Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people,
Dispenser of India’s destiny.
Thy name rouses the hearts of Punjab, Sind,
Gujarat and Maratha,
Of the Dravida and Odisha and Bengal;
It echoes in the hills of the Vindhyas and Himalayas,
mingles in the music of Jamuna and Ganges and is
chanted by the waves of the Indian Sea.
They pray for thy blessings and sing thy praise.
The saving of all people waits in thy hand,
Thou dispenser of India’s destiny.
Victory, victory, victory to thee.
The above lyrics are an English translation of the first stanza of India’s national anthem. The song, titled Jana Gana Mana, was the focus of an eye-opening ruling handed down Wednesday by the Supreme Court of India, which ordered movie theaters in the country to play the anthem prior to each screening and required moviegoers to stand during the rendition.
[T]he Supreme Court Wednesday ordered that “all the cinema halls in India shall play the national anthem before the feature film starts and all present in the hall are obliged to stand up to show respect to the national anthem” as a part of their “sacred obligation”…
[A] bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Amitava Roy added that the movie screen shall have the image of the national flag when the anthem is being played and that doors of the halls will remain shut during the anthem so that no disturbance is caused.
“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 instill the feeling within one, a sense committed patriotism and nationalism,” said the bench, giving 10 days for compliance with its direction.
In America, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick recently caught a lot of flak for kneeling during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” People debated whether his refusal to stand was an acceptable form of protest, but not whether he had a legal right to sit. A federal law (36 U.S. Code § 301) says Americans should stand during a rendition of the national anthem, but the national anthem statute doesn’t require them to.
These rules and customs are similar to those followed for the Pledge of Allegiance. In 1943, the Supreme Court invalidated a West Virginia state law that required members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses group to salute the flag and recite the Pledge.
The highest court of the world’s largest democracy isn’t bound by the First Amendment. Its ruling comes amid a nationalist surge in India that has drawn in the Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association, a trade group representing film and TV producers. This fall, after India blamed Pakistan for a deadly terrorist attack near the Pakistani border that killed 19 soldiers, the association said it would no longer work with Pakistani “artistes, singers and technicians.”
But the ruling in India still leaves a question about enforcement. The Indian Express notes:
The court order, however, does not entail any penalty or punishment for not standing when the national anthem is played and hence, it remains to be seen how public authorities and those managing private cinema halls would ensure the direction is followed “in letter and spirit.”