The law of unintended consequences
Shyam Narayan Chouksey has done a disservice to his cause. In his zeal to inculcate patriotism in the average citizen, a situation has been created in the wake of his petition to the Supreme Court, which can lead to overt disrespect shown to the national anthem and also the tricolour.
It is not only that several people have been beaten up for not standing up during the anthem in cinema halls as per a judicial order. There have also been occasions when few have refused to stand up and have been ignored by others in the hall, showing that, first, obeisance to the national cause cannot be imposed; and, secondly that an attempt to do so can lead to some taking a contrarian view merely because they dislike being forced to act in a certain way, which is a tendency common among the young. In such cases, those who normally have no reason to be disrespectful towards the anthem do so because of resentment towards the powers-that-be.
Surely, Chouksey would not have expected such a mixed fallout from his initiative which has included both aggressive vigilantism and a show of indifference by some in the audience towards the patently unpatriotic. As a progenitor of unintended consequences, the septuagenarian activist from Madhya Pradesh is unlikely to endorse either reaction.
His was a simple initiative. As a patriot himself, who was offended when during a screening of the film, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, his standing up when the national anthem was being played as a part of the script was objected to by those sitting behind him in the hall.
Outraged by such rejection of what to him was a natural reaction, the former public sector employee sought and obtained a judicial order. But the subsequent events must have caused him as much distress as when the cinema-goers told him not to block their view of the film. He has been compelled to clarify, therefore, that he does not belong to the BJP. This assertion is not surprising in a country where even nationalism has acquired a political colour.
What the events have told Chouksey is that instead of boosting patriotism, his initiative has achieved the opposite. Instead of standing up out of reverence for the motherland, some in the audience are apparently regarding their action as an unavoidable chore even as some continue to sit while some wait outside the hall till the anthem is over before entering. What should have been, therefore, a spontaneous show of respect by all and sundry has evoked various responses.
What is more, even those who are genuinely moved by the anthem may be influenced by the apathy and defiance of some of the others. Apparently, while drafting his petition, Chouksey did not fully apply his mind to the subject, notwithstanding its highly sensitive nature, and consider the possible fallout.
Now, the Jehovah’s Witness, a Christian sect which has its unique interpretation of the Bible which is at variance with that of the mainstream Christians, is expected to tell the Supreme Court that its followers will not even stand up when the anthem is played. Its present position is different from what happened in the 1980s when the judiciary accepted its plea that its votaries bowed only to the Almighty and allowed them only to stand.
When the Apex Court hears its case next month, the counsel for the Jehovah’s Witness is expected to refer to rules relating to the anthems and the flags followed in other parts of the world. It is possible that among them, the American judiciary’s diktat in favour of the burning of the Star and Stripes as a form of protest will be mentioned.
Apparently, Chouksey has opened a Pandora’s box.
There is little doubt that when the learned counsels argue the pros and cons of the issue when the hearings begin in the Apex Court next month, the “anthem case” will attract worldwide attention and Chouksey will acquire a fame which he could not have anticipated in his wildest dreams. And all this brouhaha because he did not think through the implications of his petition.
Now he must be realising that showing respect to the national anthem is not such a simple matter after all as he must have presumed. This is especially so in a democracy which has a systemic aversion to coercive tactics and allows different standards of behaviour as long as it does not hurt anyone.
Moreover, the “hurt” has to be physical and not mental as when the government rushes to ban books and films on the plea that a section of the people find them offensive, vide the ban on Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and the documentary on the gang rape of a woman in Delhi in December 2012.
(Views are personal.)