The Vande Mataram verdict of Madras High Court has yet again created a storm in a tea-cup. While debating this issue, one of my young friends, who shall remain unnamed, said this will create jingoism. Oh really?
In this article, we shall also understand this issue and also the history of our national song- Vande Mataram.
What is the Vande Mataram case?
Recently, the Madras High Court delivered a landmark judgment. The honorable court decided that singing the national song was compulsory for all the students of all the Tamil Nadu schools.
This judgment applies to all the schools, meaning public and private schools across the state of Tamil Nadu.
The honorable judge also said that the National Song should be sung twice a week- Monday and Friday. He also added that it can be played in government and private offices.
Interestingly, the judge also said that it is not mandatory for everyone to sing the National Song in the schools.
If someone has a difficulty in singing it, he or she can not be forced to do it provided there is a valid reason.
The National Song can also be translated into Tamil for those who find singing Vande Mataram in Bangla or Sanskrit difficult.
There are lots of ifs and buts in the judgement by the Madras High Court, which could lead to vagueness and lack of clarity.
Please note that the National Song has stirred several controversies in the past. Over a period, a section of Indians has said that Vande Mataram is anti-Muslim because it requires Muslims to bow down their heads to Mother India.
Muslims consider only Allah as an entity before whom they can bow down their heads.
So now you see the social ramifications of this Vande Mataram case?
Before we proceed further, let us understand the background of this Madras High Court judgment.
The background of the case
Interestingly, the background of this judgment did not have anything to do with the singing of the National Song, it was something else.
A few years ago, an examinee had ‘incorrectly’ answered a question related to the language of Vande Mataram.
Mr. Veeramani, the examinee, had to answer this question- what was the original language in which Vande Mataram song was written. His answer was Bengali, while the correct answer was Sanskrit.
This exam was conducted by the State Government of Tamil Nadu for the post of BT Assistant.
Mr. Veeramani failed the test because of this wrong answer, he missed the cut by just 1 mark.
Disappointed, he approached the courts claiming that he indeed had given the right answer.
When this case reached the Madras High Court, the judge ordered the top legal official to come up with the right answer. The official said that the right answer was Sanskrit. The National Song was first written in Sanskrit and later in Bangla or Bengali.
It was in this background that Justice Muralidharan of the Madras High Court delivered the Vande Mataram case.
Do you know about this song?
The song that has inspired millions
If there is one song that has really inspired millions of Indians all over these years, it is Vande Mataram.
The lyrics of this poem are indeed very powerful and you will have to hear them to realize their impact.
The song, Vande Mataram, is a part of Anand Math, a powerful historical novel written by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee.
This novel records the little known Sanyasi Vidroh (rebellion) against the British in the late 18th century. Even though many young Indians do not know about this novel, they do know the lyrics of Vande Mataram.
Bankim da wrote this novel in 1882 when Gandhi Ji was just 13-years old and the Indian freedom movement against the Britishers was in slumber. Interestingly, he had already written the Vande Mataram song in 1876.
This novel was promptly banned by the British after a few days of its publication but its Vande Mataram song was adopted enthusiastically by millions of Indians.
This song, later on, became the war cry of Indians against the British rule. It energized and mobilized us and made us walk toward our common goal- freedom from the British rule.
After we got independence in 1947, Vande Mataram was adopted by us as our National Song. The tune that it is sung in is the same that was used by Hemant Kumar in the 1952 Anand Math movie.
Thanks to the Vande Mataram case, we are now rediscovering the legacy of our National Song.
Anand Math, the movie
As we said earlier, Bankim’s novel was adapted into a movie by the same name, Anand Math.
Produced in 1952, this period movie starred Prithviraj Kapur, Geeta Bali, Pradeep Kumar and Bharat Bhushan. The lyrics were composed by Hemant Kumar.
Anand Math, the movie was based on the little known Sanyasi rebellion. Many people say that this rebellion was the first instance of a revolt against the British.
Sanyasi- Faqir rebellions
History records say that in the late 18th century, two events shook India to the core.
One was the signing of the Battle of Buxar treaty that gave the Britishers to collect taxes.
The second was the Bengal famine that reduced the population of that state by one-third.
The sanyasis of the Midnapur, Birbhum area were deprived of their tax collection privileges after the Buxar treaty. These mendicants could no longer ask for money from the rich landlords and blamed the Britishers for this situation. Since the supply of money to them became sparse, these sadhus took to arms against the Britishers.
The local population too became angry at the new colonial masters, as the latter could not afford to pay taxes. Wide spread famine had made the average Bengali destitute and there was no way he could pay duties on his crop revenue.
Using the inhospitable terrain of Jalpaiguri, Midnapur, and Birbhum, the Sanyasis made the life of the Britishers tough. The shrewd military tactics of the Sanyasis easily overpowered the Britishers; there was little that the colonialists could do to rein in the Sanyasis.
More than a rebellion
It is important to note that the Sanyasi armed movement was not just a rebellion. This armed struggle quickly spread in other parts of East India as well.
We now know that the Sanyasis took their war efforts to Dhaka and Rajshahi in Bangladesh, Tinsukia in Assam, and the Purnia and Tirhut districts of Bihar. Of course, the Sanyasis were very active in the districts of Birbhum, Dinajpur, and Jalpaiguri in Bengal.
In 1772, the Sanyasis dealt a crushing blow to the combined armies of the British and local Muslim rulers near Rangpur.
Various historians note that ultimately the Sanyasi movement petered out because of a change in attitudes within their fighters.
The Muslim objection
Now that we have understood the legal and historical significance of the Vande Mataram case, let us focus on the Muslim objection to the National Song.
Traditionally, Muslims have objected to this song that borders on idolatry which means worshipping idols. In the case of Vande Mataram, the idol is that of Bharat Mata, who is shown as a human being. The World over, Muslims do not worship idols.
It is a different matter, though, that a large number of Sufis collect at the dargahs or tombs of dead saints and worship the dead.
The Sofa objection
In the case of Anand Math, an important objection was raised by a Bangladeshi writer, Ahmed Sofa.
Sofa says that Bankim disregarded the role of Muslim fighters in the Sanyasi rebellion. He particularly takes the name of Majnu Shah, a faqir who actively took part in this insurgency.
Majnu Shah belonged to Kanpur and led several campaigns against the British forces.
The headquarter of Majnu Shah was in the Dinajpur district of present day Bangladesh.
Sofa says that there were many Muslim fighters like Majnu Shah who participated in this rebellion whom Bankim Chandra Chatterjee omitted. The leftists support the claims of Muslims and say that by penning Anand Math and Vande Mataram, Bankim was only advancing Hindu Nationalism.
The leftists support the claims of Muslims and say that by penning Anand Math and Vande Mataram, Bankim was only advancing Hindu Nationalism.
However, it is also a fact that many Muslims opposed the Britishers to bring back the Mughal-Nawabi rule. Many of these Muslim faqirs were wahabis ( religious fundamentalists).
The stand of the Supreme Court
It seems that there is no clarity on the Vande Mataram case even in the Indian judiciary.
In an earlier judgment, the Supreme Court of India has said that there was no concept of a National Song in the Indian Constitution. According to a Supreme Court bench, Article 51 A promotes the National Flag and the National Anthem but there is no provision of the National Song. In that case, the SC had declined to hear a plea asking the Union Government to promote the National Song.
Ironically, the Madras High Court has made it mandatory for all the Tamil Nadu students to sing Vande Mataram. The basic idea, according to the honorable High Court is to promote patriotism.
Don’t you think that the judiciary is in two minds here? It is unable to take a stand on a song that has inspired millions of Indians to fight for our independence. Many Indians lost lives and several were jailed for taking part in our freedom struggle and yet the courts have not taken any stand!
Not a religious issue
Vande Mataram is not a Hindu religious song or poem. It is a cry for patriotism and sacrifice. The National Song considers India as Bharat Mata or Mother India.
Our country is our mother because she fulfills all our desires, needs and wants. It is our duty and responsibility to defend her honor.
And ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ is definitely not a religious war cry. Don’t the Indian soldiers cry out these words in the thick of action? And don’t forget, many Muslim soldiers too speak out these words in the line of duty.
Bharat Mata or Mother India was used as the name of a famous Hindi movie too. And do you know who made that movie? It was a Muslim, Mehboob Khan.
Did India ever have a political identity?
Many historians say that we never had any political identity and it was the British who united us a political entity.
But this is simply incorrect. Thanks to the Sanyasi rebellion, Indians became united in the shadow of Bharat Mata and this image was crafted by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. Until he wrote Anand Math, Indians, by and large, did not have a common symbol!
Bharat Mata represents India’s will, thought and ethos. Perhaps this is what Justice Muralidharan had in mind when he delivered the Vande Mataram case.
He rightly believes that we must worship and not just respect our Bharat Mata by singing the National Song. When people sing these lyrics, they will definitely try to understand their history. It is not just about patriotism alone then, it is about learning our unknown history.
Does the singing of Vande Mataram incite violence? Is it jingoism? No, not at all.
The unforgettable lyrics of our National Song are all about the beauty and grace of our Motherland. They describe our mountains, rivers, forests, deserts and other land masses in a poetic manner. Nowhere in these lines is an iota of jingoism. This song does not encourage Indians to take up arms against our neighbors at all.
Socialchumbak firmly supports the landmark judgment delivered in the Vande Mataram case. We strongly feel that all of us must not only sing these magical lyrics but also try to know the history behind them. However, we are amazed at the confusion within the Indian judiciary about the significance of our National Song.