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I will not disrespect the National Anthem, but...

Last updated on: December 02, 2016 11:00 IST

'But the country has lost someone who stood even in movie theatres by his own volition,' says Harsh N Gokhale.

Before I begin, I must declare that I love my country and while not very proud of it as it stands currently, I accept it is my home and I try my best to make it better.

The disclaimer is to aid when the powers-that-be and their minions get upset over this column. Such are the times that we live in!

IMAGE: The National Anthem, says Harsh N Gokhale, is one of the symbols of India, and like everything which holds such distinguished status, it should be used sparingly and only in particular forums.
Photograph: Hamish Blair/Reuters

Scene#1 Take#1

Playing the anthem in movie theatres is itself a disrespect of the National Anthem.

The Supreme Court order itself says that sometimes the National Anthem is played in impermissible circumstances. Perhaps, movie halls are one of them.

But then, the order seeks to enforce reverence to that playing of the National Anthem, even though it is not the right forum.

That is squarely the problem.

The National Anthem is one of the symbols of India, and like everything, which holds such distinguished status it should be used sparingly and only in particular forums.

A movie theatre is no exceptional place, however much it would like to believe itself to be so.

It is like any other place where people come to receive a service; much like a hotel, a restaurant, a market a shop or a mall.

Let me draw an analogy to explain my anguish.

I happen to possess a lovely jacket received in inheritance and I don it only on special occasions. The respect I show it is directly proportional to the places I wear it to.

It would be quite unreasonable to expect it to be appreciated when I visit a movie theatre or travel in a bus or a metro.

The importance of a thing can be gauged from the places it does not appear in.

It is special.

It is not ordinary and plebeian that it be present everywhere.

The same is the case with a national symbol such as a National Anthem. It has its place and time because it is special.

When the body of a soldier who gave up his life is given its due, the National Anthem is played.

I am sure you don't think that when I go to watch Jism 2 or a Happy New Year it is befitting an occasion to play the National Anthem.

The government seems to understand that and hence has a notification in place (http://mha.nic.in/national (external link)) stating exactly where the National Anthem needs to be played and movie theatres are not one of them.

It seeks that be played in distinguished occasions and even in the most vivid of imaginations, a movie theatre or any movie by itself is not distinguished enough an occasion for the National Anthem.

***

Scene#1 Take#2

The Supreme Court tries to play its role to perfection. Like any other public institution, it is allowed to make an error of judgement.

The issue here is that the Supreme Court has crossed the much touted proverbial laxman-rekha of becoming a parallel government.

Simply speaking, the courts have been given the power by the Constitution of India to only uphold, interpret, enforce and invalidate the laws made by the legislature.

Hence, even if the courts want, it cannot make any law.

Quite frankly, it need not as it has a specific job: To see if all laws and actions under it are in congruence with the Constitution.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

The law (notification mentioned above) is already clear about the forums wherein the National Anthem can be played or sung and movie theatres do not feature on it.

Thus, which law was the Supreme Court holding up?

Did it make its own law?

Did it play the role of the government or Parliament?

The Supreme Court, albeit rarely, has become the lawmaker when there was absolutely no law in existence regarding a certain issue, but where some fundamental rights were infringed (for example, the Vishakha Case -- which recognised sexual harassment at the workplace).

But in this case there is a clear notification by the central government regarding the National Anthem and the Supreme Court had no reason to enter the territory of law making.

Perhaps unintentionally, this order indirectly condones the thrashing of the disabled person in a movie theatre (not too long ago) for not standing up to the National Anthem.

The order makes no exception and expects everyone to abide by it. That is definitely not in congruence with the principles of equality established by the Supreme Court itself.

The order also raises a question of enforcement and unless the courts can ensure that every show, every screen has police personnel available, enforcement will become the domain of the mob.

Every institution is allowed to make errors of judgement, especially the Supreme Court which has carried out its role well throughout the history of Independent India. It is a sign of robustness when an institution can accept its error and move on.

The Supreme Court has done so in the past, and don't be surprised if it does so now.

***

Scene#1 Take#3

This situation of coerced respect is a cause of concern.

Faithfulness is earned and cannot be extracted; should not be extracted either.

This applies to inter-personal relationships as well as relationship of a person to the State.

I have always stood for the National Anthem by choice in a movie theatre.

Sometimes, my accompanying friends do, sometimes they don't. But I always stood. It made me stand apart.

It also indicated to me several things: Firstly, that some people stand for the National Anthem even though they have complaints against the country.

Secondly, some don't stand and yet I know that they adore the country and the potential it holds.

But the third category is most important. It comprises those who don't stand possibly because they do not have a very positive experience of living in this country.

It indicates that that we have more work to do to make this country better for all; after all reactions to national symbols are like symptoms of a disease.

The symptoms tell you how bad the illness is; much akin to how reactions to national symbols tell you how happy people are with the country.

That distinction is now muddled.

I am certainly not going to enter the theatre on time. I do not like to be forced.

I will not disrespect the National Anthem either. But the country has lost someone who stood even in movie theatres by his own volition.

The reason cited as the basis of this order was 'for love and respect for the motherland is reflected when one shows respect to the National Anthem as well as to the National Flag. That apart, it would instil the feeling within one, a sense committed patriotism and nationalism.'

Our colonial masters were coerced us to respect its symbols (the queen, the viceroy etc) even though it was inherently exploitative. It coerced respect and not earned it.

Today, we are still a nation in the making and it would be stupidity to imagine that we have reached our destination.

We have a long way to go. But convincing and not coercing will take us even further.

Harsh N Gokhale