Is India Truly Free?

69 years of Independence

“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now that time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of todays midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, longsuppressed, finds utterance.”

These words marked the beginning of India as an independent nation on the midnight of 15th August 1947. Not just a mere speech, these words bring out the vision of our leaders and their hope to have created a nation where everyone has their freedom to live life according to them. This hope was reiterated when we declared India as a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic on 26th January 1950.

69 years after Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru made that speech to the Indian Constituent Assembly, we find ourselves plagued by the very evils we were supposed to stay away from. We claim to be a free nation, governed by the rules formulated in the constitution, where each citizen has the freedom to express himself or herself. Yet there is a gap in the vision that we have for the citizens and what we actually practice. There have been various instances in recent times that have caused some people to rethink about the actual freedom that we get to enjoy.

The recent controversy over the movie “Udta Punjab” by Anurag Kashyap is a situation that arose due to the narrow definition of freedom that we have set for us in the garb of culture and social acceptance. A movie that brought out a social evil was subjected to several cuts on the orders of a single person, to satisfy the boundaries of his social compass. With the intervention of the judiciary, it was finally settled that the CBFC had overstepped its mandate.

Such incidents in today’s scenario raise a very serious question about the extent of independence that we all enjoy. Are we really independent or independence has different meanings for each of us? Each one of us feels suppressed or limited by other person in the society.

At different levels, each one of us is bound to someone. We are free to do something, until it harms or sabotages someone in the society. A very apt example of this is the freedom of speech and expression. Guaranteed as a fundamental right by the constitution under Article 19 (1) (a), today, we see people interpreting the limits according to their will and comfort. With people being persecuted for posting their views on social media to activism being suppressed, recent situations have made the very foundation of a functioning of a democracy questionable.

Another noteworthy trend is the freedom of religion in India. Guaranteed as a fundamental right under article 25 of the constitution of India, it cements the belief that India is a secular nation as envisaged in the preamble. Taking note of the recent events, we are far from being free to profess and practise religion in the country. A nation that fights over dead cows and slaughters people in the name of religion cannot claim to be a nation with such ideals. Be it the recent Kairana incident or the age-old Kashmir issue. As Indians we have failed in sustaining this freedom of religion. We live in a garb of secularism where we do all the things under the sun in the name of religion.

With two states of India, Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, under the Armed Forces Special Powers’ Act, where even a slight disturbance leads to military intervention, can we really afford to say that India is a free nation and its citizens enjoy complete freedom?

That being said, nation is a very broad concept. As individuals, how much freedom do we enjoy in our daily lives? Each of us plays a different role in the society. As a son, as a daughter, parent, professional and so on. Each role entails some freedoms and duties.

As a working professional, we all envisage a life of comfort, a life where we decide the path we wish to take and various freedoms that come along with it. Yet in reality, we are bound to the rules and guidelines of the workplace. Even the boss is not immune to this problem; he too, is restricted by the workload and the duties of his office.

As a homemaker, a person is bogged down by a different set of situations. His/her freedom depends on the schedule of the other family members. Their day is regulated by the lives of other people. We imagine them as the person with the sparest time, yet they complain of not getting a second for themselves.

As a spouse, a person is held according to the boundaries set by the other half. For example, if a woman is qualified and wants to pursue her professional ambitions, but her husband wishes her to stay at home, she either has to rebel and follow her dreams or to meekly surrender to her husband’s wishes. A very common situation in India, this has almost become a practice for Indian families to not allow the women to pursue their ambitions.

Every child imagines himself to be different. Each one of us has had a different dream of being something when we were young. Some wanted to be pilots, some wanted to be astronauts and some even wanted to become the postman. This imagination runs wild until we reach the high school examination. The Indian education system is very peculiar. We follow a set syllabus, set decades ago, with no or very little real life situations. After this, the starry-eyed student is asked, or rather given, a stream to pursue. With engineering becoming the choice of career by the parents, the child is asked to pursue science, with no regard to his aptitude or his interests. He could’ve become a bestselling author or a world-class musician, depending on his interest, but he is not at liberty to speak, which, according to us is a symbol of rebellion. When choice becomes a rebellion, that is the moment when freedom ceases to exist.

Everything stays fine until one moves into college life. It is here that the society sets boundaries on the lifestyle of young people. Wearing clothes today is governed by society, rather than comfort of the individual. If a girl decides to wear shorts in summers in Lucknow, every person on the house and the locality will ogle at her as if she was roaming around naked. The same applies to males as well. We have demarcated colours as gender specific. If a guy decides to choose a colour such as pink or orange, we immediately classify him of having a feminine nature. Is that what defines a free society in the 21st century?

Another prominent question is the one of choosing our friends and life partners. From a very young age, friendship with the opposite sex is frowned upon a little bit. But when it comes to marriage, the freedom and liberalism that we experienced our entire life disappears in a second. The constitution may have equalised everyone, but the Indian society is still stuck in the good old days of the caste system. The first question that is asked relates to the caste of the bride or the groom, without even a cursory glance to the education, qualifications or the position of the person. This, when the person actually agrees to an arranged marriage, but what alternative does that person have, when love marriages are almost a taboo in today’s “free” society?

We might have completed almost 7 decades of freedom from the British, but even today we are the slaves of the system that threatens to dismantle the entire development façade that we have managed to build over the years. It is high time that we realise that unless we are free of the customs, acts, mindsets or the worthless ego, unless we stop spreading hatred in the name of culture, unless humanity becomes the prime concern, we are not truly free.

(Published in The Lucknow Observer, Volume 3 Issue 5,August 2016)

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