The Supreme Court of India in an unprecedented order last week said all cinema halls across the country should play the national anthem and those present must properly stand up in respect to inculcate a feeling within one a sense of committed nationalism and patriotism. The order, in fact has touched off a very old debate that whether to force someone to sing the anthem borders on infringing the fundamental right or not.
Way back in August 1986, a Supreme Court bench of Justices Chinnappa Reddy and Dutt had, in Emmanuel & Ors vs State of Kerala, granted protection to three children of the Jehovah’s Witness sect, who refused to sing the national anthem at their school. The apex court ruled that forcing the children to sing the anthem indeed violated their fundamental right to religion.
The interim order passed by the Supreme Court is debatable as it amounts to forcing people to stand up for the anthem in a private setting has been highlighted. In India, there has been an ongoing debate about whether common citizens can be punished under the prevention of insults to national honour act for deliberately disturbing the national anthem’s playing and such offenders could be imprisoned up to maximum three years.
In Russia the government is considering adding criminal charges of maximum one year of prison or hard labour for the deliberate distortion of the musical arrangement or lyrics of the national anthem of the Russian Federation.
While in Japan, few teachers in public schools have refused to stand for the national anthem, objecting to its link to Japan’s former military regime. The Supreme Court of Japan ruled in 2012 that school authorities could force teachers to sing the anthem but the punishments for refusing to do the same could not be excessive.
The court with this order has made it clear that the anthem cannot be used for commercial purposes but irony is such that it will be now mandatory to play it just before the ultimate poster boy of commercial purposes, a Bollywood blockbuster. Has the supreme custodian of law weighed in on why a commercial movie theatre should be in any way the natural home for the national anthem?
Now how could we find an out and out commercial film like ‘Befikre”starring Ranveer Singh particularly patriotic or say a Hollywood production like ‘Martian” featuring Matt Damon having any relevance to nationalistic fervour? Are they treating national anthem as the wholesome fibre which they must ingest before gorging out on the junk food for the next two and a half hours?
The court has also risked turning the national anthem into something far more humdrum in its zeal to inject a committed sense of patriotism and nationalism. It’s not going to give us the goose bumps the way we got when our own PV Sindhu went up to the podium to receive her Olympic silver medal. It will become a chore, an obligation, something to be rushed through before you can get to the main event.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.