A Lesson in Nationalism

Imposing patriotism is not a solution to develop a feeling of nationalism. In fact, it might just backfire, says Sonal Agarwal.

In a recent verdict to a petition filed by a lawyer, playing national anthem before screening of every film has been made compulsory in the country. Further, in accordance with the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act 1971, every citizen of the country must stand in respect to the national anthem. A bench of two justices, Justice Dipak Mishra and Justice Amitav Roy passed the verdict. The Supreme Court’s order said that love and respect for one’s country is reflected when one respects the national anthem and the flag. It can be inferred from the statements made in the order that the decision was taken to promote nationalism and generate a sense of duty among the citizens of the nation.


In order to express our patriotism, is it compulsory to stand? Patriotism cannot be forced upon people. An incident that took place in Panaji, Goa is an instance of how patriotism is seen in an idealistic manner. A physically handicapped writer Salil Chaturvedi was assaulted for not joining to stand in a film theatre, while the anthem was being played. Such incidents are inhuman and there must be special provisions in the recent law for the physically handicapped. Such incidents can have grave impacts on victims and might also affect social behaviour of a person, who is already fighting a difficult battle with himself/herself. On December 9, 2016, after ten good days of the verdict, the Supreme Court modified its earlier decision responding to the confusion created. It said that the physically challenged need not stand, but they ought to show respect towards the national anthem in some gesture.

Despite minor amendments, the Supreme Court has been quite inflexible in executing the order-12 people in Thiruvananthapuram were arrested in the International Film Festival for not standing up while the national anthem was playing and, another six men were assaulted in Chennai for the same. A plea made by the organizers of the International film festival in Kerala, which mentioned that it would be inconvenient for guests to stand up for every screening, has also been rejected.

The question is, why this law is just limited to cinema halls and is not extended to not any other public place? Only filmgoers need to learn patriotism? Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) grades each film considering the category to which it belongs; playing the national anthem before screening of a B grade or a C grade film might be a disgrace to the anthem itself.

Another statement made by Justice Dipak Mishra, when BJP leader, Ashwani Kumar Upadhyay filed a petition for extending the practice to the courts, was, “people should not try to overstretch court’s order.”


Contradictory Judgement


India is the world’s largest democracy and each citizen of this democracy enjoys a set of fundamental rights. The court can be held accountable for it. These fundamental rights cannot be denied to any citizen. Also, part IV of the Indian constitution lists several duties of a citizen. Every citizen of the country is expected to abide by these rules, but they are not accountable for it to anyone. The verdict of Bijoe Emmanuel vs. state of Karnataka case is another example of conflict between fundamental rights and fundamental duties of a citizen.

The case of Bijoe Emmanuel  vs. state of Karnataka, involved the suspension of three children from school because they refused to stand while national anthem was playing. According to their religion beliefs, standing in respect of national anthem would promote idolatry, which would mean being unfaithful to their God, Jehovah. After High Court’s verdict, Emmanuel appealed to the Supreme Court. The verdict of Supreme Court overruled the decision of high court, saying that forcing children to stand, was curbing their fundamental right to religion.


Tolerating Free Speech


The preamble of the Indian constitution states that India is a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic country and it promotes justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. Judge Dipak Mishra said that the decision they took was to foster the “love for motherland” within the people of the country. If his statement is taken into consideration, then there must be laws that promote brotherhood and tolerance also. This is because inculcating love for motherland will not solve all the problems that India is facing currently.

This decision shows that schools and parents have failed to meet their responsibilities and now it is the judiciary’s duty to teach nationalism, as love for one’s own country, is something to be taught by schools in the country.

G. Arunima in one of her lectures on “What the nation really needs to know” at JNU, tries to define nationalism and explain why authorities should not force it on anyone, she said, “I am an Indian. My parents are Indian. But I don’t have to wake up every morning and start swearing my allegiance to the country.”

In the JNU case many students were arrested and declared anti-national. This case is an example of how the definition of nationalism is being misused by the authorities to curb fundamental rights of citizens. There has been much confusion and debate over the issue and solution to the problem was declaring students anti-national. The authorities have used the law of sedition quite a few times to prove their control over the public. Another example of imposition of sedition charges to establish authority can be cited when a cartoonist in Bengal was arrested for circulating cartoons. These decisions taken by the authorities in a democratic country is nothing but authoritarianism at its best. While there are many problems, the administration is only concentrating on issues like motherland and nationalism.


New Nationalism


Imposing patriotism is not a solution to develop a feeling of nationalism. In fact, it might just backfire. This is because people tend to behave in exactly opposite ways to what they are told to do, which is generally called ‘reverse psychology’. There are already many states in India, which are demanding a separation. If such restrictions are imposed on them, then their demand to separate will intensify and might also result in violence. Demand for a separate state can lead to violence; this has been seen on several occasions, in India as well as outside. The several decades old war between Israel and Palestine over a piece of land is also a war of nationhood, underlining the harmful nature of an extreme form of nationalism.

It might result in further division in the society. Beating up Dalits and insulting them for skinning dead cow is the kind of tolerance preached in the country. This is the notion of secularism being promoted. Instead of addressing issues of fraternity and secularism, the judiciary is more concerned about nationalism.

India has an age-old history of caste division and communal tension, despite which, laws like beef ban were introduced and appreciated by many right-wing supporters. Skinning dead cows forms a major source of livelihood for many Dalit families. Laws like these can lead to alienation among the oppressed and ignored. It might result in further division in the society. Beating up Dalits and insulting them for skinning dead cow is the kind of tolerance preached in the country. This is the notion of secularism being promoted. Instead of addressing issues of fraternity and secularism, the judiciary is more concerned about nationalism. India could be the next Nepal, if things continue like this. In Nepal, Madhesis want their own nation. They believe that they have not been properly represented and have been left isolated.

By seeing the recent events around the globe it can be said that there is a new wave of nationalism generating among people. Be it Brexit or U.S elections, both are clear examples of how people are taking the issue of nation and nationalism seriously. These are clearly the side effects of globalisation. Now people don’t want migrants in their country so that they can feel “secure” and that is why they chose Trump over Hillary and David Cameron resigned. As a result of Brexit, Scotland is also now thinking of its own benefit and is in a dilemma of choosing Britain or European Union.


Nationalism: A Group Therapy?


If the judiciary wants to generate a true feeling of nationalism, then it should shift its focus to education, and not force patriotism in film theatres. Education and civilized society are keys to all the problems India is facing. As Sandeepan Sharma correctly said “India needs a culture of patriotism, not a group therapy.”

These lines by RabindraNath Tagore explain it all-why Indian government is stressing so much on nationalism and why people of India still don’t have a real sense of nationalism.

“India has never had a real sense of nationalism. Even though from childhood I had been taught that the idolatry of Nation is almost better than reverence for God and humanity, I believe I have outgrown that teaching, and it is my conviction that my countrymen will gain truly their India by fighting against that education which teaches them that a country is greater than the ideals of humanity.”

“In my country, we have been seeking to find out something common to all races, which will prove their real unity. No nation looking for a mere political or commercial basis of unity will find such a solution sufficient. Men of thought and power will discover the spiritual unity, will realize it, and preach it.”


Image via www.independent.co.uk


Sonal Agarwal is a trainee journalist, majoring in print journalism from Indian Institute of journalism and New Media, Bengaluru. She graduated with honors in Political science from Delhi University. Gender equality and human rights are the causes she firmly believes in.

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