Arresting 12 people for not standing for the national anthem is very alarming, India
“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chain”
This famous line from The Social Contract, a powerful treatise written by the 18th century French philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau, was an attack on the prevailing monarchical system in Europe.
The book played an inspiring role in the French revolution while establishing individuals as a sovereign entity. Today, it is the same sovereignty of the individual which is under siege in democratic India. Currently, the political leadership is trying to contain individual freedom and intrude into the sovereign rights of the citizens in the name of nationalism and patriotism.
The latest ruling of the Supreme court stating that the national anthem must be played before any film is screened in the country’s cinemas, to which the audience must stand, is a blatant interference into the individual liberty and an attack on the freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution. The apex court wants to impose a sense of patriotism among the citizens.
But what is the need to impose this kind of punitive patriotism?
The court’s decision has to be seen in the context of the prevailing political reality in India today. Ever since Narendra Modi’s government assumed office in Delhi in May 2014, a new political discourse has taken over, resulting in a different debate on nationalism. Anyone with secular views is now being labelled as an anti-national. All along, their aim has been to impose a Hindu majoritarian view of the nationhood.
Having said that, the ban on beef consumption is a result of the same political philosophy. The government has merely imposed its will on the people as to what they can and cannot eat. This campaign went to an extreme and a group of Hindu radicals even killed an elderly Muslim man based on a rumour that he was storing beef at home.
Similarly, the ‘love jihad’ campaign has also been inspired by the same majoritarian nationalism. The fringe Hindu groups, emboldened by the presence of Modi in Delhi, went berserk and started targeting Muslim boys who either married or were in a relationship with Hindu girls – this further polarised the society.
Since day one, the Modi regime has been trying to impose a rigid way of life, discarding the plurality that has always dominated the political discourse in the country. And when liberal and secular forces try to protest against the rising intolerance, they are branded as anti-national and a threat to the country.
The Hindu right wing party has also been trying to curb dissent in university and college campuses. If anyone questions the government’s stance on terrorism and Jammu and Kashmir, they are instantly termed as traitors. Delhi based, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) became a flashpoint when the government tried to curb the academic debate in the campus. Those who questioned the government’s policy on Jammu and Kashmir were instantly arrested as they were accused of being anti-nationals.
In the same way, the government attempted to silence the voices which questioned the logic behind the surgical strike against Pakistan. Modi and his media, again, portrayed dissenters as anti-state and fit to be shamed and slammed.
Now the government is trying to defend itself by calling their actions patriotic. This is trivialising the pain of millions of people. Unfortunately, nationalism has become a tool to browbeat any opposition to government’s majoritarian political agenda.
The Supreme court’s decision will start a very dangerous trend. When the judiciary loses its core strength of reasoning and gets influenced by politics, it is clearly not a good sign for democracy. The court’s decision has emboldened those Hindu fringe elements, resulting in further havoc in the country.
Arresting 12 people for not standing for the national anthem is a very alarming sign for the wellbeing of a civil society. Why should it be considered disrespectful if one chooses to not stand for the national anthem? Are such demonstrative gestures of patriotism the real parameter to assess their love for the country?
Such Hindu radicals derive inspiration from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the patron of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), yet they themselves have not respected the national flag till the 1980s. The RSS never unfurled the national flag at their headquarter and back in the days, they fought alongside the English. They were not a part of the nationalist movement that won independence for the country.
One ugly truth is that these Hindu radicals usually spread animosity in the society and they never advocate harmony and secular wellbeing of the nation. Keeping that in mind, does their so called respect for the national anthem mean anything, when they cause nothing but chaos for the country?
Individual sovereignty is the core of a democracy. So it’s safe to say that the apex court’s ruling is an attempt to chain that sovereignty.