Wearing patriotism on your sleeve
There are a dozen things that should be made mandatory in order to show true patriotism. Standing up for the National Anthem is not one of them
How do we tell if someone is in love? Does he or she make public declarations of his undying affection? Nowadays, much of the declarations happen on social media anyway. How do we tell if someone is religious? Do they carry on their person various symbols of their faith? Not really, right? Love and religion are both personal. Some choose to flaunt it, others have a more silent expression of it. Neither can be seen through the singular spectrum of mass expression. If love and religion are expressed according to an individual's beliefs, how can expressions of patriotism be governmentally enforced?
A few days ago, I was at the vet's with probably over a dozen pet-parents and their fidgety pets. A movie playing on the telly had the National Anthem coming on. I stood up for it, some people looked at me curiously, but most continued with what they were doing. I consider myself a patriot; I believe in nationalism but not at the cost of forcing it down someone else's throat. I stand up for the National Anthem even in the privacy of my house; even when there is no one to watch me. It is my choice to do so. But does it make the rest any less patriotic?
On November 30, 2016, a bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Amitava Roy, had made it mandatory for the National Anthem to be played in cinema halls before the start of a movie and movie-goers would have to duly show respect by standing up. Did we really have to prove our patriotism before watching a movie? This week, the Supreme Court overturned the draconian order leaving it to the prerogative of the cinema halls. But the rider was that if the National Anthem is played then all, except people with disability, would have to stand up for it. Though the verdict was hailed as a victory for Kerala's Kodungallur Film Society (KFS) that had challenged the 2016 interim order, it still smacked of judicially imparting patriotism among Indians.
Patriotism is best described as an attachment to one's homeland, its culture, its history, its diversity. It is not limited to showing respect to the National Anthem alone. I believe we are unpatriotic when we vandalise public property if our demands are not met. We are unpatriotic when we forget the social and secular fabric of India. When we enforce our views on people even though our Constitution awards various freedoms to individuals. We are unpatriotic when we spit out that despicable red 'paan/gutkha' masala on the walls of public offices; or when we urinate on the road even when there are public conveniences available. Or even when we desecrate monuments and old structures with graffiti. We are definitely not patriotic when we litter our roads and tourist attractions with all kinds of garbage. If that is not being unpatriotic, I do not know what else is.
Why not make civic sense mandatory as an expression of patriotism? Why not penalise all who disrespect the nation and its ethos by damaging its secular image, its heritage sites, its public infrastructure? I would readily exhort people to follow these diktats rather than those ill-thought, myopic decisions such as making people stand up for the national song. Let us not be touchy about things that have little bearing on the ground. To improve the nation and our surroundings, and to show true patriotism, there are a dozen things that should be made mandatory; standing up for the National Anthem is not one of them.
(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal)