Three film-goers - two students and the mother of one of the students, have been arrested for not standing up for the national anthem before a 12:00 PM film screening at Palazzo Cinemas in Forum Vijaya Mall, Chennai. All three have been booked under section 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971. They have since been released on bail.
The trio - Bijon, a BCom student of Loyola College, Shreela Manohar, a law student, and Shreela's senior citizen mother, were attending a screening of the Bulgarian-Greek drama Glory, as part of the Chennai International Film Festival (CIFF) that began on 5 January.
While their decision not to stand for the anthem doubtless goes against the Supreme Court's decree on the matter, the three also did nothing to disrespect the anthem either, something they pointed out to the CIFF volunteers present who confronted them after the anthem had ended.
A friend of Bijon told Catch that, when confronted by the volunteers, Bijon explained to them that he was doing nothing to dishonour the national anthem, he was merely sitting. He further went on to explain that in the same way that he wasn't dishonouring it, there was no need for him to show any other form of respect, asserting his right to sit in silence.
This didn't go down well with the volunteers who pushed Bijon around a little, threatening to rough him up. Speaking to Catch after they were released by police, Shreela Manohar recounts what happened. "Some volunteers began attacking him [Bijon] after the national anthem ended. They tried to drag him out of the theatre and threatening to call the police," she recounts.
Luckily, unlike the previous instance of this kind in Chennai, it didn't escalate to the level of physical violence. In that instance, even the women in the group weren't spared. This time, however, violence was prevented thanks to the timely intervention of fellow movie goers.
The CIFF volunteers, though, refused to allow the screening until the police showed up, but finally relented on the insistence of the audience. Shreela claims that most of the audience actually defended the three's actions, insisting it was their prerogative alone to stand or sit. They also pointed out that CIFF has no connection whatsoever to nationalism.
However, 5 minutes into the movie, 2 police constables walked into the film hall enquiring whether there had been any trouble. After being asked to leave the hall as the venue was not a public space, the two constables exited, but were joined in their exit by the same people who'd tried to rough Bijon up earlier.
Soon the Vadapalani station sub-inspector showed up at the hall, detaining all three, as well as taking another 7 audience members who had defended them into custody. The complaint was allegedly made by the director of the hall.
A charge that makes no sense
At the station they were held for over 2 hours, while the police investigated the volunteers' claims, before the original three were finally booked, while the remaining 7 were listed as witnesses. What's bizarre though is that they've been booked under section 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, which carries a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment, a fine, or both. They were later released after furnishing bail.
However, it's hard to understand how Section 3 could possibly apply to them as it applies only to "whoever intentionally prevents the singing of the Indian National Anthem or causes disturbances to any assembly engaged in such singing". Neither Bijon, nor Shreela and her mother did anything of the sort. To sit quietly is hardly a disturbance, nor an impediment to the singing of the national anthem. In fact, it can be argued that by their intervention, the CIFF volunteers are the ones who fall foul of this ruling.
When the Supreme Court decreed that the national anthem be played before every movie screened, and that all present must stand for the anthem, many worried that it would lead to needless arrests. The court's reasoning, that it would instil a sense of patriotism and nationalism, also holds little merit. Patriotism is hardly built by standing for the national anthem in a movie hall. Nor is it destroyed by sitting during it.
Besides, how little do we think of our country's honour when 2 students and a senior citizen sitting through the national anthem is enough to undermine this unimpeachable honour?