Dear SC, Thanks For Turning The National Anthem Into A Chore

It’s the age of performance patriotism, which means the casualty is the anthem that should give you goosebumps.

BySandip Roy
Dear SC, Thanks For Turning The National Anthem Into A Chore
  • whatsapp
  • copy

Let me make it clear. I have no problems standing up for a national anthem, Indian or any other. It’s simply a matter of respect for me, not just for the anthem but for those around me standing up for it. It costs me nothing. 

On the other hand, I will not try and manhandle someone who is not standing up for it whether it’s because they have some philosophical objection or because they are wheelchair-bound as happened in that theatre in Panaji. Patriotism is personal. It does not always have to be communally expressed. But now, after today’s Supreme Court’s decision, the personal will become political.

When the Supreme Court says the anthem must be played before all movie screenings, all over the country, and that exits must be shut to prevent people from leaving during that time, it makes one wonder if patriotism can also be delivered via intravenous drip.

“When the national anthem is played, it is imperative for everyone to show honour and respect,” says the Court. That’s fine, but the bigger question is: why is it imperative to play the national anthem at all before the screening of a film? The Court has made it clear that the anthem cannot be used for commercial purposes. The irony is that it is now being mandatory before the ultimate poster boy of “commercial purposes” – a Bollywood blockbuster. It would have been far more interesting to have the Court weigh in on why a commercial movie theatre is in any way the natural home for the national anthem. What is particularly patriotism-inducing about a Riteish Deshmukh sex comedy for instance? Or a Hollywood production about aliens having landed. Is the national anthem the wholesome fibre they must ingest before gorging out on the junk food for the next two-plus hours? 

Unfortunately, in its zeal to “instil a sense of committed sense of patriotism and nationalism” the Court also risks turning the national anthem into something far more humdrum. It will no longer give you goosebumps the way you get when the first strains of the anthem is heard in a stadium as your athlete steps up to accept her medal. It becomes a chore, an obligation, something to be rushed through before you can get to the main entertainment. 

In that sense the Court  risks doing exactly the opposite of what it intends. It renders the anthem as banal and pro forma as that mandatory smoking warning before a film is screened. Or that safety drill we all see and hear, but never really pay attention to on an airplane. The intention is good when the Court says it is time people expressed their “love for the motherland”. But it is not letting the people express that love. Instead, it is shutting the doors and enforcing that love. The question remains whether patriotism (or love) of any kind can be enforced by diktat. 

With this order, we are instantly in the territory of trying to figure out the exceptions to this rule. The differently-abled are exempt. What about those who are indisposed, asks All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi (not really addressing the question about why those too indisposed to stand have gone to a movie theatre to watch a film). What about women undergoing medical treatment, Owaisi asks. But he is among the few naysayers. In these patriotic times politicians are falling over each other to show their patriotic colours.

 “It is a good decision and I welcome it,” says Ramgopal Yadav of the Samajwadi Party. “If you can see some dumb advertisement then why can’t you stand for National Anthem?” asks Congress MP Renuka Chowdhury.

But that’s hardly the point. People do not go to see the ad. The ad annoys them. They wish, for the most part, that it would hurry up and finish.  Why would the government want to subject the national anthem to that kind of impatience? The “dumb advertisement” is trying to sell us Vicco Vajradanti ayurvedic cream or some banking product. Should the national anthem be regarded as “selling” patriotism as well?  

Also if now that people know the national anthem is mandatory and that they cannot leave the theatre while it’s on, will they just go into movies a little late? Would that be particularly respectful to the anthem?

And while we are ruling on respect to the national anthem, would it affect all those people who spread the conspiracy theory about Jana Gana Mana being a paean to the King Emperor even though that issue has been addressed by no one less than the Rabindranath Tagore himself? But the Jana Gana Mana-bashing by those who would prefer Vande Mataram continues unabated (from politicians of the ruling party itself like ex UP-chief minister Kalyan Singh). Is respect only about standing up during the anthem? What about standing up against those dissing it as well?

Nobody in their right mind would dare suggest that the Court protect wilful disrespect to the national anthem. This is not America where the First Amendment even protects the burning of the national flag (though President-elect Donald Trump would like to do away with that).  But respecting the national anthem should not mean overusing it six times a day or more in a multiplex.

Justice Misra asked, “People must feel this is my country. This is my motherland… Arrey, who are you? You are an Indian first. In other countries, you respect their restrictions. In India, you do not want any restrictions?”

That might well be true. But with all due respect – arrey, why does the government want the national anthem to be that annoying chore you have to endure before settling down to watch some superhero film with your 3D glasses? When you are proud of your country, pride about its national symbols follows naturally. The Court in its wisdom has flipped that equation presuming that pride (even enforced) in a national symbol will lead to patriotism. 

But we are now in an age of performance patriotism. These days, patriotism is expressed by standing uncomplainingly for hours in a queue at an ATM, so what are a few minutes at a movie theatre?

newslaundry logo

Pay to keep news free

Complaining about the media is easy and often justified. But hey, it’s the model that’s flawed.

You may also like