Every time we were made to stand for the national anthem at school, none of us had the foggiest of idea of what it really meant.
The national anthem would play, and us 6th-graders would stand up like golems as if wired to do so, while maintaining proper decorum. No one told us singing ‘Jana Gana Mana’ should instill patriotic feelings in us, but we knew not singing it would mean disrespect. So, we obliged.
After moving out of school, the true essence of showing respect to national symbols was understood, as well as critiqued. There weren’t as many occasions to stand up for the national anthem anymore, but that didn’t mean our patriotic expression had faded. It was just exhibited less often.
As we grew older, we questioned the idea of the need to publicly express our patriotic sentiments. Was it essential to prove our love for our country through ritual idolatry?
As the Supreme Court goes back and forth with its order of whether it should be mandatory for people to stand for the National Anthem played in movie theatres, we wonder if such mandated displays of patriotism compromise our freedom of expression.
Patriotism is a sentiment that’s personal. However you choose to express it is your business. It cannot be enforced.
While it’s true that we need to promote the spirit of patriotism, wouldn’t it have defeated the purpose if it was dictated? Your public displays of affection to your country don’t reflect how patriotic you are, but there are other things that do.
Respect regardless of labels
Respecting another’s allegiance to their country and not targeting communities or individuals who don’t fit your idea of loyalty to the country.
A true patriot will try to promote a culture of unity across the country, and not let his or her heightened state of patriotism get wounded through how someone else expresses theirs.
The love for your country comes from the love for its people, regardless of labels, identity or religion. Regardless of gender.
Foster gender equality
Shouldn’t the real test of patriotism preside in how much the women of the country are respected? Patriotic sloganeering is done in the name of Bharat Mata, while the women are treated as second-class citizens in their own country.
Thousands of rape cases are reported in India every year, which is also the most underreported crime in the country. Sexual abuse is misunderstood, and so is consent. Women are either infantilized to the point that they’re reduced to mere sexual beings, or put on a pedestal to be worshipped as mothers, wives or sisters. The first step towards equality is to see them as individuals with a choice.
Protect the environment
Promoting a culture of unity is done by caring for the well-being of the people you share your country with. The keyword here is share.
The October 9 ban on firecrackers by the Supreme Court in Delhi did not affect the air pollution levels, with no reduction in the use of firecrackers. It doesn’t take a genius to point out what would’ve been more patriotic – standing up for the national anthem in a movie hall, or not letting your festive practices come in the way of someone else’s well-being.
People continued to burst crackers even a week after Diwali. Roads were full of the cracker remains, dirty with the previous night’s festivities. Is it really celebration when the rest are put in harm’s way because of it?
Empathy towards animals
Hundreds of animals were hurt because of firecrackers this Diwali, and some also died from it. There was a complete disregard for their well-being and their rights. As strays overpopulate the streets of India, animal shelter groups across social media are flooded with adoption requests. Most of these animals up for adoption are the ones who were abandoned by former owners, and others were injured in car accidents.
Feelings of patriotism shouldn’t be instilled from the idea that your country is above all. Sloganeering is only an outward manifestations, which mean little when forced. The real deal is to be able to see the flaws in your country and work towards getting rid of them. Adding to the problem can’t be patriotism. Leaving no room for dissent can’t be either.
No one should have the agency to decide what is patriotic and what is anti-national, but that is precisely the point. Such sentiments cannot be imposed nor can they be measured on a patriotic meter. Because in a diverse country like India, such a meter cannot exist.