The guidelines prescribed by the Home Ministry in compliance with the Supreme Court order of December 9, 2016 on the national anthem will lead to unnecessary harassment for persons with disabilities, acocording to statement released by National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled
The guidelines specify that those whose lower limbs are affected and are wheelchairs users will position themselves to the “extent of maximum attentiveness and alertness”. While conceding that persons with intellectual disabilities will have difficulty in understanding and comprehending and showing respect to the National Anthem, it prescribes that those with mild intellectual disability can be trained to understand and respect the National Anthem. For those who are not considered as mild, the guidelines say that relaxation may be considered. What would constitute these relaxations however have not been specified.
NPRD further elaborates that Apart from the fact that patriotism and nationalism and respect for national anthem and national symbols cannot be imposed and has to be generated by inculcating democratic and secular values, the apprehension is that these provisions can be easily misused to the disadvantage of the disabled. In the case of many disabilities maintaining a steady body posture is a big challenge. Who will determine what constitutes “maximum attentiveness and alertness”, when it comes to a person standing with the support of crutches, or a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy — the other cinema goers, the management or staff of the cinema hall or the police?
Even before these guidelines were issued a disabled activist and writer Salil Chaturvedi was thrashed in a cinema hall in Goa last October for not standing up when the National Anthem was being played. Chaturvedi who has a spinal injury is a wheelchair user.
Ironically, the guideline itself admits that “unwarranted incidents against persons with intellectual disabilities” may occur, and asks for wide publicity to generate public awareness. Sensitisation on disability issues, needless to say, must first start from government department, police, judiciary etc.
NPRD hopes that when the Supreme Court hears the matter further on February 14, 2017 these issues will also be considered.