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  1. The latest move by the Jehovah’s Witnesses will seek to overturn the apex court’s order on November 30, 2016, that all cinema halls in India would play the national anthem before the feature film starts. OVER 30 years ago, a college professor in Kerala, who belonged to the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect, knocked at the doors of the highest court in India on behalf of his children, citing religion as the reason to safeguard their right to not sing the national anthem at school. Next month, when a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra restarts hearing petitions on its order last year on national anthems in cinema halls, the Jehovah’s Witnesses may again be at the forefront in challenging that decision. On August 11, 1986, the Supreme Court had allowed Emmanuel’s plea and held that forcing the children to sing the national anthem at school violated their fundamental right to religion. The latest move by the Jehovah’s Witnesses will seek to overturn the apex court’s order on November 30, 2016, that all cinema halls in India would play the national anthem before the feature film starts. This order also made it mandatory for all present in the hall “to stand up to show respect to the national anthem” as part of their “sacred obligation”. This time, it’s learnt that representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including a US-based general counsel, are in the process of finalising a detailed application to be filed shortly in Supreme Court, which will restart hearings on February 14. Among other things, the sect plans to seek the court’s intervention in ordering that its followers won’t have to stand up for the anthem in movie theatres. The sect hopes to convince the court that while it respects the national anthem and the flag, its religious beliefs prevent members from standing up for or singing the anthem. The organisation has already secured relief on behalf of the sect on various issues in several countries, including saluting the flag and/or singing a country’s national anthem. ”Our patriotism can never be in doubt. But even standing for the national anthem is not allowed in our religion. Courts in several other countries have accepted our pleas on this count. The fact that we are looking to contest the court’s order doesn’t mean that we don’t respect our flag or our anthem. We hope to convince the court about that, like we have done in other countries, including the US and Canada,” said sources linked to the sect’s move. When contacted, former Union law minister and senior advocate Kapil Sibal confirmed that he has been approached by representatives of the sect in this regard. ”They informed me that their religious views don’t allow them to even stand up when the anthem is played. Their stand is that this doesn’t mean they will ever do anything to disrespect any country’s flag or anthem. These are issues of significant Constitutional importance,” Sibal told The Indian Express. Jehovah’s Witnesses is a Christianity-based evangelical sect, which bases its beliefs solely on the text of the Bible. The group does not celebrate Easter or Christmas and believes that traditional Churches have deviated from the text of the Bible. However, the sect is not considered a part of mainstream Christianity because it also rejects the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. In the 1986 case, the Supreme Court bench had ruled in favour of the Jehovah’s Witnesses family. “Our tradition teaches tolerance, our philosophy teaches tolerance, our Constitution practices tolerance, let us not dilute it,” the bench had said. It had also noted that there was “no provision of law”, which “obliges” anyone to sing the national anthem. However, the bench of Justice Misra, in its order last year, had said that “a time has come” when “citizens of the country must realise that they live in a nation and are duty bound to show respect to the National Anthem, which is the symbol of Constitutional patriotism and inherent national quality”. On December 9, the bench clarified its order to state that “if a physically challenged person or physically handicapped person goes to the cinema hall to watch a film, he need not stand up, if he is incapable to stand, but must show such conduct which is commensurate with respect for the national anthem”. The order has drawn widespread criticism, with renowned jurist Soli Sorabjee terming it as an example of “judicial overreach”. In 1986, armed with the Supreme Court order, Emmanuel got his and other children from Jehovah’s Witnesses re-admitted in the NSS High School at Kidangoor in Kottayam district, 4 km from their village Kadaplamattom near Pala. The school run by the Hindu organisation, Nair Service Society, had 11 students from the sect, at the time. After sitting in the classes for a day, the Emmanuel children left school. Some of the other children from the sect moved to other schools. Emmanuel decided not to have formal education for his other four children, either. None of his eight grandchildren, who study in various schools, sings the national anthem. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/jehovahs-witnesses-may-challenge-sc-anthem-order-4465581/ Via
  2. Jehovah’s Witnesses in India are looking to overturn a recent Supreme Court ruling requiring movie theatres to play the country’s national anthem before every film, and audience members to stand for the anthem, according to the Indian Express. The sect’s members believe the singing of national anthems constitutes an act of unfaithfulness towards god, according to the official Jehovah’s Witnesses website. The Indian Express reports that a U.S.-based lawyer is working to help file an application seeking to overturn the apex court’s ruling. On Nov. 30, 2016, the Supreme Court of India ruled that audience members in movie theatres must stand for a rendition of the national anthem accompanied by images of the Indian flag, “to show respect for the national anthem and the national flag.” The ruling was made after a petition by a 78-year-old citizen who said he was rebuked by moviegoers sitting behind him in a theatre 16 years ago, after he decided to stand when the national anthem was played as part of a scene in a Bollywoodmovie. It comes just over three months after a disabled man was allegedly harassed in a movie theatre in the Indian state of Goa because he didn’t stand up while the national anthem was being played, as reported by the Indian Express. The order appears to overturn a 1986 decision in which the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ freedom to not partake in anthem singing. “Jehovah’s Witnesses are happy to have had a part in contributing to the constitutional freedoms of all citizens in India,” reads an article on the evangelical group’s website detailing the 1986 ruling. Global News
  3. Intolerance has a chilling effect on freedom of thought and discussion. It places democracy under siege. An unmistakable feature of any nation which professes to be democratic is the prevalence of tolerance therein. Tolerance is not merely a goody-goody virtue. It is vital because it promotes the receiving or acknowledging of new ideas and this helps to break the status quo mentality. Tolerance is particularly needed in large and complex societies comprising people with varied beliefs, as in India. This is because readiness to tolerate views other than one’s own facilitates harmonious coexistence. A liberal democracy accepts the fact that in a free country, one can have different opinions and should have equal rights in voicing them. This is pluralism, and tolerance is its ultimate rationale. Tolerance accords high respect for human rights, especially freedom of conscience and freedom of thought. Disagreement with the belief and ideology of others is no reason for their suppression, because there can be more than one path for the attainment of truth and salvation. Even if there is only one truth, it may have a hundred facets. Intolerance stems from an invincible assumption of the infallibility and truth of one’s beliefs, the dogmatic conviction about the rightness of one’s tenets and their superiority over others, and with the passage of time, this leads to forcible imposition of one’s ideology on others, often resulting in violence. At present, the virus of intolerance has acquired global dimensions. Religious and political persecution has become rampant and curiously that too sometimes in the name of God Almighty or some Divine Power. An intolerant society does not brook dissent. Suppression of dissent by censorship is an indispensable instrument for an intolerant authoritarian regime. Censorship, indeed, is its natural ally. The necessity for tolerance has been internationally recognised. It is noteworthy that the Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations proclaims that to achieve the goals of the Charter we need to “practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours”. Another significant UN instrument is the Declaration of November 25, 1981 on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief which emphasises that it is essential to promote tolerance and requires states to adopt all necessary measures for the speedy elimination of intolerance in all its forms and manifestations. It is evident that there is an essential linkage between tolerance, human rights, democracy and peace. Intolerance does not always emanate from official or state action but also from certain groups or sections in society. A not too recent instance was the determined effort to ban the exhibition of the film Ore Oru Gramathiley by a group of persons who regarded its theme and presentation as hostile to the policy of reservation of jobs in public employment and seats in educational institutions in favour of Scheduled Castes and backward classes. There were threats of attacking cinema houses where the film would be shown. The Madras High Court in an incredible judgment revoked the certificate granted by the Board of Censors to the film and restrained its exhibition. The Supreme Court promptly reversed the judgment in a landmark decision, S. Rangarajan vs P. Jagjivan Ram, where Justice K. Jagannatha Shetty, speaking for the court, laid down an extremely important principle: “Freedom of expression protects not merely ideas that are accepted but those that offend, shock or disturb the state or any sector of the population. Such are the demands of the pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no democratic society”. Intolerance has a chilling, inhibiting effect on freedom of thought and discussion. Remember how Galileo suffered for his theory that the sun was the centre of the solar system and not the earth. Darwin was a victim of intolerance and was lampooned and considered an enemy of religion for his seminal work, The Origin of Species. Nearer home we have the example of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, whose efforts for reform, especially for the abolition of Sati, evoked fierce opposition because of intolerance. We must not revert to those dark days because when that happens democracy is under siege. We must combat intolerance and its manifestations resulting in human rights violations by appropriate legal remedies. However, the crucial point is that tolerance cannot be legislated. No law can compel a person to be tolerant. Therefore, we must develop the capacity for tolerance by fostering an environment of tolerance, a culture of tolerance. Stereotypes and prejudices about certain classes and communities must be eschewed. Educational institutions have a vital role to play in this connection. The immense value of tolerance must be ingrained in the hearts and minds of the students. Our Supreme Court’s judgment in Bijoe Emmanuel vs. State of Kerala is significant. Students belonging to the faith, Jehovah’s Witnesses, stood up when the national anthem was sung to show their respect but declined to sing along. The students were expelled by the school authorities. Their expulsion was upheld by the high court. The Supreme Court reversed the high court judgment. Justice Chinnappa Reddy, who headed the bench, in the course of the judgment, observed that the students did not hold their beliefs idly or out of any unpatriotic sentiment but because they truly and conscientiously believed that their religion forbade singing the national anthem of any country. After a careful consideration of the issues, the Supreme Court concluded: “Our tradition teaches tolerance; our philosophy preaches tolerance; our Constitution practices tolerance. Let none dilute it”. This is a classic judicial affirmation of tolerance. Let us resolve to promote tolerance in our multi-religious, multi-cultural nation and thereby strengthen and enrich our pluralist democracy which is the pride of our nation. Certain fundamental duties have been prescribed by Article 51 A of the Constitution. To my mind, the practice of tolerance is the most fundamental duty of every citizen to curb the growing menace of intolerance. http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/intolerance-censorship-democracy-india-freedom-of-speech-expression-needed-discrimination-religion-4364832/
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