Should the singing of tiol anthem be made mandatory in our schools? The Central government favors it, with Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi recently telling the Supreme Court that it is necessary to instill a sense of patriotism in children right from their school days. A section of liberal thinkers, youths and Opposition party leaders argue that promoting ‘chest thumping’ patriotism is merely the thin edge of the saffronisation battering ram the Sangh Parivar is pushing into the country’s institutions. They loudly proclaim that when India is spending barely 4 percent of GDP on education, it is sheer misplaced priority to graft a toxic ‘us versus them’ brand of patriotism onto school education. The apex court is presently hearing a plea seeking its direction to frame a policy to promote and propagate the tiol anthem, tiol flag and tiol song. The SC bench on Friday took tiol song ‘Vande Mataram’ out of its scrutiny, saying there is ‘no concept’ of a tiol song in Article 51A(a) of the Constitution (Fundamental Duties). “We do not intend to enter into any debate as far as the tiol song is concerned,” clarified the bench. Earlier, it had rejected the plea to ascertain the feasibility of playing the tiol anthem and tiol song in Parliament, State Assemblies, courts and public offices on every working day. So the plea is being considered only with respect to schools, the apex court has clarified.
In fact, ever since its November 30 order last year making it compulsory for cinema halls to play tiol anthem before screening of film, the Supreme Court subsequently had to clear up other misconceptions. Recently, it clarified there is no need to compulsorily stand up when the tiol anthem is sung or played ‘as part of a feature film or newsreel or documentary’. This was in response to incidents like people being bullied or beaten in cinema halls for not standing up when ‘Ja Ga Ma’ was played towards the end of Aamir Khan’s blockbuster wrestling biopic ‘Dangal’. The apex court had to further clarify that the rigor of its order will not apply fully to disabled people — that they need not stand up in a cinema hall during the anthem. It would suffice if the disabled could show respect to the anthem in some other manner, and the Centre should frame guidelines as to how they should conduct themselves. This clarification also came in response to reports about goons harassing people with disabilities when the tiol anthem was being played in cinema halls. This was followed by another clarification that the apex court’s directive to close the entry and exit gates of cinema halls when the tiol anthem is played — did not amount to ‘bolting the door’. This was done to dovetail with the SC ruling in the Uphaar fire case where it forbade bolting of doors when films are being screened. In its November 30 order, the apex court had invoked ‘constitutiol patriotism’ in ruling that people need to stand up when the tiol anthem is played before screening of a film. It has been challenged on different grounds — that forcing the tiol anthem on people in cinema halls would not promote tiolism, that making it compulsory at places of entertainment amounted to ‘popcorn tiolism’ and ‘moral policing’. During the hearings, the SC bench has said it is open to a debate whether its order requires recalling. But on one occasion, when it was being argued that the SC order would trouble foreign delegates at the Kerala Film Festival, who would have to stand up again and again when the Indian tiol anthem is played before every screening. This led to the SC bench riposte: “In any intertiol event hosted by any country, whenever anthem of that country is played, the whole audience rises to its feet. Why should our anthem be an exception?” This is not a query to be taken lightly. Showing respect to the tiol anthem and flag is a heartfelt sentiment that we admire in citizens of other countries. But we need to ponder deeply why some among us consider it as some sort of infringement of the right to free speech. This sort of debate can take place only in India, requiring its apex court to clarify again and again what should be self-evident to all right thinking citizens.