Refusing to relax its order mandating singing of national anthem before a film screening, the Supreme Court on Dec 9 said physically challenged persons or physically handicapped persons may not stand for the anthem, but should show conduct that shows respect for the anthem.
“If a physically challenged person or physically handicapped person goes to the cinema hall to watch a film, he need not stand up if he is incapable to stand. But he must show such conduct which is commensurate with respect for the national anthem,” a bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Amitava Roy observed, clarifying its Nov 30 order.
On Nov 30, the Supreme Court had ordered all cinema halls to play the national anthem before screening of movies and all those present in the hall to stand up for it. The practice would “instil a feeling of committed patriotism and nationalism,” the Court said.
The term ‘physically handicapped persons’ would mean those coming under Sections 2(i) and 2(t) of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995. While Section 2(i) of the Act defines ‘disability’ as “blindness, low vision, leprosy-cured, hearing impairment, loco motor disability, mental retardation, mental illness,” Section 2(t) defines a ‘person with disability’ as somebody suffering from not less than 40% of any disability as certified by a medical authority. The government also told the Court it would bring out guidelines for persons with disabilities to follow when the national anthem gets played.
The Court’s decision comes in the wake of many people, especially people with disabilities, facing harassment for not standing up for the anthem. A nationalist fervour seems to have taken over the country in the last two years, with the country witnessing many incidents of people being attacked for not standing up for the anthem.
In October, a wheelchair-bound man in Panaji, Goa was struck and harassed by fellow theatregoers for not standing when the national anthem was being played in the movie hall. Salil Chaturvedi, who represented India in wheelchair tennis, went on to say, “My father is an Air Force veteran. I represented the nation in wheelchair tennis at the Australian Open. Look at my life choices! Who are you to judge how much I love India?”
People with disability aren’t the only ones who have been assaulted at a movie theatre for not standing for the anthem. In November 2015, a Muslim family was heckled out of a movie theatre in Mumbai for the same reason. In January, a complaint was filed against two women in Mumbai – again for showing ‘disrespect’ to the anthem.
The Court was hearing a plea by the organiser of an International Film Festival in Kerala seeking exemption from the order saying it would inconvenience foreign guests.
The Bench expressed serious reservation against the grounds for seeking exemption asking if it should recall its order, just to oblige foreign delegates.
“I am jolted by this ground. The Supreme Court has to oblige foreign delegates by recalling our order? You have said they will have to stand five times when the national anthem is played. I would say why not rise 20 times?”