It is the constitutional duty of every citizen, under Article51A(a) of the Constitution, to respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem. Standing during the national anthem does not necessarily mean respect for the national anthem. Nor does sitting during the anthem mean disrespect or qualify as a crime. What qualifies as crime is a “willful act” committed to insult the National Anthem.
Section 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 (as amended in 2005) does not dictate whether a person should sit or stand when the anthem is playing or sung.
Section 2 of the Insults Act leaves nothing to imagination when it specifies what constitutes an “insult” to the national flag and the Constitution. These include public acts of burning, mutilating, defacing, defiling, disfiguring, destroying, trampling upon the National Flag or the Constitution.
Commercial purposes
The Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act takes care that national symbols are not taken undue advantage of and used for crass commercial purposes. In May 2010, luxury giant Montblanc had to give an assurance to the Supreme Court that it will not sell its limited edition pens sporting the name and image of Mahatma Gandhi.
The Karnataka High Court, in a 2007 judgment in N.R. Narayana Murthy vs. Kannada Rakshana Vakeelara , describes the national flag, national anthem and the Constitution of India as the “symbols of sovereignty and the integrity of the Nation”.
However, various judgments show that the courts have always taken into consideration the diverse faiths and beliefs practised by citizens.
The 1986 Supreme Court judgment in Bijoe Emmanuel vs. State of Kerala dealing with the expulsion of three children who belonged to the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect, for refusing to sing the national anthem in school, said this was contrary to fundamental rights of free speech and freedom to practise their religion.
In the 2004 Naveen Jindal judgment, a three-judge Supreme Court Bench led by then Chief Justice of India V.N. Khare upheld the citizen’s fundamental right to fly the national flag freely with respect and dignity.
What qualifies as
crime is a ‘willful act’
committed to insult
the National Anthem