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Nothing Undemocratic There: Why The Anthem Debate is Baseless

Nothing Undemocratic There: Why The Anthem Debate is Baseless

By Atharva Pandit

Edited by, Anandita Malhotra, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist

It has been saddening, to me at least, to look at all those tweets and comments that have bore through Preity Zinta’s action of throwing out, so to say, a person who did not stand up for the national anthem during the screening of a movie- whether she did it or not is a matter to be clarified, for the actress later tweeted that the whole cinema hall was involved in asking the said person to get out. That gesture wasn’t something she should be proud of, true. One cannot, according to the laws of this country, force anybody to stand up for the national anthem, whatever place it might be. Insult is another thing- you cannot paste the tag of ‘insulting’ a national anthem or, even, the nation for not standing up for a national anthem, that’s but a personal choice and it should be left at that. Preity Zinta’s acts were lawfully wrong, but, at the same time, the amount of sneering it invited was morally unacceptable and it could lead one to question the path that we are opting for our moral selves.

Indeed, the arrest and prosecution of the philosophy student in Kerala, who refused to stand up for the national anthem during the screening of a movie is something that is bizarre, but too many have commented upon his religion and that being the reason he was arrested in the first place. His case then supposedly went on to highlight the times Muslims in India are living in- a discourse on how the government might turn out to be a fascist force in the future and so on and so forth. That is senseless, to say the least, for neither his act nor the arrest was based on his religion and to what God he prays- it was a case wherein him and some of his friends refused to stand up during the national anthem and- but this is under speculation- “hooted” during the time it was being played inside a theater. Whatever might have happened, the law does not allow a person to be jailed- let alone for life, as he is being reported to have- for not standing up for a national song. The guy- Salman- is no culprit, but neither is he a hero, as he is being played out to be. He might be a victim, granted, but the fact that he did not respect the national anthem is not something that can be proudly proclaimed. And what kind of a “proud” citizenship would accept that?

Not Malaysia, where, in mid-September, a picture showing a group of teenagers in a theater not standing up during the national anthem went viral. There was a public outcry over the incident, and most comments highlighted the fact that irrespective of the legal boundaries and our political beliefs, it is our moral obligation to stand up for our national anthem, not because the law says so, but because our history, because our past and because those who fought and died for this country urge so. So in Japan, where, according to the Act on National Flag and Anthem, it is required for the city council of Tokyo to record the names of those teachers which do not stand or sing during the national anthem or the waiving of the flag during ceremonies. Such teachers would be subjected to sanctions that range from pay cuts to loss of duty. Indeed, however, the debate on whether an individual should be forced to stand up for the national anthem and sing raged even in the Japanese courts, with the courts siding with the teachers stating that an individual has his or her freedom of thought and that he or she cannot be forced to stand up or sing during a national anthem. The latest ruling saw the Supreme Court turn the decision and state that requiring teachers to stand up for the national anthem is not a violation of the Constitution and that the teachers have to respect the national song while it is being played. In nations like Mexico and Italy as well, the national anthem is played during the beginning of schools and inside the theaters.

In India itself, the rules of Home Ministry proclaim that one should stand up during the singing of a national anthem, but it is not mandatory for an individual to stand up if the national anthem is being played out during a documentary or as a part of a film. It also further mentions “as in case of flying of national flag, it has been left to the good sense of the people not to indulge in indiscriminate singing or playing of the Anthem.” But where does our good sense prevail? In defending someone who disrespects our national anthem? Indeed, Salman being locked up is shocking and unacceptable; throwing out someone for not standing up is unacceptable, for it goes against the universal freedom of choice and opinion, but making a hero out of such people is, also, something that leads us to question the fate of our sentiments towards our nation.

What are we proving by not standing up for the national anthem? That we don’t care for the country that has been giving us a place to strive and survive, that has been our identity for the past so many years? That we prove by so many other actions, not in the least scattering our dirt and filth out on the streets for the maintenance of which we ourselves pay. The ways of not caring for our nation are many, but not standing up for the national anthem is certainly not one of them. It is easy to confuse between nationalism and patriotism, but it needs to be understood that while nationalism plays out on the basis of unity in cultural background, language and heritage, patriotism only means to respect the nation that shelters us by any mean possible. Considering the scenario today, it might not be surprising to predict a future where a person’s political stance would be judged upon whether or not he stands for the national anthem (which is the case in Germany, where if a person is found to be singing the first two stanzas of the national anthem, they are considered to be right-wing or even extremists).

I for myself stand up during all the pre-World Cup ceremonies when the national anthem is being played- and ask the players what they must be feeling during the playing of it as they represent their nation on a foreign soil and start off with their national song, for them, it’s a prayer, something that boosts their confidence, that makes them understand the importance of representing one’s nation. Standing up and singing the national anthem (it takes just a minute, to be fair) is not bound by law, and forcing someone to do so is unacceptable. But if we join our hands to pray, rise when a judge arrives in the courtroom and commit all those actions that show our respect to someone or something, why not just give our foot some push and stand up for a song that makes us proud of our nation and the collective efforts that have gone into the making of it?

Mahatma Gandhi once said that the future depends on what we do in the present- and if our psyche tells us that it is “undemocratic” to try and dedicate a minute of our time for the playing of a national anthem in the present, it is a dangerous future we are staring at. To stand up for our nation may not be a lawful duty- it can also be argued that one is not really showing his or her disrespect if he or she is not standing up for the national anthem; but remember that the he/she is showing no respect either- but it certainly is a moral one, and by all means, we are expected to follow it-  and there’s nothing “unlawful” and anti-Democratic in asking one to stand up during the playing of a song that has within itself the past, present and the future of a nation without which our identity would be but a void.

Atharva Pandit is an FYBA student at Ramnarain Ruia College, Mumbai, and intends to major in Politics. He is a close observer of international politics and is an advocate of free speech, all the while following social evils plaguing the Indian society. Apart from his journalistic ventures, Pandit also reserves an interest in foreign languages, and has cleared two advance-level Spanish exams. He is interested in reading, and recently presented a paper titled “The Role of Literature in Latin American Resistance.” 

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