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New Delhi, Adrija Bose (FP): It seems not standing up for the national anthem at a theatre is the new ‘supporting Maoists’ or ‘drawing offensive cartoons’–because if you choose to sit through it, you will be abused, beaten and like one man in Kerala found out recently – even accused of sedition.
The latest incident in the ‘national anthem in theatres’ controversy, according to a Mumbai Mirror report, took place in the upmarket PVR Phoenix in Lower Parel, Mumbai, when a 31-year-old man was abused and assaulted by six men on Friday because his girlfriend, a South African, did not rise to her feet when the national anthem played.
Mahek Vyas, and his partner, Nicole Sobotker, were at the theatre to watch the 10.50 pm show of Michael Cuesta’s Kill the Messenger when the incident occurred.
“I heard someone shout that she should stand up for the anthem,” Vyas said. “I realised that the person sitting a few rows behind us was referring to my girlfriend, so I turned back and told him she was not an Indian. The guy said it wouldn’t hurt if she stood up, to which I replied, ‘she doesn’t have to if she does not want to.'”
The man then started abusing him and attacked him.
This is not all. The officer in charge at the NM Joshi Police Marg, where the duo went to file a complaint, told him that they should have made Nicole stand up for the anthem.
And this incident should not be viewed in isolation.
Recently, a 25 year old man in Kerala was charged under section 124 A of the IPC (sedition) for allegedly “sitting and hooting” when the national anthem was being played at a movie theatre.
On 7 October, Preity Zinta threw a boy out of another movie theatre, this time in Mumbai, for refusing to stand up during the national anthem. However, the ‘patriotic act’ of hers earned her the ire of social media as most of them said the actress was simply indulging in ‘goondaism.’
So, what exactly does the law say on the matter?
Section 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act states:
Whoever intentionally prevents the singing of the Indian National Anthem or causes disturbances to any assembly engaged in such singing shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
But, where does it talk about standing up? Nowhere. And certainly, it talks nothing in the text of the law that mandates a charge of sedition. As long as you don’t actively stop someone from singing the anthem, there is nothing wrong with not standing up.
There was only one case that has been adjudicated regarding the behaviour during national elections: The case of Bijoe Emmanuel & Ors vs State of Kerala & Ors.
The case deals with the expulsion of three children belonging to the Jehovah’s Witness sect being expelled from the school because they refused to sing the National Anthem during the morning assembly. In its 11 August 1986 decision, the Supreme Court held that the freedom of religion protected the appellants—children belonging to the Jehovah’s Witnesses denomination of Christianity—from penal action if they declined to join the national anthem when it was sung daily in their school.
However, the article noted that no cases have examined the question of not singing—or, for that matter, not standing up—owing to political convictions.
Does standing up during national anthem make you more Indian and the vice versa? No.
Maybe, it’s time that Indian courts take a significant stride ahead of Bijoe Emmanuel & Ors and state that citizens have the freedom to not join or not stand during the singing of the national anthem, not just because of their religious beliefs, but their personal beliefs and preferences. It’s time we realise patriotism cannot be forced on you through such inane, superficial and empty gestures–like beating you up if you don’t sing the national anthem.