The Big Story: Needless exercise
When the Supreme Court in November, 2016 mandated that all cinema halls in the country should play the national anthem before the screening of every film, the Union government cheered the move.
The decision led to a debate on two counts. Is it the responsibility of the court to frame laws? Should one’s patriotism be tested by their commitment to stand up for the anthem in a place which is primarily meant for entertainment? These questions turned out to be sharply divisive, with ultra-nationalists of the Right deeming anyone questioning the orders anti-national.
The move led to incidents in several cinema halls, with those not standing for the anthem being attacked. Cases were also booked against some for disrespecting the national anthem.
On Tuesday, the Centre took a U-turn in the matter, filing an affidavit before the court asking for the mandatory clause to be diluted. The government said it has formed an inter-departmental committee consisting of members from 12 ministries to analyse the issue and come out with rules. This exercise required wide discussions, the affidavit stated. The Supreme Court obliged and said playing the national anthem will no longer be mandatory, but people have to respect it by standing up if a cinema hall chooses to play the song.
It is not clear why the Centre took over a year to make this submission. It could have made the same point in November 2016 and spared the country of a bizarre rule.
Even on Tuesday, the Centre’s affidavit showed that its priorities are completely misplaced. While the country is facing several challenges, including an economic slowdown and marked drop in job creation, the Union government is putting substantial resources into something that was never a popular demand. It is hard to recollect the last time when 12 ministries were involved in a lawmaking exercise. The move also shows that the Centre may still be harbouring plans to make playing the song on certain occasions mandatory, only this time it will try to give the move the legitimacy of legislative approval.
The argument made against the Supreme Court decision’s in November 2016 still holds true. Left to themselves, Indians have shown great respect to and taken pride in the national anthem over the last seven decades. The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act already governing the anthem is more than adequate to protect its sanctity if implemented properly.
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‘We don’t want to be identified on the basis of our religion,’ say Assam’s indigenous Desi Muslims.
“It is a mobilisation of sorts to let everyone, including the government and nationalist organisations, know that we are indigenous people of Assam, not migrants,” Hamid said. “There is no point if one of us goes and talks to some minister in private, we have to come out in numbers and assert ourselves. That is why we are here today.”