The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Righteousness about the national flag and anthem accounts for much wasted energy and time in India. A disconcerting number of Indian citizens exercise their democratic right to freedom of expression by voicing the banal sentiments as to how these icons of patriotism should be respected. This results not only in the trivialization of public discourse, but also in a huge waste of the courts' time in dealing with nonsensical public interest litigation. The chief minister of Bihar, Ms Rabri Devi, and her husband, Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav, seem to have been quite loftily above such banalities. They allegedly sat through the national anthem during a public event, instead of standing up to attention. This had offended the patriotic feelings of a non-governmental organization, which went on to file a PIL. A court in Indore has now ruled that not standing at attention while the anthem is being played is not prima facie a crime.

This is not the first time that a court has had to bother itself with such trivia. In April last year, a retired engineer in Bhopal had created quite a stir in Madhya Pradesh. He went to see a Hindi film, which had a scene where the anthem was being played or sung. This gentleman was shocked to see that nobody in the hall was standing up. He then went about trying to persuade everybody to stand up, and generally made quite a nuisance of himself. He then got the state police enthused and protested in front of many cinema halls showing this film. The police commanded the public to stand up during the sequence, which was merrily disregarded, at which the gentleman filed a case, and got the court to ban the sequence in the film. But the Supreme Court then suspended the lower court's ban, and pointed out that Indians do not have to stand up when the national anthem came on as part of a film. More recently, the wording of the anthem has also been subjected to dispute, and the flag is rescued from time to time from grievous dishonour in being used as material for cocktail dresses or other such atrocities. Indian courts are supposed to be overloaded with cases. Even special fast-track courts, desperately set up to clear this backlog, are unable to cope with this situation. In such a scenario, the courts being swamped with such silly expressions of outrage is particularly annoying and should be summarily prevented, at no cost to democracy whatsoever.

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