Bring reel life patriotism into real life, but don’t stand up in dissent

The Supreme Court order could infringe upon at least one of the six fundamental rights recognised by the Constitution.

Written by Leela Prasad | New Delhi | Updated: November 30, 2016 6:20 pm
New Delhi: President Pranab Mukherjee with Union Ministers Venkaiah Naidu, Smriti Irani, Prakash Javadekar, Jitendra Singh and Rajiv Pratap Rudy stands for the national anthem at the inauguration of First Edition of “India Skills 2016” on the occasion of World Youth Skills Day, in New Delhi on Friday. PTI Photo by Vijay Verma (PTI7_15_2016_000350A) President Pranab Mukherjee with Union Ministers Venkaiah Naidu, Smriti Irani, Prakash Javadekar, Jitendra Singh and Rajiv Pratap Rudy stands for the national anthem at the inauguration of First Edition of “India Skills 2016” on the occasion of World Youth Skills Day. (file photo)

In Mani Ratnam’s iconic 1992 film ‘Roja’, Arvind Swamy, a cryptologist working for the Army, is held captive by militants fighting for the Kashmir cause. Upset that the Government of India refused to swap a top militant for a military asset, one of the militants sets the Indian flag on fire. His spirit crushed after weeks of torture and arms bound by rope, the incident sparks patriotic fervor within Swamy as he fights his way out of confinement to put off the fire. Dressed in red woolens, Swamy rolls over the burning flag, and A R Rehman’s acclaimed soundtrack stirs emotions among viewers to a new level. Surprisingly, his jeans, not the sweater, catches fire. An inconsequential goof up by one of India’s best known director, whose trilogy of films — Roja, Bombay and Dil Se..– accurately captured human emotions set in a political backdrop. The entire movie boils down to this scene, where the protagonist shows how much India means to him and that flag is not just another empty symbol.

READ: National Anthem must be played before movies in theaters, rules Supreme Court

Three years later, when the same Arvind Swamy starred in ‘Bombay’, theaters in Hyderabad and northern Karnataka had to take it off the screens as a few found certain scenes objectionable. The film was also subjected to heavy censor cuts and Mani Ratnam had to make more concessions to keep former Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray happy. The reasons behind the protest were more to do with religion than anything else.

The flag, which epitomises patriotism and arouses nationalistic feelings, was originally used by military units of the old order to distinguish themselves from the enemy. The cross of St. George, a constant feature in banners used by Knights and later adopted by Roman legions, was used by the likes of knights Templar, a religious order formed to protect Christians against marauding “savages”. The concept of the flag was later extended to maritime use, where trade and military ships alike proudly displayed their colours. Countries only began adopting the practice in the 18th century — Denmark and Netherlands, however, remain an exception.

ALSO READ: Standing up for Anthem: Between choice and convention

The Supreme Court order making it mandatory for theaters to play the national anthem, with accompanying images of the national flag, before the screening of a film, and for people to stand up as a mark of respect, could infringe upon at least one of the six fundamental rights recognised by the Constitution. The court, in its order, said: “Time has come for people to realise that the national anthem is a symbol of constitutional patriotism… people must feel they live in a nation and this wallowing individually perceived notion of freedom must go…people must feel this is my country, my motherland.”

In America, individuals are protected by the same “notion of freedom”, namely the first amendment. President-elect Donald Trump’s recent outburst on Twitter, threatening to put those burning the star-spangled banner behind bars, raised doubts whether the US Supreme Court’s landmark 1989 ruling on flag desecration would be overturned. In a controversial 5-4 decision, the bench recognised the burning of the American flag as an act of free expression. Americans have also shown “disrespect” to the US national anthem, but there is no law against this act of free will. Take San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for example. At the start of the National Football League season, Kaepernick kneeled in protest when the national anthem was being sung. With his actions captured on live television and the subsequent visuals beamed across the nation, Kaepernick wanted to highlight the discrimination against blacks in America. This act of protest drew widespread criticism and he was constantly hooted by fans. However, he found support from fellow players who similarly took a knee or raised their fists during the anthem.

In India, many have returned awards or refused government citations in protest. But no law stops them from doing so. Now, with the Supreme Court mandating everyone to stand in attention, doing a Karpernick in India would invite court sanctions and punishment. This is likely to breed a new set of dissidents who would follow the law in letter but not in spirit.

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  1. B
    Nov 30, 2016 at 5:35 pm
    The decree is OK if the judge Dipak Mishra is a M E N T A L L Y R E T A R D E D S C UM.
  2. J
    John Joseph
    Nov 30, 2016 at 6:51 pm
    For everything you compare with America. LEELA are you stupid or what. Trump wants to ban Muslims. Let's follow America and ban all Muslims from India. America keeps Muslims in Guantanamo for years with no rights. Let's put Muslims in Andaman Nicobar islands jail with no rights.
  3. G
    Nov 30, 2016 at 4:33 pm
    No idea what he said - but whatever he said, provides nothing.
  4. G
    Nov 30, 2016 at 4:31 pm
    We still don't understand how any court, much less the supreme court, can issue a decree without any basis in law. This is a decision that is entirely upto the legislature, which must go through the appropriate process of consultation and then p a bill to make this a legal requirement. This is how democracy works - all over the world. Instead we have 2 unelected judges, utterly unqualified to make such a decision such as this, issue a decree.
  5. M
    Mahender Goriganti
    Nov 30, 2016 at 10:49 pm
    While I don't fully agree with SC order in its totality such as a must stand up, it is good start to identify the truly unpatriotic media, public and sections of people.
  6. M
    Nov 30, 2016 at 12:41 pm
  7. J
    John Abram
    Nov 30, 2016 at 1:45 pm
    The fact is Indians are know for bowing down not only to White Man, Arabs, Yellow Man, and their own Brown Man. Remember what Greg Chapel said about the Indian Cricket Team.
  8. D
    Dr. Prithipaul
    Nov 30, 2016 at 3:45 pm
    The decree - is this the right word? - of the SC for cinema goers to show due respect to the national flag is predicated on the reality that India is a nation, but not a people. India is a nation with its consution and the ancillary criminal law, its army, its postal system, its railway and road network, its taxing authority, its foreign policy, its currency. But it is not a people, united by a single sentiment, by the feeling of a unitive solidarity, at all hours of the day, every day of the year, in the presence of the many forms of exclusiveness based on caste, religion, wealth, social status. In this sense India must be viewed as it is with its own specific historical and cultural personality. It is misleading to compare, in this context, India with the USA or with any other democracy with each having its own particular demographic and historical characteristic. If in India the need arises for the cultivation of a collective sentiment of belonging to one single nation, as the expression of a singular heart-felt social reality, then the SC proposition makes sense and deserves to be implemented, as a decree issued by an authority untrammelled by party self-interests.
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