SC Order On National Anthem Allows Bullies To Pose As Patriots
In a recent order, a Supreme Court bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Amitava Roy ordered the national anthem to be played in movie halls before every film, stipulating that every member of the audience must stand while the anthem is played and the hall doors be shut to prevent audience members leaving. This order has dangerous implications because, by stating that patriotism must trump individual liberties, it emboldens the growing tendency to cloak assaults on dissent as ‘patriotism.’
The SC Bench declares that the National Anthem “is the symbol of the Constitutional patriotism,” and “People must feel they live in a nation and this wallowing individually perceived notion of freedom must go.” The Constitution of India does not even use the term ‘patriotism’, let alone presume to define it. On the contrary, the Constitution of India does guarantee the right to personal liberty. Instead of doing its duty of defending the Constitutionally guaranteed personal liberties of the people, Justices Misra and Roy have invoked the Constitution to justify the use of notions of ‘patriotism’ to deny and denigrate the very concept of personal liberties.
Not long after this order was passed, the same judges rejected a plea to enforce the national anthem inside courtrooms, saying “our order should not be overstretched.” Why should the national anthem be enforced in cinema halls but not in Courts? It seems that the judges place the judiciary and judicial system above the common citizens, suggesting that common citizens need a forced dose of patriotism that the judiciary does not. Such a notion itself is dangerous to democracy.
But there is another reason why the SC Bench was more interested in enforcing the anthem in cinema halls rather than courts or other spaces. The fact is that cinema halls in recent years have become the arenas for displays of bullying disguised as ‘patriotism’, with political outfits mobilizing audiences to heckle, bully or beat individuals who refuse or are unable to stand during the playing of the anthem. In Kerala, a young man who refused to stand during the national anthem in a cinema hall was heckled by a mob and then charged with sedition. In a cinema hall in Mumbai a man was thrashed by a mob because his girlfriend, a South African woman, did not stand when the national anthem was played. In a Goa cinema hall, a disabled man Salil Chaturvedi was heckled and hit for being unable to stand during the anthem.
Chaturvedi later said, “I now believe that even if I could stand up during the national anthem, I would rather not, simply because I am being forced to do so. Is this why we fought the colonialists? Did we get our freedom only to become sheep, and that too led by the most sinister, manipulative brutes among us? I will not participate in this sham.” Now, the Supreme Court order by Justices Misra and Roy emboldens the “sinister, manipulative brutes.”
In recent times, there is an attempt to equate ‘patriotism’ with the worst authoritarianism and intolerance. Saffron groups that are involved in violence against minorities, Dalits, women and citizens who challenge their goal of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ pose as ‘patriots’ and try to enforce the chanting of ‘Vande Mataram.’ Lawyers who beat up JNU students charged with ‘sedition’ shout ‘Vande Mataram.’ Ministers declare that it is unpatriotic to question mob lynching by ‘cow-protection’ goons, fake encounters, or even policies like demonetization. It is such anti-democratic forces that the SC order on the anthem legitimizes.
In other countries too, there is an ongoing struggle between democratic and authoritarian forces over national symbols. In the USA, supporters of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement including prominent sportspersons have taken to sitting or kneeling rather than standing during the playing of the US anthem, as an expression of protest against racist violence by police. In that country, racists masquerading as ‘patriots’ have been insisting that kneeling or sitting during the anthem amounts to ‘insulting’ the nation.
Be it India, the US or any other country, the real question to ask is, if it is not an insult to the nation to equate patriotism with bigotry, racism, casteism, communalism and attacks on individual liberty? If patriotism is reduced to certain symbolic gestures and acts, then every goon or criminal can become a ‘patriot’ simply by standing up for the anthem; and every concerned and conscientious citizen who works for the rights and liberties of the country’s marginalized and vulnerable people can become ‘anti-national’ simply by failing to stand up during the anthem!
In any democracy, every individual must have the right to express dissent or protest in any peaceful way. Every individual must have the right to express love for their country in whatever manner he or she chooses. And above all, the right of every individual to express themselves freely without fear of violence must be safeguarded. The SC Bench of Justices Misra and Roy has unfortunately failed in its duty to safeguard individual liberty and freedom of expression that the Constitution guarantees and has instead given a boost in the arm to the bullies and criminals posing as patriots.
A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine
Vol. 19 | No. 50 | 6-12 December 2016]