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Back in November 2016, India’s Supreme Court ruled that everyone had to stand for the country’s national anthem before cinema screenings. The cinema should keep doors shut so no one could interrupt, it added.
The ruling quickly led to fights and surly kids being arrested. It also quickly led to a flurry of other rulings to try and make the law less silly. Courts issued exemptions for disabled people – at least one wheelchair-bound man was beaten up for not standing – and a clarification pointing out that cinemas shouldn’t actually lock people inside during the anthem as that would be a fire risk.
Well, now, 14 months later, the Supreme Court’s reversed the decision entirely. Phew, you may think. Well, not quite. The court made the u-turn in response to a government request, which suggests politics is behind the move.
India’s Hindu nationalist government also knows the ruling’s achieved everything it could in terms of stirring patriotism and quashing dissent. Schools and cities have been blasting the anthem out more than ever since the initial ruling and they’re not going to stop. The government doesn’t need the law anymore.
Any reader of this blog will know I’m against mandated anthem singing – patriotism shouldn’t be forced. In India, it basically still is.
People standing for the anthem in a New Delhi cinema. This photo’s stolen from Chandan Khanna of Agence France-Presse. Sorry, Chandan!
What the hell’s going on in India? A quick timeline of recent events:
- 2002: Shyam Narayan Chouksey, a retired engineer, goes to his local cinema in Bhopal to watch some Bollywood. During the film, India’s national anthem is played during a scene at a school fete so Shyam stands up to respect it. No one else does – most shout at Shyam to sit down as he’s obscuring their view – so Shyam stages a protest, then starts filing court orders to try and get people to respect the anthem. Everyone assumes Shyam will soon be forgotten by history (Shyam’s full story is here)
- 30 November 2016: India’s Supreme Court – responding to one of Shyam’s many complaints – rules that all cinemas must play the anthem before screenings and keep doors shut so no one can interrupt it. Everyone inside must stand
- 10 December 2016: India’s Supreme Court realises it’s gone slightly too far and allows disabled people to remain seated during the anthem. It also clarifies that it didn’t mean for cinemas to lock people inside during the anthem. That is a fire risk, after all
- 13 December 2016: Indian police arrest 12 people for not standing for the anthem!!! Most of the arrests are at a film festival and the attendees stayed sitting so as not to lose their seats, although others were actually people protesting the new law
India, if I can address you for a moment:
You don’t force people to be patriotic. Your country should be inspiring enough that people want to stand for your anthem without needing a law to tell them to. How many other countries have such laws? None! Well, maybe North Korea, but you get my point; this isn’t a sensible thing to have done.
Have some self-confidence, and get this ruling overturned. And when Shyam files his next petition, try to ignore it!