As the sun set on the outgoing year, the Gujarat government decided that it was time to further the cause of patriotic fervour. The command came in the form of an official circular from the state secondary and higher secondary education board and the director of primary education. It spelt out the rationale and scope quite imperiously: "In order to instil nationalism from a young age, it is directed that students of all schools, government, grant-in-aid as well as private, should say 'Jai Bharat' or 'Jai Hind', instead of 'Yes Sir' or 'Present Sir' across the state from January 1, 2019. Ensure that this is followed across all schools."
Of course, patriotism is a good thing. All citizens of a nation should have it. But must students be forced to carry it on their sleeves, or, in this case on their lips, during a routine and mundane exercise of a school rollcall? I am not sure if other mature democracies insist upon this kind of public display of patriotism. I wonder, for instance, what the reaction would be in America if students during rollcall in schools were forced to say 'Long live America' when their name is called out!
Like in most good things, the danger is of erring in excess. This danger was discussed by the Supreme Court in the context of the national anthem being played in cinema halls. While the SC had in November 2016 concurred with the government's directive in this regard, in January 2018 it reviewed its decision, making compliance optional. The thinking of the court had become clear in the interim. In October 2017, it observed that people "cannot be forced to carry their patriotism on their sleeves", and it cannot be assumed that if a person does not stand up for the national anthem he is "less patriotic".
The same logic would apply to school students. Is a student saying 'Yes Sir' or 'Present Sir', less patriotic than one who says 'Jai Hind' or 'Jai Bharat' According to the Gujarat government the answer would be yes, but i think many people would rightly disagree. Reducing a citizen's love for one's country to a rigid formula is beset with problems. Who has the ordained right to devise these formulas
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