On the evening of 13th of December, 2016 twelve people at a cinema in India, beaten up after they remained seated while the national anthem played.
The cinemagoers, who were attending an international film festival in the city of Trivandrum in Kerala, were later freed but they face charges of “failure to obey an order issued by a public servant, thereby causing obstruction or annoyance to others”.
And at a cinema in Chennai on Sunday, eight people who did not stand for the anthem were assaulted and abused, police said. The eight were later charged with showing disrespect to the anthem.
The arrests and reports of assault follow last month’s Supreme Court ruling that the national anthem be played before every film and that audiences stand while it is played – and they make it clear that authorities are taking the ruling seriously.
Last week, I went and saw the movie Dangal. I stood up for the national anthem before the start of the movie, to show my compliance to the order of the honourable Supreme Court of India, and not out of deep seeded patriotism distilled in my bones. However, I stood a second time for the national anthem during the climax of the film, when the protagonist played by Aamir Khan realises, that his daughter has finally won the gold medal for his country by hearing the faint tune of the National Anthem played in the background. I heard members of the audience cheering “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, filled with patriotism, engulfed in the penultimate emotion of the moment.
The first time I stood up for the national anthem because I had to. The second time I stood up for the national anthem, because I wanted to. And therein, as the Bard would tell us, lies the rub.
I believe in showing respect to the symbols of the nation. Symbols in the form of the national anthem, the national flag, the national song, our sports team and so forth. But I do so as an expression of my love, my loyalty and affection for my country – not because I’m commanded to do so by the government or the court.
I am troubled with the supreme court judgement, interim as it may be, as it turns patriotism into a performance driven on command. To my mind, that is fundamentally flawed. Loyalty to your nation comes from believing in your fellow citizens, believing in the civic structure of the country, falling in love with your identity and your culture, believing in your country from within your bone. Patriotism is a feeling, and a feeling cannot be distilled because someone has ordered you to feel a certain way.
Patriotism, in its very nature, is very similar to the the feeling of being in love. You can never feel that you are in love, because someone has commanded you to show it. In addition, a cinema theatre is a place to show films, and not to show patriotism. Showing patriotism, in purely its external manifestations instills nothing of value to the nation. A person reluctantly standing up in a movie theatre due to fear of a fine, ridicule or unwarranted punishment – doesn’t love his nation anymore than if he was sitting down.