In the right setting, India’s National Anthem can raise goosebumps, but it is debatable whether the end of a movie’s credits is the right time and a theatre locked from outside the right place for it. It won’t be the first debate or controversy around the 52-second anthem either. Here are some anthem tales from the 1960s.
Your first memory of the anthem is possibly from school. It has been sung in morning assemblies since the 1960s. The practice started after the National Integration Conference held in September-October 1961 recommended that educational institutions start their day with community singing of the National Anthem.
Which states were the first to implement it? Jammu & Kashmir, and Madras, besides the Union Territories. Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab were the last. Till June 1962, the government of Punjab had not bothered to reply to the Centre on the issue.
On July 29, 1962, news came from Chandigarh that the Punjab government had decided to get the anthem translated into simple Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu for distribution in its schools. MPs In Delhi expressed shock and anger. Could the translated composition be regarded as India’s anthem, they asked. The Centre said ‘no’.
At the movies
Also in 1962, cinemas in Delhi were told to play the National Anthem after each show, and while the anthem played, they were to project a slide showing the National Flag and a picture of M K Gandhi.
Like the Supreme Court now, the Centre then ordered cinemas to keep their doors bolted while the anthem played.
“We have asked the cinema owners not to open the doors until the National Anthem has been sung, and I think the owners are taking requisite steps in regard thereto. Because we have just started it, it would take some time before people start observing proper decorum and paying respect to the singing of the National Anthem,” then deputy minister for information and broadcasting Sham Nath said on February 27, 1963.
One MP asked whether the anthem could not be played in the beginning, as people were usually in a hurry to get back home after a movie. Sham Nath replied: “Nowhere in the world is a national anthem played before a screening, so we too decided to play it at the end.”
Initially, cinemas made life easy for the audience by playing the shorter version of the anthem, but the government intervened again a year later.
“At its last meeting held on 23rd March, 1963, the Public Relations Committee of the National Defence Council recommended that, of the two versions of the Anthem the longer one, which takes about a minute, and not the shorter one, which takes about one-fifth of a minute, should be played in the cinema houses at the end of the evening shows,” then Home minister Lal Bahadur Shastri told Parliament on April 25, 1963. The recommendation was sent to the ministry of information and broadcasting for action.
More instructions followed at the end of 1964: “The National Anthem should be played in all cinema houses in the country at the end of the afternoon, matinee and first evening (6.30 pm) shows,” then minister of state for Home Jaisukhlal Hathi said on December 11, 1964.
It’s one thing to make people stand up while the anthem is being played inside a cinema, but how do you make them follow orders inside the privacy of their home?
Back in the 1960s, the anthem was also played after TV shows. On June 3, 1964, Sarla Bhadauria, an MP from Uttar Pradesh, asked whether “attention of government has been drawn to the fact that the television audience in Delhi generally remain seated when the National Anthem is played at the end of the show?” Then information and broadcasting minister Satya Narayan Sinha wisely replied the government was not aware of it.
Puri Shankaracharya pours scorn
For some, the National Anthem is Tagore’s tribute to King George V, rather than a paean to the Motherland. The Shankaracharya of Puri was one of them in the 1960s. At the World Hindu Conference in Patna, in March 1969, he declared the anthem should not be sung and walked out. BJP’s precursor, Jana Sangha, agreed with the Shankaracharya.
In Tamil Nadu, a different controversy arose around the same time because a Tamil national song was sung after the National Anthem at an event. In the state Assembly, chief minister M Karunanidhi conceded that it was an impropriety and that nothing should be sung after the anthem.
Question of penalties
While all these actions appeared to contemn the anthem, the government could not punish the offenders in any way.
Asked whether “there is any law, Central or state, under which the authorities can take action against persons who refuse to honour the National Anthem or cause obstruction during its singing?” then Home minister Y B Chavan told Parliament on May 7, 1969, such a law did not exist.
“Government propose to introduce legislation which would provide inter alia punishment for persons who intentionally prevent the singing of the national anthem or cause obstruction to any assembly engaged in such singing,” Chavan added.
Beware, practising individualism in a cinema at the end of a movie now could land you behind bars for three years.