Why should we stand for the national anthem?


With increasing reports of people being arrested for not standing for the national anthem,  it’s a good idea to remember why they stopped the practice of playing the thing in cinema halls in the first place – nationalism cannot be coercively produced in people’s breasts through such inane, superficial and empty gestures.

And the converse – just because you dont stand up for the national anthem, it doesn’t make you anti-Indian. You may just have another idea of India,  or you may show your concern for “India” by some more concrete gesture, or through your politics.

As Anmol Karnik asks:

If we play the national anthem before a television show begins at home, would people stand up? I doubt it. Most people who do it, do it because it’s not socially acceptable to sit down when everyone else is standing. It’s being part of the herd, so there’s probably some part of unity embedded in it, but unity in a forceful and degrading manner.

Just as a matter of interest, this is what the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 says:

Whoever intentionally prevents the singing of the Jana Gana Mana or causes disturbances to any assembly engaged in such singing shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

There is thus, no legal obligation whatsoever to actually stand while Jana Gana Mana plays. 

This is quite apart from the fact that as a citizen of a democracy I have a right not to stand up for the national anthem if I believe that the nation-state as such is an oppressive institution, and am opposed to “national pride” and jingoism, and believe instead in cross border solidarities of peace activists;

if I believe that India no longer stands for (if it ever did) the values of equality and justice and that the sentiment of “jhanda ooncha rahe hamara” has been replaced by the sentiment “sensex ooncha rahe hamara”, as the immortal Jaspal Bhatti said;

if I am ashamed that India ranks 8th on a global list of multimillionaires (above Canada, Singapore, Australia, Russia and France) while it ranks 16th in a list of 56 countries on the Global Hunger Index (doing worse than many African countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh);

if I want to show solidarity with every one of those for whom the Indian flag and Indian anthem are everyday symbols of violence and humiliation. A young Manipuri lecturer in  Delhi University tells of sitting at a roadside dhaba in Imphal with a few friends, when a uniformed Indian Army officer passing by, stopped. Stand up, he barked. Sing the national anthem. They had barely begun, when he slapped one of them. Your accent is wrong, he said. Do it again. They sang it again. 

No isolated incident this, but simply the routine humiliation of an occupied people. The Indian Nation rampant in all its pride and glory.

Sourav Roy points out an interesting coincidence regarding the reintroduction of the playing of the national anthem in Maharashtra in 2003:

Interestingly, this patriotic mandate coincided with the frequent power cuts across Maharashtra, the Enron backed Dabhol Power Company controversy and the increasing dissatisfaction of the public with the ruling power.

The more corrupt the state, the less its connect with the people, the more it rattles its hollow chains of patriotism.

If I stand, it will be in respect for those who struggle against dispossession and injustice, for themselves and for others, for those whose idea of India is not this humiliating, harsh, unjust one that reigns today.

Never again will I stand for the national anthem – whose author – oh tragic irony! – was ferociously opposed to a world “broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls”, and prayed for his country to emerge into a freedom “Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit.”

His foreboding words ring true today:

When this organization of politics and commerce, whose other name is the Nation, becomes all powerful at the cost of the harmony of the higher social life, then it is an evil day for humanity.

Nationalism, I want no part of it.



42 thoughts on “Why should we stand for the national anthem?”

  1. Ah, so “making cat calls” now is conflated with “not standing”!

    Whatever. There is something to be said about compulsory standing during he rendition of the national anthem. I would think though, the sentiment behind that is about the same sense of civic grace that one extends while agreeing to traffic diversions on almost every arterial road in Mumbai during the month of Ramzan? Or adjusting one’s workday during the shutting down of the city for the annual ambedkar rally? I could also talk of the traffic disciplining that mumbaikars bear while Ganesh chaturthi, but maybe that is “sacrificial” is certain lexicons!

    There is a lot to argue about the practice of rendering the national anthem in a movie theatre about to screen Dhoom 3. But the practice of standing while it is being rendered? How about a respect for hundreds of fellow citizens who do so? Just as they circumvent their daily commutes adding a few hours during Ramzan to facilitate fellow citizens who demand to pray on the middle of arterial roads?!

    And yes. All public servants serve at the pleasure of the President of India. Isn’t there a disconnect between secession from the Indian state and drawing a salary from te consolidated fund of India, which is funded by Indian tax payers most of whom have elected the president ?


    1. Somnath, it seems you don’t feel the need to check your facts or even pretend to make some sort of logical argument when you start fulminating.
      Get this clear – it is not a crime to not stand when the national anthem is played. As such, your pronouncements about my ‘secession from the Indian state’ as a ‘public servant’ are meaningless.
      (Also very revealing that “catcalls” had to be added to the complaint precisely because NOT STANDING FOR THE NATIONAL ANTHEM IS NOT A CRIME).
      Also, my dear man, “Indian tax-payers” do not elect the President, or anybody else for that matter! Your fantasy seems to be to live in an era when only male property owners could vote! Indian citizens – whether they pay taxes or not – elect their representatives and the President is elected indirectly, by an electoral college consisting of elected members of various representative bodies. This means that “most of” even those who actually voted, are not even indirectly electing the President.
      You don’t bother to address a single substantive point in my post, of course.
      But all of this pomposity coupled with ignorance pales before your equating of standing out of “civic grace” for the national anthem with “traffic diversions for Ramzan”! Not once but twice, although, recognizing the idiocy of your own argument, you hastily added Ambedkar Divas and Ganesh Chaturthi, but couldn’t resist coming back to Ramzan.
      Salman appears to be Muslim, but it is not clear that everyone in that group was, and neither am I Muslim, nor are Sourav Roy and Anmol Karnik, the two commentators I cite in my post, nor are the overwhelming majority of the signatories to the letter we posted.
      Somnath, you don’t speak for even a fraction of Hindus, let alone for a micro-fraction of citizens of this nation. And don’t you ever tire of your public displays of ignorance?


      1. Frankly, I don’t see any problem in comparing the “civic grace” people are forced—on pain of traffic fines—to show for religious and political observances of all hues and colours on the one hand, and being similarly “forced” to stand for the national anthem on the other hand.

        What I do see a problem with (and a very serious problem at that) is the notion that someone can be charged with sedition for failing to do either of those activities, or with the the fact that a military man can walk into a shop and demand an extempore rendition from customers. This is not supposed to be Amritsar under Michael O’Dwyer.

        However, as a casual observer, I find it somewhat sad that all the factual arguments supporting the former position come from a guy accused of “ignorance” and “stupidy”, while all the name calling and ad hominem comes from (as far as I can gather from publicly available information) a senior professor at a reputed university. This fits in with one of my usual complaints at Kafila: the standard reaction of even the best authors at this website to the most trivial dissent seems to be a disproportionate amount of fulmination, often completely untempered by fact or reason.


        1. Ahannasmi, I see no factual arguments whatsoever in Somnath’s comment, and nor do you point out any. You happen to agree with the point of view he espouses at one point, but that is not a fact. Nor is the word stupidity used by me anywhere. But who cares, right, you have taken sides, and minor factual inaccuracies dont matter!


      2. Also, I don’t quite understand the nit-pick about ““Indian tax-payers” do not elect the President, or anybody else for that matter”. Last I checked, most “Indian tax-payers” also happen to be citizens, with at least a theoretical right to elect the president. Also, I thought it was drilled into everyone’s head sometime in middle school that “pleasure of the President” is just quaint legalese for “pleasure of the Parliament”.

        However, it does seem common among right-wing commenters to somehow think that “Indian tax-payers” is a synonym for “Indian income-tax payers”, even though the actual figures show that taxes like the sales tax, which affect even the poorest daily wage earner, are as big (or bigger) sources of of revenue than income tax.


  2. Respect has to be earned. You cannot catch someone and force them to feel respect. The more the state and insecure people try to uphold the fake symbols of patriotism like standing for the anthem, displaying the flag etc, the more hollow and useless our country becomes.


  3. “if I am ashamed that India ranks 8th on a global list of multimillionaires (above Canada, Singapore, Australia, Russia and France) while it ranks 16th in a list of 56 countries on the Global Hunger Index (doing worse than many African countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh);”

    Isn’t it a good thing that there are multimillionaires in the country? Wouldn’t it be an indicator that there is job creation going on in the country? That their existence points to economic disparity is not lost on me at all, but even if they collectively engaged in charity, it would be hard to make a dent in hunger in India. Buildings like Antilia aside, should we not be encouraging business that– if coupled with private reservations– could mitigate not only poverty but also caste problems?


    1. So fine Akash, we disagree on what to be proud about, or not be proud about, but I reserve my right not to stand up for the national anthem if I am not proud about what India stands for and the direction it is going today.


      1. Wonder how not standing up is going to solve India’s poverty. I see this action only as an immature child’s rebellion. Light a candle instead of complaining about the darkness.


        1. No. Not standing up is not gonna solve India’s poverty. Nor standing up is gonna solve India’s poverty. It’s not being a rebel if you’re not standing up during anthem. Each one has a different way of showing respect and some doesn’t want to show respect. I think it’s everyone’s right to choose to respect or not. Why are people so offended for this ? So-called patriots. Bleh :|


        2. In short, publications like Kafila, Economic & Political Weekly, The Caravan, The Hindu and Indian Express that garner a significant amount of readership and influence public thought are no better than complainants?


        3. You mean to say that publications like Kafila, Economic & Political Weekly, The Hindu, Indian Express, and The Caravan that garner a significant amount of readership and influence public thought are no more than complainants?


    2. Akash, do you have examples of corporates that mitigated poverty or dismantled caste heirarchies?


      1. Meenakshi, any corporation by its very nature creates jobs. Assuming you yourself work, your salary exists because a corporation makes profits and can afford to pay you. If a corporation can employ the impoverished, it can perform a similar function for them. Even the ostentatious Antilia owned by Ambani created jobs for construction workers, etc.

        I don’t believe that private companies have dismantled caste hierarchies at all. But they have the power to if private reservation is introduced. This would create jobs for Dalits and OBCs, including them in Indian growth. The point is, if you’re going to help the poor, you need money, and ultimately the money has to come from somewhere.

        Nivedita, I wasn’t contesting your right not to stand– I’m not even Indian, I could frankly care less about the Indian national anthem. I was just wondering why you felt that the existence of millionaires was something to be ashamed of when such people are the key to lifting India out of poverty.


        1. Akash, this is totally off topic, but since you keep coming back with it – the belief that millionaires lift a country out of poverty is completely unsupported by historical evidence. I can suggest you read Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century – because it is not a Marxist analysis, which you might be suspicious of from the start!


  4. On independence day, a friend posted this picture on facebook with the caption: “There are just too many things wrong with this scene. Not an independence day, not for them and not for me.” https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=448913031915399&set=a.124666404340065.22528.100003901175613&type=1&theater. I agree with her wholeheartedly. Patriotism is something that should be done, needs to be done because, as my physiotherapist said, it is something that all nations do – “Everybody should be proud of their own culture.” It is little more than a neurotically repeated statement that needs to be held on to for no essential reason. The nation is more or less nothing but a mode of organizing a population for administrative purposes. However, when the state is run completely by industrial capital, asking people to stand up for the national anthem, asking them to feel patriotic and respect the nation, is equivalent to enlisting their labor for the supposedly “collective” project of progress – all of their physical and intellectual labor must now be dedicated to the nation as if, separate from the state and capital, it is an independent benevolent entity that will always nourish them. People’s criticism of governments, communities, institutions, when coupled with their patriotism makes of a celebration of independence day something like nation-worship and the nation itself a benevolent god(dess) who, sitting in swarg-lok, needs to be prayed to irrespective of the things that happen on paataal.


  5. Well, abrasive responses to silly people and their silly arguments hardly do any justice to the debate at hand. On the other hand, it perhaps turns people off. I find this particular aspect of responses on Kafila to be rather tiresome. I understand people are passionate and have been around the block a couple of times so they have stock responses to stock hecklers and the sort. But that is part of the democratic tradition, to use humour rather than insults to the most flippant participants in a debate. Of course, you have a right to be who you are and are not bound by my views. I have always found the cacophony on Kafila invigorating and indeed heartening. Just wish this aspect was given some thought as well. I have reduced my visits to Kafila considerably on account of this.


    1. Kris, perhaps from where you are located, these are simply “silly” people and “silly” arguments (and why is that adjective permissible, or polite, while “ignorant” about someone who actually makes factual errors, is not acceptable?) From where we stand, this is not just a “debate” with “silly people”, but a political battle, in which Kafila is only one of the sites where we fight. When the exact same people come in again and again with pro-capital, pro-market, pro-Hindu right wing, pro-Zionist views, which are the only views increasingly permitted in the mainstream media, and they need to come in on Kafila which is one of the few spaces where contrary views are expressed, then not all of us can be endlessly patient about their defence of say, the arrest of a person who did not stand up for the national anthem.
      If the acerbity of my responses to comments disturbs you so much that you reduce your visits to Kafila, how do you expect us to keep our equanimity in the face of the relentless erosion of democratic freedoms by a Hindu right-wing state and its civil society supporters?


  6. Ms Menon, exactly which country would you be proud of belonging, if I may ask? I have a sneaking feeling it would not be the “western capitalist countries” which actually are able to take care of their poor far better than the countries espousing socialist “principles” that the intellectuals on kafila seem to salivate over.

    Yes, there are many things that are problematic in India (I have my own list of issues) however there are many things to be proud of too. We are one of the very few post colonial countries which have remained democratic (imperfectly, sure). We have some semblance of the rule of law, equality before law, and freedom of religion….which is far more than many developing countries can boast of. That said, I think its a silly idea to force people to stand for the national anthem. However, I would still stand, not because of fear but because I do respect and am proud of what my country stands for.


    1. I thought, Priya, that it was very clear – I would not be proud of belonging to any country at all. The entire post is a critique of the nation state as such. And there is less poverty in “western capitalist countries”, because their imperialism elsewhere was able to sustain their welfare state for some time. No longer, though – ask the Occupy movement!


      1. Dear Nivedita and Akash
        Nivedita, you say ‘I would not be proud of belonging to any country at all.’ Have there been no moments when you felt patriotic or loved being Indian? There is poverty, there is misogyny, there are betrayals, there is illiteracy, yet there must be something to be said for having a country?
        I would love to read the book you recommend on capitalism, but i want to know the solution to unemployment. Governments can employ only so many people. How many people can ethical businesses employ? Are these sustainable? Are small and medium sized businesses less corrupt than ambanis and ilk? Where do people find jobs?


        1. The second part of your comment is off topic, though I am passing this one. We have had other discussions on economics and “development” on kafila.
          No, I have never felt proud of being “Indian” as such. In a world where you are nothing if you dont have a country, there is something to be said for “having a country”, but in an ideal world, there wouldn’t be those barbed wire fences.


          1. Spot on Nivedita. The concepts of a “nation” , “nationalism” and the jingoism attached to it dangerous. As history suggests, it has been and is likely to be a cause of war and destruction in times to come.


    2. Priya,
      It is always a case of Devil quoting from scriptures, when right wing nuts hide behind the liberal ideals i.e., rule of law, equality before law, and freedom of religion and at the same working overtime to destroy them.


  7. Salman.. A college student and social activist.. Has been arrested on charges of ‘Sedition’.. Because he kept sitting while the National Anthem was being played at a movie theatre.. And for discussing Nationalism as a political and philosophical idea on Facebook. :(

    Well.. It means that everyone will have to perform namaaz while passing by a mosque.. Join hands and sing aarti at all the temples.. And if you fail to do so.. You will be called a Traitor.. And sent to Pakistan or thrown into the sea. :/

    Ek achhe insaan ko Deshbhakti aur Dharm ke paakhand ki zarurat nahi hoti. :)

    Stop imposing Brahminical Nationalism.. Stop using flags and anthems to hide your ugly face.. Hindutva Terrorism, Rapes by Army, Tata-Ambanis sucking blood of the Poor, And the State defending it all. :/

    Respect Dissent.. Fight Injustice.. Release Salman Immediately. :)



  8. So in our anxiety to stay united as a country, we have keeled over to the other side of complete obedience. A widespread failure in our social sciences education leads to such over reaction by the police and the general enthusiasm for tokenism by common people. Tokenism for flag, anthem, candle light marches is easier than actually engaging with your fellow citizens and working towards the betterment of the society. Also, to respond to the person terribly inconvenienced by Ramzan celebrations, well you don’t get arrested if walk along the crowd. A lack of civic grace, which people display all the time (with or without festivals), doesn’t get people arrested either. NIvedita combines in her self the refined arguments of an academic and the acerbic wit of a seasoned polemicist. More power to her pen!


  9. I ‘had’ a friend, i’m using the word ‘had’ purposefully here. He joined the army, 2 years after training he came home for holidays. Talking to him i felt disturbed. We were talking about AFSPA, and Irom Sharmila, his reply baffled me. He said, if he had the chance, he’d shoot her in the head. That’s what the army is about, jingoism, institutionalization, curbing original and logical thinking. I too had applied for the Air Force, but my disillusionment was far too great, and I was far too rational for that to happen. I want no part of this force fed nationalism, i just want a nation state where people think more, discourse about things, instead of believing blindly in pre-existing structures. I’d rather taking a wrecking ball to it, and see my country emerge from the rubble.


  10. Dear Nivedita. It is not in the articles, but in the comments section that we see a glimpse of the imaginary of democratic debate. I agree that you need not have any civic graces for terrible people. We should not have any moral obligation to show grace to a tyrant. But that is an extreme view in this context. People are constantly forming opinions through debate and discussion. Some may be naively taken in by the assuredness of right wing rhetoric, while others may be immune to argument. You have a more nuanced view of the commenters here than I do. Nonethless, you make the case for discarding equanimity under fire. We fight against dangerous elements in our parts of the world as well. And we take solace in Gandhi and countless other Indians who never lost his composure and humour against worse adversity.


    1. Anirban, you have linked to an advisory with ‘instructions” on proper playing, decorum to be observed etc. This is not the law, and does not prescribe punishment etc.
      The law on this is the law I have cited, and it is clear that it is not against the law not to stand. Not yet, anyway.
      (I found it interesting that the instructions include the following: “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.”
      So “not interrupting the exhibition of a film” has precedence over standing whenever the anthem is played! After all, if the rule was clearly that you have to stand WHENEVER the anthem is played, there would be no “disorder and confusion.”)


      1. You know, they play the national anthem *before* the movie begins in Maharashtra (and Goa). They found out that the anthem played to empty halls if they played it after the movie.

        Orwell makes a fine distinction between patriotism and nationalism. He defines nationalism as “the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests”; and this, he says, is not to be confused with patriotism.

        “By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.”

        (I have no idea what any of this has to do with standing or sitting for the national anthem, but there it is).

        Orwell also identifies the principal characteristics of nationalist thought as obsession, instability and indifference to reality, all of which are on daily display on prime-time TV news and the comments section of Kafila.


  11. I agree with you. They should stop playing National Anthem in cinema halls and before the start of a Sport activity. I always stand whenever I hear national anthem getting played, and I will continue to do this. I am not at all proud of my country but I do give respect to our national anthem. My thinking is very simple, I stand and give respect to the our national anthem, but I never ask anyone to do the same if they wish they can, if they don’t want to, that is also completely OK with me.


  12. Talking strictly in terms of law may be futile in a charged milieu, a time when Salmans get locked up for violating the honour of the national anthem. Allegations circulate. They say, the sacred has been transgressed. The fear lurks: the sacred may become profane. What matters is how a citizen ought to perform. After all practices constitute a field far more fragile to be left unregulated. Yet, i believe that the orders relating to the national anthem of India may not be a law in the same manner in which Supreme court observed in a landmark case related to the national Flag. The Supreme court in Union of India vs. Naveen Jindal and another (Civil Appeals no.2920 of 1996 with no.453 of 2004, decided on January 23, 2004) maintained that “the Flag code which contains only executive instructions of the Government of India and thus, being not a law, cannot be considered to have imposed reasonable restrictions in respect thereof within the meaning of clause (2) of article 19 of the constitution of India.” This was a case related to the right of a citizen of India to unfurl the flag of India with respect and dignity. This is not an occasion to go into the detail and nuances of this case though the context of national anthem and its disrespect, if any is crucially linked to the manner in which idea of honour and respect get constructed in the national honour act or later in the Flag Code. Yet, that story may be taken up at another occasion. Even if we consider the executive orders related to national anthem we get the following from the website http://mha.nic.in/national
    It reads: “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”.
    Even a quick internet search reveals several instances when the court dismissed cases where allegations were made pertaining to disrespect to the national anthem. Two such examples are: http://sports.ndtv.com/tennis/news/221458-national-anthem-row-court-dismisses-cases-against-sania-mirza
    Digging a bit further one comes across a milestone case related to national anthem and this one is also from Kerala. It is referred as Bizoe Emmanuel and others Vs. State of Kerala (1986) Bijoe Emmanuel and Others V. State Of Kerala and Others [1987 AIR (SC) 748]. http://www.angelfire.com/linux/prasun/cipe/009.txt; http://www.cscs.res.in/dataarchive/otherfiles/UGDCM2-115/file.
    Like the famous Taxes Vs. Johnson case (popularly known as flag burning case in United States of America) that upheld the right to speak as a fundamental right, Bizoe Emmanuel and others Vs. State of Kerala upheld the right to silence.
    Both the national flag and the national anthem come under the domain of ‘the National Honour Act’ and carry similar politico – emotional significance. While section 2 of the Prevention of Insult to National Honour Act deals with the national Flag, section 3 deals with the national anthem and states: “Whoever intentionally prevents the singing of the Indian National Anthem or causes disturbances to any assembly engaged in such singing shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.”[ The Prevention of Insult to National Honour Act, 1971,No. 69 of 1971 (23rd December, 1971) and (The Prevention of Insults to National Honour (Amen) Act, 2005)No. 51 of 2005 (20th December, 2005)]. Note the presence of words ‘intentionally prevents’ and ‘causes disturbances’ in the above mentioned Act.
    In the Bijoe Emmanuel case, three children of Jehovah sect were expelled from a school in Kerala on the ground that they refused to join other students and sing national anthem but stood in respectful deference during the singing. The sect of Jehovah’s Witnesses to which they belonged to, does not endorse or believe any sign/symbol of temporal power and only pays obeisance to its God, Jehovah. According to them, it was “against the tenets of their religious faith-not the words or the thoughts of the National Anthem-but the singing of it”.
    A Commission was appointed to inquire and report, and it reported that the children were “law abiding” and that they showed no disrespect to the National Anthem. However, under the instructions of Deputy Inspector of Schools, the Head Mistress expelled the appellants from school from July 26, 1985.
    A representation by the father of the children to the Education Authorities requesting that
    the children may be permitted to attend the school pending orders from the Government having failed, the appellants filed a Writ Petition in the High Court seeking an order restraining the authorities from preventing them from attending the school. The Kerala High Court observed, ‘there was no word or thought in the National Anthem, which could offend anyone’s religious susceptibilities; therefore, the plea that singing of the anthem infringed on one’s freedom of religion could not be sustained’(Bijoe Emmanuel and Others V. State Of Kerala and Others, sited earlier).
    The Supreme Court however reversed the order by observing that no disrespect was shown to the national anthem by not joining in the singing. The court further observed,
    “Article 25 is an article of faith in the Constitution, incorporated in recognition of the principle that the real test of a true democracy is the ability of even an insignificant minority to find its identity under the country’s Constitution.” Even though the practices of the Witnesses may appear “strange or even bizarre”, the question was not whether a particular religious belief or practice appeals to the Court’s reason or sentiment but whether the belief is genuinely and conscientiously held as part of the profession or practice of religion.”
    The judges (Murali Mohan Dutt and Chhinnappa Reddy) drew an analogy by referring to a number of cases from outside India including those involving the rituals like flag salutation in the state of West Virginia[West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (87 Law Ed 1628, 1633 : 319 US 624, 629 (1943)]. The judgment points towards the recognition of plurality while dealing with the issue of faith. The court observed,
    “For the court to take to itself the right to say that the exercises here in question had no religious or devotional significance might well be for the court to deny that very religious freedom which the statute is intended to provide” [Bijoe Emmanuel and Others V. State Of Kerala and Others 1987 AIR (SC) 748]. This provides a wonderful illustration when the law realizes the limitations of its language when faced with the domain of the sacred or the faith.

    To me such recognition is also critical as it allows us to distinguish between the legal responses from executive and managerial measures related to the treatment of sacred characteristics of the national flag or the anthem. Thus, in the administrative realms, the flag and the anthem are invariably tied with the concept of fundamental duties that a citizen is bound to perform and must demonstrate to prove her/his respect for the country. However, while the court maintained the significance of article 51 (A) that deals with fundamental duties yet, in all these judgements, the court also recognised and upheld the national flag and the national Anthem as means to propagate the cause of the nation rather than nation itself. Here, the court has shown an acknowledgement for the plural language and attitude towards the anthem and the flag as it accommodates even voices of dissent that do not violate the wider ethos, the spirit of the flag or the anthem. While in Texas Vs Johnson case, this was the freedom of speech and expression, in the case of Bijoe Emmanuel Vs State of Kerala, it was the right to live and act according to their religious belief and practices. It is significant that in all these cases these values have been recognised as the life spirit for the nation and its democracy even when they directly confront the rituals related to representations of nation and nationhood.


  13. Hi Nivedita Menon,

    I really like this article. Giving respect to National Anthem or Flag wont be giving any solutions to the oppressed people like the killing-themself-farmers to the die-hard-workes. Even after these many years since from the fake Freedom, only certain people who is rich enough or manage to survive only can/may respect these kind of formalities.This System was able to create only few Billionaires but huge Reserved-Workers.

    Sorry for the people who really respect these Ideologies. If you are walking breath and depth of this respectful India, you can see majority of the Ugly/Oppressed people fighting to survive this Capitalist comes Colonial world. Still, they may not know whats our National Anthem whats our National Flag but if they come to know whats happening around then these kinda formalities will be nothing for them.

    Yes, still the State can enforce this kinda stupidity by means of its police,military,Court,laws but the outcomes will be nothing. The State gives the education to the Children is to Obey these Ideologies/formalities. The current form of the nation is nothing but State,Laws,Inc…,Business and some Ideologies to keep the Current System.



  14. Nivedita,
    While it is quite interesting to see the barrage of comments on this article, I would like to direct your attention to a revision petition filed in Indore in 2005 against a lower court order on the lawsuit filed against Lalu Prasad Yadav and Rabri Devi. The original order was dismissed with the justification that remaining seated during the National Anthem is not an ‘obstruction’, as per the Prevention of Insult to the National Honour Act of 1971. Then again, the Act also does not enlist or detail ‘obstructions’ that can be challenged in a court of law.

    Appealing against the original judgement, the petitioner argued that if sitting and reading of a person is not an obstruction, when the other persons were standing in an attention position during the National Anthem, then other activities too like lying down, sleeping and eating will not be treated as obstruction during the National Anthem. It is unfortunate that the original Act paves the way for whimsical interpretation, including frustration at the growing cavalry charge of the Hindu nationalists, clearly evident from your article and subsequent responses to comments.

    That being said, any interpretation distant from an otherwise objective and thorough examination of the law is not worth its salt. I did share your article on Facebook, adding that I really couldn’t understand the significance of singing the National Anthem at assembly every morning when all it did was wake me up from slumber.

    At this point, neither do I hold your perspective wrong, nor do I consider remaining seated during the National Anthem wrong [as long as it does not serve as a distraction for people standing]. What I do hold responsible however, is the sheer inadequacy and insufficiency of the law, and law alone.


  15. @Hina, I wonder how drinking tea or going to the loo first thing in the morning helps solve India’s poverty? Two things can possibly follow from your comment:
    (1) Anything that does not help reduce India’s poverty is an illegitimate activity.
    (2) Lighting a candle (some analogue of that) will reduce India’s poverty.
    In the first case, standing for the national anthem should be an equally illegitimate activity as that too does not help reduce India’s poverty – unless it is a connection you alone can see! But frivolity apart, are you really suggesting that everything that you do in your life, all the words that you speak to friends and foe, are all geared to removal of India’s poverty?! I would love to know.
    In the second case, let me tell you that you seem to live in some kind of (Alice in) Wonderland. For one thing, poverty, unlike the darkness of the night which goes away every morning, increases by the day because poverty is produced on a daily basis in most societies. Lighting a lamp is not the right analogy for this. In such circumstances, lighting a lamp, to borrow an expression from the educationist Krishna Kumar, is like mopping the floor with the tap running!
    But hold on, I can see the likes of pompous Somnath and innocent Akash rushing to the keyboard to shoot out another missive about how poverty is being reduced by neoliberalism and capitalism. Well, the story is longer and far more complicated than the likes of Somnath can even begin to acknowledge. Akash is right that building activity can increase jobs. So do wars. In fact, the world got out of the last Depression because WWII rescued it. But we can have a factual discussion on that some other time. Please take time off to read a couple of books – including Thomas Piketty’s Future of Capital – in the meanwhile. Also please read (and I am not addressing this to pompous Somnath) the piece reproduced in today’s Indian Express from The Economist which talks about how inequality has increased within most societies in the twenty years of global neoliberalism, till the recession began (1988-2008). And, most importantly, that economists, unlike Somnath, are puzzled! Yes, some smart alec can get up and say “but you are confusing poverty with inequality”! No, I am not. But I did not say ‘hunger’ which has an absolute standard to some extent. Poverty is always a relative matter. But more importantly, if you look at the growing number of homeless in the wealthy societies that you seem to worship, they include people who range from very poor to people who had, till recently, decent jobs. They have fallen into poverty. In other words, in the world of capitalism, it is not a one way traffic out of poverty. One crisis can wipe away savings of millions and make them poor overnight as had happened during the Asian crisis. But crises apart, there is continuous falling into poverty that goes along as people’s lands and livelihoods are taken away for the sake of satisfying middle class lust for a ‘good life’ of consumption.
    And Akash, please do remember, that Europe got rid off its unwanted population by transporting it off to Australia and New Zealand etc. With the “discovery” of the “New World”, many more landed up there – in the Americas, killed off the indigenous populations in the worst genocides of history and established a new kingdom of the White Man. By the end of the 19th century, approximately 50 million people (that is one-eighth of Europe’s population) migrated to the Americas. It is not a model that can or need be repeated anywhere else, howsoever economists and state elites might want us to do so.

    For those who have this naive faith in capital, here is a quote attributed to John Maynard Keynes:

    “Capitalism is the astonishing belief that the nastiest of men, for the nastiest of motives,will somehow work for the benefit of all.”

    Gullibility surely must have some limits?


  16. thank goodness for kafila, a space for dissent, scholarship, nuanced arguments and a just peace.


  17. Both Nivedita Menon and bilal are right. Had there been no Nationalism, the Israelis and Palestinians would not have been fighting and killing each other now nor Sudan would have been divided into two after killing more than 15 lakh civilians.


  18. In Kerala, students belonging to the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious denomination were expelled by school authorities for their refusal to sing the national anthem on religious grounds, although they stood up respectfully when the anthem was sung. The Kerala High Court concluded that there was nothing in it which could offend anyone’s religious susceptibilities, and upheld their expulsion. The Supreme Court reversed the High Court and ruled that the High Court had misdirected itself because the question is not whether a particular religious belief or practice appeals to our reason or sentiment but whether the belief is genuinely and conscientiously held as part of the profession or practice of a religion. “Our personal views and reactions are irrelevant” The Supreme Court affirmed the principle that it is not for a secular judge to sit in judgment on the correctness of a religious belief.


  19. Your article was interesting. However i do feel that singing thr national anthem does foster a sense of a patriotism. One of the classic examples is during the football world cup when the teams along with their supporters stand up while their national anthem is being played never mind if some of the players were sons of immigrants or migrated later.it is perhaps the only sporting event to have so many cheer. Yes in the olympics too they do stand up but thats usually after the medals are won.coming to your logiv thst it was perhaps because that patriotism cant be coerced and thats why the national anthem was not played i beg to differ. Perhaps it was after the arrival of tv and satellite tv that this practise waa discontinued for reasons that maybe still not clear. You talk of imphal being an occupied area. Come on .I guess you know better. Finally you quote the great poer .let me quote another poet of roughly the same period also from calcutta henry derozio. And this is what he said where is thy glory where is thy reverence now.


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