When the clock strickes 00.00 am on the intervening midnight of August 14-15, India will complete 70 years of Independence and would have entered into the 71st year. Without any doubt it would be a moment of great pride for every Indian. All over the country people will cherish and remember and celebrate India’s Independence. A flag hoisting ceremony is mandatory at every institute and a good number of Indians particularly the younger generations attend this function. We shall be reminded of the sacrifices of the freedom fighters and proudly salute the flag and sing the National Anthem with gusto. Little do they understand about the Independence they are celebrating and few of them really comprehend the effects of that freedom. No flag hoisting ceremony is complete without a speech. This speech may be a well-prepared, historical one that is recited from memory or it could be a sarcastic one that is forward-looking. Very few speeches aim at inspiring action or arousing the civic sense of the listeners. Over the years, I have heard numerous speeches of different types given on the occasion but I don’t recall ever hearing one that made me want to do something with my freedom nor have I heard a speech telling me that the freedom I celebrate is only illusory!
I don’t want to sound presumptuous but I think it is safe to say that perhaps every person attending a flag hoisting ceremony (maybe even those who don’t) feel the thrill of Independence. Whether or not they understand its implications is secondary. Many may be grateful that the cruel British aren’t around anymore to enslave, torture, dominate and exploit. Some optimists may be grateful for the good things that the British gave us like Western education, railways, technology and cricket, while not forgetting the harm they have done. We have grown conditioned to think of the British as oppressors so much so that we are blind to the fact that we are yet to cast off the shackles of bondage. The foreigner British have been replaced by indigenous tyrants. Little apart from the colour and way of going about has changed.
Independence from the British may have officially been declared on August 15, 1947 but honestly, we are still struggling with our independence! Every Indian is yet to feel the impact of Independence. On the level of theory we are free. But for a number of our brothers and sisters it is not so. Many of them wake up every day uncertain of their fate. Their independence has been snatched by individuals or organizations. For many it is the very government who is supposed to look after them that is their tormentor; for others it is rebel groups like the Naxalites, Ulfa etc. Fear and liberation are polar extremes. One implies the absence of the other. Yet in India we seem to be content living this paradox. Many of us are oblivious to this irony. It may come as a shock, but a good number of us have never had a dose of either, independence or fear. Some communities and regions have tasted more fear than independence, while others though they may not be living under threat, despite their probable denial, aren’t living in freedom either. This contrast begs the question: What does independence really mean? For those living in a pseudo-independence bubble, Independence Day is a national holiday that requires of us to remember our history. For those who are living a different reality of independence it is a hopeful goal that will someday be fulfilled.
I do not wish to elaborate the gimmicks that the Government and other individuals or groups have used to rob people of their independence. For the sake of driving home the point I will cite just a few examples. One of the hottest topics in our country is the rights and dignity of women. Despite the judicial framework, the women of our country cannot help but feel insecure or threatened. Our leaders seem adept at making sexist and lame comments with regard to women that they have inevitably ended up making a fool of themselves and stirring up controversy. Very recently the comments of one of BJP’s top leaders made headlines and caused quite an uproar, when he made a statement to the effect that women shouldn’t be out late as they put themselves in jeopardy. The recent beef ban and its follow through of lynchings and harassment are another glaring example of deprivation of freedom. The situation in the north-east region of our country tells a different story of freedom altogether. These could be called big issues. Besides there are numerous smaller issues that make the news on a daily basis.
In the current socio-religio-political situation of our country, it has become difficult to identify or define freedom. At best, we can say that we are living a pseudo-freedom. Anyone bold enough to speak out and express their views is likely to face some sort of childish retaliation. We are unsure of how long the status quo will last. The country is becoming increasingly polarized on a number of spheres; the uppermost being the religious and political spheres. My intention however, is not to dampen the celebrations but to issue a wake up call to every citizen. Freedom is rightfully ours. Don’t you think it’s about time we claim it? I do. Do you?