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To sing or not to sing: Madras HC judge overstepped remit on Vande Mataram

S Murari | Updated on: 26 July 2017, 15:32 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

A Madras High Court judge courted controversy by saying that Vande Mataram be sung at least once a week at schools, colleges, universities, and once a month at private companies, government offices and factories.

In making such a sweeping direction, Justice MV Muralidharan has gone beyond his remit: to decide whether the song was written by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in Bengali or Sanskrit.

Bengali... Sanskrit... no! Sanskrit... Bengali

It all began with a plea moved by K Veeramani. While taking a test for a job, Veeramani wrote the song was written in Bengali.

According to Veermani, he scored 89 in the exam conducted by the Teachers Recruitment Board, a mark short of the minimum eligibility of 90. Veermani contended that he

had read that the song was written in Bengali but translated later to Sanskrit and thus the Board's answer (Sanskrit) was not right.

The Board, however, contended that the original was in Sanskrit and it was translated to Bengali.

To clear doubts, Muralidharan directed the state's Advocate General (AG) to find out the right answer. On 13 July, the AG clarified that the original Vande Mataram was in Sanskrit but it was written in the Bengali script.

Instead of confining matters to the main issue, the judge went on to wax eloquent about the need to revive the patriotic spirit that the song had evoked during the freedom struggle.

He was also obviously not aware that the Supreme Court has already seized the issue as to whether the song should be sung in schools or not and went on to direct that it should be sung at least once a week in educational institutions and once a month in companies, government offices and factories.

Pitching strongly for the song, which the Supreme Court has said cannot even be called a national song as there was no such provision in the Constitution, Muralidharan said, “Patriotism is an essential requirement for every citizen. Our motherland should always be remembered by every citizen.”

He went on to say that several people had sacrificed their lives during the freedom struggle and songs like Vande Mataram “created a sense of belief and confidence among the people”.

The song, written in Bengali and later translated into Sanskrit, touched thousands of people and acted as a unifier, the judge said.

The patriotism debate

Directing that the petitioner be appointed as BT assistant as he had given the correct answer, the judge said that though he was mandating that Vande Mataram should be sung, he added that it should not be forced on anyone who had a valid objection to it.

Realising that the order would provoke a controversy, the judge said he hoped it would be taken in the right spirit and implemented in both letter and spirit.

However, his order can only be treated as an obiter dicta, an opinion or an observation that is not legally binding.

But despite that, it has drawn protest from Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi chief Thol. Thirumavalavan. Thirumavalan said that it goes against the multi-cultural and multi-religious ethos of the country.

Thamimun Ansari, leader of a Muslim outfit and an MLA elected on the AIADMK symbol, said the order is unacceptable. Ansari echoed the view of Muslims that the song has references to Hindu goddesses Lakshmi and Durga.

Music maestro AR Rahman though has sung it with gusto in Tamil, scoring a huge hit.

The actual controversy

This is not the first time the song has created a controversy. Vande Mataram stirred trouble even during the freedom struggle.

In October 1937, the Congress Working Committee passed a resolution under Jawaharlal Nehru that the references to Hindu gods were only in the fourth stanzas and the Muslims should have no objection to singing the first two stanzas which salute the motherland.

As is to be expected, BJP’s Tamil Nadu unit president Tamilisai Soundararajan hailed the high court order and said the Tamil Nadu government should issue an order and also make the Tamil version available to schools and colleges. 

All that trouble for a song

Last November the Supreme Court directed that the National Anthem should be played in cinemas, while hearing a petition to make the singing of Vande Mataram compulsory in schools. The apex court modified it in December, exempting the physically handicapped who couldn't stand up.

In February, senior Supreme Court advocate Ashwini Upadhyay filed a petition seeking a directive to the Centre to give equal respect for Vande Mataram, which he called a national song, as is given to the national anthem. But the Bench observed that “there is no concept of a national song”.

“Article 51A only mentions the National Flag and the National Anthem. The Article does not refer to a national song… Therefore, we do not intend to enter into any debate as far as a national song is concerned,” said the Bench, comprising Justices R Banumathi and Mohan M Shantanagoudar.

Another petition in April pleaded that Vande Mataram be sung in schools. Admitting the petition, the apex court gave four weeks' time to the Centre to respond and adjourned the matter to 23 August.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 26 July 2017, 15:30 IST