Quashing an FIR registered against a person, the court said that while not standing up could be considered as causing ‘disrespect’ to the anthem, it was not an offence under the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act.
In a significant judgment, the Jammu & Kashmir high court has held that while not standing up for the national anthem could be considered ‘disrespect’ to the anthem, it does not constitute an offence under the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971.
The landmark ruling is likely to have implications for several cases registered against people in different states and Union Territories accused of not standing up for the national anthem or standing up but not singing it.
The court also quashed an FIR registered against a lecturer in Jammu province who was accused of not standing up for the national anthem at a college function in 2018 to celebrate the first anniversary of the Indian Army’s ‘surgical strike’ on militant camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
Does not constitute an offence
A single bench of Justice Sanjeev Kumar held that not standing for the national anthem does not constitute an offence under the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act. Citing section 3 of the Act, the judge said the law only penalises the conduct of a person who either prevents the singing of the national anthem or causes any disturbance to any assembly engaged in such singing.
“It is, thus, concluded that though certain conduct of individuals like not standing up while the national anthem is being played or standing quiet in the assembly engaged in the singing of national anthem may amount to showing disrespect to the national anthem but would not, per se, constitute an offence under Section 3 of the Act,” the judge said.
The UT’s top court also said that respect to the national anthem is one of the fundamental duties enumerated under the constitution of India but these duties are not enforceable by law nor is the breach of such duties an offence under any penal law of the state.
In its order, the court also referred to a private members’ Bill brought by BJP MP Parvesh Verma in 2019 to emphasise the point that Section 3 of the Act, as it stands currently, does not make “disrespect” to the Indian national anthem an offence unless it has the effect of preventing the signing of the national anthem or disturbing the assembly engaged in the act of signing.
“The conduct must amount to either preventing the signing of the National Anthem or causing disturbance in the assembly engaged in such singing so as to bring it within the purview of Section 3 of the Act,” the judge said.