

A group of 20 men attacked and thrashed four boys and four girls and
called the police. The police registered a case against these college
students for disrespecting the national anthem while no action was taken
against the attackers for use of violence. In a related event a writer and
theatre activist Kamal C Chavara was arrested by the Kerala Police on
18th December on charges of insulting the national anthem in a Facebook comment.

The arrest followed the filing of a complaint by the same *Bhartiya Yuva
Morcha.* The Facebook comment was an excerpt from his already published
novel about which no noise had been made until the Supreme Court order.
Chavara was charged for sedition for his post but after much criticism of
the action from all quarters, the police has decided to initiate the
process of dropping of sedition charge against him.

The fact that the order nowhere describes what must be done at the instance of its non-compliance,
is in effect allowing for such arbitrary criminal charges like the one on
Chavara and even greater scope for the right-wing forces to incessantly
attack people in the name of vigilante nationalism.

Such instances of recourse to legal proscription by the state executive in
complicity with the rights wing forces to penalize what they construct as
‘anti-national activities’ is not new. In 2014, Md. Salman a boy from
Kerala was arrested and charged for sedition and denied bail for months for
not standing up for the national anthem in a theatre. What is new and
dangerous, with this Supreme Court order, however, is the judicial
sanctification of the attempt of the state executives to curb fundamental
and political freedoms in the name of nationalism.

This enforced display of nationalism that comes from the Supreme Court violates  

its own verdict in the case of Bijoe Emmanuel (1986) stating that ‘there is no provision of
law which obliges anyone to sing the national anthem’ when a group of
school students refused to sign it as their religion did not allow them to.

PUDR is concerned at this growing political climate in which the judicial
verdicts have been echoing the executive actions in creating an official
discourse of state-centred nationalism, even the slightest defiance of
which invites both legal and social prosecution. This will shatter the
belief in judiciary as an independent institution and diminish hope in
approaching the courts as the custodian of the rights of the people in the
wake of their violations in the hands of the governments. PUDR believes
that such judicial orders enforcing nationalism constricting our freedoms
in the name of constitutional patriotism are an anathema to the democratic
ethos of the nation as they go against the very rights the Constitution
guarantees us. We condemn the order and demand its revocation. PUDR also
strongly condemns the police actions and slapping of charges against people
in the wake of the Supreme Court order and demands immediate withdrawal of
these cases.

Anushka Singh and Cijo Joy

Secretaries PUDR

21st December 2016