Salman M
Salman MFacebook

An intense debate sparked in India, after the local police in Kerala recently arrested a philosophy student and charged him for sedition, under which he faces life imprisonment, for refusing to stand up during the national anthem at a theatre.

Salman M, 25, was arrested in Thiruvanathapuram on 20 August. He was charged under section 124 A of the IPC (sedition) for allegedly "sitting and hooting" when the anthem was played at the theatre.

Salman has also been accused under section 66A of India's Information Technology Act for allegedly publishing abusive social media posts about the Independence Day on 15 August.

A Thiruvananthapuram court denied bail to Salman for the second time on 6 September. The 25-year-old will now face life imprisonment, if the charges against him are proved.

The arrest was made after Salman and his friends refused to stand up when a music video of the national anthem was played at a government-owned local theatre, prior to the screening of a movie, on 18 August.

The group's refusal to stand up led to protests from a section of the audience. A heated argument followed, and a few people filed a complaint with the police.

However, as per the national anthem dos and don'ts, there are clearly a few scenarios where there is no legal obligation whatsoever for one to stand up while it is sung.

"Whenever the Anthem is sung or played; the audience shall stand to attention. However, when in the course of a newsreel or documentary, the Anthem is played as a part of the film, it is not expected of the audience to stand as standing is bound to interrupt the exhibition of the film and would create disorder and confusion rather than add to the dignity of the Anthem," states the rule.

Amnesty International condemned the arrest, calling the law archaic, and demanded the release of Salman.

"A criminal charge for such conduct, even if some might regard it as offensive, is completely unwarranted. Nobody should have to go to prison merely because they are accused of causing offense," stated Shailesh Rai, Programmes Director at Amnesty International India, in a statement

"The Constitution of India and international law recognise the right to freedom of expression, and this right extends to speech that offends or disturbs. Authorities must respect this fundamental right, not seek to curb it.

"The case against Salman M. should be dropped and he must be released. Indian laws on sedition and online free speech do not meet international human rights standards on freedom of expression. These laws must be urgently repealed."