August 24, 2014
by Nivedita Menon,

A-homeless-young-boy-waves-the-Indian-flagWith increasing reports of people being arrested fornot standing for the national anthem,  it’s a good idea to remember why they stopped the practice of playing the thing in cinema halls in the first place – nationalism cannot be coercively produced in people’s breasts through such inane, superficial and empty gestures.

And the converse – just because you dont stand up for the national anthem, it doesn’t make you anti-Indian. You may just have another idea of India,  or you may show your concern for “India” by some more concrete gesture, or through your politics.

As Anmol Karnik asks:

If we play the national anthem before a television show begins at home, would people stand up? I doubt it. Most people who do it, do it because it’s not socially acceptable to sit down when everyone else is standing. It’s being part of the herd, so there’s probably some part of unity embedded in it, but unity in a forceful and degrading manner.

Just as a matter of interest, this is what the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 says:

Whoever intentionally prevents the singing of the Jana Gana Mana or causes disturbances to any assembly engaged in such singing shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

There is thus, no legal obligation whatsoever to actually stand while Jana Gana Mana plays.

This is quite apart from the fact that as a citizen of a democracy I have a right not to stand up for the national anthem if I believe that the nation-state as such is an oppressive institution, and am opposed to “national pride” and jingoism, and believe instead in cross border solidarities of peace activists;

if I believe that India no longer stands for (if it ever did) the values of equality and justice and that the sentiment of “jhanda ooncha rahe hamara” has been replaced by the sentiment “sensex ooncha rahe hamara”, as the immortal Jaspal Bhatti said;

if I am ashamed that India ranks 8th on a global list of multimillionaires (above Canada, Singapore, Australia, Russia and France) while it ranks 16th in a list of 56 countries on the Global Hunger Index (doing worse than many African countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh);

if I want to show solidarity with every one of those for whom the Indian flag and Indian anthem are everyday symbols of violence and humiliation. A young Manipuri lecturer in  Delhi University tells of sitting at a roadside dhaba in Imphal with a few friends, when a uniformed Indian Army officer passing by, stopped. Stand up, he barked. Sing the national anthem. They had barely begun, when he slapped one of them. Your accent is wrong, he said. Do it again. They sang it again. 

No isolated incident this, but simply the routine humiliation of an occupied people. The Indian Nation rampant in all its pride and glory.

Sourav Roy points out an interesting coincidence regarding the reintroduction of the playing of the national anthem in Maharashtra in 2003:

Interestingly, this patriotic mandate coincided with the frequent power cuts across Maharashtra, the Enron backed Dabhol Power Company controversy and the increasing dissatisfaction of the public with the ruling power.

The more corrupt the state, the less its connect with the people, the more it rattles its hollow chains of patriotism.

If I stand, it will be in respect for those who struggle against dispossession and injustice, for themselves and for others, for those whose idea of India is not this humiliating, harsh, unjust one that reigns today.

Never again will I stand for the national anthem – whose author – oh tragic irony! – was ferociously opposed to a world “broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls”, and prayed for his country to emerge into a freedom “Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit.”

His foreboding words ring true today:

When this organization of politics and commerce, whose other name is the Nation, becomes all powerful at the cost of the harmony of the higher social life, then it is an evil day for humanity.

Nationalism, I want no part of it.