Prescribing patriotism

Cinema halls are perceived purely as places of entertainment and with allowance to them on increasingly compromised contents conforming to the socio-cultural evolutions of decades, the sensuous flavours prevalent there are contraindicative of any patriotic fervour.

Bimal Saigal –
bimalsaigal@hotmail.com –

The Supreme Court of India recently made the playing of the national anthem in all cinema halls in the country mandatory before screening of the movies. Passing an interim order on public interest litigation, the two judge-bench of the Court observed, “When the national anthem is played it is imperative for everyone to show honour and respect. It would instill a sense of committed patriotism and nationalism.” This makes it compulsory for the cinema patrons to stand still in respect of the national anthem and obligatory on part of the cinema owners to also display the tricolour on screen during playing of the national anthem before the film and to close the exits so that no one leaves at that time. Among the other issues raised in the PIL, the apex court prohibited commercial exploitation of the national anthem that has been there in the entertainment industry through its dramatization.
While reinstatement of the respect to the national anthem by plugging its commercialization is welcome, there being no extant instructions under any rules for mandatory playing of the national anthem in the cinema halls, this judicial legislation, defined by the Court as ‘constitutional patriotism’ ‘for the love of the motherland’ has triggered a debate on its propriety and practicality in implementation.
The rationale for the previous instructions on playing of the national anthem at the end of screening of films in cinema halls was borne to the patriotic fervour that swept the psyche of the nation during the 1962 war. The practice was discontinued in 1975 when it was found that the national anthem was being disrespected as most of the patrons rushed to the exit doors as soon as the credits started rolling.
The policy for the cinema halls to show propaganda documentaries of the Government before the show also withered away with time as the news was widely brought to people’s homes with the advent and popularity of privately-owned TV news channels. However, the states of Maharashtra and Goa continued to make it mandatory for playing of the national anthem in cinema halls.
While the countries have different rules and practices for playing of the national anthem, it is usually the educational institutions which have evolved the practices of mandatory playing of the national anthems during the students’ assemblies and other functions. It is justified indeed as it instills a sense of patriotism among young pupils right from their formative years.
National anthems, as per international practices, are generally played at the national days, addresses to the nation by high leadership, international meets, international sports events, State visits, ceremonial welcomes of foreign dignitaries, etc. However, some countries follow interesting practices for marking respect to their national anthems. Even though not mandated by any law of the land, in Thailand the national anthem is played each day on television at 8 in the morning and 6 in the evening. Educational institutions there make the students assemble at 8 a.m. before the national flag while the national anthem is sung. The national anthem is also played regularly in government offices and cinema halls. In Mexico, however, there is a law that mandates that schools and universities honour the national flag and the anthem on Monday mornings. School children are also required to wear all white uniform on those days to mark their respect to the national symbols.
Playing of the national anthem in cinema halls was in vogue in the United Kingdom as well till early 1960s when the socio-cultural changes dropped the curtain on it. Attempts at resurrection of the nationalistic pride in the Indian psyche through reinforcement of a practice rendered redundant long back, when the sedition laws are being rewritten so as not to stifle civil liberties, raises questions as to how only the cinema halls can be seen as sanctified places to demonstrate our patriotic allegiance to the nation.
Cinema halls are perceived purely as places of entertainment and with allowance to them on increasingly compromised contents conforming to the socio-cultural evolutions of decades, the sensuous flavours prevalent there are contraindicative of any patriotic fervour.
It would perhaps be a good idea if to set an example and with a view to inculcating the lost sense of discipline and dedication to the public and the nation in the esteemed elected representatives; the legislative assemblies of the nation were to begin their business each day of the sitting with singing of the national anthem.
Meanwhile, the Government and the society has to ensure that the Court directive is not hijacked by self-appointed vigilantes in nationalistic activism to harass the public as was demonstrated recently in Maharashtra and Goa where cinema patrons were beaten up for not rising up for the national anthem, one among whom was paralytic and on wheel chair.

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