Supreme Court Order on national Anthem (November 2016) has asked theatres to play the national anthem before a film show begins “for the love of the motherland”. This has yet again started the debate over the personal freedom and legal obligations in present times. This is in the backdrop of growing intolerance. The point is whether nationalistic pride can be injected by such legal dictates. Some commentators are arguing that this compulsion is a undermining of civil liberties. Let’s recall that few decades ago, in many places national Anthem used to be played at the end of the film screening. The observation was that many in the audience will leave the hall during the anthem. Now at many places, like in Maharashtra, the playing of anthem has been started in the beginning of the film screening. The Supreme Court order of the two judge bench; court makes it mandatory for this singing to be done all over the country and this order also asks for closing of the doors during this period.
There are laws to ensure the protection of national symbols like National flag. There are some landmark cases which have shown the conflict between the state norms and the individual liberty. In the well known ‘Jehovahs witness’case the students belonging to Jehovah faith had refused to sing the anthem; their argument being that it would tantamount to idolatry not permitted by their faith. The children were expelled by the principal of the school. The matter went up to Supreme Court which ruled in favor of the students and their expulsion from school was revoked.
In a democracy there is a balance between the individual rights and the duties towards the state. The whole Constitution is an attempt to bring in ‘rights of citizens’ and ‘freedom of expression’ to the fore. While a decade ago the Court could rule in favor of the individual liberty; now it seems the trend is just the opposite as ‘love for mother land, nationalism, patriotism’ are being flaunted at the drop of the hat. All those not agreeing with the policies of the ruling government are being dubbed anti national, it is being said that they are ‘not patriots’. Even standing in queue for withdrawing cash from ATM or Bank is being glorified as an act of patriotism, for the sake of the country. This is in the wake of the painful demonetization brought in by Narendra Modi. The present Court order comes in a back drop of the times when words patriotism; nationalism are dominating the scene in the rule of BJP Government.
We also recall that since Modi Government has come to power the patriotism/nationalism of those who are dissenting from the ruling Government’s policies are being challenged by the ruling dispensation. In case of Rohith Vemula the activities of the Ambedkar Student Association were dubbed ‘anti-national’ and so the whole pressure of the MHRD minister on the complying Vice Chancellor to expel him from Hostel and stop his fellowship, leading to Rohith’s suicide. In an attempt to close down JNU, the Government resorted to nationalism ploy and the doctored CD was played on some TV channels to demonize Kanhaiya Kumar and his friends. He was labeled to be Deshdrohi (anti national). It is another matter that Kanhaiaya Kumar had not shouted those ‘slogans’ and that even Constitutional position is that mere shouting of slogans does not tantamount to anti-national activity. In the present charged up atmosphere, the hysteria around patriotism and nationalism, in Goa a wheel chair bound person was beaten up for not standing during singing of national anthem. In Mumbai a young script writer was heckled out of cinema hall for not standing during the anthem.
Such growing atmosphere of intimidation and imposition around issue of nationalism is a matter of concern for the political culture which is being built up in the country. As such in India the whole concept of patriotism begins in a very strange fashion. During kingdoms the kings were eliciting and demanding absolute loyalty from their subjects. The punishments for not complying with such patriotism-loyalty were severe, cutting off hands, meting out of death punishment etc. During colonial period we had two types of nationalism which came up simultaneously. On one hand were the rising classes of Industrialists, workers and educated classes veering around anti-colonial movement for secular democratic India. They opposed the British rule. They were not patriots. The nationalism in the name of religion began with the Kings and landlords coming together and pledging their loyalty to British. They were patriots for Queen of England. Their organization, United India Patriotic Association was the progenitor of nationalism in the name of religion, Muslim Nationalism and Hindu Nationalism. These formations did remain loyal and patriotic to British rule all through.
The anti colonial nationalism was comprehensive, inclusive and not merely ethnic nationalism. The nationalism of Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha-RSS was built around their religious identity. The nationalism built around democratic values and secularism, the one led by Mahatma Gandhi had inherent liberalism in it. Post Independence the nationalism of the communal organization as such has the feudal mind set of unquestioning loyalty to the state and no scope to have differences from the ruling state. That is what the Kings demanded from their subjects. That’s what dictators demand in present times. The present atmosphere created by RSS-BJP smacks of the mindset of the norms of authoritarian systems. In these systems like Kingdoms, Kings were supreme and people were mere subjects. In dictatorship again the rights of citizens are undermined. As per RSS-BJP politics state is supreme and citizen should be loaded with duties alone. It seems the present judgment is has the overbearing influence of such a mind set.
Ultra nationalism, while operating in the broad democratic setup, is an attempt to instill the values of dictatorial state. Hope such a realization will prompt the Supreme Court to revisit the judgment with a larger bench.
Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. He is involved with human rights activities from last two decades.He is associated with various secular and democratic initiatives like All India Secular Forum, Center for Study of Society and Secularism and ANHAD. Response only to firstname.lastname@example.org