Is It Fair To Force People To Stand Up During The National Anthem?

Posted on October 15, 2014 in Specials

By Trisha Gupta:

“Stand up for what you believe in”, we have all been hearing this since our childhood. But what about the things you don’t believe in? Is it okay to sit through them? Apparently not. If that was the case, then Salman M wouldn’t have been arrested for not standing up while the national anthem was being played in a movie theatre.

Indian national flag

As citizens of a democratic country, we should be able to choose our political beliefs and convictions. We should have the freedom to choose to believe, or not to for that matter, in any ideology we see fit.

The national anthem, no doubt, is more than a general ‘ideology’. It is a song that every citizen grows up hearing. It is so intricately sewn into our identity that it is difficult to part ourselves from it. It is only right we show some respect to it. However, what about those people who, for reasons of their own, do not identify with this song? Is it possible to enforce an identity? Is it fair to enforce an identity?

Technically speaking, there is no legal obligation to stand up when the national anthem is playing. According to the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, “Whoever intentionally prevents the singing of the Jana Gana Mana or causes disturbances 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.” However, according to the Home Ministry rules, “Whenever the Anthem is sung or played, the audience shall stand to attention. However, when in the course of a newsreel or documentary the Anthem is played as a part of the film, it is not expected of the audience to stand as standing is bound to interrupt the exhibition of the film and would create disorder and confusion rather than add to the dignity of the Anthem.”

So as one can see, no penalty is laid down for not standing up during the anthem is being played. Someone who is disillusioned regarding the very idea and concept of the nation-state cannot on principle identify themselves with a symbol of national pride. Similar is the case of someone who does not support what India has come to represent. Also, it is quite safe to say that victims of state driven oppression will find it very difficult to “show their respect” to the nation.

“How can you respect your nation if you cannot respect your national anthem?” an award winning Indian advert poses this question. However, not standing up for the national anthem does not in any way portray anti-nationalistic sentiments. It merely means that the way the nation is perceived by different people is different. While for some a patriotic act comprises of standing up for 52 seconds while the song is played, or changing their whatsapp ‘DPs’ to the Indian National Flag for a day, others may find it fruitful to show their devotion by doing something constructive for the country.

As citizens of a democracy, we should have what democracy claims to provide us – the choice, freedom and liberty to a difference of opinion.