Senseless controversy

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 29 Oct 2017 12:14:42


Today, when India is an independent, sovereign republic, when it has its own National Anthem, a senseless controversy has been created by some elements whose intentions can well be suspected, whose integrity questioned. And, to make things look terribly silly, the nation is now debating whether the cinema theatres are the places where National Anthem can be played or whether people should stand in respect when it is being played or shown. The Hitavada Editor Vijay Phanshikar attacks such irreverent attitude displayed by a few countrymen.

 


WHEN India still reeled under the British rule, when the British rulers and their police swooped on anybody and everybody who dared to shout the slogan Vande Mataram, countless lakhs of people courted imprisonment and languished in jail-cells for months and even years. All this was happening when India did not have a declared National Anthem of its own since it was still struggling for Independence. Even in those days, if one person shouted Vande Mataram, everybody else in the vicinity would follow suit, no matter if he or she was a Hindu or a Muslim or anybody, and the air would be charged with the nation’s mantra.

Today, when India is an independent, sovereign republic, when it has its own National Anthem, a senseless controversy has been created by some elements whose intentions can well be suspected, whose integrity questioned. And, to make things look terribly silly, the nation is now debating whether the cinema theatres are the places where National Anthem can be played or whether people should stand in respect when it is being played or shown. And in the same vein, even the honourable judges of the Supreme Court go on to state that standing up when the National Anthem is being played is not a mark of patriotism.

And, to make matters look sillier, the controversy has cropped up seventy years after Independence. During all these seven decades, no one in the country ever raised the issue if one should stand -- or not -- when the National Anthem is played. All stood up. All showed respect. And those who did not got snide remarks and hard stares by others for their disrespectful conduct.

Now, all of a sudden, some elements have kicked up the controversy, not raising the question, but raising a revolt. They went to every possible forum to challenge the rule that made it mandatory for all Indians to stand up in respect when the National Anthem was sung. All of a sudden, some sections of our own people found it terribly wrong to stand up during National Anthem. As this controversy started kicking up a lot of dust, some of us, including people in the judiciary, started interpreting what patriotism could mean and what action could suggest patriotic sentiment. In that wake came the honourable Supreme Court’s observation that standing during the National Anthem does not constitute patriotic action.
Why should this happen all of a sudden seventy years after India gained Independence?

Let us go back in time. Let us take a peep into a courtroom where a boy of 14 stood in the cage. The judge glared down at the boy through his thick-rimmed glasses and thundered, “Did you shout Vande Mataram? Did you shout Bharat Mata Ki Jay?” “Yes. I did. And I will keep doing that. Bharat Mata Ki Jay!” “I will send you to jail. But if you apologise and promise never to do this again, I will spare you.”“Bharat Mata Ki Jay. Vande Mataram!”

The judge glared the hardest. The boy stared back straight into the judge’s eye. A few minutes later, the Police came to take the boy to jail. And as the boy was being taken, everybody present in the court shouted in a thunderous manner Bharat Mata Ki Jay. The judge did not know what to do. He fumed and fretted and worried what the British rulers would think of him if he could not control the slogan right in his courtroom.

This was not an imaginary scene in a courtroom during the last decades of the British Raj. This was also not from any patriotic movie. This was a reality of that India. Even kids of 14 would court imprisonment because they shouted Vande Mataram or sang it, individually or collectively. And nobody bothered whether there were Hindus or Muslims or Christians in the crowd. They had only one religion -- India. And such real-life anecdotes were happening by the thousand in those days. Even after we gained Independence, such incidents kept happening -- on the border when the enemy tried to invade the country, in countless situations in which our national spirit was challenged by undesirable elements.
It was to that spirit that the British bowed, and not to anything else.

That India. ... And this India!
What a terrible contrast.
What has happened to us?
Why have we got into such a trap?
Why? Just why?

The decision to play National Anthem in theatres or public places where people gathered for a purpose was taken in peculiar conditions when the nation faced invasion by a enemy across the border. The decision came from the belief that the words of National Anthem would stir the right sentiments in people’s minds. Nobody questioned the decision, not just then but afterwards as well. Everybody followed the decision in letter and in spirit. Those few who did not got their due for their brazenness. But when that happened, nobody objected. For, the whole Indian society felt that singing National Anthem, showing respect to it and also to other national symbols was only natural and an essential part of being Indian.

In the last some time, the situation in the country has changed for the worse. Some undesirable elements have raised their heads to start questioning India’s basic beliefs. They have said no to singing National Anthem or saying Vande Mataram as it militates against their religious susceptibilities. How does that happen? How do both the Anthems -- Jana Gana Mana or Vande Mataram -- hurt anybody’s religious feelings now when they did not for seventy years? How does singing of these Anthems invade somebody’s Human Rights, as claimed by some?

Also, where is the need for us to start redefining what constitutes patriotism? Where is the need for the judiciary to re-interpret long-standing basic beliefs of the Indian society? How do those beliefs hurt somebody?  It is time we raised these questions in greater numbers vociferously and unitedly.

Unfortunately, there are quite many pseudo-intellectuals among us to raise some silly issues. They use fine words, and ask innocent-sounding questions aimed at disinformation and nothing else. They sound quite innocent and say, “Look, we don’t mind others standing up when National Anthem is played in theatres. But if there is someone who does not want to, why should you pounce upon him? He also has a right to keep sitting!” And then the judges, too, start doing similar thinking, trying to redefine patriotism.

It is difficult to understand the very motive behind all this. It is difficult not to believe that there is no anti-national conspiracy behind this craftily raised issue. It is also difficult to accept what is going on in our society.  Every society has its norms that come from generation to generation, as part of a collective belief-system. Every nation has certain ways of doing things that are handed down to newer people through time. These belief-systems are sacrosanct and are never toyed with. For, in essence, they suggest that there are certain issues on which no compromise is tolerated -- like “My Mother is the most beautiful woman in the world!” Motherland, too, comes in the same category. At such points, there is no discussion, no compromise, no adjustment, no redefinition.