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To sing or not to sing Vande Mataram

The controversy about the compulsory singing of Vande Mataram misses the real point.

The controversy about the compulsory singing of Vande Mataram misses the real point. This song has inspired our countrymen over the years. The majority do not find anything objectionable in it. However there is a body of persons who believe that singing this song because of some words in it would be contrary to the tenets of their religion as they interpret it. If this belief is genuinely and conscientiously held by a section of our people as a dictate of their religion, tolerance and broadmindedness require that no obligation should be imposed on them which goes counter to their religious belief. At the same time there should be no fatwa banning the rendition of this patriotic song. A similar issue arose in Kerala. Students belonging to the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious denomination were expelled by school authorities for their refusal to sing on religious grounds the national anthem although they stood up respectfully when the anthem was sung. The Kerala High Court after considering in minute detail each and every word and thought of the national anthem concluded that there was nothing in it which could offend anyone’s religious susceptibilities, and upheld their expulsion. The Supreme Court reversed the High Court and ruled that the High Court had misdirected itself because the question is not whether a particular religious belief or practice appeals to our reason or sentiment but whether the belief is genuinely and conscientiously held as part of the profession or practice of a religion. ‘‘Our personal views and reactions are irrelevant.’’ The Supreme Court affirmed the principle that it is not for a secular judge to sit in judgment on the correctness of a religious belief. Of course the belief and its practice must not be ex facie contrary to public order, morality and health.

It is implicit in the judgement of the Supreme Court that freedom of speech also comprehends the right not to speak. The essence of the judgement lies in its message of tolerance articulated in the ringing words of Justice Chinnappa Reddy—‘‘Our tradition teaches tolerance; our philosophy preaches tolerance; our Constitution practises tolerance; let us not dilute it.’’ If some persons do not wish to sing let them sulk in silence whilst others joyfully raise their voices and thrill to the stanzas of our Vande Mataram.

US Judiciary: The American judiciary is a bright redeeming feature in the US despite the Bush administration’s clumsy foreign policy and the Iraq imbroglio. Apart from the judgements of the US Supreme Court which provided some relief to suspected detainees rotting for indefinite periods in prison in Guantanamo Bay, the federal judiciary has done its bit in protection of human rights. Federal Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit recently ruled that the Bush administration’s eavesdropping programme had overstepped the bounds of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and was also unconstitutional. The administration’s stand that it could not defend itself in the lawsuit without doing the country harm was negated as disingenuous and without merit. She boldly ruled that ‘‘there are no hereditary kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution’’.

Female Stereotype: Cynics have observed that corruption, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is universal in its reach and transcends race, religion, colour, including gender. Authorities in Russia apparently think differently. There is a proposal to create its first women-only traffic police unit because it is believed that women are less corrupt than the male-dominated traffic police who routinely forgive traffic violations in exchange for bribes. The consequence is that Russia’s roads are among the world’s most dangerous and about 35,000 people are killed in accidents each year. The first female platoon of 26 traffic officers will patrol the centre of Volgograd in southern Russia. Let us wait and watch whether bribe-taking will diminish on account of this irrational stereotpe about the female sex. The motivation behind taking of bribes by the police is not gender but other causes, one of which is their pitiably low salaries and pathetic living conditions.

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First published on: 03-09-2006 at 12:27:50 am
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