On Sunday, a group of eight persons, including three women, were inside Chennai's Kasi theatre for a screening of the film 'Chennai 28-II', a coming-of-age sports comedy. What was slated to be regular movie watching experience, turned into a nightmare for these eight after a mob of 20 people attacked them for not standing up when the national anthem played before the film was to begin.
Among the group was a social worker, a freelance writer and a college lecturer who took the decision to defy, on grounds of principles, a Supreme Court order of 30 November that made it mandatory for cinema halls across India to play the national anthem before a film's screening.
"Almost an hour later, as the movie was about to resume after the interval, a man grabbed Viji (a freelance writer) by his shirt and sought an explanation for not standing up. He kept threatening he would kill us. Some 20 people seated near him joined him. We asked him to call the police if he had a problem with what we had done. But he grabbed my hand and pushed me. Nobody in the hall came to our support," social worker Sreela M told the Indian Express.
The horrifying incident of reckless crowd vigilantism happened during the intermission. Sreela said their decision stemmed mainly out of their belief that "this (being made to stand up during the national anthem) was not the way to show patriotism."
"During the interval, one Vijayakumar caught my T-shirt and hit me from behind. He along with twenty others questioned why we did not stand for the anthem. He was threatening to kill us for not standing up for national anthem," S Viji, 26, a freelancing film reviewer told the New Indian Express. This report claimed that the eight also filed a counter complaint against those in the mob at the MGR Nagar police station.
Express reported that the eight victims of assault were booked by the police under the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971.
A security guard asked both the victims and the perpetrators to leave the hall, but the eight were afraid that the mob was waiting outside and requested to be allowed to stay in the relative safety of the theatre till the end of the movie.
The 20 people who assaulted the eight soon started to abuse the women, an official told the paper. Sreela said a police officer at the MGR Nagar police station gave them a lecture on patriotism.