National Anthem debate: Forcing people to stand in cinema halls only instills fear, obfuscates democracy


In 2016, the Supreme Court ordered all cinemas to play the National Anthem for the love of our motherland, but only 10 months later, it decided to revise its decision. Now, it has left the matter to the Centre to decide whether this should be the case or not, and whether wearing patriotism on one’s sleeve is the solution for unity and a way to show our love for our motherland. I am patriotic and I know it, but how does standing up for the anthem before the screening of a movie prove any point?

Time and again people have asked why the onus of being patriotic is placed only on the entertainment industry. Supporters of this rule fall back on the reasoning that cinema binds everyone together and unifies people who follow different religions. But isn’t this taking the easy way out? It is so easy to moral police an industry which is made to entertain people, and ironically, if they voice their opinions, they are put in a vulnerable spot. Who can forget the disgraceful remarks made about Aamir Khan when he talked about feeling scared? As a citizen of a democratic country, one cannot even put forth an opinion because there is the constant scare of forced nationalism which may walk through the doors of one’s house with a threat. So what do you do? Keep quiet and let things take their own toll.

Social media is a powerful tool we have at our disposal today, but as the Supreme Court announced its judgement regarding the National Anthem, the whole matter was reduced to a joke. The problem here is not standing up and paying respect to our motherland, but rather finding the right angle to stand in whilst finding our seats in the darkness with a tub of over-priced popcorn and Pepsi in our hands. If we don’t, we will be lynched, or if we are famous, we’ll be trolled on social media and end up becoming the headline of a newspaper. Recently, a family in Mumbai was evicted from a theatre by cine-goers for not standing up when the National Anthem was being played. This is not just a case of forced nationalism and coercing people to stand up using fear. Who gives these cine-goers the right to throw people out of a film that they purchased tickets for? They paid for a service they didn’t get and were subjected to goon behaviour, which they obviously were not expecting. Some might say that they could have prevented this situation if they stood up for 52 seconds, but if the goons are right in this case, then the actions of goons hitting couples on Valentine’s Day are justified, too.

For representational purposes only. Image from Reuters

For representational purposes only. Image from Reuters

When did violence become the answer to everything? Even an African citizen was beaten up because he didn’t stand up for the Indian National Anthem. The ramifications of such a crime committed against a non-Indian are several and damaging. They don’t need to prove their patriotism to our country because they aren’t Indian citizens. Additionally, what happened to the age old Indian saying, “Athiti Devo Bhava”. We thrash them mercilessly for such reasons and still expect them to behave fairly with us, despite the fact that we are extremely racist towards them. These incidents involving non-Indians, as well as differently abled people who have been abused for the same reason in cinema halls, are reflective of what have we become as a society and country.

All of us have grown up singing the National Anthem in our schools, on Sports Day and during numerous cricket matches. It is such a beautiful and a powerful song which encompasses the feeling of pride for the country and therefore it must be sung whilst maintaining the right code of conduct. Playing it in frivolous situations is not only irresponsible but also disrespectful of the very idea of the song of the highest honour in a country; the practice of playing it before any sort of film seems out of place. The code of conduct to be followed whilst the anthem is being played has been outlined so by the Ministry Of Home Affairs:

“Whenever the Anthem is sung or played, the audience shall stand to attention. However, when in the course of a newsreel or documentary the Anthem is played as a part of the film, it is not expected of the audience to stand as standing is bound to interrupt the exhibition of the film and would create disorder and confusion rather than add to the dignity of the Anthem.”

As a cinephile, I watch films for a living, sometimes even attending four screenings back-to-back on the same day. So often people plan their entry into the theatre such that they can prevent standing for National Anthem altogether and find their seats in peace without anyone judging them or wanting to hit them. No one wants to grab attention or be in the national news for something as frivolous as this. At this rate, theatre owners might as well hand out arti thalis with our 3D glasses at the door before a film starts. The point of the matter is that we need to stop trivialising the this issue and forcing nationalism down people’s throats because it instills and evokes fear. Respect cannot be demanded. If there is a need to play the anthem right before a movie, then it should be made mandatory before entering corporate and government offices, malls, parks and many other places where people meet and mingle. In the midst of all this, where is the democracy?


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