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Wheelchair-User In Guwahati Allegedly Called A 'Pakistani' For Not Standing Up For Anthem

Rising tide of intolerance.

02/10/2017 1:02 PM IST | Updated 02/10/2017 1:03 PM IST
DOMINIQUE FAGET via Getty Images

In another incident of jingoism masquerading as nationalism, a wheelchair-user from Guwahati was allegedly verbally abused by two men at a multiplex because he did not stand up for the national anthem on Friday, 29 September, reported Times of India.

Arman Ali, a disability rights activist and executive director of Shishu Sarothi, an NGO working to empower disabled people, alleged that despite sitting upright during the national anthem as a "mark of respect", the two men abused him saying, "Saamne ek Pakistani baitha hai (A Pakistani is sitting ahead)."

"When I looked behind, they bore smug expressions on their faces. How easy to call someone Pakistani without even bothering to know if that 'Pakistani' can stand up or not? Maybe, to them, their national duty is done by commenting on my not standing up for the national anthem," TOI quoted Ali as saying.

Ali is planning to write to the Chief Justice of India.

This is not the first time hysteria over the national anthem has driven self-appointed custodians of patriotism to attack people for failing to honour the national anthem by standing up for it. This has been a contentious issue in India, with growing emphasis on overt displays of patriotism.

In a widely publicised incident, Salil Chaturvedi, an award winning writer and disability rights campaigner who suffers from spinal injury, was assaulted at a multiplex in Goa by a couple standing in the aisle above him for not rising when the national anthem started playing, in October, last year.

In 2015, a now-deleted video surfaced on Youtube, showing a group of Muslims being thrown out of a Mumbai theatre for remaining seated during the national anthem.

In 2014, a Mumbai man was abused and assaulted by six men when his South African girlfriend did not stand up for the national anthem. The victim alleged that a policeman at a nearby station had refused to file a complaint against the people who attacked him, instead, telling him that he should have made his friend stand. The same year, a man was charged with sedition after he refused to stand for the anthem in a cinema hall in Kerala.

Despite several incidents of citizens behaving like vigilantes coming to light over the last few years, in November 2016, the Supreme Court (SC) issued an order that made it mandatory to play the national anthem in movie theatres across the country, before every screening, with an image of the national flag displayed on the screen. According to the SC, standing up for the national anthem would "instill a sense of committed patriotism and nationalism" in people's minds. However, in April 2017, the Supreme Court exempted disabled persons from standing during the national anthem before the screening of a film due to many cases of disabled, elderly and people with small children being attacked by fellow moviegoers trying to enforce the SC's order.

Before the 2016 SC ruling, there was no law that mandated standing for the Indian national anthem, but the Ministry of Home Affairs' (MHA) orders relating to the national anthem specified that it was compulsory to stand to attention when the anthem is played. In India, the MHA's orders carry the force of the law.

Opinions were divided on the SC ruling; while some lauded the move, others believed that ratifying this would enable vigilantism.

Within 48 hours of the ruling, 20 arrests were made in relation to disrespecting the national anthem — 12 people were taken into custody for showing disrespect to the National Anthem during the International Film Festival of Kerala when they refused to stand up for the national anthem. Six of the 12 taken in custody had been assaulted for refusing to stand, but that no charges were filed against their attackers. Another eight people were arrested after being assaulted by 20 men in a Chennai theatre for disrespecting the anthem by not standing and taking selfies while it played. Three among the assaulted group were students, including two women.

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