Vande Mataram

The “dead issue” is brought back to life yet again by some Muslim clerics who issued a fatwa against the recital of Vande Mataram by Muslims. In response, Hindu hard-liners retorted that those who refuse to sing the national song should go to Pakistan.

Two connected but fundamentally different claims are made here: (1) that Vande Mataram is un-Islamic, and (2) that refusal to sing Vande Mataram is unpatriotic. While the former is induced by religion, the latter has national chauvinism written all over it.

We certainly can’t deny the communal and political motives behind such claims, but the falsity of the second claim deems the first one almost irrelevant. In a just and liberal society no one should be forced to sing a song, be it national song or national anthem. If I, for example, find Vande Mataram offensive for religious, personal, ethical or any other reason, I should have freedom to deny its recital.

As Amit Varma has argued in a compelling blog post (link), there are two types of patriotism: one is primarily driven by love, and the other from pride and self-esteem. The first type of patriot doesn’t impose his own love and reverence (for the country) on others. While the second type of patriot demands everyone else to share his fervor and passion. A love-driven patriot may feel bad if others don’t share his feeling, but unlike a pride-driven patriot he wouldn’t get offended by that. Symbolism (like national anthem, flag etc.) and display are very important to the pride-driven patriotism. But they don’t mean much to the love-driven patriot, who adores the real things (like food, culture and music) as opposed to symbols that represent them.

The other concern that this event raises is about the vices of an unbridled democracy. There is a detailed discussion in Fareed Zakaria’s illuminating book The Future of Freedom about this. The first source of abuse in a democratic society comes from the government, and the second source comes from the people themselves. The will of majority can easily transform into tyranny of majority. The will of majority is important, even crucial to a democratic system, but so is the protection of minority’s rights. Democracy is surely a good system, but too much of a good thing can be bad sometimes.

[See my earlier related post: Talibanization of India]

Clarification: It might appear from my post above that I am implicitly approving the fatwa declared by the cleric. I am not. What I am defending is: liberty. If one doesn’t want to sing Vande Mataram, he should not be forced to sing. And same way, if a muslim wants to sing Vande Mataram then he should be allowed to do so as well.

For the interested reader, here’s good summary of issues and controversies surrounding Vande Mataram.

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5 responses to “Vande Mataram

  1. rags

    Hi vishal. Coming to your blog after a long time. I will comment on the rest of your posts later when I have the time.

    A very thoughtful post. I have nothing against Muslims not wanting to sing Vande Mataram and also totally against a group of people deciding what is ‘patriotic’ and ‘unpatriotic’ for a plural society.

    However we need to realize that Vande mataram is just not any other ordinary song. It is intricately related to the freedom movement and it was the united voice of millions of people who sang in the same voice against the British rule. There is hardly anything communal about it though Muslims groups have been branding it religious for a long time.

    Infact I’d go so far as to say that Vande mataram truly represented the spirit of Independent India more than our national anthem ever did. Refusing to sing vande mataram seems equivalent to denying the essence of our freedom struggle.

    However I still reiterate that no group should be forced to sing any song in a plural democratic set up. But I’d like Muslims to introspect what is the exact reason they don’t want to sing this song. Is it merely because of references to India as mother goddess or is it because of something else…

    Besides do Muslims refuse to do anything which is even slightly unIslamic in their everyday life? Islam is against music too, so do they stop listening to musics, songs and stop watching movies? I guess not.

    So why such strict standards for a song which was the war cry of the freedom movement… I don’t know.

  2. Vishal

    Hey Rags, welcome back!

    The reason behind their denial is probably embedded with religious as well as (communal) reactionary elements. But my point is, does it really matter?

    All that matters is that a group of people don’t want to sing Vande Mataram. And whatever the reasons for their denial might be, in a free country, that should be absolutely fine. The validity of their reasoning, shouldn’t infringe upon their liberty as a civilian of a free country.

    And let’s say, for argument’s sake, that their rationalization is completely invalid and they are doing this because they are unpatriotic. Now, as preposterous as it might sound, I would even go ahead and say that one should be even free to be unpatriotic! (Keeping in mind that unpatriotic is different than anti-national.)

  3. Vishal

    @ JD,

    Thanks for the link. I applaud Javed Akhtar’s audacity, but disagree with him about the frivolity of the matter. I really don’t think it’s such a non-issue. Vande Mataram controversy in itself might just be a political/communal ploy, but beneath the surface there are darker implications/motivations/convictions.

  4. sushant kumar

    hello dear as you said that every one must have liberty of his choice. in this case you are citing the choice for singing a song whether some person wants to sing it or not. you are right up to some extent but “VANDE MATARAM” is not any ordinary song and it is accepted by government of india as its national song.if you are saying that you did not want to sing the song whatever the reason is it is same as like you don’t want to pay taxes because its against your religion.what i meant to say is that whom you prefer religion or country .how can any one assure of your love and loyalty towards your country if you are not showing respect towards national emblem,song,anthem or flag. think seriously about that

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