What if a sentiment which is a part of human emotion is forced upon you? What if you are forced to eat when you really don’t want to? Or forced to sleep, when you don’t feel like it. Would you be able to instil this ‘enforced sentiment’?
On November 30, 2016, a Supreme Court bench led by Justice Dipak Mishra and Amitava Roy ordered movie halls to play the national anthem before a feature film starts and also for all the people present in the hall to stand up as a part of this “sacred obligation.” It was done to create a sense of “committed patriotism and nationalism” amongst the people.
After going through the news, I recalled the time, when singing the national anthem in the morning assembly was not a compulsion, but was done enthusiastically by all the students as part of their daily activities. While singing the national anthem, a feeling of respect was visible on the faces, a feeling deep from the heart, not imposed upon.
In July 1985, an incident took place in Kerala, where three students were expelled for not singing the national anthem. It was found that the students refused singing because of their honestly held belief that their religion did not permit them to sing it. After the matter went to the Supreme Court, a bench of two-judges ordered the school to take back the children and stated, “We may at once say that there is no provision of law which obliges anyone to sing the national anthem nor do we think that it is disrespectful to the National Anthem If a person who stands up respectfully when the National Anthem is sung does not join the singing.” Justice O. Chinnapa Reddy also added, “No provision of law obliges anyone to sing.”
In India, nationalism or patriotism is a sentiment which defines our love for the country. “Committed nationalism” also perpetuates the feeling of hatred against those who oppose anything related to the same, like in the case of three students, mentioned above. Perhaps, this feeling of “committed nationalism” can result into an angry mob ready to lynch those who refuse to follow accepted norms for a reason, just like in Akhlaq’s case.
Making a “pure sentiment” as a “mere obligation” undermines its dignity and educes a performance instead, which is purely theatrics, and not genuine.
Rabindranath Tagore, a revered poet, who composed the national anthem, was himself critical of nationalism being worshipped as god. In his book, “The Home and The World” which is set in the backdrop of the Swadeshi movement, he writes about a character, named Sandip who used to force people to burn British goods and resorted to violence when opposed. He writes about how Sandip entices young students and Bimala (Nikhil’s wife) by his oratory and patriotism. Nikhil is considered to be the alter ego of Rabindarnath Tagore in this book.
Few lines from the book define Rabindranath Tagore’s idea of nationalism clearly. Nikhil had no patience for Sandip’s unscrupulous nationalism and bigoted Hinduism. Condemning Sandip’s narrow-minded nationalism as a wicked legacy of the Western military style, he tells him, “I am willing to serve my country; but my worship I reserve for the right which is far greater than my country. To worship my country as a god is to bring a curse upon it. At another place, he points out, “To tyrannize for the country is to tyrannize over the country.”