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The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971

The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 was enacted on 23rd December, 1971. The act was legislated to prevent dishonour to National symbols which shall include which shall include the Indian Constitution, National anthem and National Flag. The Act was amended vide Prevention of Insults to National Honour (Amendment) Act, 2005 enforced on 20th December, 2005 and Prevention of Insults to National Honour (Amendment) Act, 2003 dated 8th May, 2003.  The Act extends to whole of India.

The Act aims to prevent dishonour to national symbols in any nature and to invoke a feeling of nationhood amongst the citizens. The Act is in consonance to Article 51 (A)(a) of the Indian Constitution which lays down the fundamental duty to respect and abide constitution, national anthem and national flag.

Section 2 of the Act strictly prohibits disrespect to the National Symbols. It lays down that no person shall show disrespect to national symbols in a public place national symbol shall include national flag, national anthem and the constitution. The act in clear words lays that whoever inorder to insult national symbols whether by burns, mutilation, defaces, defiles, dis-figuration, destroys, tramples, shows disrespect or brings contempt weather by words either spoken or written shall be punished with imprisonment for three years or with fine or with both.

However the Act also lays certain explanation to section 2 which can be stated to be its exceptions. The first explanation lays that whenever national flag, anthem or constitution is criticised inorder to bring amendment to either of these it shall not be deemed as insult. National Flag under Acts shall mean picture, painting, drawing, photograph and visible representation of the Indian National Flag, or of any part its parts. Public place under the Act shall mean any place easily accessible to public.

Explanation 4 of section 2 explains the term disrespect in detail. Disrespect shall mean and include gross insult to national flag, dipping of National Flag, flying national flag half mast on days other than the days on which the flag is supposed to be flown half mast, using national flag as clothing in any form except in state funerals or military funerals.

The National Honour (Amendment) Act, 2005 further explained the term disrespect by attributing disrespect to instance wherein National Flag is used as a costume, uniform or accessory  worn below the waist of any person, embroidering or printing national flag  on cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, undergarments or any dress material, putting inscription upon the Indian National Flag, using Indian National Flag as a receptacle for receiving, delivering or carrying anything except flower petals before the Indian National Flag is unfurled as part of celebrations on special occasions such as Republic and Independence Day, using the Indian National Flag as covering for a statue or monument or podium, allowing the Indian National Flag to touch ground or floor intentionally, draping the Indian National Flag over sides or of a vehicle, train, boat or an aircraft etc., using the Indian National Flag as a covering for a building and exhibiting the Indian National Flag with saffron down.

Section 3 of the Act lays down punishment for insulting National Anthem. It lays that when-ever a person intentionally prevents or causes disturbances while national anthem is sung shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to three years, or fine, or with both.

However Supreme Court in Bijoe Emmanuel Versus State of Kerela 1987 AIR  748 held that whenever a person does not sing national anthem by reason of genuine conscientious religious faith shall not be punishable under the Act and rights of such person shall be protected under Article 19(1)(a) and 25(1) of the Indian Constitution

By the Amending Act of 2003 section 3A was inserted which lays that when-ever a person already punished for commission of an offence under section 2 and section 3 does the same act shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which shall not be less than one year.

by Vibhuti Nakta.