New Delhi: The national anthem must be played in cinemas before movie screenings and all exits will be shut during that time, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday. The court stressed that everyone should rise for the anthem, with the national flag on the screen, because citizens "are duty-bound to show respect to the national anthem which is the symbol of the constitutional patriotism."
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The idea, said the court, of "any different notion or the perception of individual rights...is constitutionally impermissible."
In a ruling that raised eyebrows, the court also said while the anthem is playing, all theatre exits should be closed - which instantly raised questions about emergencies like a fire. Lawyers say the movement of people in and out of the hall in the middle of the anthem is interpreted as disrespect.
Acting on a petition by Shyam Narayan Chouksey, who runs an NGO in Bhopal, the court said the anthem should not be commercially exploited, dramatized or printed on objectionable material.
The government has promised to implement the rule in 10 days.
Cinema halls traditionally played the anthem after the movie in the 1960s, but people were often seen walking out in the middle. The practice faded away over the years, as multiplexes transformed movie-watching.
In many states like Maharashtra, single theatres play the anthem.
Whether or not to stand in the cinema hall during the anthem has generated much debate and confusion.
Last year, the Madras High Court said that in cinema halls, people are not bound to stand for the anthem. The court was responding to the home ministry's directive to all states that standing would interrupt the film screening and "create disorder and confusion rather than add to the dignity of the anthem."
Abhinav Shrivastav, the lawyer for the petitioner, said there were "no guidelines on the anthem and we wanted the court to pass orders."