The National Anthem Debate

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There is no doubt that the National Anthem is special and should not be proliferated on petty and frivolous occasions. The first order of the honourable SC of 30 November 2016 asking all cinema halls across the country to play the National Anthem before the screening of films and that all present must “stand up in respect” till the anthem ended was certainly ill thought out. India of 2017 is not same as India of the decades of fifties and sixties. Country has come a long way since then. In particular perceptions and attitude of the youth have changed vastly that the court failed to take into consideration. A cinema hall today is not a place to inculcate patriotism or to measure ones patriotism. Patriotism and singing of national anthem are solemn and serious matters and a cinema hall in 2017 certainly does not provide that environment.

The more important aspect of the current debate is about the manner in which respect has to be shown to the National Anthem.  Some politicians and others have questioned the need of standing up as a mark of respect when the anthem is played. The debate on one national channel was so base that Mr Suneet Chopra, a senior leader and spokesperson of CPI (M) had the gall to say that was he expected to stand up if he was sitting on the loo and heard the national anthem being played!!! That was nothing but mocking the national anthem and it is pity that the system does not hold them accountable. Other opposition leaders like Mr Owaisi of AIMIM too gloated on the fact that it was not necessary to stand up when the national anthem was played barring may be occasions like 15 August and 26 January. All this obviously was fallout from the honourable court’s observation that not standing up for National Anthem at cinema halls was not a sign of anti-nationalism.

We believe we show respect to our deities and Gods by folding our hands or going down on our knees or even by prostrating. In reality these are signs of surrendering our being to our deities and no one has a problem there. When it comes to elders we bow down or touch their feet as a mark of our respect. Obviously neither of these will work for our national symbols. A national symbol also epitomises national pride and therefore the need to hold one’s head high while respecting it. By default standing erect is the best form to pay respect and exude pride at the same time. Slouching, sitting or other postures certainly do not come in the same category. That is why there is a need to stand up erect when National Anthem is played or National Flag is unfurled.

I am not sure what rules and regulations the government will frame with respect to the National Anthem as advised by the Supreme Court (SC) in its ruling on 24 October 2017. What I do know and understand is that respect and reverence for the National Anthem are non-negotiable and every Indian – caste, colour, creed, belief notwithstanding – must give it its due. There are no ifs and buts, no half measures and no exceptions.  If any citizen does not show respect willingly to the national flag or the national anthem then he is being anti-national. Certainly there is no need to wear our patriotism on our sleeve all the time or have it written on our forehead to prove to others that one is patriotic. The problem today is that some of us seem to interpret this logic as a licence to belittle the significance of our national symbols and compromise on the manner in which the same must be respected. That is a dangerous trend and does not bode well for the future.  We should never forget that the national flag and anthem also represent our freedom, national pride, unity and history of our struggle for independence.

Let us always remember that ‘it is not only important to be proud of one’s country, but it is equally important to ensure that the country is also proud of us.’

Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.

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