This is exactly the kind of misuse of a Supreme Court ruling that we feared would happen when it was made. The order that the national anthem be played in cinemas before a film is screened has been used by hyper-nationalists to harass people who do not comply. The ruling was made on the assumption that this would instil greater pride in the anthem.
The latest to feel the heat of the self-styled patriots is a group of students who were attacked when they refused to stand up for the anthem in Chennai for which seven people have been detained. The national anthem is yet another symbol appropriated by so-called nationalists in recent times, the other being the flag.
It is no one’s case that a law once in force be violated. But there are numerous reasons why a person may have failed to stand up during the anthem. The issue of the disabled has already been raised and certainly exemptions have to be made. The only people who should have any authority to enforce such a ruling are the police, which means that all theatres must now deploy policemen to ensure that not only do people stand up but also ensure that other moviegoers don’t attack those who don’t for whatever reason. This has also been used as an excuse to harass people, in some instances women were the target of the self-styled patriots.
Recently, 12 people were arrested at an International Film Festival in Kerala when they did not stand for fear of losing their seats. Here the activists from the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, the youth wing of the BJP, were the culprits though they have absolutely no authority to enforce the law. In fact, the BJP should have taken action against these miscreants in order to send out a signal that they cannot act in an arbitrary fashion or feel embolden because they are part of the party in power. They should have been arrested as they had violated the law just as much as those who did not stand up for the anthem. In another ugly incident, a disabled man was abused in Goa for not arising from his wheelchair for the anthem.
Going to the movies should be an enjoyable experience but now it would seem that people have to be ever vigilant that they do not put a foot wrong for fear of inviting the wrath of these vigilantes. Rather than inspire reverence and respect for the anthem, such incidents can only contribute to fear and people staying away from venues where it is played.