To begin with, let’s be straight. If patriotism brews within your heart, it will gush out. It will show up in your looks, body-language, mannerism and responses. No matter whether it’s a school or a cinema, a place doesn’t change the equation. However, if you haven’t got what it takes, you’ll look out for curious excuses. It’s oxymoronic to have patriotism in your heart and not to rise for the national anthem, isn’t it?
At present, the intellectual landscape in India is rife with many such excuses over why one shouldn’t rise and sing national anthem. But, before we come to this, let’s look into the controversy. The basis of the controversy is the recent observation of the Supreme Court indicating its willingness to change it’s November 2016 order that directed all cinema halls to play national anthem before start of the show. It brings forth two opposite viewpoints around the question, ‘whether getting up and singing the national anthem should be mandatory in cinema halls or wherever it’s played?’ You listen to a loud ‘yes’ and a loud ‘no’. People are sharply divided along the line, with arguments in favour and against locking horns with each other fiercely.
A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court was hearing on a petition of Cinema Association against the 2016 order this Monday when Justice Chandrachud started demolishing the idea of standing in cinema halls for national anthem – “Why do people have to wear their patriotism on their sleeves…People go to a movie theatre for undiluted entertainment. Society needs that entertainment”.
Justice Chandrachud took the matter a bit farther – “In a movie theatre, people may be in shorts etc. So some one may say people are wearing shorts and showing disrespect to national anthem. Where do we then draw the line on moral policing?”
National symbols need moral policing for ensuring respect! A judge says so!!
Of course, India is not a totalitarian state where all the activities of individual’s life should be directed towards the glorification of the state, yet the judge failed to appreciate that in a land of staggering diversity like India, certain threads are required to keep us bonded. It’s important to protect, preserve and promote such threads.
Shelving the idea of repealing the order altogether, the court asked to the government, and rightly so, to legislate on the matter instead of expecting judiciary to intervene on such executive issues each time. However, standing up to the reputation of “judicial legislation”, the court hinted at doing away with the coercive element from its last year order by changing the word “shall” with “may”. Hence, if the bench goes to have its way, then, instead of mandatory, it will become optional for the cinema owners to play the national anthem before start of the movie.
The national anthem used to be played in cinema halls across India after the 1962 war but after 1975 the practice gradually faded away. However, it was Maharashtra to revive the practice again in 2002 following the efforts of one Narendra Verma of the Nationalist Congress Party, who pursued the Maharashtra government to order cinema halls to do it again. Later, Chhattisgarh also adopted this practice.
Globally, playing the national anthem before movies was prevalent in western countries especially in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Those brought up in UK during the 50s and 60s, recall that the first thing they always saw in cinemas was the national anthem, “God save the Queen.”
The question of singing national anthem is enveloped in the larger debate of freedom of individual versus the intrusive nature of state. Let me phrase the debate precisely – can a modern, progressive state intrude upon an individual’s right to choice through coercive powers? Or more precisely, can the state force a particular notion of patriotism on its subjects and direct them to respect the national symbols as per its whims?
Actually, the argument is existential for many. It’s a part of the larger debate that runs in the society through the broader divide of liberalism versus conservatism. Whether India would promote the progressive values of liberty, freedom and choice or would she eventually drift to totalitarianism? A decisive resolution of this question would settle many subsequent debates.
No nation can survive if it couldn’t enforce certain basic minimum obligations on its citizens. We call it ‘Fundamental Duties’ in our constitution. Respect for one’s national symbols and expecting all citizens to commit to it, is one such fundamental duty, which no citizen can escape. It’s necessary for instilling in the psyche of the society a sense of unity, camaraderie and belongingness.
Now, let’s come to those curious excuses. It was bemusing to see people celebrating the order. Celebrating that they no longer needed to sing Jan Gana mana.
‘Is standing up and singing the national anthem is the only way to prove one’s patriotism?’ – many growled on social media.
Well, not the only way, but it’s the most emphatic way. To show your patriotism, you need to commit yourself to many other cherished values of the nation such as, cleaning and ensuring cleanliness of the surroundings, integrity and honesty in public life, respecting public properties, following traffic rules, standing for weaker and disadvantaged sections, respecting and protecting the honour of women in society, desisting from sectarian feelings of cast, sect, regions and many more. Now, count within, how many of these do you carry with you to compensate for seeking exemption from singing the national anthem. Hmmm…hardly any! You see, singing the national anthem is easiest among the above list to learn patriotism. Proceeding to other values becomes easier.
Being a patriot is not easy. You’ve to commit a lot, sacrifice a lot. It’s not like being a consumerist-hedonist-metrosexual egoist whom no body cares. But, the society cares for the patriot in the same way the patriot cares for society.
Moreover, respecting the national symbols is a constitutional act. The fundamental duty under Article 51A(a) mandates that It shall be the duty of every citizens of India to abide by the constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem.
The next man asks – ‘WTF this unity? Aren’t we already united?’
No sir. You aren’t. Your unity is shaky and hollow and stands tattered over years of cumulative suspicion and distrust fostered by competing ideologies of identities. But, these national symbols cut through the identities and bring us closer.
Many people viewed that forcing something down somebody’s throat even if he or she didn’t like it is unjust. They believe one must act as per one’s feelings and if someone doesn’t feel to sing the anthem from within, the state shouldn’t force.
Why! the state must force it! Patriotism is not born with us. It’s learnt. If you failed to cultivate respect for national symbols in your formative days doesn’t mean you’ll amble around disrespecting it. You need to learn it now.
Now, come to the Justice Chandrachud’s argument. “People go to a movie theatre for undiluted entertainment. Society needs that entertainment” – he argued.
Of course, Society needs it. Go and have your undiluted entertainment. But, before that, spare a fleeting 52 seconds to foster a sense of unity with those who are slogging it out in the glaciers, ravines and deserts away from their homes and families to keep India together and to give you the moments of your ‘undiluted entertainment’. Just 52 seconds, me lord, even before that entertainment actually begins. After you pass the test of this 52 seconds torture, your entertainment will begin and remain undiluted till the end. Shake your buttocks or roll over the floor laughing without dilution. After all, you’re blessed with 2 legs and a shoulder to carry the burden of uniting with the pride of India. What is missing is a little spirit. kindle it.
Secondly, the learned judge asks – ‘do we have to wear our patriotism on our sleeves?’
Among a population which takes pride in wearing its arrogance, prejudices, bigotry, egoism and hubris on its sleeves, what harm is there in wearing the lesser evil, patriotism? When a judge talks like a man-in-the-street, he mostly plays to the gallery instead of serving justice.
Moreover, We shouldn’t miss the larger symbolism of the act. Standing up and singing the song inspires, motivates and teaches others to respect it. Those who detest the idea of standing up for singing the national anthem must have been in the company of someone doing the same, in their childhood days. Orientations are shaped; negatives orientations are shaped more easily. That’s why we must watch our behavior because we’re influencing someone watching us, especially those credulous children. Set a positive example for them. Don’t play a spoiler in their lives.
Yes, when it comes to playing the anthem in cinema halls, it’s prone to misuse. At times, zealots jump to do moral policing by harassing those who carry reservations on it. In a horrible show of ‘patriotism’ in Goa this year, a couple assaulted a writer and an award-winning disability rights activist, Salil Chaturvedi, from behind who didn’t stand up for the national anthem. The couple didn’t realize that he was disabled. There have been few other cases of such violence in cinema halls.
Now, it’s up to the state how to take proper safeguards against misuse of such provisions. Education and sensitization play the key role in making people behave as citizens. There is no point in respecting the national symbols when you’re jumping to take law in your hands. A rowdy can’t be a patriot because he’s dangerous for the society. Such instances lend credence to the fact that the nation is heading towards fascism. Hence, the government must criminalise any act of intimidation or physical violence to enforce patriotic behaviour or else we’ll be losing credibility of being a liberal democracy and society.
In the existing circumstances, the best way out of the debate is to wait for the Supreme Court to make it optional for the cinema owners to play or not to play the national anthem before start of the movies. However, even if it doesn’t happen there’s no harm in getting up, tucking away your drink under the seat and holding those half-munched popcorns in your mouth, for 52 seconds and singing aloud – “Jan Gana Mana…” before a ruffling tricolor on the screen. Mind, the child besides you is watching.