Singing the national anthem has never bothered me although I confess, like most South Indians, I have no idea what each words means.

Nationalism or bullying When two people I was with didnt stand up for the anthem
Blog Blog Wednesday, December 21, 2016 - 10:25

The Supreme Court's order that the national anthem should be played in theatres across the country before a film is screened left me unaffected. I've lived in Maharashtra for close to seven years now and am used to the practice. I'm used to paying my respects to the country in between purchasing caramel popcorn and watching Salman Khan play the hero year after year. It's precisely the kind of black humour I enjoy. 

Singing the national anthem has never bothered me although I confess, like most South Indians, I have no idea what each word means - I identify with the emotion and even if I might occasionally mix up the words, I know what the song stands for. 

For instance, I know for a fact that poor Rabindranath Tagore did not write it in praise of King George V. This used to be a persistent "nationalistic" rumour some years ago. I find it funny that now, the nationalists are offended by people who say they don't want to be compelled into singing the same song. Like Malayalam director Kamal (or Kamaluddin, the anti-national, as the Sangh Parivar likes to call him) and many others who've spoken out against the decree.

Even if I'm aware that the UNESCO has not awarded the "Jana Gana Mana" the most prestigious fake awards of all - "The Best Anthem in the World" - I'm willing to compromise and admit that it's a pretty good song, really. Also, I'm only five feet tall and unwilling to get into a physical scuffle with a "patriot" in a dark theatre. As an Indian woman, I'm only too aware of how that will end. Does knowing your country well count for patriotism though? 

I remember the one time I've been threatened by a "patriot" clearly. It happened when I went with a group of women to watch an English film. This was an outing that had taken several weeks to plan because one of our friends has severe Multiple Sclerosis and finds it difficult to step out of the house. But she was determined to go out that day and there we were, in a cinema hall at last. It had been challenging for our friend to climb the stairs, find her seat and settle down. Like many places in India, the theatre wasn't disabled-friendly - oops, do I sound anti-national? I hope not.

And then, the national anthem began to play.

We were a group of seven or eight women that day. Since our friend can't stand for long, one of us sat with her so she wouldn't feel bad about being the only person in the theatre who couldn't stand up. She was depressed about her health and the point of the outing was to get her out of the blues for a little while at least.

As soon as the anthem ended, a burly man behind us demanded to know why these two women had not stood up. "Even those white people there were standing!" he fumed. Since our friend was already feeling bad about her condition, we didn't want to draw attention to her illness. We mumbled that there was a problem and left it at that. Mr Nationalist sat back in his seat, proud and satisfied that he'd shamed us.

I'm aware that the Supreme Court has said disabled people needn't stand up for the national anthem (so generous!) but I'm gobsmacked that nationalism has come to mean plain bullying. That it's patriotic to jump the gun and yell at someone for not "respecting" the country without stopping for a moment to see the plight of your fellow human being first. Without pausing to use your intelligence and behaving like Pavlov's dogs instead.

I don't feel strongly enough about the SC's order to boycott films. So, the last weekend too, I went to the theatre. I watched three government ads about going "cashless" and how fabulous an idea it is. I watched another government ad on "Respect your parents" (it's on why sons have to take care of old parents - don't have to worry if you're female, which I thankfully am), and then I stood up for the national anthem. The year is ending and we'll be in 2017 soon. Why do I get the feeling that I'm in 1984 though? 

Note: Views expressed are the personal opinions of the author.


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