Can we explicitly convey our sense of patriotism? Can we express how emotionally bound we are to our country? The answer to these questions might be subjective, but its certainly not by having the national anthem play in film theaters before screenings, or having the anthem play before theater performances.
In November 2016, the Supreme Court passed a ruling making it mandatory for cinemas to play Jana Gana Mana before the screening of each film in order to instill “committed patriotism and nationalism” in Indian citizens. It was a requirement that dictated men and women to stand while the anthem was being played – as a sign of respect towards the country.
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In the weeks to follow, citizens who refused to stand in cinemas, were assaulted, intimated and even arrested for not rising to their “sacred obligation”. At that time, those who were critical, fulminated on twitter and other platforms. It triggered a deluge of debates on television news channels, challenging the nature and intent of the ruling. Despite the furore, the Supreme Court refused to budge.
Last Sunday, however, the situation escalated and took on an objectionable turn. Theater director Atul Kumar’s celebrated nautakni rendition of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night – a theater gem which has been successfully staged for years now – hit a roadblock. Right before staging a performance at Rangsharda in Mumbai, Kumar was commanded to play the anthem at the beginning of the performance.
The authorities also demanded that an announcement (which seemed akin to native advertising) should be made encouraging the audience to attend the BMC poll campaign. Of course, there was no legal obligation to do so, but the demand was expressed nonetheless. Associating the national anthem with the BMC polls suggests an inherent intention for propaganda.
Over the last year, there has been an unsettling wave of nationalism that has been submerging the country – one that is perhaps diluting the logical reasoning of the Supreme Court and government. Is it fair to launch the anthem before a play is staged, for the sole purpose of inculcating a sense of ‘patriotism’? If Jana Gana Mana is important, why is it not being sung in courts or before Parliament proceedings? So far, only platforms where art forms are staged are being targeted and used specifically for ingraining nationalistic sentiments. To stand for the national anthem cannot be the measure of how much an individual respects or loves his/her country.
Cinema and theater halls are spaces people visit to be entertained. To be burdened by the possible fear of intimidation in a democratic country, is where things begin to become problematic. In January, the Supreme Court released a set of guidelines which outlined how the disabled should respond to the national anthem – they should sit “still, alert when National Anthem is played. Those with Mild Intellectual Disability should be trained to respect.” Respect for the country cannot be taught. How can the disabled be possibly “trained”? To be patriotic is one thing, to be arm-twisted into being one is absolutely uncalled for.