The somnolent strains of Jana Gana Mana or the sight of tricolor gloriously unfurled against a clear blue sky are national symbols that have frequently and which still do cause my eyes to well up. These symbols of my nation make me proud, give me a sense of belonging and make me feel a kinship with every other Indian on the planet. I even have a personal list of my favourite renditions of Jana Gana Mana and I will be found standing at attention each time I hear the uplifting sounds of my national anthem. And yet I think that the Supreme Court verdict that directs the national anthem to be played ahead of all movie screenings is a bad idea. Here’s why:
The national anthem will now be played ahead of all movie screenings, all exits with be closed off and everyone shall be required to stand to attention as a mark of respect. These and other regulations were laid down by an order.
We are speaking here about people who are looking for some entertainment and escapism if you will. While many would enjoy standing up for the national anthem (I certainly enjoyed doing this before watching a movie in Mumbai) many may find it out of place and incongruous and an untimely imposition.
An Indian high court has earlier taken the view that the national anthem at a place such as a movie hall would actually detract from and not add to the dignity of the national symbol. The Madras High Court had observed that this "would create disorder and confusion rather than add to the dignity of the anthem".
Director Niraj Pandey was made to leave the theatre in January this year when he chose not to stand for the national anthem. When he was accused of being unnecessarily provocative by his own friends, he had this to say.
With the huge backlog of cases that clog the Indian legal process, telling people how they should feel about their national symbols should not have been a priority for the Supreme Court. In fact the apex court should steer clear of the jingoistic overtones patriotism in India has recently assumed and not be seen to take the part of one over another side in the national discourse on free speech.
Recently Salil Chaturvedi, a much feted activist for the disabled and disabled himself was assaulted by an irate couple for not standing for the national anthem prior to a movie screening in Panaji. Foreign nationals, who owe no allegiance to India have been threatened and even ousted for the same reason. There may be the old and infirm; people with infants in their arms, people who may even want to, but cannot stand.
Our Supreme Court has upheld citizen’s choice of whether or not to sing the national anthem in a previous instance. In 1986, in Bijoe Emmanuel & Others vs State of Kerala & Others the court observed “there is no provision of law which obliges anyone to sing the national anthem…”. In the matter where three children of the Jehovah's Witness sect were expelled from school for not singing the national anthem, the apex court observed: “Our tradition teaches tolerance; our philosophy preaches tolerance; our Constitution practises tolerance; let us not dilute it”. I’ll say Amen to that even as I rise for my national anthem.
Do you have something interesting you would like to share? Write to us at [email protected]