Anthem order: SC corrects itself

Anthem order: SC corrects itself

The Supreme Court has done well to withdraw its controversial order of November 2016 making the singing of the national anthem mandatory in all cinema halls. The court took the wise decision after the central government told it to withhold its order and that it was appointing a committee to frame guidelines on when and where the national anthem is to be sung and how citizens should defer to it. So, the status quo ante has been restored and citizens are no longer forced to stand up in attention in deference to the anthem. Patriotism or nationalism has not grown any stronger because of the respectful attention it received all these months. Actually, the order has produced a new kind of vigilantism, and people have been threatened, intimidated and even assaulted inside theatres. There was at least one case in Kerala when some people were arrested for not standing up to show respect to the anthem. Even physically challenged persons have been targeted for not standing up.  

Patriotism is not to be enforced by order in a democratic society. It is not a sentiment for exhibition or performance and need not be worn on one's sleeve. It emerges naturally from a sense of belonging, a shared purpose and, in a nation governed by a democratic constitution, from commitment to the ideals that underlie that constitution. Anthems and flags are only symbols and should not be turned into tools of coercion. India's Constitution guarantees freedom and choice to the individual, and these rights are more important than the duties prescribed for and imposed on citizens. This does not mean that national symbols should be dishonoured. In fact, guidelines on how to use them, and how not to show disrespect to them, already exist. None of these guidelines say that the anthem should be sung in cinema theatres. In that case, why only theatres and why not many other places of artistic or other kinds of performance?

The question has not yet been answered. Another question was, why the Supreme Court had to issue an order on the singing of the anthem. The court should not waste its time and energy on such matters, and it has no constitutional mandate to groom patriotic citizens. Its job is to interpret laws and to measure them against the Constitution. Finally, there seems to be realisation that the matter falls within the purview of the Executive and Parliament. The present government has made political use of patriotism in many ways, and promoted its own negative version of it. Hopefully, the committee will not come up with a code of conduct fit for an authoritarian state and society.  

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