The decision reverses a 2016 court decision that had sought to unify practice nationwide. But the earlier ruling sparked controversy and occasional violent outbreaks between cinemagoers who considered others not to be standing up or showing due respect. These included the beating of a disabled man in a wheelchair.
The judges ruled that playing the anthem is optional, and at the choice of the cinema operator. They also said that if the anthem is played, citizens are required to show respect.
The 2016 ruling was challenged by a Kerala cinema club, which argued that compulsory playing was an infringement of fundamental rights. The challenge was surprisingly also backed by the national government, which has promoted other nationalist and populist legislation.
The saga is unlikely to end with Tuesday’s ruling. The court also asked government to set up a commission to make further recommendations, including whether the anthem is necessary at all.