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14th CIFF: Clash Over National Anthem

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14th CIFF - National Anthem controversy struck a screening today in Chennai

The second to last day of the 14th Chennai International Film Festival (CIFF) turned chaotic as the audience at the screening of Bulgarian film Glory verbally abused and manhandled two women and a 21-year-old man for not standing up while national anthem was being played on screen.

As per a controversial December 2016 Supreme Court order, every movie hall in the country should play the national anthem before each screening. The ruling came under criticism from different quarters, while also spawning a series of incidents across the country in which “concerned citizens” assaulted, manhandled those refusing to stand up for the anthem. Similar incidents have occurred at the International Film Festival of Kerala.

The latest incident unfolded at Screen 7 of Palazzo cinemas in Forum Vijay Mall in Vadapalani during the 12 pm screening.  A group of men launched a ruckus, huddling around and verbally accusing two women, one of them 65-years-old, who were sitting while the anthem was playing on screen.

The women were asked to leave the hall, which they refused to. Another group started shouting at a youngster, accusing him of the same. The organisers stopped the movie screening, and asked the crowd to calm down, but in vain.

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As the chaos started getting violent, police were informed. The three persons were taken into police custody, after which the screening resumed.

Geetha, an LIC officer, who tried to stop the protestors from manhandling the three persons, too was verbally abused by the angry crowd. “Isn’t there anyone here who knows what democracy is? Who authorised a mob to threaten, harass or throw out a delegate, who has a valid pass, from the movie hall? That’s the duty of the police to take legal action,” said Geetha. The volunteers too did not do anything to stop the mayhem, she said. 

“If you do not want to stand up for national anthem, don’t come to theatre,” said one of the delegates who was part of the protesters. “If you are inside the theatre at that time, stand up or face consequences,” he said. This was echoed by Ramesh, a senior volunteer. “It’s natural that the crowd got angry. Everyone should stand up for national anthem.”

As per latest reports, a charge under Section 3 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act of 1971, has been levied against them.

The law states:

As provided in Section 3 of the Act, whoever intentionally prevents the singing of the Jana Gana Mana or causes disturbances to any assembly engaged in such singing shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

However, this law does not stipulate any required action on the part of the citizens when the National Anthem is being played. It only stipulates that no one prevent the anthem being played. The three members of the audience did not prevent the anthem from being played, nor did they cause a disturbance while the anthem was being played. Given this, it is not sure why exactly they’ve been charged.

Featured Image Courtesy:  Desimad YouTube Channel

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