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Strange clarification

Strange clarification

Besides the verdict, which condemned AIADMK general secretary, Sasikala, to four years in imprisonment, the apex court also issued an interesting clarification on its recent National Anthem judgement. The court clarified that the audience need not stand when the National Anthem is played as a part of the storyline of a film, newsreel or documentary. In other words, standing up for the national anthem before the screening of a movie is mandatory unless the anthem is 'part' of the film, e.g., in Dangal. On November 30 last year, the apex court had ordered cinema halls across the nation to mandatorily play the National Anthem before the screening of a movie and the audience must stand and show respect. The apex court, while passing a slew of directions, had also observed that "time has come when citizens must realise they live in a nation and are duty-bound to show respect to National Anthem which is a symbol of constitutional patriotism and inherent national quality." It had said that "love and respect for the motherland are reflected when one shows respect to the National Anthem as well as to the National Flag".

Since the judgement was passed, there have been people arrested for refusing to comply with a Supreme Court order to stand for the national anthem at cinemas. Those under arrest were booked under the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971. "Whoever intentionally prevents the singing of the Indian National Anthem or causes disturbance to any assembly engaged in such singing shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both," states the Act. Some are viewing the court's decision as an attempt to induce compulsive patriotism. Curiously in 1986, the court took the side of three school children from Kerala who had refused to sing the national anthem during the school assembly. Forcing the children, who were faithful Jehovah's witnesses, to sing the anthem was an infringement on their freedom of religion, the court argued. In other words, it gave precedence to individual rights over collective responsibility. But in an era of ultra-nationalism, a few of our judges seem to have changed their tone. Not long ago, a politician argued that those who did not chant, "Bharat Mata ki Jai", had no right to live in the country. In a democracy, such an imposition of patriotism serves no fruitful purpose.

The idea here is that a person must wear patriotism on his/her sleeve to avoid the label of 'disloyal' or 'anti-national'. It demeans the individual by designating the person as a suspect. Besides, it is evident that this directive will not be easy to implement. Our chronically under-staffed police clearly have more urgent matters to resolve. It also opens the gateway to vigilantism under which self-appointed xenophobes take it upon themselves to impose what they regard as the law on hapless targets. The ridiculousness of such misguided "nationalist" public discourse reached its zenith recently when a wheelchair-bound man who couldn't rise during the national anthem was attacked at a multiplex in Goa. To conclude, the court seems to suffer from a rather fundamental confusion between what is desirable, and what is legal.

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