National Anthem: Patriotism vigilantes become investigators, judges and executioners

Twelve persons, including two women, were detained by police for not standing up while the national anthem was in progress at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday, said a report. That was a day after eight youths were beaten up in a Chennai cinema hall for not standing up during the anthem.

These are the first such instances since a recent Supreme Court interim order made it mandatory to play the national anthem in theatres before movies are screened. The Kerala and Tamil Nadu incidents would surely help to instill fear in the minds of anyone at a public place listening to the anthem either by choice or by accident. These would offer them one more valid reason to display their patriotism besides the feeling of patriotism itself — the fear of being prosecuted.

The Chennai incident gives us hope of the emergence of a new breed of vigilantes, let’s call this group, national anthem vigilantes. Remember those days, when self-appointed gaurakshaks went berserk, days when people were beaten up at several places for either eating beef or ‘harming’ the cow. Even tanners who made a modest living skinning abandoned dead cow carcasses weren’t spared. That uncomfortable phase prevailed for a while and of late one doesn’t hear much about cow vigilantes.

 National Anthem: Patriotism vigilantes become investigators, judges and executioners

Can patriotism be checked? AFP

But, that void will now be filled by a different kind of vigilantes. Here too, the mode of employment is self-appointment. The job profile is to guard the nationalist cause. The mandate is to beat up people who are found (to the discretionary power of vigilantes) to disrespect the national anthem. The places of their postings are theatres and international film festival venues. They have begun the job self-appointing themselves for the role after the Supreme Court order. It does not matter that you are at the air-conditioned, dark hall to unwind after a hectic week of work to watch that long-awaited film or even to watch your favorite adult movie, you are supposed to stand up first and remember your nationalist commitments.

Enjoyment later, patriotism first.

If not, you are likely to get heckled, abused and manhandled by the new breed of vigilantes. That’s what happened in Chennai when youths were assaulted for not standing up during the national anthem and even taking selfies. Let’s get one thing clear. There is no question about how we all should respect the mother nation, not just the anthem — all ideals it stands for. If the youths in question were taking selfies with the intention of insulting the nation, their action is questionable.

But, come on, they were students, who came for a movie — not to attend a republic day parade. Why in the world should someone be forced to show display of patriotism in a theatre of all places? Or, why only in theater, shouldn’t this be forced on people on bus stands, railway stations, offices and even bars (Why not?). If this brings on the true patriot in every Indian, shouldn’t this be done first in the august house of Parliament and state assemblies at the beginning of every day of Parliament session, where public representatives often behave worse than street thugs? But, then of course, there is a court order for cinema theaters. And you must follow the rule. No questions asked. But, of course, questions will keep coming. Questions that have been already asked and questions that will be asked again, till answers come. Here goes some of them.

One, should the feeling of patriotism come from within or forced upon by someone else? Should one do it fearing the crowd around? Two, how do citizen or police measure the feeling of patriotism in his fellow citizen? Three, how different is display of patriotism from the feeling of patriotism? Four, how does one decide the show of display is indeed a display of patriotism or a dishonest action? For instance, is someone technically standing up in a theater during the national anthem but makes a face, would they still be tagged as an honest patriot? And, how on earth would the vigilantes or police standing around him even know that he is making a face unless then cease to display their respect to the anthem and start looking at the subject in question? Unless a movie theatre fixes CCTVs all around the hall that capture the faces during the anthem and an ethics committee in theatres inspects the footage during the movie so that the fake patriots can be booked by the end of the show, implementing this rule isn’t possible.

Can we, thus, conclude that checking patriotism isn’t an easy task unless vigilantes turn out to be the investigators, the judge and the executioners? Last month, there was an incident reported from Goa where a wheelchair-bound man who couldn't rise up during the national anthem was reportedly attacked at a multiplex. The Supreme Court later clarified that the disabled doesn’t need to stand up and the doors needn’t be bolted.

But, the Supreme Court order to make the national anthem mandatory alone is sufficient to embolden the self-appointed guardians of national anthem in cinema theaters. The Supreme Court order, though an interim one, lacked logic. Make it mandatory to respect the national anthem wouldn’t alone safe guard the symbols the constitution bestows respect. If Supreme Court is so determined to force patriotism on citizens, shouldn’t it also ask zoos in the country take out peacocks and tigers (national bird and animal) out of their confinements too. Aren’t we insulting the national symbols by putting them in cage?

Like mentioned earlier, as the next step, to ensure theaters do follow the rule, the Supreme Court should also ask theater owners to install CCTV cameras in all theaters and constitution of an ethics committee to ensure movie-goers pay real respect to national anthem. If these measures aren’t possible, the other way is to simply let the citizen use his individual freedom and discretion to fulfill his moral and constitutional responsibilities to the motherland.

Within us, each of us cherish being an Indian and feel lucky to be born here. Fear of prosecution shouldn’t necessarily be the motivating reason to bow to the mother and feeling of patriotism and fear of being watched and prosecuted shouldn’t come in the same breath.

Makes sense my Lord?

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Updated Date: Dec 13, 2016 13:07:15 IST