Published: 22nd January 2018
Do we or do we not need to be patriotic?
The writer, John Monterio, is a lecturer who drifted into writing and Journalism. He has authored three books and is the founder of the Bondel Laughter Club in Mangalore
“Patriotism is the last resort of the scoundrel”. – Samuel Johnson, English writer (1709-1784).
The Supreme Court presently is in a state of turmoil but is bound to correct itself to regain for it the trust of the people. Because, it has a record of correcting itself when it finds itself in a questionable position, as in the case of playing the national anthem in cinema halls. But, first the facts.
On November 30, 2016, the Supreme Court of India ordered all cinema halls to play the National Anthem before screening a film “for the love of the motherland”. The Court, on January 9, 2018 modified its November 30 interim order and made it optional for cinema halls to play the 52-second national anthem before every show. A Bench, led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, clarified that it is not mandatory to play the anthem before screenings in cinemas. It left the choice of whether to play the anthem or not to the discretion of individual cinema hall owners.
However, if the anthem is played, patrons in the hall are bound to show respect by standing up. The court clarified that the exception granted to disabled persons from standing up during the anthem “shall remain in force on all occasions”. (Otherwise, cine-goers would perforce witness two helpers holding the handicapped to stand erect!) The court pointed out its judgment in the famed Bijoe Emmanuel versus State of Kerala case, which dealt with three children belonging to the Jehovah Witnesses sect refusing to sing the anthem in the school assembly though they stood up in respect, to drive in the point that standing up is indeed a sign of “proper respect” to the anthem.
“Proper respect is shown to the National Anthem by standing up when the National Anthem is sung,” the Bench quoted Justice O. Chinnappa Reddy’s words in the Bijoe Emmanuel verdict. Leaving the ball in the government’s court, the Bench said, “Three things are obvious. The anthem has to be respected as it is the salutation to the motherland. The list of occasions for showing respect to the anthem. Proper decorum has to be maintained during the anthem.” In these days when time is considered precious, it is easy to say that the anthem takes only 52 seconds to play out. One must multiply this time by the thousands of people who throng the cinema halls daily and multiply that by 365 days in a year to come to a colossal figure of the loss of time.
More than that is the principle involved in testing the patriotism (now also dubbed nationalism) is running the risk of negative response of citizens. What does one gains by provoking citizens to demonstrate their patriotism? One should be content to assume that all citizens are patriotic – which is largely true. I cannot but be tempted to relate an incidence from Italy in dictator Mussolini’s time. It was ordained then that whenever Mussolini’s image came on the screen in cinema halls everybody had to stand up. In a certain hall on a certain raw of seats one man didn’t rise from his seat. The hall was swarming with secret police. Finally, a man next to the seated man nudged him and said: “If you don’t respect him, at least fear him and stand up”. The seated man was Mussolini himself!