Controversy still rages over National Anthem in cinemas

Rationale behind the singing of National Anthem at theatres comes under sharp criticism

By Riya Mathews

When Harshitha Kumayaa, a 20-year-old graduate, refused to stand up while the National Anthem was playing in the theatre, little did she know that she would be labelled as an “anti-national”. Grinning sarcastically at the apparently innocuous remark by her professor, she says, “I would rather be an anti-national than not actually feeling patriotic and standing in the theatre for the National Anthem. I do not believe in it”.

Though Harshitha joins the flock challenging the patriotic claims of the “nationalists”, there are several others who blindly follow the Supreme Court order.  One among them is S. Thanvir, an office employee who supports the playing of the National Anthem because he is an Indian.

The recent clamour regarding the National Anthem began a couple of months ago, with the Supreme Court ruling, which made the playing of National Anthem before movies in theatres, mandatory. The order which was based on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), created a ruckus, with cases filed against individuals who refused to stand up. There were several complaints concerning manhandling of differently abled by fellow movie goers.

With ambiguity regarding when and where to stand up, the Supreme Court has passed an interim order which says that people need not to stand if the National Anthem is played as a part of a film. With the court yet to pass the final judgment, a probe into the legality of the ruling and judicial restraints are much needed.

Suhrith Parthasarthy, a leading advocate in Madras High Court feels that the court does not have the authority to pass an order which in nature, obviously, enforces a form of nationalism. “This is a case where freedom of speech and expression guaranteed to us, as citizens, by article 19 (1) (A) of the constitution, stands violated”, he says.

As there is already legislation regarding National Anthem and national flag made by the parliament, he thinks that, it’s not the remit of the Supreme Court jurisdiction at all. It is for the parliament to decide where the National Anthem should be played or need not to be played and whether people should stand up for the National Anthem and so forth.

According to Sudha Ramalingam, a veteran advocate in Madras High Court, there is no specific provision in the constitution to make people stand up when the National Anthem is played. But as it is given out as a judgement by the court, it becomes the law of the land and so it can get the government of the time to enforce it.

Even the people are seen trying to enforce the law. “A kind of vigilantism, can be seen now a days, where fellow movie goers, trying to impose on others and they are doing a kind of moral policing”, Suhrith elaborates in the context of the attack on college students in Chennai who refuse to stand while the National Anthem was playing.

Though there is no legislation that deals with the charges that can be filed against those who refuse to stand, cases are filed under Prevention of Insult to National Anthem Honour Act, 1971.  The charges are laid for failure to respect the National Anthem. The failure to stand up during the playing of National Anthem amounts to failure to respect. Thus, it is regarded as an act of civil disobedience, where one has disobeyed the court order.

Once charged under the act, one can only try and  implore the Supreme Court to reconsider its views. “Right now, final arguments are not complete in this case. Court is still dealing with the case. Hopefully, it will change before giving the final judgement”, he says further.

Through the stringent ruling on National Anthem, the Supreme Court appears to impose patriotism. The court observed that it was the duty of citizens to show respect to the National Anthem which is the symbol of constitutional patriotism and inherent national quality. However, the order tends to enforce coercive form of nationalism. “It is in keeping with the general ethos of the political life today”, says Suhrith.

How far the imposition of National Anthem can instil patriotism is a matter of concern. As Sudha Ramalingam rightly points out, patriotism can never be enforced, it should come from within a person, for which one need education and better sensitization.

The term patriotism which blankets the love for motherland cannot be injected to the people of a democratic country. “Some say, chronic love or affection towards motherland is the preliminary state of fascism. Given India is a nation, proud of its democratic standards and of free thinking and media freedom, I don’t think that is a kind of love towards the motherland that needs to be appreciated”, says S. Bechu, a literature graduate.

Many students to whom the reporter spoke, were against the playing of National Anthem in theatres. “What is the need of playing National Anthem in movie theatres, where people come purely for entertainment, why not start with courts and government institutions?” , asks 20-year-old K. Dinesh.

Arulvinayaki, a second year law student in a local city college narrated the incident of a Muslim boy who refused to sing National Anthem because of religious dogma. Though case was filed against him, the court ruled that respect is what is needed and it is not mandatory to sing.

C Praveen who works in a private firm has come to Velacherry for watching a Tamil film. He believes that National Anthem is the spirit of every citizen. Rather than enforcing it, it should come by default. “I don’t think standing up in theatres would drastically change our attitude towards this particular topic”, he says.

However, Arun Kumar who works as a floor manager in a restaurant thinks that there’s nothing wrong in playing National Anthem. Whenever National Anthem is playing, it is the duty of Indian citizens to stand up and respect the National Anthem. “If you are really a citizen of India and proud of your country, you will get goosebumps when you hear the National Anthem”, says Arun.

Over the years, with draconian laws and puritanical mind set, Indian society have been laming behind the ages. While the rest of the world stepping forward towards progress, holding blindly to the vested interested of few, we follow the bandwagon. Shamelessly embracing the nationalist agenda perpetuated by the political Dronacharyas, we choose to remain parrots than a patriot.

With contradictory responses, the debate on National Anthem is still in forefront. If showing off respect during the National Anthem grades a citizen’s nationalist feelings, there are people like Harshitha around us saying, “I don’t believe in that nationalism anymore!”


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