November 20, 2017   
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Popcorn Patriotism

IS IT ONLY A SONG?

By Poonam I Kaushish

Does one have to wear his patriotism on the sleeves? Not necessarily if the Supreme Court has its say and way when it revisited its November last order which made playing of the national anthem in theatres before every film screening mandatory. Never mind if our judicial drumbeaters strummed another paheli to a settled issue. Sic.

Queried Justice Chandrachud part of a three judge Bench headed by Chief Justice Deepak Mishra, “Tomorrow, there may be a demand to stop people from wearing shorts and T-shirts while going to cinema halls, because national anthem is being played… Where do we draw a line? Where do we stop this moral policing?” Adding, “Why should we assume that if you don’t stand during the playing of national anthem, you cease to be patriots?”

Certainly, the judge has a point. By forcing someone to stand up for the national anthem is an insult to its very idea and promise. People go to see cinema as a form of entertainment and recreation, seek solace from rozi-roti problems or just passing time.

However, despite second thoughts the Court refrained from striking down or recalling its earlier order. Instead, it lobbed the ball back in the Government’s court by stating if necessary it may bring out the requisite modification, circular or rules. Even as the Bench delinked, at least theoretically, the “feeling of committed patriotism and nationalism” of standing up for the national anthem in a movie hall.

Raising a moot point: Why is there such a hullabaloo about a song? Is standing up for Jana Gana Mana the sole barometer for judging one’s patriotism and showing respect to it? Does singing it define and decide nationalism, national identity, integrity and Constitutional patriotism? By that token any rascal can stand up without believing in the Constitution or the national flag. What of him?

Besides, can one force people to be patriotic? What of people who might not want to stand up for intellectual or religious reasons as they believe that their religious beliefs prevent them from doing so?  Is it an obligation to publicly demonstrate love for the nation? If a terrorist’s stands up for the national song to fool security forces, does that make him patriotic? And is a desh bhakt who does not adhere to the Court order a desh drohi?  Can a court or law prescribe conditions that one must adhere in order to belong to the nation?

Thankfully, better sense seems to have prevailed on the Court. For one, with a burgeoning docket explosion crying to be attended to, these are not issues that the top court needs to wade into at all. True, its intent might be good but the sheer impracticality of the enforced implementation of the order is too obvious to be missed, giving scope for imagined and other grievances at the “disrespect” to Tagore’s song and citizens being hauled up in avoidable litigation

Undoubtedly, the order or lack of it is music to our neo Shahid Bhagat Singh’s, Hindutva Brigade and its cahoots who view Jana Gana Mana as a vital prop to celebrate the nation State, a symbol of Constitutional patriotism and inherent national quality along-with inculcation of national spirit amongst people, a mark of a relationship.

An expression of one’s reverence for the country which stirs the soul, makes us feel patriotic even when things around us make us angry about the country’s state. After all, a nation without emotional fevicol to bind will rot as an antiseptic block. Consequently, sans national fervor why would the Armed Forces protect us from attack on our borders and die for the nation? It underscores ones pride in India. Is 52 seconds to much to ask for the country from our popcorn and Coke generation?

Others aver that singing the anthem must neither be made a test case of patriotism nor should people be obstinate about not singing it. Not a few argue that legal intervention in promoting and inserting national pride amid people is a problematic idea. As the notion that playing the National Anthem before a movie screening would instill some sense of national pride is debatable at best.

Think. Even as the Constitution allows one freedom of expression it simultaneously calls for respect of the freedom of expression of thoughts which one might not agree with. Consequently, this order should not be incitement to vigilantism and violence wherein people are targeted for their unwillingness to adhere to a certain belief. Recall, an AIMIM MLA was suspended from the Maharashtra Assembly for refusing to chime Bharat Mata ki Jai.

Unfortunately, why does not a sense of patriotism kick in where it should for most people? The fact that six women are raped every minute and honour killings are rampant  or of rage and violence being the rhetoric of the times or that we are famous for littering does not bother our desh-bhakts. Instead, they should stand up for justice, truth and kindness. It means standing in solidarity with the oppressed, of speaking truth to power.

In fact, the national anthem in cinema halls was first introduced after the 1962 India-China war. Those were the times when national passion was high and it was played at the end of the movie, even if the aam janata simply walked out when the film’s ‘The End’ flashed on the screens. Perhaps, the reason why this practice slowly faded and was eventually discontinued, until 2003 when a NCP MLA lobbied and got the Maharashtra Government to order cinema halls to do it again.

Pertinently, in a parallel the US is in the throes of a debate thanks to the unseemly spectacle of National Football League players kneeling during the anthem, as opposed to the tradition of standing, in protest against “police brutality and racial inequality” September last.

Predictably, President Trump waded into the controversy by calling the players disparaging names and mocked at the NFL owners for not taking “action against tall players”. Notwithstanding, the US Constitution’s First Amendment which mandates free speech including even the right to burn the national flag.

Undeniably, nationalism cannot be a straight jacket formula of standing upright for the national anthem. The feeling of national integrity and a duty to ones nation is a latent emotion that need not be expressed in solidarity but can be equally enjoyed in the solitude of one’s own actions towards the nation.

Surely, the Constitution casts a duty on us to respect the national anthem. Nationalism should not just be something angry, punitive and authoritarian. It should also be a thing of beauty, excellence, consideration for all. The positive spirit cannot be coerced. An enforced nationalism can only be a shallow and a shabby bond.

All in all, love for one’s country cannot be reduced to a ritual adherence to symbols, more so when these are coerced by law and vigilantism. India and its people are perfectly capable of producing a joyful celebration of our collective destiny and dreams. One song cannot make or mar the future of a nation or its people. Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Jai Hind! —- INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)