By Yogesh Sadhwani, Mumbai Mirror | Oct 21, 2014, 01.14 AM IST
Man thrashed after foreigner friend sits during anthem
Digital media executive Mahek Vyas and his partner were assaulted at PVR
Gang of five thrash media executive who defended South African friend. Both were at PVR Phoenix for Kill the Messenger.
A 31-year-old employee of a digital media company was abused and assaulted on Friday because his girlfriend, a South African, did not rise to her feet when the national anthem was piped from speakers at PVR Phoenix in Lower Parel. The young man, Mahek Vyas, and his partner, Nicole Sobotker, were at the theatre to watch the 10.50 pm show of Michael Cuesta’s Kill the Messenger when the incident occurred.
The six men who allegedly attacked Vyas were brought to NM Joshi Marg police station to answer the young man’s charges, but a complaint was not filed.
On Friday, minutes before the movie was screened, the national anthem filled the movie hall, as is the norm in Maharashtra – it was mandated in January 2003 by the Nationalist Congress Party’s deputy chief minister, Chhagan Bhujbal.
Vyas stood up, but Sobotker remained seated. “I heard someone shout that she should stand up for the anthem,” Vyas said. “I realised that the person sitting a few rows behind us was referring to my girlfriend, so I turned back and told him she was not an Indian. The guy said it wouldn’t hurt if she stood up, to which I replied, ‘she doesn’t have to if she does not want to.'” Following this exchange, the man seated behind Vyas and his girlfriend hurled abuses in their direction, the young man said.
Incensed, Vyas raised his middle finger at the man. “He came charging towards me and pushed me,” he said. The ushers were asked to intervene, upon which six members of PVR’s staff accompanied Mahek to smooth things over with the irate moviegoer. “A few words were exchanged and soon after, the man charged at Mahek and punched him several times. Three of his friends too attacked him,” Sobotker, who is now back in SA, told Mirror. “When I tried to pull the attacker away, he screamed abuses at me.”
A few minutes after the bashing stopped, Vyas and Sobotker left the theatre and called the police, who advised them to wait for assistance on Senapati Bapat Marg, where PVR Phoenix is located. Soon, the attacker and his five friends were led to NM Joshi Marg police station, where the duty officer berated the men for “taking the law into their hands”. According to Vyas, the officer also reserved a few words of advice for the couple. “He told me that I should have made Nicole stand up for the anthem. He didn’t directly say that she could be booked but did suggest that it was tantamount to a crime. That got me a little worried and we decided to end it without filing a case,” said Vyas.
“Both the parties had come to the station and they didn’t want to file a complaint regarding the incident. We have made a diary entry,” confirmed senior police inspector Amit Patankar.
Sobotker told Mirror that the next time she’s in India and out for a movie, she will enter a theatre only after the anthem has run its course.
“I am not an Indian citizen and have made no geopolitical commitments to India. Secondly, I object to nationalism as a concept in which the population is a homogenised collective characterised by the country in which they are born and most importantly, I was uncomfortable with the idea that it was forced,” she said. “I don’t believe that any of my reasons above mean that I disrespect India or its national symbols.”
IS IT ILLEGAL TO REMAIN SEATED DURING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM?
“A movie hall is a place for entertainment. It is about time we stopped playing the national anthem there. Secondly, the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 states, ‘Whoever intentionally prevents the singing of the Indian National Anthem or causes disturbances to any assembly engaged in such singing shall be punished…’.In my opinion, merely sitting while the national anthem of any foreign country is being played would not amount to causing disturbance or disrespect,” criminal lawyer Ayaz Khan said.
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME THIS HAPPENED?
On October 8, the actress Preity Zinta ejected a man from a city theatre when he refused to rise as the national anthem was played at a screening of Bang Bang. “#bangbang be4 Bang Bang! Had2 throw a guy out of the Theater as he refused 2stand up4 our National Anthem! Can u believe it? Now movie time,” she tweeted. Recriminations were swift, with a large section of twitter dwellers accusing the actress of being unduly sanctimonious.