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Why The Supreme Court Should Understand That Patriotism Isn’t ‘One-Size-Fits-All’

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Methinks you are my glass, not my brother
– Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors

A recent order of the Supreme Court of India mandated playing of the national anthem with the national flag onscreen in cinema halls, with the audience having to stand up. The reasoning behind this was “constitutional patriotism.” In general, the politics of identity has been on the rise in India recently. This judgement fits very well into that narrative.

Any interpretation of the law by the Supreme Court can have a retrospective effect. Does it mean that we were violating the law all along and we were ‘constitutionally unpatriotic’? To many, the very notion will sound repugnant.

Narrower the definition of patriotism, the more we find a locus for what defines that feeling, and more likely is a contour to redefine and reinforce the very feeling it seeks to inculcate. The more we widen the definition of love for the nation, the less likely we are to correlate with just one activity, with one culture, one religion, one idea. There is no fixed criterion for patriotism, no starting or finishing line, that might completely encompass what is, almost always, a very personal emotion – notwithstanding its shared narratives.

The Supreme Court, by passing an order in which it says that everyone has to stand in the cinema halls before movies has tried to draw contours. It might have said that a person with disability need not stand up if they are incapable of standing. But it certainly cannot expect the nationalistic breed of comrades to not to be contemptuous of that harmless individual quietly waiting for a movie to start or to even take part in their harassment.

The implied reasoning of “constitutional patriotism” behind the Supreme Court’s order automatically creates many ‘unpatriotic’ people as outliers. Both in the eyes of the society and more importantly, the individual.

The court did qualify its exemption with a condition that the persons with disability “must show such conduct which is commensurate with respect for the national anthem.” How can it define how to show respect to the national anthem? Exempt a few people who are unable to show respect in a particular fashion and then ask them to show respect in an undefined way? That it had to explicitly mention exemptions betrays the futility of the reasoning, a whimsical judicial hallucination at best.

This order could also open doors for the notorious Central Board of Film Certification to step in, questioning the patriotic intentions behind an intimate scene, because surely, lustful content cannot follow a few minutes after the sacred act of singing the national anthem and seeing the national flag – it would be sacrilege, to say the least.

What the court has also failed to recognise is the generalised ‘one-size-fits-all’ policy of implementation at the lower rungs of the police administration and the incessant moral policing by hypersensitive patriots. The peripheral distortions and misinterpretations of the legal code (recently with regards to Section 124A) are ubiquitous. This is a blind-spot which one can neither repeal nor exempt.

This peculiar insistence on standing, as if patriotism is determined by some specific skeletal posturing, is clearly bizarre. It will subtly set in motion a chain reaction of vigilantism amplified by mobs and a deferential police force. This order, with its pretence of exemptions, casts a sorry judgement on the patriotism of those who fail to stand or do so reluctantly while qualifying the patriotism of those who stand gleefully as the sole bearers of the torch of patriotism, without regard to what the individual does outside the theatre.

What has converged amongst Indians in the last seven decades is not our identity, that is an impossibility, but our tendency (its first derivative) to narrowly identify ourselves, often against a perceived ‘other’. Patriotism cannot be a one-way street where people are constantly asked to superficially prove themselves. It, in fact, becomes a question of identity – how we define and understand ourselves and the narrowness or the breadth of that definition.

Like the veins making our muscles red, humans can be linked in a million different ways. But whether and how to link or to categorise is a choice – a fragile one with far-reaching consequences.  We cannot afford to falter in that.


Image source: Ramesh NG/ Flickr
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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