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Asia

India arrests movie-goers for 'disrespecting' the national anthem

A controversial ruling by India's Supreme Court has mandated all cinema-goers to stand in respect for the national anthem. Many people have been arrested for not doing so. Murali Krishnan reports from New Delhi.

Indian authorities have arrested around 20 people for not abiding by the top court's decision over playing the national anthem in cinema halls. Earlier this week, 12 people were arrested at an international film festival that took place in the southern state of Kerala; the rest were taken into custody by police in the state of Chennai. Some eight people were booked by police under the 1971 Prevention of Insults to National Honor Act.

The court specified that the Indian national flag should be displayed on the screen, entry and exit doors to the hall should be shut and that everyone must stand during the 52-second national anthem, according to Abhinav Shrivastava, the lawyer for the plaintiff in the case, an NGO supporting the new rule.

" The time has come that people must feel and show respect to the national anthem, the symbol of constitutional patriotism," broadcaster NDTV quoted the judges as saying in their decision. The court said the decision would instill patriotism and nationalism in movie-goers.

A test of patriotism?

Soon after the arrests in Kerala, people protested outside the Tagore Theatre, the main venue of the ongoing film festival.

"The national anthem is not a song. Cinemas are a place for entertainment," said a protester.

The order by the Supreme Court has evoked mixed reactions in India with many people describing it as an "assault on civil liberties." Supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party welcomed the ruling.

"It is a very good decision. It will impart a sense of patriotism among people, particularly the younger generation. I am pleased with it," said Venkiah Naidu, the minister for information and broadcasting.

Critics say the Supreme Court ruling would further embolden right wing Hindu groups to push ahead with their rigid brand of nationalism, which has been gaining strength since PM Modi came to power in May 2014. They fear that vigilante groups will take matters into their own hands and impose the court's directive in cinema halls in their own way.

"This is clearly a case of judicial overreach and has no meaning. It defies all logic," Sudha Pai, a political scientist, told DW.

A violation of civil rights

Renowned film critic Shubra Gupta says the country's judiciary should deal with more pressing issues that need their intervention rather than issuing orders about the national anthem.

"You cannot demand respect for the anthem. Tomorrow, the same thing could happen in courts, schools and colleges," Gupta told DW.

Indien Neu Delhi Narendra Modi , Ministerpräsident (picture-alliance/Xinhua)

Critics say that a rigid brand of nationalism has been gaining strength since PM Modi came to power

"How can you force-feed nationalism and patriotism to people? Is this how they are going decide our loyalty to the country?” said Minu Jain, a cinema-goer.

"A movie hall is a place to relax and enjoy. Why play the national anthem there?" Manjula Das, another movie buff, told DW.

The first time the national anthem was played in India's cinema halls was after the 1962 Indio-Chinese war. The practice was discontinued in the mid-1970s. Prior to the new order, the national anthem was only played in the cinemas of Maharashtra and Goa.

The Indian national anthem "Jana Gana Mana" was penned by the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.