To anyone who’s been to a movie theatre lately it should be absolutely clear that authority doesn't want you to have a good time. Or, if you are going to have fun, despite their statutory warnings and public service messages, authority will at least try to inoculate you against entertainment’s immorality by giving you a vaccine of nationalism. What else explains the mandatory national anthem before every film? What other connection exists between entertainment and nationalism than that authority thinks one is the opposite of the other? Entertainment - violent, sexual, comedic, Unindian - is immoral. Nationalism - sombre, serious, patriotic, Indian - is moral.
We are so used to this attitude that I had forgotten that it is Puritanism, which, in the words of H.L. Mencken is “…the haunting fear that someone somewhere may be happy.”
All this is saying that I don’t buy the Supreme Court’s rationale that the mandatory playing of the national anthem before every film is to instil “committed patriotism and nationalism.” I don’t think the Court is that stupid: can intelligent people really believe that playing the national anthem and making people stand up converts anarchists and traitors into patriots and proud Indians? Do they really think people who have no love for their country can be forced to feel affection and pride by making them standing up before watching a movie?
Because let’s examine why somebody would be unpatriotic: one, he or she, is living an individual life, and does not identify with a mostly meaningless category called country, and is indifferent to India. He or she does not love nor hate this political entity because India allows him or her to live a healthy, happy life. Perhaps he or she should love the country for precisely this reason, but is forcing empty rituals on a person like this the best way to inspire a change in attitude?
Two: Our citizen is a rebel, finds patriotism and nationalism distasteful. It reminds the citizen of jingoism, bigotry, xenophobia and he doesn't want to partake in symbolism which encourages these attitudes. He will not rise because he has been told to rise - if he feels genuine respect and love for his country he will express these feelings, not by standing which he thinks is a hollow and meaningless symbol but with words. But mostly he feels anger and hatred towards the country of his birth because he does not share the same values with the values that the government is trying to promote. Sure, he feels love sometimes but also hate. Is a love-hate relationship with the country of your birth unacceptable? Does it make this peaceful, tax-paying citizen a traitor?
Three, our citizen is absolutely hateful of our country. He feels no connection with its people, no sentiment towards its culture and no love for its religions. But he keeps these things to himself, incites no violence, lets his patriotic friends stand - is this person a traitor? Should he be charged with treason for this thoughtcrime of hating his country?
And lastly the person in question is an anarchist, a terrorist or a foreign citizen. This person cannot be expected to love this country, and no amount of gluteus raising his going to change his or her mind.
And let say it does work, that people actually become more patriotic and loving of their country every time they listen to the national anthem and stand up; what does this say about these people? That they are so weak kneed that a mere song makes their legs straighten? Do we want to be in a country filled with people who do not question thoughtless directions from the highest court and whose minds are so easily influenced?
There’s a word that describes a country that forces love and adulation upon its citizens: totalitarianism. Are we a totalitarian country? Perhaps some people want it to be one, and if they make this clear it’ll save them and their resistors a lot of time and confusion.
But the most troubling instance of this totalitarian instinct came for me towards the end of the film ‘Dangal.’ When the national anthem played inside the movie, people began to rise one by one. It is possible that people were moved beyond words and rose automatically, but I am willing to bet that some people thought that it was now mandatory to stand every time the national anthem plays, even if it is inside a movie and even without explicitly being told to. As Saul Bellow said in the Adventures of Augie March, “Everybody knows there is not fineness or accuracy of suppression; if you hold down one thing, you hold down the adjoining.” In this case, the one’s who are being held down, are the ones who are standing.