The Moral Folks create a National An(a)them(a)
by Tejas Nair
While I have always wondered why our National Anthem Jana Gana Mana is played in the cinemas before a movie starts, I haven’t yet been able to find the reason behind it. All I came up with was that the tradition is being followed since the pre-Independence era, simply out of patriotism. It was the British National Anthem then. After finding many things else but an answer to that wonder, I next wandered to another question: What are the different types of videos that accompany the anthem? There are at least 4-5 different videos that play, the most patriotic one being the Siachen Glacier edition. Unfortunately that one was dismissed recently and now we have either that of the animated tricolor fluttering unnaturally or the one where the two greatest female singers of India sing gracefully.
There are lots of people who crib about the selection of edition when they go for a movie. And if the movie is a big-time bore, they discuss the various editions instead. The clear loser we can deduce from these discussions is the animated fluttering Indian flag edition, hands down. But, the scope of this article is to not care about such people. I am more interested in the guys who take moral policing in their own hands as if we don’t already have enough policemen who are behooved to act against women adopting immoral dressing trends. Whom I like to call the “moral folks.”
Lets keep the actual police out if it and focus on the case in hand: is it wrong to refuse (or voluntarily choose not to) stand up when our National Anthem is being played, irrespective of the place or situation? The debate will be meaningless. The recent cases against people (including foreign nationals) who refused to stand up in a cinema hall during the National Anthem puts light into the lack of law awareness we all have. It is in a person’s intellectual freedom to stand up or not for the National Anthem. It is not something to be dragged into a court or a police station. There are tens of students (at least from where I stand, on a particular day) in my college who don’t care at all when the National Anthem is sung (not played) every morning. Maybe it’s because they can’t hear it as it is sung in the first floor and people here in the third floor are losing the flow or restarting it out in the middle. So, the anthem goes on for about 10 minutes and we reach the climax with a bad taste in our mood. Change the situation: lets put these tens of students in the first floor, near the potential patriotic students (2 males, 2 females) who are singing and you will see all of them following the tradition of halting (if they were walking) and standing up (if they were sitting), and ending it with powerful tri-chants of (Bharat Mata ki) “Jai” with fisted hands in the air whereafter the most physically and visually fit guy (who shouts the chant’s prelude) prides in his strong voice and looks around if all the cute girls (1 or 2) saw how wildly patriotic and strong a man he is.
So, there we have. The students just followed the tradition not only just because they wanted to and to prevent making a spectacle of themselves by not following what every other person seemed to follow without protest, but also because there is a tiny speck sense of patriotism that is evoked from respecting and listening to the anthem. It is an intellectual thing. Ask an Indian which is the most patriotic national anth…? Before you complete the question, the reply will be “India.” Ask a Brit or an Oz or a Scot and we all know what they will say. There is nothing moral about the gesture. If you want to stand up, stand up. If you don’t, lets not be Preity Zinta, the latest voice of our moral folks.
The reason behind not following the tradition could be either an intellectual issue, like I have mentioned before, or a religious issue, a topic which I hate to touch. Taking a step forward and charging a person for sedition for not standing up to attention during the anthem is as bizarre as the laws which these moral folks have created as their weapon. There is only one legal provision relating to dishonour to the anthem and it criminalizes intentional prevention or disruption of singing of the anthem. So, surely, someone who does not subscribe to the notion of standing to attention, without disrupting or preventing others, would never be guilty.
This whole drama concerning our anthem has been a mockery of our own little act of showing patriotism and has been turned into people’s latest anathema by the moral folks. Now, people will stand to attention out of fear. Out of fear for the thing they previously used to love and adore and respect. Between this hullabaloo, we are risking to lose a small but important part of our patriotic tradition. Standing up to attention and singing along the anthem has always been a lovable activity for me and mostly all the people I know, but blame these moral folks, we might have to handle this aftermath with utmost care to restore the national decorum.
Note: With certain sentences, verbatim, from Somasekhar Sundaresan’s October 24, 2014 Mumbai Mirror article “Worshipping false Gods”.