India's national anthem ruling a victory for movie-goer

Schoolchildren singing India's national anthem in Hyderabad. The Supreme Court has ordered that the anthem be played before every movie screening in cinema halls, and everyone must stand for the duration.
Schoolchildren singing India's national anthem in Hyderabad. The Supreme Court has ordered that the anthem be played before every movie screening in cinema halls, and everyone must stand for the duration.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW DELHI • India's Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday that the national anthem must be played before a movie is screened has ignited debate among the country's citizens on whether their individual freedoms are being infringed upon in the name of patriotism.

But for Mr Shyam Narayan Chouksey, the decision marks a milestone in his 15-year quest that began when he went to see the Bollywood blockbuster Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham in December 2001.

Mr Chouksey, 76, a retired engineer, told The Huffington Post that no one in the Jyoti Talkies cinema in Bhopal that day stood up when the national anthem was played in the movie. When he leapt to his feet, he was booed at.

"There was some hooting from the back. The two people behind me told me to sit down because I was blocking the view. I told them that they should stand up," he told the news site. "I was very troubled and I felt hurt."

He took matters into his own hands, by protesting and sticking posters outside cinema halls in Bhopal, criticising the treatment of the national anthem in the movie and asking people to stand while it was played.

Later, he collected newspaper clippings and YouTube clips of what he describes as people "disrespecting" the national flag and the national anthem. In September this year, he filed a petition in the Supreme Court, arguing that under Article 51(A) of the Constitution, it is the fundamental duty of every citizen to show respect to the national flag and the national anthem.

Those taking to social media site Twitter have questioned if patriotism should be forced, saying they go to the movies to be entertained, not to prove their patriotism. Others argue that being seated while the anthem is played is a personal choice, and not a measure of how much they love their country.

According to Indian media, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday: "The people should stop following individual notions of freedom and have a sense of committed patriotism."

It ordered that the national anthem, Jana Gana Mana, be played before every movie screening in cinema halls, the national flag to be displayed on screen while the anthem is played, and everyone to stand for the duration - about 52 seconds for the shortened version.

"I am very much delighted," Mr Chouksey told The Huffington Post.

Not everyone is as pleased.

Those taking to social media site Twitter have questioned if patriotism should be forced, saying they go to the movies to be entertained, not to prove their patriotism. Others argue that being seated while the anthem is played is a personal choice, and not a measure of how much they love their country.

Meanwhile, Indian media reported that constitutional scholars have criticised the ruling as impinging on the freedom of speech.

Mr Chouksey and others who support his view do not understand the fuss over standing up for less than a minute. He told The Huffington Post: "Is it not important to respect your parents and your teachers? This is our culture and tradition. Do you not stand up when an elderly person walks into the room? So why can't you stand up for your country?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2016, with the headline 'India's national anthem ruling a victory for movie-goer'. Print Edition | Subscribe