National Anthem and patriotism

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Madhusudhana Rao S

India is the biggest democracy of hypocrites. On the paper, we have the best laws in the world; but when they come to the implementation stage, we are the worst. In fact, we have so many laws spanning thousands of years that we are confused. Even the honourable judges of courts find themselves at a loss in interpreting written and unwritten laws of society, Constitution, government, ancient texts, various religions and their sects and sub-sects and a host of issues that are relevant, irrelevant and reverent and blasphemous. In other words, we have laws in one form or the other prescribing what to do and proscribing what not to do at each and every step. Still our overburdened and understaffed judiciary tries to dispense justice to whoever approaches it with a petition.

In the latest case that has triggered a nation-wide debate, the Supreme Court has made playing the national anthem before screening a film in theatres mandatory.

A bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Amitava Roy said on Wednesday: “All cinema halls in India shall play the national anthem before the feature film starts and all present in the hall are obliged to stand up to show respect to the national anthem… They (people) are duty bound to show respect to national anthem which is the symbol of constitutional patriotism and inherent national quality.” The apex court wants the cinema halls to implement its order within days without deriving any commercial or other benefits.

In a country that will be waiting 24X7 for an issue to agitate over or against, the Supreme Court fiat is a topic one can make a song and dance about it, particularly in the film industry. Social media is flooded with remarks and comments from film producers, directors, exhibitors and distributors to actors and actresses. One can judge on which side they are from their cryptic tweets. Since the order is compulsory and came from the highest court of the land, we can see the theatres flying the Tricolour in all its glory on the screen while the national anthem is being played with audience standing in attention.  

Surely, a majority of cine-goers won’t have any objection to obey the court order. But does the ‘ritual’ really inspire people to turn patriotic is open to question. More importantly, is it possible to infuse patriotism in people through legal process? A few decades ago, cinema halls had this practice and soon it was a fiasco because the national anthem used to be played at the end of the movie. Audience used to rush to the exits without even bothering to let the anthem complete. Worse, when the exit gates were closed, people used to bang them. In some cases, theatres themselves had ignored the directive and let the audience decide on their patriotic quotient. As a result, while some rushed out, others glued to the floor to respect the national anthem.

The lessons from such experiences are clear: Patriotic feelings, respect for the national flag and anthem should come from within. They can’t be prescribed by law and made duty-bound. Even if the theatre doors are closed when the national anthem is being played, what’s the use if the audiences stand up in a perfunctory manner? This robotic behavior defeats the very purpose with which the Supreme Court has made the playing of national anthem compulsory in cinema halls. In a way, it is insulting the national anthem and the flag … and ourselves.

On a serious note, the court order challenges the very idea of patriotism. Can a person be called unpatriotic if he doesn’t pay respect to the national anthem in the theatre? As a corollary, all those who stand up and listen to the anthem in rapt attention are patriots? Again, who will sit in judgment to decide who has patriotic or unpatriotic feelings? These and many more complex questions, some are out of legal bounds, point to hypocritical nature of our system: We want to prove to the outside world how sincere we are in everything we do without being sincere. Similarly, one won’t become a patriot by wearing a badge on the sleeve or become unpatriotic by not wearing it.

On the lighter side, the inimitable film producer-director Ram Gopal Varma gave us some comic relief in a series of twitters which the Times of India published on Thursday. Among a dozen or so, a few picks: “Shouldn’t parents and children enforce each other to sing national anthem as soon as they get up from their bed before they begin their day?” And, “Shouldn’t the national anthem be played in temples, churches and mosques before prayers begin?”

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