Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Evicting thinking minds

Vikram is a good friend who delights in irreverence and for whom I have a great fondness, in part, because of this irreverence, his love of laughter and his quest for the funny side of things.

However, some things are never funny. Mobs, for instance. Especially 'patriotic' mobs who don't have a single original idea in their head. Even their chest-thumping love for the motherland is derivative, at best, and dangerous, at worst.

Vikram writes -

I was already feeling very angry at people who refuse to question their beliefs (of religion, society, childhood conditioning, education, politics, etc.). And instead, choose to push me around to confirm to their beliefs.

So when the national anthem started, it was the LAST straw. I decided I WILL NOT be dictated by politics. And I WILL NOT stand up for the national anthem. I BELIEVE that one can show respect sitting, and so I WILL do what I BELIEVE.

As it turned out, he was abused, assaulted and evicted from a cinema theatre in Mumbai, for choosing to feel patriotic in his own way. This is tantamount to abusing, assualting and evicting a thinking, questioning mind, a creative patriot.

I usually stand up for anthem without any fuss, partly because it is too much trouble to fight the norm. Also because I don't want to face mobs. But yes, I'd like the option not to. I'd like the legal, constitutional, public option not to.

Because, like the poet said, ishq par zor nahin....

Love (and respect) is about wanting to. Love (and respect) - even if it is for a piece of geography and barbed wire, even if it is an incomprehensible mix of things you love and loathe - cannot be forced. You will, when you will, how you will, if you will.


Apun Ka Desh said...

Interesting :)


diksha said...

hmmm true...

Anonymous said...

Nothing wrong in protesting forced allegiance. Just wish that you would protest the following as well:
1. Polygamy
2. Fatwa
3. Prayers five times a day forced by clerics
4. India's chief imam's open call for cessation
5. Forced coversions

Anonymous said...

this dude guy seems crazy:):):)
what happened with Vikram could've happened only in B'bay. I remember, in 1942-a love story, they played the national anthem at the end of the film. I watched it in Delhi and over fifty percent people just walked off. And I remember my classmates making fun of national anthem during the morning assembly in school.

I think we need to review the very idea of patriotism.Its always been taken as the right thing to do while castism and fundamentalism are looked down upon. Is there any real difference between what these isms propound? And Patriotism has been responsible for many many more killings than the other isms.


Annie Zaidi said...

indian: thanks
sheetal: hmm?
pawan: i agree :)

dude: 1. I don't protest polygamy because there's nothing wrong with polygamy or polyandry or celibacy. It is not the government's business to poke their noses into how many people one has in one's bed. The institution of marriage should be outside the state's purview, except when it comes to protecting children's rights.

2. Fatwa...Totally. I protest all fatwas. There should be fatwas against fatwas. Legally, however, fatwas are not binding. And thank god they aren't.

3. Nobody can force you to pray. Prayers five times a day are not legally binding either. But personally, I protest both clerics and involuntarily praying.

4. India has a chief imam? only one? If he calls for cessation, he's either stupid or very dangerous. We've had one partition too many.

5. Forced coversions? Forced anything, dude. I protest forced anything.

Anonymous said...

Most interesting. But I am surprised that it went this far. It usually doesn't.

Cee Kay said...

I was always told (and I went to school with Army and Airforce brats - they would've known) that one does not stand up when our national anthem is being played indoors - one just stays still to pay respect to it. One doesn't talk, walk off or look around - one just sits still until it is over.

Anonymous said...

I wud like to answer Mr dude here.

1. Islam doesnt endorse polygamy. It infact was meant to stop polygamy. It came around at a place where, and at a time when people were not ashamed of keeping even a dozen of wives at a time, even India has a history. So it was kind of restricting them to not having more than 4. And in that too, if one goes by the law, its not easy to remarry as it comes with many rules that have to be and are not easy to be followed. But its human nature to mould things according to their conveniences. I completely protest polygamy and thank God its not so common these days, at least in India.

2. Fatwas are not binding and thats all I can say. Its on one's own choice to follow it or not and I wud prefer it that way.

3. A forced prayer cant be a prayer at all. Its like asking for something from someone when you actually dont need it and dont want it. I protest anything which is forced even if its the biggest neccessity like food. I will eat when I want to eat.

4. Whos that guy? Can be some self proclaimed one or born and brought up by the poltics.

5. Forcing somebody to do or follow something is a crime and no religion can allow such crime.

Wud like to add that one person or a dozen or even a thousand for that matter can not represent a whole community.
Just because someone has a muslim name doesnt mean that whatever he or she does is islamic. As far as I have read and understood, no religion in this world teaches hatred or anything illogical.

By the way, impov, which religion or beleif one follows should strictly be his or her own choice.

Unfortunately in India we talk of nationalism, socialism, regionalism, fundamentalism, etc, etc. One thing that we forget about is individualism. Why cant we be simple individuals and be freed to do our own things and left alone to live our lives on our own terms.

Take care and try not to be judgemental all the time.

Annie Zaidi said...

anirudh: mobs are terrible things. it always goes too far.
gettingthere: that's what I had heard. but that's not the point either. moving around should not be considered any more a sign of disrespect than sitting still.
iram: spirited defence. good for you.

Anonymous said...

I had only one point to make when I got evivted and the same point to make now - Question things: laws, systems, conditionings, beliefs etc. They define your life. Your death. And everything in between.

And after deep questioining if u realize that they are built on the premise of other people's fear, self interest, insecurities then you will end up living a quasi-life. You may also realize that your true greatness lies only when u see through these layers.

All I ask is for us to ask. And have the right to ask.
- vikram chauhan.com

suresh said...


My sympathies. Just to place things in context, though, perceived insults to "national symbols" evoke strong reactions elsewhere too. Many sporting events in the US start with the singing of the national anthem and while one can sit down for the singing, I am sure you will be subjected to a few stares. A few years ago, George W. Bush wanted a constitutional amendment to make "desecration" of the national flag (as in burning it) an offence. Fortunately, the procedure for a constitutional amendment in the US is so convoluted that this never even got started.

Perhaps the difference between the US and ourselves is only this - in the US, the law is sufficiently strong that no one can take the law into his own hands and hope to get away with it, no matter the nature of the provocation. In our country, our elite can hope to get away with murder - witness Jessica Lall, Priyadarshini Mattoo and many unnamed others.

We have a long way to go before we become a truly liberal society - that much is clear. But, in the meantime, for any one wanting to challenge the status quo, the problem is that you get no protection from mob fury. Indeed, the space for liberal thinking has noticeably narrowed over the years in India.

I admire your courage but have to be honest to confess that in the same situation, I would have been "confirmist." May be, I will change and take a stand the next time...

Balaji said...

Well Interesting...

I think the answer to Vikram's question lies with him only.

He did quote socrates and mentioned that you have to question everything...

Now vikram should try questioning himself. Why does he not want to stand when the national anthem is played? And question the later why's and he will know his answer.

I feel that one should stand up be it soceital norms or something else.

The minimum thing that we can do is respect the nation. And I feel standing up is a form of respect and I don't think It is wrong.

If we want to argue on something this can go on forever...What matter is does the subject require an argument?

suresh said...


It is fine to say that you think everyone should stand up for the national anthem and that vikram is wrong in not standing up. That is not the issue here. Rather, the question is how should you treat someone who does not agree with your views. Bash him and abuse him? The hallmark of a good society - in my opinion - is that it gives the greatest latitude towards dissent. I would have been happy if the people who targetted Vikram had expressed their unhappiness at his not standing up and left it at that. But that is not what happened.

At this moment, you are part of the "majority" but it is possible that at some future date, you will find yourself holding a "minority" opinion. A society which respects and tolerates dissent is important precisely because each of us - at some point - may find ourselves holiding "minority" opinions.

WillOTheWisp said...


It is interesting, the little point that Balaji raises. Your little highlight of Mr Vikram's line of reasoning and behaviour is, not a little, amusing.

He believes what he would like to believe and chooses to believe. And probably ( albeit a tad unwisely ) does what he believes in. And, of course, finds no reason to conform to others' beliefs.

The people who did what they did also did what they believed in. No?

Mr Suresh raises a point about dissent and respect for it. Mr Vikram, undoubtedly, desired respect ( and maybe a bit more of tolerance ) for his dissent. The "mob" that nearly lynched him, decided to dissent with his desire,...obviously.

I would not like to reason with Mr Vikram here. Nor question him. There is just this one little observation ( having read what he has / had to say ) - the entire line of 'questioning' ( or serious lack thereof ) calls to mind the adjective, stripped of its pejorative sense ( or so I would like to believe ) - juvenile. ( I am afraid there is as much depth to it as the arguments / debates that one picks with one's parents in the mid-teens. In fact, in retrospect, I recall having had this same line of "questioning" about the same thing, both in secondary school and with friends / parents alike ).

As Mr Vikram insists, one must "question" why....


A little maturity ( and maybe consistency ) would be more accomodating, tolerant, patient and wise with respect to what to dissent about, when, why and how. ( There was nothing that stopped Mr Vikram from standing up for the duration and then debating the issue with those who "believe" that NOT standing up is outright disrespectful - I'm sure it would not have been contrary to his beliefs ).

Of course there are tangential issues like social civilities, decorum, protocol. But then I would not be expecting Mr Vikram to be working in the Indian Foreign Office.

All said with not a little measure of impishness and pique...


Annie Zaidi said...

vikram: right you are (when did you become so wise :) ?)
suresh: you're right too. except that in the US too, people get away with a lot. including murder.
balaji: you're welcome to your beliefs, but any society's only legitimate rules are those that prevent us from hurting each other. or, once we do, to make us make amends. and the national anthem - whether one stands for it or not - does not qualify.
willothewisp: impishness and pique notwithstanding, one major flaw in your reasoning - vikram did not hurt anybody through his belief or action. the mob did. dissenters had a right to refuse to sit in the same theatre as vikram; they had no right to demand that he be thrown out or to touch him. big difference.

WillOTheWisp said...

I have been led to believe that it is illegal to stay sitting when you have been asked to stand for the national anthem. Looking at it coldly enough, it is law.

It is the same across the world and the idea is not necessarily borne out of any sense of patriotism, derivative or not, but a compact between the constitution and the people which takes a small opportunity whereby a small community of people have come together voluntarily, to call to their minds, the fact that they are citizens of a particular nation / state. It also gives an opportunity, for some people, to question why they do not feel impelled to respond the way the majority do.

You could also liken it to the social conventions like standing up while being introduced to / meeting a lady ( regardless of whether you love or loathe her ) or the gentle bowing of the head ( while standing up, again ) at a funeral or witnessing its procession.

Is it too much to ask for?

Appropos your response, I would say that Mr Vikram got off lightly, especially in this climate - he could just as well have been reported as a secessionist militant.
I may not have reacted the way the people did, but then I would not fnd myself averse to havikng a quiet word with Mr Vikram at a suitable opportunity.

How do YOU decide that Mr Vikram did not 'hurt' anybody through his belief or action? People are people, the same as you and me - it would be stupid to assume that they are stupid while we are not.

Leaving aside the idea of Mr Vikram 'hurting' someone, it is a matter a little more prosaic. Mr Vikram would do well to remember hereafter -

You do not have to pee on a man's face to prove that he gets pissed off

No offence meant...

One in the crowd said...

Yes it is a law to stand up but why is there such a law in the first place?

A law to pay taxes is fine, a law to maintain cleanliness is fine, a law against anti national activities is fine, but a law to SHOW your respect or patriotism???

I am all for patriotism but how to express it should be left to individual discretion.

Anonymous said...

Very Interesting & thought provoking post!

Cheers, Rohit

Roon said...

Hi - this is definitely thought provoking.... the right to disssent vs following some norms in society. Personally, while I am all for an individuals right to play to his own tune, logically, if everyone starts believeing the same and personal choice is stretched to the extreme, there could be utter chaos. What I hate about Delhi is some people driving the other way in a one-way street... could this also pass off as personal choice ?

ImmaculateMissConception said...

why is it such a big deal that Vikram chose to continue sitting for the national anthem, to express HIS respect for it?? who is the government or even the public to tell a citizen in which form to show respect. correct me if i am wrong, civics was a subject i did many many years ago, but i do remember their being a freedom of expression granted to us. and if Vikram's way of expressing his respect, doesnt match the Aam Junta, does that automatically make him wrong?
what about the douche bags who do stand up for the anthems, but thes start playing vande mataram on their cells to show how much more patriotic they are?? correct me, thoose of you who think we should stand, isnt one of the requirements while standing for the national anthem, is to remain still,OUT OF RESPECT??
what about those fools who giggle, and play lewd songs on their phones?
these above mentioned ppl do stand, no doubt, but they do so disresctfully.
i had surgery and on my first night out of the house, to watch Omkara, i was carried into the theater. just as they settled me in the seat, the anthem began to play. needless to say, i was not in a position to stand up. So some offended "patriots" kep kicking my chair alternately during the national anthem. how respectful is that??? i waited till the national anthem was over to create a fuss. and pointed out that they cud have done the same. that left them stumped but it took them till the interval to apologise. I was lucky i encountered the slightly docile sorts..it could have been ugly.
anyway, this is not about being patriotic, patriotism comes from a deep rooted feeling of respect...unfortunately respect for fellow human beings is what the world lacks...its sad but true.. its strange how i can never write anything in my own blog, but can spend hours reading others and reacting to them...i know that was totally arbit, but yeah well...

Anonymous said...

i admire the american habit of making fun of thier flag and presidents. blind reverence is unhealthy and a spirit of questioning and demystifying a lot better. moreover it indicative of an system which is secure in itself.

patriotic mobs are indicative of india's underdeveloped social consciousness. social values are bigger than the individual and reason. axioms like "culture" and "patriotisim" or "sex as pleasure is sin" are beyond questioning. even in elite circles theres an attempt to reconcile liberalisim and convervatisim. "i prefer to sit and respect". assumption - national anthems call for respect.

why not develop a thought to its conclusion? why sit and respect? why respect at all? isnt patriotisim the last refuge of a scoundrel? ever heard someone say that on a public platform in india? arundhati roy gets close sometimes.

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