First Person | Public Display of Patriotism

Forced sense of nationalism doesn’t help anyone

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

When the Supreme Court ordered compulsory playing of the national anthem in the cinema halls last year to instil ‘committed patriotism and nationalism’ amongst our wayward citizenry, I merely shook my head sadly. What a ridiculous order, I thought to myself before forgetting about it.

A few days later, I went to see a movie. Kicking my shoes off, I pulled up my feet on the seat, balanced a pack of popcorns on my crossed legs and pushed the backrest to the maximum possible recline. But even before I could shove the first fistful of popcorns in my mouth, the national anthem began. I had forgotten about it completely. As people all around me rose lazily, I scrambled too and stepped on my bag placed next to my shoes. The popcorns went for a toss and the water bottle perched precariously on the glass holder rolled down, as I tried to muster a semblance of dignity for myself, and honour and pride for my national anthem.

It was over in just a few seconds, but in those few seconds my thoughts were not focussed on my nation or the anthem; they were focussed on me. I felt helpless like a prisoner in my own country. I felt coerced and devoid of dignity. My packaged water bottle had rolled down, the popcorns were a mess at my bare feet and a sense of humiliation at my ungainly behaviour, coupled with complete helplessness washed over me. Needless to say, my movie experience was ruined.

That day I resolved never to go to a cinema hall for a movie again as long as this order remained. A friend who had gone to the movies and did not stand up for the national anthem as a mark of protest advised me to do the same. But I cannot imagine doing it, not because I am scared that somebody would harm me inside the darkened hall (well, partially that too), but because I actually like standing up for the national anthem. I love the whole ceremony of it, the announcement by the emcee, everyone rising roughly in a synchronised movement, standing still, chin up, nose in the air, eyes on the horizon… how wonderful it feels. I simply cannot bring myself to remain seated when it is playing.

But isn’t that the whole point of playing the national anthem. It is a solemn ceremony. You cannot play it in a frivolous, non-ceremonious environment. That is the sure-shot way of lowering its dignity. Forget about coercion, everything has a time and place. National anthem and entertainment simply cannot go together.

This Diwali weekend I allowed myself to be coerced by my nieces into watching a comedy film. I decided to enter the auditorium after the national anthem had played. To my surprise, I discovered that I was not the only one waiting out the playing of the national anthem. Nearly half the auditorium was waiting outside the hall holding their trays of snacks and soft drinks, waiting for the anthem to end.

Who could blame them? They were out with their families, small kids included to watch a film. Is it fair to expect all of them to first give proof of their loyalty to the nation before they could have some harmless fun with their families after paying for it through their teeth? If my nation is supposed to be an indulgent mother, why is it behaving like an insecure boyfriend?

Good news is that another judge of the Supreme Court has been having these belated thoughts. He has kicked off a larger discussion on national anthem and the concept of forcing people to stand for it. But he is yet to rescind the order passed by his colleagues last year. Hopefully, that day will come soon. But till then, I hope the good justice also has the time and inclination to see how symbolic nationalism that has infested all aspects of our lives today is eroding whatever creative instincts Indians had.

A newspaper recently reported that universities are requesting the Indian Army for decommissioned tanks so that they could be displayed on the campuses. In places where unrestrained thinking and imagination should be encouraged, we are telling our students that the sum total of their academic life is symbolic love for the country. No wonder, illiterate goons in the garb of students now roam the campuses enforcing their model of nationalism. What their contribution will be to nation-building in the years to come is anyone’s guess.

For all its size and population, India does not have world class educational institutions. One of the reasons for poor academic standard is poor-to-average quality of teaching staff, a vast number of whom never upgrade their teaching skills. To cover up their inadequacies they ensure that students are exposed to bare academic skills, usually acquired through rote learning. No wonder, all the Indian universities put together produce a miniscule number of original research projects. There is a shortage of both, qualified teachers and funds. Hence, fewer patents, IPRs etc.

Perhaps the good judge of the Supreme Court can also advice the government and the citizenry that free and fearless thinking can go a long way in serving the nation than revering a hand-me-down old tank. Wouldn’t it be a service to the nation if one of these students could actually learn how to make a world class tank and export it from India?


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