Patriotism by diktat

Updated - December 04, 2021 10:50 pm IST

Published - December 02, 2016 12:15 am IST

Patriotism is a value that most people cherish without being required to demonstrate it in visible ways. Unfortunately, a notion has emerged in the country that it ought to be articulated frequently, demonstrated publicly and enforced in such a manner that it will be an object lesson to the odd dissenter. Given this, it is hard to understand the rationale for the Supreme Court’s order that every cinema hall should play the national anthem before the exhibition of a film. India has given itself an anthem easily recognised as a lofty and moving rendering of the country’s oneness amidst diversity. It hardly requires judicial promotion. The singing of the national anthem on special occasions, especially in schools and colleges, is sufficient to help citizens identify the anthem with something larger than their daily concerns. There are clear rules on when the anthem should be played. Any misuse of the anthem or any wilful insult to it is legally prohibited, and those aggrieved by any such incident can take recourse to the law. Beyond this, in a mature democracy such as India, there really is no need to make the playing or the singing of the anthem mandatory through a judicial order.

It is not clear why cinema halls were singled out for special treatment by the Supreme Court. The only possible explanation is that they were required to play the national anthem some decades ago, a practice that has been largely given up. But if the logic for playing the national anthem at places where a sizeable number of people congregate is taken to its logical conclusion, they should be extended, for example, to dance and music recitals as well. To take this line of reasoning even further, why not to every sitting of the legislature, or the court itself? Playing the national anthem in theatres at the end of the film was given up some three decades ago in most parts of the country, largely as a result of the tendency of a section of the audience to walk out. To reintroduce it now gives the impression that cinemas should forever be the main sites for the demonstration of patriotism. Matters such as commercial exploitation and dramatisation of the anthem cannot be the subject of blanket interim orders in a public interest petition. The appeal to a sense of ‘constitutional patriotism’ is also intriguing, as the only reasonable interpretation of the term is that of having allegiance to the values underlying the Constitution. This is not something that can be enforced by judicial diktat, or by making cinema halls the playground for a misplaced sense of patriotism.

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