On November 30, the Supreme Court laid emphasis on ‘showing requisite and necessary respect when the national anthem is sung or played’. To assert the fact that it is the duty of every person to show respect when the anthem is played or recited or sung, it ruled: “All the cinema halls in India shall play the National Anthem before the feature film starts and all present in the hall are obliged to stand up to show respect to the National Anthem”.
The judgment has led to a national debate on the definition of nationalism, ways in which it is expressed and whether a theatre is the right place at all to test one’s nationalism. Debate is a sign of an active and healthy democracy, and I am glad that many are debating the order.
However, my first thoughts were “that’s the end of movies in theatres for me”. I live a kilometre away from a mall in Gurgaon. However, I’ve been to the theatre only once courtesy the intimidating storey of steps that I had to tackle to reach my seat. Now there is one more fear of being branded ‘anti-national’ because I can’t stand up for the national anthem. Thank you, I’ll stay at home and watch Netflix instead.
Many would think that I’m exaggerating my fears. No one in their right mind would expect the disabled to stand up for the national anthem, right?
It was earlier this year that Salil Chaturvedi, a Panaji resident, took his wife to watch Rajnikanth’s Kabali. This wasn’t a typical Indian date: It was a luxury for Chaturvedi, a paraplegic, since the city’s multiplex halls are inaccessible to wheelchair users. Helpful ushers carried him to a seat and a nice evening awaited. However as Chaturvedi settled into his seat he was viciously assaulted because he could not stand up for the anthem.
In a region that has historically tuned against a certain section of society, clear policies protecting them help.
I’m reminded of the US. It was way back in 1870 that the 15th Amendment to the Constitution gave all men the right to vote. However, many states introduced poll taxes and literacy tests to prevent African Americans from voting. It was only when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 protecting the rights of African Americans to vote did things change for them.
India has a Supreme Court that has historically been a torchbearer for liberal, progressive ideals. I do hope it clarifies its position regarding wheelchair users soon.
Nipun Malhotra, born with arthrogryposis, is a wheelchair user.