Well, that lasted long… India reverses ridiculous anthem law

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Back in November 2016, India’s Supreme Court ruled that everyone had to stand for the country’s national anthem before cinema screenings. The cinema should keep doors shut so no one could interrupt, it added.

The ruling quickly led to fights and surly kids being arrested. It also quickly led to a flurry of other rulings to try and make the law less silly. Courts issued exemptions for disabled people – at least one wheelchair-bound man was beaten up for not standing – and a clarification pointing out that cinemas shouldn’t actually lock people inside during the anthem as that would be a fire risk.

Well, now, 14 months later, the Supreme Court’s reversed the decision entirely. Phew, you may think. Well, not quite. The court made the u-turn in response to a government request, which suggests politics is behind the move.

India’s Hindu nationalist government also knows the ruling’s achieved everything it could in terms of stirring patriotism and quashing dissent. Schools and cities have been blasting the anthem out more than ever since the initial ruling and they’re not going to stop. The government doesn’t need the law anymore.

Any reader of this blog will know I’m against mandated anthem singing – patriotism shouldn’t be forced. In India, it basically still is.

A warning to anyone visiting India: stand for their anthem!

People standing for the anthem in a New Delhi cinema. This photo's stolen from Chandan Khanna of Agence France-Presse. Sorry, Chandan!

People standing for the anthem in a New Delhi cinema. This photo’s stolen from Chandan Khanna of Agence France-Presse. Sorry, Chandan!

What the hell’s going on in India? A quick timeline of recent events:

  • 2002: Shyam Narayan Chouksey, a retired engineer, goes to his local cinema in Bhopal to watch some Bollywood. During the film, India’s national anthem is played during a scene at a school fete so Shyam stands up to respect it. No one else does – most shout at Shyam to sit down as he’s obscuring their view – so Shyam stages a protest, then starts filing court orders to try and get people to respect the anthem. Everyone assumes Shyam will soon be forgotten by history (Shyam’s full story is here)
  • 30 November 2016: India’s Supreme Court – responding to one of Shyam’s many complaints – rules that all cinemas must play the anthem before screenings and keep doors shut so no one can interrupt it. Everyone inside must stand
  • 10 December 2016: India’s Supreme Court realises it’s gone slightly too far and allows disabled people to remain seated during the anthem. It also clarifies that it didn’t mean for cinemas to lock people inside during the anthem. That is a fire risk, after all
  • 13 December 2016: Indian police arrest 12 people for not standing for the anthem!!! Most of the arrests are at a film festival and the attendees stayed sitting so as not to lose their seats, although others were actually people protesting the new law

India, if I can address you for a moment:




You don’t force people to be patriotic. Your country should be inspiring enough that people want to stand for your anthem without needing a law to tell them to. How many other countries have such laws? None! Well, maybe North Korea, but you get my point; this isn’t a sensible thing to have done.

Have some self-confidence, and get this ruling overturned. And when Shyam files his next petition, try to ignore it!

The Paralympics – more anthems than the Olympics (including some words on Trinidad and Tobago’s)

Australia on their way to winning gold at the wheelchair rugby. Always an amazing sport to watch

Ouch! Australia on their way to winning gold at the wheelchair rugby

If you watched the Paralympics, you might have noticed something. No, not that wheelchair rugby is an incredibly violent sport. But that the countries that won gold are hugely different to the Olympics winners.

Some 63 countries took that medal, four more than at the Olympics, and 17 of those didn’t win one gold a month ago, and that includes such giants (in population terms) as India, Egypt and Nigeria. What does that mean? Well, it probably says a lot about the lack of money in the Paralympics meaning there’s a more equal playing field, but, in the context of this national anthem-obsessed blog, it means only one thing: that people got to hear 17 anthems for the first time this year!

Many of those anthems I’ve written about on here or in my book. They range from greats like Algeria’s (the only anthem to mention machine guns) to the controversial like Iraq’s, the much loved like Malaysia’s, to the plain naughty like Mexico’s (the only anthem written out of lust).

But there were a few that I haven’t written about, of which one sticks out: Trinidad and Tobago’s.

What’s interesting about Forged From the Love of Liberty that makes it worth choosing? Musically? Nothing. And lyrically? Nothing either!

But there are two reasons it’s interesting. Firstly, it was originally written as the anthem of the West Indies Federation, which lasted from 1958 to 1962, and was an attempt to almost create one country in the Caribbean. Its author Patrick Castagne made his song vague enough to appeal to everyone, with lines about all the islands “side by side…our hearts joined across the sea.” But when the federation collapsed he didn’t decide to just let it disappear to history, he tweaked it to make it work for Trinidad and Tobago instead. He was somehow awarded $5,000 for those three minutes of work.

It’s the only anthem I know of that’s been rewritten in that way (Russia’s used to the be the anthem of the Soviet Union, but I think this is more dramatic).

The second thing that’s interesting is Patrick himself. Patrick wasn’t just an anthem writer. He also wrote calypsos, including this great tune, Ice Man for someone called Lord Melody.

I wonder if Akeem Stewart – the Trinidadian Paralympian who won gold in the javelin at the Paralympics and silver in the discus – would have preferred to have heard some calypso on the podium instead of his anthem. If you know him, please ask.

Hello Japan! Hello India!

Republic or Death! Japanese edition

Amazing news #1! Someone in Japan’s translated the chapter of my book all about their controversial national anthem and is passing it around the country’s teachers – who refuse to stand for the song – as I type.

Amazing news #2! My book’s reached India. Here’s an insanely good Times of India review.

“Hilarious”? “Unforgettable”? “Will inspire deep thought over the meaning, construction and symbols of patriotism and national identity”? My book is apparently all of those and more! Thanks very much to the reviewer who I probably should send some rupees to now!

The importance of transnational anthems

Breanne Sinclaire sings the Star-Soangled Banner

A couple of months ago, a young opera singer, Breanna Sinclairé, became the first transgender person to sing the Star-Spangled Banner before a US sports event (yes, Caitlyn Jenner surprisingly didn’t get there first!).

It was a nice story and Breanna (pictured) gave some great interviews at the time about what the experience meant to her, but I ignored it as it just seemed to be a baseball club, the Oakland A’s, giving a spot to someone with a brilliant voice.

But then this week the below film emerged in India of transgender women, known as hijras, singing the country’s anthem Jana Gana Mana.

It’s an appalling recording – for some reason everyone sounds like they’re singing in an oil drum – but it’s inspiring to watch them make such a public statement. It’s also interesting that they chose their anthem to sing – it being the easiest way to say we are part of this country and you can’t ignore us or undermine us. It says it all about what anthems still represent in much of the world, although it also says how desperate the people are if they’re having to make videos like it.

I expect more clips like it will appear soon because of the simplicity of its message. Although please, anyone considering making one, get the sound right!

Man the barricades! India and Pakistan launch national anthem war


India and Pakistan have fought many proxy wars over the years: trying to beat each other at cricket, racing to build nuclear weapons, performing bizarre dances at border posts (see above).

But they’ve now started perhaps the silliest: trying to get the most people to sing a national anthem.

Back in January, India became the world record holder when 15,243 people in Aurangabad, a town near Mumbai, sung Jana Gana Mana (‘You are the ruler of the minds of all people’). For some reason, Guinness gave them the record despite most US sports stadiums beating that each week.

In October, Pakistan realised this was an easy opportunity to give India a kicking, and so 42,000 people sung their anthem, Qaumi Tarana, at a festival in Punjab. They didn’t sing in time or in tune, as this clip proves, but apparently that’s no barrier to becoming a record beaker.

But now India’s got it back. Earlier this month, some 50,000 gathered in Kanpur to belt out their anthem and “uphold India’s pride”. Guinness is due to confirm the victory soon. No one seemed to film that event – fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your viewpoint – so I can’t comment on the quality of their effort.

Whatever’s going to happen next is anyone’s guess, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pakistani government is right now giving all 176 million of its people singing lessons and preparing an event in Kashmir. Can another country get in on the act quickly, please?