Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 09 July 2024


National symbols, Notional respect 

News Excerpts:

The effort to regulate citizens' behavior regarding national symbols aims not to foster 'a love for the people-nation', but rather to cultivate an instinctive reverence for the nation-state.

More About the News: The issue of enforcing patriotism and nationalistic fervor in India raises significant questions about democracy, individual freedoms, and the role of the State. After over 75 years of independence, it is debatable whether the Indian State needs to impose such measures to cultivate national pride.

State's insistence on symbolic acts of patriotism:

  • Coercion vs. Freedom of Choice: The state's compulsion to enforce patriotism through mandatory displays of respect for national symbols, such as the national anthem and flag, raises significant concerns. 
    • In June, a news report revealed that J&K authorities issued a circular mandating all schools, including private ones, to start the day with the national anthem. This directive, originally issued four years prior, was not being consistently followed. Similarly, in 2022, the Karnataka government passed a similar order. 
    • While most schools begin their day with assemblies featuring songs, verses, or prayers, the question arises: why not include the anthem? The straightforward answer is that the state should not coerce children into monotonous uniformity. 
    • Instances where individuals faced repercussions for not adhering to these norms highlight an infringement on personal freedom and democratic principles. 
    • While there may be a case for uniformity and discipline in schools, extending this drive to the general population in the name of fostering patriotism or nationalism leads to absurd outcomes. 
    • The controversy over standing during the national anthem, which escalated in 2016 and 2018, saw individuals assaulted for remaining seated in cinemas. In July 2023, several people in J&K were jailed for similar reasons.
  • Legal and Social Context: The legal precedents, such as Supreme Court rulings that have both upheld mandatory standing for the national anthem in certain contexts (like cinemas) and recognized exemptions based on religious beliefs (e.g., Jehovah's Witnesses)
    • This legal backdrop underscores the ongoing debate between national unity and individual rights. In 2003, the Supreme Court mandated standing for the anthem to show respect, a ruling upheld in 2016. 
    • In 2018, the Court made the screening of the anthem in cinemas optional but maintained that standing was compulsory, with certain exemptions. 
    • However, in 1986, the Court exempted three Jehovah’s Witness children from singing the anthem in school, citing their fundamental right to religious belief under Article 25 of the Constitution. 
    • This judgment supports the argument that citizens have the basic right to decide whether they will stand or not, whether they wish to be patriotic or nationalistic, and whether they want to show respect for national symbols like the anthem and flag.
  • Symbolism and Civic Responsibility: While acknowledging the importance of civic responsibility and respect for the rule of law, the argument critiques the notion that forced displays of respect towards national symbols necessarily cultivate genuine patriotism or civic duty. 
    • The true civic responsibility should arise from an internal understanding and voluntary commitment rather than external compulsion. The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, enforces respect for national symbols, detailing how they should not be desecrated. 
    • For example, the national flag cannot be used as a costume or allowed to trail on the floor. An extreme example of this paranoia was seen in 2008 when legal proceedings were initiated against tennis player Sania Mirza for placing her feet on a table with the national flag.
  • Freedom of Conscience: Article 25 of the Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and religious belief, indicating that respect for national symbols should arise from a genuine sense of attachment to the nation rather than coercion through fear of punishment or societal pressure. 
    • Forced obedience and mandated respect contradict the principles of democracy and individual freedoms. It's important to note that a lack of outward demonstration of respect for national symbols does not necessarily indicate seditious or treasonous behavior. 
    • The Supreme Court's ruling in the Jehovah's Witness case underscored the fundamental right to freedom of conscience as enshrined in Article 25. 
    • Respect for the nation-state and love for the nation should ideally emanate from this conscientious choice, rather than being compelled or enforced.
  • Democratic Values: There is a broader critique of how enforcing respect through laws like the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act may contradict democratic values, particularly freedom of expression and dissent. 
    • While patriotism is a genuine love for one's country and people, nationalism is often tied to a political-territorial identity enforced by the state. The author suggests that a democratic society should encourage diverse expressions of patriotism rather than uniform compliance.
  • Role of the State: The state and its institutions need to exemplify the values they seek to promote, such as respect for the law and democratic principles. The effectiveness of coercive measures in fostering a healthy civic culture is questionable. Promoting genuine respect should be balanced with upholding individual freedoms.

Conclusion: The focus should shift towards cultivating civic responsibility and respect for the rule of law. The governing class, including bureaucrats and politicians, should lead by example, demonstrating integrity and accountability. True patriotism and national pride arise from a sense of civic duty and social responsibility, not from compulsory displays of respect for symbols. Forced gestures of patriotism do not contribute to the growth of a free and democratic society where genuine national pride can flourish.


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