“There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”
In an interim order passed by the Supreme Court on November 30, 2016, it was made compulsory for theatres to play the national anthem before a movie. To quote the bench, that also included our then hon’ble Chief Justice Dipak Misra, it was time people expressed their “love for the motherland”. In January 2018, the apex court modified its own order, saying that playing the national anthem was not compulsory, but rather at the discretion of the cinema hall owners. However, “showing respect” would be mandatory if the anthem was played.
Despite playing the national anthem no longer being compulsory since 2018, more or less every movie hall now plays the national anthem. The question is, should it be mandatory to do that? Perhaps a more grave question would be to ask, how right is our present day notion of nationalism?
Love for the Nation vs. Pseudo Nationalism
There is a clear, yet often overlooked difference between ‘love for one’s country’, and a rampant psuedo-nationalism that forces you to constantly prove your loyalty. Is playing the national anthem in movie halls, and compulsorily standing up for it the only sign of our love for the nation? If yes, then the extremists who beat up people for ‘not respecting’ the national anthem must be India’s best citizens, right? The hooligans protecting our nation’s sanctity, is that the epitome of our nationalism?
One might ask, what’s so wrong in playing, standing up for, and/or singing the national anthem? Nothing, of course. The problem is making the same practice a compulsion. And, more importantly, declaring anybody who does not follow, an ‘anti-national’ element, questioning their love for the country. There are far more important things our country needs us for. This is not to say one should disrespect the national anthem. But rather, that if an individual chooses not to ‘compulsorily’ stand up for the anthem, it does not mean they are conspiring against the nation.
Holding such fickle and narrow views of nationalism means subjecting our country and its citizens to more dangers. Think about it. Even as early as 2014, when the ordinance hadn’t been passed, a man was beaten up in a movie theatre when his non-Indian girlfriend did not stand up for the national anthem. Another was charged with sedition charges. In 2017, a disabled person was abused in a movie theatre for the same reason, despite the SC clearly exempting people with disabilities from the ordinance.
Freedom of Expression of the Individual
So, while there may be no harm in standing up during the national anthem, we must not equate that with the only indication of ‘respecting’ the anthem, or the nation. Doing so will only create unnecessary terror, mostly in the hearts of good citizens. A democratic nation where people have the freedom of expression, of individuality, must refrain from moving away from its basic values. When you are being made to prove your loyalty and love for the nation in 52 seconds, on terms not decided by you, it makes sense to question the psuedo-nationalist ideology behind it.
Our nationalism is faulty if it believes our nation is perfect, with no cracks to repair.
If it believes people should be fearful of the nation, more than they should be in love.
If it believes we need to be punished, to be cast aside in fear if we don’t put our loyalty on display.
True nationalism and patriotism towards the country isn’t about blindly supporting everything that happens within our borders, or to stand up for the national anthem while beating up those who choose not to. If that is our prevalent definition, then we are indeed heading towards dangerous times.