New Delhi: 44-year-old Avelino De Sa from Goa is a frequent moviegoer. Though he suffers from cerebral palsy, De Sa has doesn’t mind stand up for national anthem whenever it’s played before the movie. Using a crutch to hold himself, he stands for the 52 seconds the national anthem Jana Gana Mana is played. 

However, the recent guidelines by the Ministry of Home Affairs for the differently-abled people to show respect for the national anthem, has left De Sa agitated. 

“According to the guidelines, we have to be alert when the anthem is played.What is alertness? How does one define alertness and who’ll decide what is alert and what not?,” De Sa told ScoopWhoop News, referring to the language of the MHA’s guidelines. 

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The notification issued by the government says “the persons with locomotor disabilities and other wheel chair users, shall position themselves to the extent of maximum attentiveness and alertness, with or without the help of appropriate aids and appliances” when the national anthem is being played. 

De Sa, who heads the Disability Rights Association of Goa (DRAG), is also offended with the language used in the guidelines. He has decided to raise the issue with state and central government. 

“The guidelines look as if they are mocking at the disabled persons. Instead of being a set of do’s and don’ts, the guidelines explicitly mention the symptoms of a disability which is not right. Respect should be in heart not in actions,” De Sa said. 

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His views are also shared by disability campaigner Salil Chaturvedi who feels the guidelines do not carry a semblance of assurance for the safety of the disabled in the cinema halls. 

There’s a reason why Chaturvedi looks at the issue from the safety angle. In October last year, 48-year-old Chaturvedi was assaulted at a multiplex in Goa for not standing up in the honour of national anthem by a couple who were unaware of his spinal injury. Since that incident, Chaturvedi, who uses a wheelchair to move, hasn’t gone to a cinema hall again. 

Directing all cinemas to play the national anthem “for the love of the motherland”, the Supreme Court in December last year had directed moviegoers must stand up and all doors of cinema halls be closed at such times to stop people moving around. 

The direction had triggered concerns from disabled rights activists, prompting the government to come up with exemptions and guidelines for the disabled. There have been several incidents across the country where crowds angry at an individual’s reluctance to stand up during national anthem were assaulted and beaten up. 

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These worries, Chaturvedi feels, aren’t addressed by the guidelines at all. 

“Are the disabled and mentally challenged supposed to carry their medical records with them to the cinema halls to prove their medical condition? And to whom? I personally feel the government has been unsympathetic and insensitive to the people suffering from various physical and mental challenges. The language of the guidelines borders on absurd. I don’t think they have even consulted a disabled rights activist,” Chaturvedi told ScoopWhoop News.

In order to reduce the possibility of any hostility, moviegoer De Sa says the cinema halls, before playing national anthem, should display a passage on the screen, informing people that there might be disable and mentally challenged citizens in the hall and nobody should take law in his/her hands. 

The situation might be more adverse for the mentally challenged, experts say. 

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Dr. Neelima Desai of Navkshitij – a home for Mentally Challenged in Pune – says the problem compounds in the case of mentally challenged individuals since there might not be a visible sign of any disability.

While the guidelines are quite explicit about various symptoms of mentally challenged individuals, the government feels “the persons with mild intellectual disability, without associated conditions, can be trained to understand and respect the national anthem.”

However “the same may not hold good in other cases. Relaxation to such class of persons with disabilities may be considered,” the notification says. 

Dr Desai doesn’t disagree with the “training part” of the notification. Her concern is the understanding capacity of a mentally challenged person.  

“Mentally challenged individuals can be taught and trained but it depends upon the situation and learning capacity of the person. The idea of treating a mentally challenged person is to ensure that he/she can live a better life. They need a person to be with them always,” Desai, herself a mother of a mentally challenged girl told ScoopWhoop News.

“I’ll teach my daughter and she’ll learn. When everyone rises in respect of national anthem, I hope she’ll too,” Desai shared, adding “but I personally feel, they (disabled & mentally challenged) shouldn’t be brought into this.”