Enforced patriotism has many pitfalls as we have seen with the national anthem being made mandatory in movie halls. There have been several instances of people being attacked for not standing up, even to the extent of a disabled person being belaboured by people who thought he did not show enough respect on account of not being able to arise from his wheelchair. So, the issue of making the anthem compulsory in any venue should be thought through very thoroughly. The Supreme Court is now examining whether it should be made mandatory in schools with reference to a statement by the attorney general that singing the national anthem instils a sense of patriotism in children and, therefore, it should be made mandatory in schools. So far, the bench has said that the issue needs to be debated and then decided.
The Indian school system has many problems, among which one of the most pressing is the lack of teachers. Once such a thing is made mandatory, it becomes actionable. If there is, for example, a school which has too few teachers, how are they to ensure that the anthem is sung in the proper manner by children? If they fail to do this, this leaves them open to harassment from vested interests. What if the children don’t know the words to the anthem?
Patriotism is not instilled through the singing of the anthem alone. If children want to sing the anthem and understand what it stands for, it can be done by schools in their own time and space. The significance of the anthem and flag and the history associated with them can be taught to the child in a manner which she finds enjoyable and educative.
There are many lessons to be learnt from the way in which the mandatory anthem in movie halls has been hijacked by self-styled custodians of patriotism. Invariably, when left to such people, an element of coercion and harassment enters the picture. In the case of schools, if such a move is enforced, who is to ensure that it is carried out properly? Chances are that local interests will appropriate this task and the whole thing will be given a political colour.
The apex court had earlier turned down a plea of making the national anthem mandatory in all public offices, including Parliament, assemblies and the courts. Schools should not be made the exemption. Of course, on certain occasions the anthem may be sung, but voluntarily. There are far more important things to deal with in the education system than this, and these should get priority.