National Anthem: Singing not compulsory!

National Anthem of India

Obligation to sing National Anthem:

Three children belong to a sect called Jehovah’s Witnesses who worship only Jehovah-the Creator and none other. They refused to sing the National Anthem: ‘Jana Gana Mana’ because, according to them, it is against the tenets of their religious faith-not the words or the thoughts of the National Anthem-but the singing of it. They desisted from actual singing only because of their aforesaid honest belief and conviction but they used to stand up in respectful silence daily, during the morning assembly when the National Anthem was sung. A Commission was appointed to enquire and report, and it reported that the children were “law abiding” and that they showed no disrespect to the National Anthem. However, under the instructions of Deputy Inspector of Schools, the Head Mistress expelled the appellants from school.

Freedom under Constitution of India:

Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution guarantees to all citizens freedom of speech and expression, but Article 19(2) provides that nothing in Article 19(1)(a) shall prevent a State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the said right. Art. 25(1) guarantees to all persons freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion, subject to order, morality and health and to the other provisions of Part III of the Constitution. Art. 51-A(a) of the Constitution enjoins a dub on every citizen of India “to abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem”.

While on the one hand, Art. 25(1) itself expressly subjects the right guaranteed by it to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of Part III, on the other hand, the State is also given the liberty to make a law to regulate or restrict any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice and to provide for social welfare and reform, even if such regulation, restriction or provision affects the right guaranteed by Art. 25(1). Therefore, whenever the Fundamental Right to freedom of conscience and to profess, practise and propagate religion is invoked, the act complained of as offending the Fundamental Right must be examined to discover whether such act is to protect public order, morality and health, whether it is to give effect to the other provisions of Part III of the Constitution or whether it is authorised by a law made to regulate or restrict any economic, financial political or secular activity which may be associated with religious practise or to provide for social welfare and reform.

 

Disrespect to National Anthem:

The expulsion of the three children from the school for the reason that because of their conscientiously held religious faith, they do not join the singing of the National Anthem in the morning assembly though they do stand respectfully when the National Anthem is sung, is a violation of the fundamental right to freedom of conscience and freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.

There is no provision of law which obliges anyone to sing the National Anthem nor is it disrespectful to the National Anthem if a person who stands up respectfully when the National Anthem is sung does not join the singing. Proper respect is shown to the National Anthem by standing up when the National Anthem is sung.

 Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, Section 3:
It will not be right to say that disrespect is shown by not joining in the singing. Standing up respectfully when the National Anthem is sung but not singing oneself clearly does not either prevent the singing of the National Anthem or cause disturbance to an assembly engaged in such singing so as to constitute the offence mentioned in s. 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act.
Source: Bijoe Emmanuel vs. State (Supreme Court of India)
See also: Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 US 624 (1943) 
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