National Anthem Controversy in India

Assam National Anthem

It was a  Human Resource program attended by me almost ten years ago. The location was Hotel Peerless Inn, Kolkata. The  HR faculty was a Parsi  lady from Mumbai. The participants were from various states of East India. I was the only one from the state of Assam in the program.

Today  I can’t  recollect much of the HR program except for the informal chat  that I had with the HR professional  across the breakfast table.

She was a friend of the wife of late Sanjay Ghosh,an activist  who  was allegedly killed by  ULFA militants in  Majuli, the river Island in Assam. In the conversations I had with her,  she  conveyed her understanding and feelings about the state of  Assam.  She also talked about her visit to Assam and that during  her visit to an  Assamese family  there a little child of the family was asked to sing the “Assam National Anthem” by her parents.  The HR faculty then responded by declaring that “Jan Gan Mana” is the National  Anthem  for the country and there cannot be anything like “ Assam  National Anthem”.

I was not keen on knowing what happened thereafter and did not wish to put across any of my views as I love to be a listener and   assumed that  reacting on emotive issues would lead us to nowhere.

“O mor apunar desh” a poem by  Laxminath Bezbaruah  has been accepted as “Asomor Jaitya Sangeet” in Assam for long and similarly people in Assam show due respect to “Jan Gan Mana” as “ Rastriya Sangeet”. But  the English word for  both the words “Jatiya” and “Rastriya” has to be “ National”.  Perhaps the use of the word “ Rastriya” is used to create space for the use of the word “Jatiya” in the regional  context . In Assam “ Jatiyatabad” is a strong force associated with strong emotions  and perhaps the word “Jatiyatabad” cannot be used in same spirit as the word  “Regionalism”.


Khasi  National  Anthem

Recently I was present in a Financial Literacy Camp organized by NABARD  in a village at the outskirt of Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. The camp was addressed by bank  officials . The participants were from nearby Khasi villages. The first speaker , a lady khasi bank official delivered her speech in the local language. It was a  long  interactive speech  and I could make out that the questions put to the gathering by the lady were like” How many of you have bank accounts”, “ How many of you have insurance cover”, “what is the use of saving” so on  and so forth.  The crowd composed of diverse age groups such as children, young adults and elderly people. Enthusiasm was limited and it seemed they were accustomed to such camps and questions.  After the first speech, rest  of  the speakers spoke in English using Khasi  interpreters.  The monotony in the  gathering  looked apparent and people looked tired and sleepy. The meeting  concluded  with vote of thanks etc and then a young organizer  requested  an elderly Khasi  gentleman to sing the “Khasi National Anthem”.

It seemed the crowd got rejuvenated  as everybody stood up and sang the “ Khasi National Anthem” –‘Ri Khasi” passionately . Till such time I was unaware that just like the Assamese , Khasis also have their own “National Anthem”  What I loved most was  the  spontaneity and passion in singing the song by all Khasi people present in the meeting. Later I also learn that the participants and organizers of the event were mostly active members of Bharatiya Janata Party.


State  Anthems

Recently  I read that many Indian States including the Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh and Bihar have adopted “ State  Anthems” just like Assam  declaring “ O mor apunar desh’” as a state anthem. So far I am unaware of any constitutional validity of a “State Anthem”. In the context of Meghalaya I do not think that “Ri Khasi” can be a “State Anthem” as there are some other  native tribes also in the state of Meghalaya.

For many Assamese “ O mor apunar desh” is indeed a “National Anthem” considering the emotions associated with the song and so is the case of Khasis for their “ Ri Khasi”.

Years have passed and I am not in touch with the HR professional whom I had met in Kolkata. Not sure if she has changed her views by now.


One thought on “National Anthem Controversy in India

  1. I think a state anthem is a wonderful idea! Ever region should be allowed to be feel proud of their cultural heritage. As long as we are not asking for the national anthem ‘Jana gana mana’ to be replaced, there can be no harm in state anthems.


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