Singing National Anthems–Or Protesting against Them


Dr Ravi P Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

Most countries have national anthems or songs that are sung on official functions of the country — Independence Day, Republic Day, at international sports events, etc.

‘O Canada’ is the national song of the country that was originally commissioned in 1880 in Quebec and adopted a century later in 1980. The lyrics were originally in French. The French words were translated into English and now both the French and English lyrics serve as the national anthem of Canada.

‘God Save the Queen’ is the national anthem of United Kingdom and some of its territories; it becomes ‘God Save the King’ when the monarch is a male. This song is also one of the official anthems of New Zealand.

The ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ is the national anthem of USA; its lyrics were written by Francis Key in 1814. The American Congress decided to adopt it as its national hymn in 1931. ‘La Marseillaise’ and ‘ Deutschlandlied’ are respectively anthems of France and Germany.

India’s national anthem ‘Jan Gana Mana’ was originally composed as ‘Bharat Bhagya Bidhata’ in Bengali language by the famous Nobel Laureate poet Rabindra Nath Tagore. It was officially adopted as India’s anthem in January 1950. Tagore has also composed the anthem of Bangladesh.

“A Portuguesa” is the national anthem of Portugal. The song was composed by Alfredo Keil and written by Henrique Lopes de Mendonça during the resurgent nationalist movement ignited by the 1890 British Ultimatum to Portugal concerning its African colonies.

On a lighter note, some schools also have their school songs that are sung regularly by students and teachers. A famous Catholic School situated in New Delhi has the following lyrics of its official song: ‘St Columbans Boys are we, Let our motto ever be …’ In India, apart from official days of the country, the anthem is sung or played when athletes win some international awards.

The Indian government had decided in order to cultivate a spirit of patriotism among its citizens to play the national song before the start of a film in cinema halls of the country. When the song was being played, the audience was expected to stand silently. The move was welcomed but like any other decision of the government, it created a controversy. Some people said that they had come to enjoy a film in the cinema houses and not to participate in some political event; others said that their religion did not allow them and so on. Now the situation is a fluid one. The Indian Supreme Court has decided that playing of the Anthem is not mandatory and has left it to the cinemas to decide whether to play it or not.

Another unusual protest against a national Anthem has come to light. This one is a protest by a nine-year-old schoolgirl named Harper Nielsen. She has refused to stand when the Australian national anthem ‘Advance Australia Fair’ was being sung in the school. The objection to the song according to the child is because it disregards the vast indigenous populations of Australia by the words ‘we are young and free’ when the country was colonised by the British and the song was sung as its anthem. It is estimated that the original populations had been living in Australia for the last 50 thousand years or thereabouts.

It is well known that the indigenous peoples or aboriginals as they are often called, and their cultures and languages have been almost wiped out by the colonial powers — be it America or Australia. The colonial powers not only had several means to overpower weak  indigenous peoples not only by weaponry but also by introducing diseases such as small pox against which these people had no recourse.

In Australia, the population of the aboriginal tribal people was about 2.8 percent of the total population in 2016. These people now largely speak English and have acquired Christianity since their original faiths could not match the ascendancy of the religion of the colonial masters. In New Zealand also several indigenous peoples were decimated but fortunately the Maori tribe was not victimised much and the Maori language has become a second official language, along with English.

What is hard to believe in the case of the Australian schoolgirl is how such a young child can think in terms of the country’s tribal peoples who have suffered tremendously by the colonial power. Despite some politicians who wanted her to be expelled from the school, this was not done. Harper was not victimised by throwing her out of the school by the school principal, but a compromise was arrived at in consultation with child’s parents of allowing Harper to go out to a different room when the anthem was being sung in the school.

Her protest may appear ineffective in view of the history of colonialism in Australia, USA and other places but it is symbolic of the injustice and cruelty heaped by the Powers That Be on weak people. This is happening in the world today in one form or another. Let us strengthen our resolve to stand against cruelty and any other form of injustice.


Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 24 Sep 2018.

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