My country won't stand up against rape, but stand up for national anthem?

Do you think the family which was humiliated at the movie hall on Monday left feeling more patriotic?

 |  5-minute read |   01-12-2015
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Nationalism is a great danger. It is the particular thing which for years has been at the bottom of India's troubles. It is my conviction that my countrymen will truly gain their India by fighting against the education which teaches them that a country is greater than the ideals of humanity.

- Rabindranath Tagore

On Monday, at a movie hall in Mumbai a family was humiliated, threatened, told they would be slapped and were forced to leave the hall admist applause, because they did not stand up during a national anthem. What happened was not the victory of patriotism but the defeat of humanity. If something like that had happened to me, I would lose whatever love I had for my countrymen forever, I would lose whatever patriotism I had running in my veins.

The arguments justifying the actions of the moviegoers who bullied the family range from emotional outburst and allegiance towards the nation and the national anthem, to talking about our soidiers who risk their lives for their motherland. Some arguments talk about laws in monarchical and now military-ruled countries like Thailand where it is a practice that in movie halls a song praising the king is broadcast before every show and EVERYONE has to stand as a mark of respect. One could be jailed for failing to do so. The proponents of these arguments forget we are a democracy.

Some NRIs are going sniff-sniffing about how emotional they are about the national anthem, their heart bleeds for the national anthem but their "patriotism" amounted to collateral damage at the altar of seeking greener pastures (read dollars). But no, you can't point that out, because not standing for a national anthem is unpatriotic, but leaving your motherland for better opportunities and waiting with bated breath for citizenship, where on paper, you revoke all rights and sign away your allegiance to your motherland, is not. However someone wanting to leave the motherland for fear of this growing intolerance is again unpatriotic. Patriotism, as a trait, is pretty confusing.

I remember, when I was a student, while coming back from college in a DTC bus, a man came and stood beside me and deliberately kept pushing against me. When he tried to feel me up, I shouted, but not one person, not even one, offered me a seat or roughed up that man or even asked him to get off the bus. My students who travel by public transport tell me it is still the same, and no one bats an eyelid. How many of them stopped for Nirbhaya when she was bleeding to death?

They do not stand up for fellow citizens yet the same people bleed for the national anthem. Indian people are one of the worst tax defaulters in the world. They cheat and steal from their country, yet their heart bleeds for the national anthem.

How often have you seen a packet of Lay's cream and onion chips being thrown out of an SUV? They litter, they spit and urinate on the streets, yet their heart bleeds for the national anthem. As one of my students says, "Ma'am wouldn't this country be a much better place if people felt the same outrage for rape?" My point is, there are better ways of showing your patriotism, than standing up for the national anthem or roughing someone up who doesn't.

Now what reasons might the Muslim family have had for not standing up at the Mumbai theatre on Monday? Maybe they were just being lazy, maybe they didn't want to stand with coke and popcorn in hand. Does it prove they are any less patriotic than the hyperventilating zealots?

Maybe they don't have a sense of belonging, they are not patriotic. I can think of many people who are not, I can think of people in the Armed Forces [Special Powers] Acts (AFSPA)-imposed regions who want to have nothing to do with this country, I can think of that Dalit family which was paraded naked, I can think of the Dalit children who are made to wash toilets or the Dalit women who are raped in villages and find no justice, or Mohammad Akhlaq's son for that matter, or the children of the victims of Muzzaffarnagar or Gujarat riots. Will thoe people want to stand up to the national anthem? I love my national anthem, but that is because this country has treated me well.

I am what I am, because of the public institutions I studied in, because of the democratic space I grew up in, because of the legal system and judiciary that protected me, because of the beautiful constitution that gave me my rights.

But I can understand why some people might not feel the same way as I do, the people who were kept out of this privelege, were excluded from the development, the education system and the rights. And if they have no feeling of belonging for whatever reason, justified or not, can patriotism be forced down their throat, is it okay to resort to violence, verbal or otherwise if they do not feel the same patriotism? Will that make him/her patriotic?

Another question to ask would be, would it be such a big deal had the family not been Muslim? Isn't it about constantly asking members of certain communities to prove their patriotism? Why does anyone have to prove it? Why is patriotism becoming a thing of authority, jingoism and ritiuals? Why do we have to make a public display of it? Why is it a "yo mama so patriotic" competition? Patriotism cannot be inspired with a stick, a threat.

Do you think the family which was humiliated left the theatre hall feeling more patriotic? It is something that comes from within. And it will come automatically when all citizens are treated equally, when there is love, harmony, an effort to reduce poverty, starvation, gender violence, caste violence, and violence in border states. When everyone is included in the development, everyone will have the feeling of belonging.

Law was broken on Monday in that Mumbai movie hall. Was it the law-abiding Muslim family who sat peacefully (there is no law which says it is a punishable offence to not stand during the national anthem in a movie hall) or the people who threatened to slap, intimidated and forced the famlily to leave. Forget about law, what does your morality tell you? Is patriotism bigger than the ideals of humanity?


Monami Basu Monami Basu

The writer is assistant professor, University of Delhi.

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