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India’s Supreme Court Says Movie Goers Must Listen to National Anthem Before Screenings

India’s millions of Bollywood-mad movie goers will soon start a trip to the cinema with a mandatory dose of patriotism.

The country’s Supreme Court said in an order Wednesday that all movie theaters should play the national anthem with an image of the Indian tricolor on the screen before the start of any feature film. All those present in the hall “are obliged to stand up to show respect,” it added.

The national anthem has long has been played in theaters in a few Indian states including Maharashtra, home to Mumbai where the Bollywood movie industry is based, but this is the first time that the apex court has given an order making it mandatory in all cinemas across the country.

The court’s ruling comes at a time when patriotism is in the headlines as Prime Minister Narendra Modi tries to rally the diverse nation behind him to fight corruption, untaxed money, and terrorism.

“Be it stated, a time has come, the citizens of the country must realize that they live in a nation and are duty bound to show respect to national anthem which is the symbol of the constitutional patriotism,” the two-judge bench’s order said, invoking India’s constitution, which says respecting the national anthem is one of the fundamental duties of every Indian citizen.

The court said it had issued the directives “for love and respect for the motherland is reflected when one shows respect to the national anthem as well as to the national flag.”

The court was hearing the petition from Shyam Narayan Chouksey, a 77-year-old retired government engineer and social activist based in the city of Bhopal in central India. Mr. Chouksey said in an interview that he wanted the court to “clear all the doubts and confusions regarding the proper use of the national anthem.” He said he was unhappy with what he saw as the rampant misuse and commercialization of the national anthem.

Mr. Chouksey said that the idea came from his youth days when cinemas played the anthem after the movie ended. “But the people were in a rush to go and they rarely paid attention.”

“In Europe and America, people don’t throw garbage and litter everywhere because they have public spirit,” Mr. Chouksey said. “In India, people don’t have that public spirit, which begins through respect for the national ideals and symbols like the national anthem.”

The court said the order should be enforced within 10 days. It didn’t specify what action the authorities could take against violators but said that it was giving directives only as an “interim measure” awaiting the response of the federal government in New Delhi. The next hearing in the case is on Feb. 14.

A lawyer for the Indian government told the court that the government will bring the order to public attention through electronic and print media.

Some critics said Wednesday that the order took the tradition of playing the national anthem at events too far, citing Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, composer of the song.

“It is my conviction that my countrymen will gain truly their India by fighting against that education which teaches them that a country is greater than the ideals of humanity,” he wrote in a 1917 essay on nationalism.

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(via WSJ)