Of artistic freedom and fair play
As Indians,we are a prickly lot when any one disrespects our beloved national emblems and institutions.
Even the most vociferous critic,who otherwise exults in ranting against corruption,nepotism and moral bankruptcy in India,gets rabidly patriotic when it comes to defending any insult perceived or real to our glorious tiranga.
In some Indian cities,cine-goers juggling popcorn,colas and assorted snacks have barely settled into their multiplex seats when the national anthem comes on and everyone is required to stand to attention for the duration it is played out. More often than not,the audience sings or hums along and invariably someone will fervently shout Jai Hind at the end. Even giggly collegians,who have no compunctions about talking loudly on their mobile phones and generally making a nuisance of themselves,know better than to misbehave during these few minutes. A couple of years ago,a young actor was chastised in the media as being anti-national when she reportedly moaned in a multiplex that she was being forced to stand to attention against her will.
A Delhi-based designer was also in the dock for creating a garment using the national flag as a drape. The impressionable girl was perhaps aping fashion statements in the US where Americans often wear their patriotism not only on their sleeves but also on their hot pants,footwear and bikinis.
The stars and stripes may be ubiquitous,but our stringent flag code prohibits us from flaunting the tiranga freely. Until recently,we were not permitted to display the national flag in our homes except on designated holidays. And the police were quick to haul people to jail if they did not adhere to precise rules regarding how,when and where the national flag could be hoisted and lowered. The young MP,Naveen Jindal,who is currently in the news,almost single-handedly fought to have the laws amended and won citizens the right to fly the tricolour freely.
One of the most enduring images of the fire that engulfed Mantralaya (the Mumbai secretariat) a few months ago,was that of a band of loyal staffers who refused to abandon their post atop the burning building till they received permission from their political bosses to lower the national flag.
Our love for the tricolour is ingrained. You cannot force patriotism down peoples throats and you cannot expect them to respect institutions like Parliament with the same nationalistic fervour when we regularly see our elected representatives hurling abuses and chappals at one another within these hallowed precincts.
We must however learn to differentiate between the Flag,the National Anthem,the Constitution and Parliament as potent symbols of a free,democratic India on the one hand and the gross betrayal of these ideas by self-serving netas on the other.
The public uproar against the arrest of Aseem Trivedi is because his cartoon depicting Parliament as a commode has not offended our national pride. Rather,we,as a people,have risen in unison to defend free speech and the high-handedness of the government.
There is no point in making a martyr of a pompous cartoonist,but it is absurd to throw him into prison for sedition.
The day our politicians give us reason to feel proud and patriotic of the institution we have voted them into,no Indian will tolerate an insult to the Parliament or have the temerity to depict it as a lavatory.