Pouring supreme scorn on liberty

The Supreme Court must not hold in contempt what it is mandated to uphold

At first glance, today’s Supreme Court ruling making it mandatory for cinema halls to play the national anthem before screening movies, and requiring cinema-goers to stand up while it is being played, can be seen as yet another decision that appears more whimsical than grounded in Constitutional principle. Instead of refusing to waste its precious time hearing unimportant petitions from self-righteous busybodies who seek to impose their norms on the whole country, the Supreme Court has entertained many such, and created incentives for people to waste the Court’s time, and the citizens’ peace.

But a comment made by the Bench—perhaps revealing the rationale for the decision—should make us sit up and take notice:

When the national anthem is played it is imperative for everyone to show honour and respect. It would instill a sense of committed patriotism and nationalism…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. [LiveLaw emphasis added]

The Supreme Court just dissed individual liberty!

The bench sneered at one of the pillars of the Indian Constitution. Troubling as it is, more than the ruling itself we should be concerned that India’s highest judges think this way, and think nothing of expressing it this way. The Supreme Court is, after all, the ultimate guardian of individual liberty. It gets this responsibility from no less an authority than the Constitution of India. Citizens will be justified in wondering if the Supreme Court can discharge this assigned responsibility if it harbours such cynicism or disdain for individual liberty.

Legal scholars will no doubt cite scores of High Court and Supreme Court judgements that are unambiguous on the matter. Except when “individual liberty comes into conflict with an interest of the security of the State or public order”, individual liberty is supreme. It would be stretch to argue that people not standing up for the national anthem presents a scintilla of risk to the national interest. Indeed, India’s security or social order has suffered little damage from people not standing up for the national anthem in cinemas from 26th January 1950 till date. The judge’s words do not have a force of law, but to the extent they reveal thought processes, we have to worry.

It is bad enough for the Supreme Court to scorn individual freedom. To do so on an issue as unserious and arbitrary as what should be done at cinema halls is terrible.


Our emergency at the moment has perhaps led us toforget that if we do not give that scope to individual liberty, and give it the protection of the courts, we will create a tradition which will ultimately destroy even whatever little of personal liberty which exists in this country. [K M Munshi, Constituent Assembly, 6 December, 1948]

6 thoughts on “Pouring supreme scorn on liberty”

  1. Why are we so obsessed with “individual liberty” and feel threatened with any observation / statement coming from the courts or others. Are we not citizens of the country? The constitution guarantees liberty but it also enshrines some responsibility on each one of us. Letus have a balanced thinking and not start complaining every we are required to show some minimum respect /responsibility to our our own country.

  2. Just the act of standing up while playing of national anthem before any performance unites people in a sense and makes a scintilla of contribution towards unity. Do not belittle this.
    Take your civil liberties battle to something more relevant.

  3. absolutely agree with the comments. I guess we in India give very little credence to Individual freedom-may be that is the reason we hv suffered under pariah of Socialism for so long.

  4. i was expecting more from this article. Article also missed the fact this is not a novel act. i was told by my parents that national anthem used to be regular feature in the movie halls in days gone by too. in fact when exactly this feature was abandoned should be looked into.there was no concrete ,fact based info . instead what i just got was a strange cynical approach in which any thing that visibly supports or encourages nationalism is considered a “less classy” thing to do. what better words to cover it with than ‘individual liberty in jeopardy’. wow. not ‘liking’ to stand for your national anthem becomes a glorious facet of individual liberty. never thought like that ! in fact maybe the spread of feeling of such irritation in some people was the cause for this judgement.
    even though i personally dislike any act expressing any feeling loudly/outwardly , i also have come to realize they are important for many other people to understand the importance of those feelings.

    in the end one must not forget where the individual liberty of a citizen originates from. it obviously is rooted in the collective well being and pride of people of a country which needs to upholded from time to time. for this very reason national symbols are designed. else they have little meaning unto themselves per se.

  5. I think the comments on this article are missing the point all together. The issues is not whether the decision is good or bad, not whether it will do good or not …. The main point is whether it is legal or not. We are talking here about fundamental rights which are guaranteed by the constitution and it is shocking that the organ which has sworn on the same constitution to protect it seems to indicate that this right is not fundamental.

    The issues is about an organ of the state passing unconstitutional orders. A court is supposed to decide on matters on law. Here we have a reasonably arbitrary “order” which is not yet a judgement. The main danger which such orders are that this sets a precedent for future judgement.

    If judicial authorities want to reform society and make this country great, they should stand for elections and get votes from the people.

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