Breathes there the man, with soul so dead, Who never to himself hath said, This is my own, my native land!. These opening lines of Sir Water Scott’s poem written more than two centuries ago came to my mind after I had read an article in The Hindu written by Anuradha Raman. The central point of the article is to assert the supremacy of the individual and imply that society and organized groups are conspiracies against the individual.
The context for the article is actor Anupam Kher’s response to a question fielded to him by The Hindu. He said: “You must stand up for your pride in India, you must stand up for the soldiers on the front protecting you. My eyes well with tears when I see and hear the national anthem playing in a cricket match. And it’s a matter of just 90 seconds. It’s not that you are being pushed into doing something unbelievably bad.”
What made The Hindu to ask the question was an incident where a group of cinemagoers heckled a family in a cinema hall in Mumbai recently when they did not stand to attention as the national anthem played, forcing them to get up and leave. The victims happened to be Muslims, their interests protected by provisions in the Constitution. Anuradha Raman, an Associate Editor in The Hindu, wrote a long article on the rights of the individual. She gave references to court rulings upholding individual rights.
So what, there is a precedent of the prime minister (Rajiv Gandhi) himself moving an amendment to the Constitution to undo a Supreme Court ruling awarding Muslim women alternative avenues for justice outside their personal law.
Then the writer asks a series of philosophical questions. “But what if I choose to sit as the national anthem plays at the start of a commercial potboiler? What if I decide that playing the anthem before the film titles roll denigrates the grandeur of the anthem? What if I don’t stand to attention when the national flag is being hoisted before a cricket match, or when the national anthem is played after an Indian wins a medal at a tournament? I mean no disrespect to either the team or the flag or the anthem. What if I choose not to cheer the Indian cricket team and my surname is Khan? Does the solution lie in sending me to Pakistan?”
Anuradha sounds like arguing that the individual is sovereign, at lease in matters concerning certain beliefs. In real life, every individual is a sovereign entity who surrenders a part of it to the state in return for certain benefits. The writer does not tell us how to resolve situations of conflict between sovereign entities. She creates a conflict by seeking exemptions in favor of certain individual or group entities.
She seems to think, in the context of what occasioned her article, that certain individuals have rights without which it becomes difficult for them to practice their faith. She makes a case for the irrelevance of national symbols, especially when they interfere with the belief systems of individuals. They have a religious identity that prevails over nationalism. The entire article is in defence of that identity. It belongs to the new genre of liberalism that declares that the minorities can do no wrong. It is nobody’s fault that our secular constitution recognizes minorities on the basis of faith. There is a consecration of faith in the CConstitution itself. Certain faiths attach primacy to vintage religious texts. They don’t tolerate individualism in the sense that an individual is a sovereign entity and conformism is an enemy of the individual.
The mention of the faith of the victims at the cinema hall, the cow, the surname of Khan, Kashmir students imparts a communal color to the article and makes you wonder what secularism has to do with the faith of a person because the flag of secularism invariably is raised in defence of a faith.
There is also a reference to the identity of the Vice President, importing identity politics into the discourse. Every civilized society recognizes the concept of democracy. It simply means that the will of the majority prevails. Throughout the world democracies are elected on the basis of numbers. When a case comes before a bench of several judges, the verdict of the majority of the judges prevails. A democracy doesn’t cease to be one because the majority happens to be Hindu. The rule by majority can by no stretch of imagination called majoritarianism.
The article is a reaction to some people heckling a family that failed to stand up when the national anthem was being played. The writer fights shy of asserting that the minority can do no wrong, It is the crudest way of asserting that the minorities are persecuted in a Hindu majority country. The same heckling would follow even if the family happens to be Sikh, Christian or Hindu.
Poor Muslims. Azim Premzi is one of the richest men in the country.. Muslims captained Indian cricket, hockey and football teams. The Khan surnames dominate the film industry. Seats in colleges are reserved for them, inducing non-Muslims to embrace Islam to share that advantage. They can marry four wives, again an incentive for non-Muslims to embrace Islam. The secular government funds Muslim travel to Mecca for religious purpose
All Anuradha’s arguments translate into a petition to create enclaves of exclusive privilege for the Muslims.
Click here Anuradha Raman to read The Hindu article.