Coming soon to a theater near you: Patriotism and Respect

I’m not much of a patriot. Sure, I’m proud of where we stand on this day in terms of history and progress. But if you ask me to pick up a rifle, scream ‘Bharat mata ki’ and fight on the border, I’m not your guy. I have an opinion, but it mostly does not align with the prevalent nationalist sentiment. I am not in love with this country. I just about like the place. I pay my taxes and observe the laws of the land as diligently as is possible. I am conscientious and righteous. In short, I am a decent law abiding citizen of this country. So, in light of these declarations, if my heart doesn’t well up for the national flag and I don’t feel adrenaline kicking in upon hearing the national anthem, am I weird and unworthy of a place here?

Today, a bench of the honorable Supreme Court decreed that the national anthem must be played in all cinema halls and everyone present must stand up and show respect. For a country quite rightly called the world’s largest democracy, such a mandate is simply out of place and sharply antithetic to what it is supposed to stand for. One of the points in the SC statement reads: “Prior to the National Anthem is played or sung in the cinema hall on the screen, the entry and exit doors shall remain closed so that no one can create any kind of disturbance which will amount to disrespect to the National Anthem. After the National Anthem is played or sung, the doors can be opened.” This just blows my mind. The statement almost manages to make it sound like a Freemason ritual, for crying out loud. It is perfectly admissible to expect every Indian to not disrespect the anthem. But when the apex legal authority of the country orders that the doors must be closed so that the singing may not be disturbed, something feels amiss. Perhaps, a little more subtlety would have helped.

Yes, by all means, make commercial use of the national anthem an offense. Stop ‘artists’ from piggybacking on the anthem. Stop stupid Bollywood movies from profiteering by selling a cocktail of patriotism and cringe-worthy drama. I wish the purpose of the statement were limited to just that and nothing more.

I started writing this after I read the news online and after going through the full court statement. Just to be sure that I wasn’t overreacting, I headed over to this place where people are their true selves. Nope, not just me. Some others feel the same way. But, there are an equal number of people who think this is wonderful stuff.

All these years, I have held the belief that respecting your country meant not disrespecting it. For me, an absence of contempt and the presence of a benevolent inclination towards your country sum up what a quotidian citizen should be. But these days the word patriot is thrown around quite recklessly. On TV and on Facebook, you will be ravaged if you so much as express an opinion that is anything other than the English equivalent of bharat mata ki and vande mataram.

The document also refers to something called ‘constitutional patriotism.’ I looked it up and found it to be sensible. Wikipedia says, “Constitutional patriotism is the idea that people should form a political attachment to the norms and values of a pluralistic liberal democratic constitution rather than a national culture or cosmopolitan society.” It makes sense – you rise beyond your ethnicity and cultivate loyalty for your country. This is pretty much what democracy means, right? But riddle me this – does compulsorily being made to stand and sing the national anthem make you a better patriot? Through sheer repetition, do I become the nationalist the court wants me to be? No, I don’t think so. One thing that will definitely happen is that I will start hating going to the cinemas.

 “Be it stated, a time has come, the citizens of the country must realize that they live in a nation and are duty bound to show respect to National Anthem which is the symbol of the Constitutional Patriotism and inherent national quality. It does not allow any different notion or the perception of individual rights, that have individually thought of have no space. The idea is constitutionally impermissible.”

This feels like a day of reckoning. We have had our heads turned over the past year by multiple incidents reflecting the strong right wing inclination of a highly motivated ultra-nationalist people. But personally, at some level, this feels like a watershed moment. When the judiciary cites the constitution to make us sing the national anthem so that we learn some respect, you know the order of the day.

Why stop at cinema theaters? Let’s sing it upon waking up in the morning and before going to bed. Let’s sing at weddings so that it consummately sanctifies the pavitra rishta. Let’s also whisper it in the ears of newborns so they grow up to be perfect citizens.

Stand up now. Time for all of us to learn some respect.