Nine questions, your lordships

The RSS does not play the national anthem. Is it unpatriotic?

Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Uttam Sengupta

Did the Supreme Court on Wednesday diminish its stature, reduce itself to a Khap panchayat and ended up insulting citizens? Some legal minds said as much in their reaction, while the more cautious among them felt the ruling was presumptuousness at its worst.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is widely known to have been against the national anthem. As a rule, the national anthem is not played in its shakhas. Will the apex court rule this as seditious?

The apex court’s ‘interim order’ to play the national anthem before films are screened in cinema halls and making it mandatory for viewers to stand up, carried a finality that precludes further argument or any further hearing on the subject, making its interim nature redundant. After all the PIL, curiously filed only in October, 2016, had prayed for precisely such an order. What’s left to be heard? Once the court has ruled that patriotism of people will be tested by their readiness to stand up in cinema halls, who can possibly object?

And yet there are questions which beg for an answer.

*What made the court think that the vast majority of Indians are not ‘instilled’ with feelings of patriotism and nationalism?

*What prompted the court to believe that Indians do not feel that India is their country and motherland?

*What is the court’s stand to criticism of the national anthem and periodic demands for its replacement?

*RSS shakhas as a deliberate policy have never played the national anthem. Will the court view it as seditious?

*Why did the court deem it necessary to pass this order although there is already a law—Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act—that provides penalty, fine and imprisonment for disrupting the singing of the national anthem?

*Why has the court found it fit to single out cinema halls, especially when existing rules already specify when and where—Investitures, parades, Government functions, presentation of regimental colours, formal functions involving the President, Governors and defence services etc—it is mandatory to play the national anthem?

*In an earlier ruling (Uphaar cinema case) the court had directed cinema halls to ensure that doors of cinema halls are never shut for the sake of safety. But on Wednesday it ruled that the doors must be shut when the national anthem is being played. Which order should the cinema halls follow?

*Has the court taken into consideration the possibility of the differently abled, the old and the infirm taking their time to stand up?

*And, finally, how does it plan to enforce its order ? Through the police, or vigilante groups?

The court, in the interest of transparency, must answer why it took up this particular case in such tearing hurry. The petition was filed in October this year and normally cases take months and years to get listed.

Read the full text of the Supreme Court order here.

Uttam Sengupta is Executive Editor of National Herald. He tweets at @chatukhor

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