National Anthem : Nationalism or Pseudo-Nationalism | The Controversy

Recently the Honourable Supreme Court of India passed an interim order to the cinema halls asking for mandatory featuring of the national flag on the screen and playing of the national anthem before the start of the movie. Few states in India have already legally subscribed and enforced this view but the current ruling enforces the same at a Pan-India level.

National Anthem | What argument did the Court present?

national anthem

According to the Supreme Court, the move is designed to “instil a sense of committed patriotism and nationalism” in citizens. Judges said that when the anthem is played in cinemas it should be accompanied with images of the national flag on screen and moviegoers must stand. The court said, “Time has come for people to realise that the national anthem is a symbol of constitutional patriotism… People must feel they live in a nation and this wallowing individually perceived notion of freedom must go… People must feel this is my country, my motherland.” 

National Anthem | History of cases 

  • In the 1960s, the national anthem would be played at the end of the film. But as people simply filed out after the movie, this practice was stopped.
  • In August 1986, a Supreme Court bench of Justices O Chinnappa Reddy and M M Dutt had, in Bijoe Emmanuel & Ors vs State Of Kerala & Ors, granted protection to three children of the Jehovah’s Witness sect, who didn’t join in the singing of the national anthem at their school. The court held that forcing the children to sing the anthem violated their fundamental right to religion.
  • There have been legal interventions on playing the national anthem in theatres in the past. In 2003, the Maharashtra Assembly passed an order mandating the playing of the national anthem before the start of a movie.

The current ruling is perceived to be completely inverse to the above mentioned judgement. Although those in favour argue that the Supreme Court has mandated the cinema halls to play the national anthem and show the national flag, it is in no way mandatory for the cinema audience to sing along the national anthem. This prevents the perceived violation of Article 19(1)(a) and Article 25(1).

National Anthem | Current laws 


Besides the moral application of Article 51(a) of the Constitution, the existing laws don’t specifically penalise or force any person to stand up or sing the national anthem. The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 states: “Whoever intentionally prevents the singing of the Jana Gana Mana or causes disturbances to any assembly engaged in such singing shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.”

National Anthem | Arguments against the ruling

  • Those against the ruling argue that the judgement is in contravention of Article 19(1)(a) and Article 25(1) of the Indian Constitution i.e. against the freedom of speech and expression and freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion respectively.
  • The sceptics also argue that the judgement also promotes pseudo-nationalism or jingoism in the name of promotion of nationalism and unity in diversity.
  • The national anthem has been inserted in our education system but the spirit of it has not been adequately realised through the methods of teaching. Therefore, the imposition of it defeats the purpose if the target audience is unaware about the real meaning of it.
  • There is an argument that the duty of the judiciary is to interpret the laws and not interfere with the legislation part. This verdict has been cited by few as judicial overreach.
  • Few people argue that it exposes the hollowness of the Indian State as a Union as the state requires symbolism to ensure unity of the nation is maintained and the populace cherishes the ideals of our freedom struggle.
  • The ruling is not elaborate on the punishments and repercussions in case there is a violation of the same. Hence, it gives the enforcement agencies an ambiguous power to enforce the same.
  • There is an argument that every time the enforcement of patriotism is done through the film industry and other avenues of public communication are not penalised like this.

National Anthem | Arguments in favour of the ruling


  • The ruling brings the fundamental duty u/a 51(a) of the Indian Constitution into the picture as it gives a legal sanction to the first fundamental duty to abide the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem. Hence, it directly makes the Fundamental Duties enforceable by law, even if not universally applicable.
  • For a multicultural and ‘multilingual’ country like India, this decision comes as a unifying force as the national anthem binds us all irrespective of religion, caste, creed or gender.
  • It is also argued that most of the cinema goers are the ‘youth’ of India, hence, the inoculation of patriotic and constitutional ideals among them would create ripple effects for the whole society. This channelization of the youth can change the narrative from the revolutionary spirit to a patriotic spirit in our society as a whole.
  • This decision would help in circumscribing the communal identity of ours and supersede the same with the national identity, thereby realising the aspirations of our forefathers who struggled for the communal harmony in India.
  • It enforces a strict adherence to the notion of patriotism which has lost its sheen under the garb of ‘freedoms’ enshrined u/a 19 of the Indian Constitution. People should realise that the freedoms guaranteed under the fundamental rights would go to the backburner when the people lose a sense of belonging to the nation and the ‘unity amongst diversity’ succumbs to the injuries by the pseudo-liberal notions.
  • The ‘patriotism’ generated through the national anthem promotes ‘inclusivity’ and exterminates the ideas of exclusivity generated by the non-state elements of the society.

The Way forward

The Honourable Supreme Court of India should make elaborate provisions for the enforcement of the ruling and reduce the ambiguities attached to it. The ruling should also address the issues of the minority communities who feel ostracise due to this verdict.

It is also the duty of the Government to enforce the same with due caution. Besides the execution of the verdict, it is also the duty of the Government to promulgate the true meaning of national anthem to a larger audience through various programmes. Incorporation of national anthem in the syllabi of the primary, secondary and higher education may not be enough, but it should effectively make use of the channels of communication to spread the message even to the marginalised sections of the society, besides eliminating their concerns attached to it.



India is a multicultural and multilingual society where the culture and language changes every few kilometres. The only thing that unifies this country is ‘nationalism’ and ‘patriotism’ which require constitutional symbolism for the realisation among the people. We have been talking about ‘unity in diversity’ for a very long time now, but inadvertently we might have focused more on ‘diversity’ than ‘unity’. This verdict tries for a course correction and we should welcome it in letter and spirit.

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