When in doubt, become a patriot

Updated: Nov 16, 2019, 05:15 IST | Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

It's interesting how the national anthem crops up as a diversion like clockwork whenever larger issues need to be addressed

A screengrab of a viral video in which a family was bullied for not standing up for the national anthem in Bengaluru in October. Pic /Twitter
A screengrab of a viral video in which a family was bullied for not standing up for the national anthem in Bengaluru in October. Pic /Twitter

LindsayA few years ago, I began this column by addressing a controversy surrounding the national anthem. A number of people had been harassed at the time, for not standing up at a movie theatre. There were howls of outrage from all quarters, with some folks denouncing those who didn't stand as traitors, and others asking why the anthem needed to be played before a movie anyway. Our courts were eventually obliged to wade into the argument, and the whole issue quietened down for a while.

I thought it was dead until a couple of weeks ago, the topic blew up again. Videos on social media platforms publicised an incident involving a few people who didn't stand. They were berated, chased out of a movie theatre, and labelled traitors who didn't belong in India. A woman who claimed she couldn't stand because of physical discomfort was vilified, and a lot of Indians promptly patted themselves on their backs for being true defenders of their country. They were defenders on Twitter alone, of course, but that didn't seem to bother them much.

It should have amused me, this constant bickering about an anthem that few of us think about on most days of the year. This time though, it only saddened me, because I couldn't figure out why we kept having the same conversation every other year. Why are we unable to move on, given that there are so many other pressing issues that are never given the attention they genuinely deserve?

To initiate a conversation about politics or religion is increasingly pointless because lines between the two have been blurred so effectively in recent years that we are at an astonishingly divisive point in our history. We allow politics and religion to take over all aspects of our lives, even if they are detrimental to ourselves and our children because that is what we have been trained to become. And yet, there are so many other things we could focus on and don't, for reasons that continue to boggle one's mind.

There is employment, for a start. No one who works for a living can deny that jobs are harder to come by, that the kind of security our parents enjoyed no longer exists, and that the possibility of qualified graduates accepting minor roles for a pittance is higher than ever before. When thousands of students with postgraduate degrees apply for clerical positions, it doesn't take a data scientist to point out that there is something broken about the system, but we simply don't talk about it.

Infrastructure is another thing that isn't discussed, even though it affects almost all aspects of our lives in India, irrespective of what we get paid. The fact that we struggle to commute daily, whether by public or private transport, but accept decades of incompetence without complaint, is hard to justify.

We are surrounded by examples of wasteful expenditure at every major street corner but say nothing about collapsing bridges and potholes that constantly claim lives.
We could talk about the environment, if possible, without allowing our emotions to get in the way of our logic. Climate change deniers continue to exist, flooding WhatsApp groups with misinformation. It's hard to be swayed by some of this propaganda in the face of facts though, especially when drought continues to ravage our state, and the monsoons batter our city every year. Concepts that even children can grasp fail to be taken seriously by the governments we elect.

At times, it's hard to make sense of how easily we can be manipulated, how so many of us are conned into believing we are patriots for all the wrong reasons. If patriotism is about standing up for your country and supporting it, it's also about making sure everyone in your country has access to the same rights you do. It's about questioning your government when it fails to respect the constitution. It involves being angry about things that have a real effect on human lives, rather than gestures or token symbols devoid of any meaning.

So, yes, the national anthem may be a big deal for some people, but it no longer occupies much space in my head. It used to move me once, the opening 'Jana Gana Mana' making me teary-eyed. Now, it angers me. We are being forced to spend more time on it than on issues that really matter in the larger scheme of things, and I don't feel like standing up for it anymore.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira
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