Shyam Narayan Chouksey was among the millions who went to see the Bollywood blockbuster Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham in December 2001. But what the retired engineer saw at Jyoti Talkies in Bhopal, or rather, what he didn't see, set him on a 15 year-long quest to get his fellow citizens to stand up when they hear the national anthem.
It was shortly before noon today that Chouksey's lawyer told him that the Supreme Court had ticked off at least three items on his wish list. The highest court of the land has ordered for the national anthem to be played before every movie screening in cinema halls, for the national flag to displayed on the screen while the national anthem is played, and for everyone to stand for its 52 seconds.
"I knew the hearing was today but I didn't expect the Supreme Court to issue directives so quickly," he told HuffPost India, speaking over the phone from Bhopal. "I am very much delighted."
The Supreme Court directives today have divided the country. There are those who believe that people should display their respect for the national anthem and the national flag, at the very least in a public space, and others who believe that standing up or any other expression of patriotism is a personal choice and should not be enforced.
When this reporter asked Chouksey what he thought of people who love their country but choose not to stand up during the national anthem, he said, "But why not? "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."
Back in 2001, what Chouksey didn't see at Jyoti Talkies, now Jyoti multiplex, were people standing up when the national anthem was played in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. What he didn't hear was the national anthem being played for its full duration of 52 seconds. Instead, the retired engineer was booed at when he leapt to his feet.
"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 said. "I was very troubled and I felt hurt."
Instead of going quietly into the night, however, Chouksey carried out protests and stuck posters outside cinema halls in Bhopal, criticizing the treatment of the national anthem in the movie, and asking people to stand up while it was played. "It got a tremendous response," he said.
Chouksey then moved the Madhya Pradesh High Court in Jabalpur, which banned the screening of the movie until the national anthem part of it was deleted. In response to an appeal by the movie's director, Karan Johar, the Supreme Court ruled that the audience did not need to stand up when the national anthem was played in the movie, but left the question of law open. The Supreme Court said that if people were to stand up during the course of a movie it "would create disorder and confusion, rather than add to the dignity of the national anthem."
Chouksey was exhausted but not ready to give up. He started collecting newspaper clippings and identified You Tube videos of what he describes as people "disrespecting" the national flag and the national anthem. He recalled an episode involving a District Collector in Madhya Pradesh, who served food on paper plates which had the words of the national anthem printed on them along with an image of the national flag.
"People were eating on these and throwing them in the dustbin," he said. "How can one see that and not feel bad?"
Armed with all this information, Chouksey resumed the legal battle in September by filing a petition in the Supreme Court. He argued 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.
In addition to making the national anthem mandatory before movies, the Supreme Court ruled that the national anthem should not be dramatized or commercially exploited, and that it should not be printed on "undesirable" object.
But the matter is far from over. Abhinav Srivastava, Chouksey's lawyer, told HuffPost India that there are other questions which the petitioner has raised including a clear mandate on what constitutes respect for the national symbols, how people can show their respect, and the penalties for showing disrespect.
Srivastava doesn't understand why people are critical of the Supreme Court's interim directives. "You can't stand up for 52 seconds?" he said.
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