We’re always told to stand up for what we believe in, but what about sitting down for something we don’t believe in? Turns out, it means potential jail time. At least that’s what’s happening to this group of moviegoers who went to a PVR theatre in Bengaluru to watch a Tamil movie and ended up starring in their very own viral video when they refused to stand up while the national anthem was playing— like it does before the start of movies in most Indian cinema halls. Abused, heckled and called “Pakistani terrorists”, when this group stood their ground by refusing to stand up, an argument ensued between them and others gathered at the theatre, including Kannada actors Arjun Gowda and BV Aishwarya. The argument turned so heated that eventually the girls in the group even had to leave because of all the harassment, while the crowd got even more furious because the rebellious moviegoers had allegedly “spoken about the army in a disrespectful manner” and asked those upset by their actions to take it up with the police.
Now, their words have come back to haunt them because after this video went viral on social media, the police have registered a suo moto case against the group under Section 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971. This means that the court itself decided to take action against them and ordered an inquiry to determine whether “an instance of disrespect to the national anthem was observed,” according to The Indian Express.
According to this law, those who “intentionally prevent the singing of Jana Gana Mana or cause disturbances to any assembly engaged in such singing” can be punished with a jail term of up to three years.
Police officers added that the FIR was filed only after a “thorough consultation with legal experts” over the viral video. While the Supreme Court of India had made it compulsory for all theatres to play the national anthem before all movie screenings, this was overruled in 2018, making it optional for cinema halls to play the 52-second national anthem. Justice Chandrachud, at the time, had even said that, “People do not need to stand up at a cinema hall to be perceived as patriotic,” during the proceedings that challenged this compulsion.
However, this isn’t the first time someone has been called out by authorities and almost been arrested for not standing up while the national anthem was playing. In May 2019, an FIR was registered against a 29-year-old man from Bengaluru who refused to stand up for the national anthem at a screening of Avengers: Endgame, while several others have been harassed and abused for doing the same in the past. What’s next? Cases against people for taking things lying down?
Follow Shamani Joshi on Instagram.