India: Arrests Follow Court Order to Respect Anthem

Akash Vashishtha
New Delhi
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161213-IN-anthem-1000 Audience members stand for India’s national anthem before a screening at a cinema in New Delhi, Dec. 4, 2016.

At least 20 people have been arrested in since India’s highest court two weeks ago required movie-goers to stand for the national anthem before screenings at theaters, police said Tuesday.

In a Nov. 30 order, the Supreme Court directed all movie theaters to play the anthem and it ordered every person present to stand as a sign of respect.

The apex court also held that “the entry and exit doors [of the movie theater] shall remain closed [while the national anthem is being played] so that no one can create any kind of disturbance which will amount to disrespect to the national anthem.”

“Citizens are duty bound to show respect to [the] national anthem which is the symbol of constitutional patriotism,” the court said.

On Monday, 12 people were arrested at an international film festival in the southern Indian state of Kerala for allegedly failing to observe the order.

The accused, whose identities were not revealed, were asked by the organizers to stand for the national anthem but they refused, Sparjan Kumar, the police chief of Kerala’s capital, Thiruvananthapuram, told BenarNews.

“They were then formally arrested, but later let out on bail,” Kumar said, adding that the accused were charged under Indian Penal Code section 188 that deals with refusal to obey an order passed by a public servant.

He said six of the 12 accused, including two women, were assaulted by audience members when they refused to stand, but he did not say if charges would be brought against the attackers.

“We can only act once we receive a complaint of the assault,” he said.

“We have asked all cinema halls in the state to inform us in case somebody shows disrespect to the national anthem because it is not possible for police officials to remain present at each and every theater,” Kumar said.

On Sunday, eight movie-goers were arrested in the southern city of Chennai for allegedly refusing to stand during the national anthem. They, too, were assaulted by a mob of 20 men before being taken into custody, police said.

Wheelchair-bound writer says he was assaulted

Even before the Nov. 30 order, there were several reports of movie-goers being attacked for failing to stand. Salil Chaturvedi, a wheelchair-bound writer who is unable to stand because of a spinal cord injury, said he was assaulted at a multiplex in Goa in October.

Criticizing the Supreme Court ruling, activists said the judiciary was being influenced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“Previously, the national flag and national anthem meant secularism, but now they stand for the BJP,” Riya Raj, a social activist and leader of a left-wing students’ union, told BenarNews.

“When I go to watch a movie, I go there to enjoy, not prove my nationalism or patriotism. Respect has to come from within. It can’t be pushed by law. All these diktats are coming from the BJP government, which is trying to create an atmosphere of dictatorship,” Raj said.

Supreme Court lawyer Amit Khemka agreed.

“Standing up for the national anthem because you are being forced to do so is not a sign of nationalism. It is a sign of fear that you will be arrested if you don’t,” Khemka told BenarNews.

“There is no reason the national anthem should be played at a cinema hall. It is like going to a restaurant and being asked to sing the national anthem before you are served food,” he added. “The framers of the constitution deliberately made respecting the national flag and national anthem a fundamental duty and not enforceable by law.”

But others stand in support of the latest ruling, saying the judiciary cannot be influenced by political ideologies.

“In most countries, nationalism is placed above politics and everything else. It is only in India that everything is seen as politically motivated. Nationalism is not for one political party or the other. It is for all Indian citizens,” Sachin Soni, an education rights activist, told BenarNews.


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