Every year on August 15, when India celebrates independence, talks on the nature of freedom become common. Progressive front questions the idea of independence. The approach becomes a tool to question the liberty we cherish. Big question mark falls on the thought of many on the eve of Independence Day. Questions range from issues on introspection of India’s independence, its historical context and prejudices prevalent in the country. Ecstatic Independence Day morning with the sounds of music, political rhetoric from lecterns all around give an impression of an auspicious day to be celebrated. Whether it’s a day of celebration or not varies from one community to another, and also varies differently amongst individuals.
When India awoke to freedom, which it did after many years of struggle with the British, the air was stinking with hatred. There was a communal divide. Two nations were formed. India had a neighbour with which it was going to have a fateful relation for decades to come. This did help political parties in brainwashing common civilians by spreading venom of hate for each other. Formation of two nations led to mass migration of people. These migrations were not peaceful and riots broke out in many places. Butchery was rampant and all humanity had been lost in this phase of national transition. We can know about the bloodthirsty mobs and killings in various articles and journals.
Every year when we stand to sing our national anthem and revere our tricolour, we forget to mourn the brutality inflicted on many due to the formation of these two states. The sores for many have remained fresh. This celebration also calls for a minute of silence as we also went against humanity. It behoves us to reflect on the loss of tolerance in the days when India made a tryst with destiny and Pakistan was created. Fanned by hatred, the legacy of distrust carried on.
An independence which had the bloodless movements of Gandhi and the revolutionary touch of Bhagat Singh along with many from either side of the camp, could have been given a better shape. Since the damage is done, shouldn’t we remember those ghastly tales of our own brutality too?
On the brighter side, we were free from the chains of empire and now were sovereign. This gave the Indian state control over both the legislative and executive and we as a nation chose universal adult suffrage. The democratic step of going with universal adult suffrage was a leap when people from all sections, irrespective of any differences were given the power of ‘one person –one vote’. It was another revolutionary move in a society which was prejudiced by caste and religion. A constitution was drafted and the country had its own rule of law. Many of the appendages of the British legacy such as Article 377, which criminalises homosexual sex and Article 124A, the colonial era law of sedition were retained in the Indian constitution. The laws which were installed by the British to curb freedom in the subcontinent was retained by the nascent nation too. Ironically, even after 69 years these articles are used as law and voices are choked. The worst example is the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, the Vice President of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union in February.
Besides the issue of law, it has historically been a very hierarchical society where the line between the oppressor and oppressed is clearly drawn. The issue of Dalits being tortured day in and day out is nothing new. Constitutional provisions did give equality but without proper implementation of such provisions a section of society has been left behind. Rampant discrimination reported on regular basis shows how around 16.6 % of our population is still in socially instituted chains. The bias is further reinforced when people turn a blind eye to the institutionalised discrimination. One such case was reported in an article titled ‘Finding the right measure’ published in The Hindu. When a section of society is discriminated and oppressed at birth and even after death, we can only imagine the prejudice they face throughout their lives.
Apart from the issue of Dalits, the issue of minorities is not much different. Global Islamophobia does seep in at national and local levels too. Despite it being 69 years since India got its independence, there is still a communalised ban on beef in many states of India. Such laws lead to the strengthening of age old rifts between communities like Muslims, Hindus and Dalits. Muslims lynched in the name of beef and cow protection, coupled with the atrocities of Dalits raises a huge question on the essence of freedom (azaadi). This azaadi many people cherish once a year with flags and ‘ladoos’ is not yet a reality for the vulnerable sections of Indian society. The idea of independent India was coupled with liberty, equality and fraternity as held sacred in the Preamble of our constitution. Equality most of the time is a farce and inequality has become a defining trait of Indian society at large.
Similar is the fate of Adivasis (Tribals) in India, especially in the regions which bureaucrats and jingoists love to label as ‘The Red Corridor’. The fate of tribal India is mostly in the hands of armed Naxalites and greedy corporates. The interest of the tribals is always neglected in the name of development and growth. Another section of Indian society which has suffered the brunt of social chains, is that of women, irrespective of class, caste or religion. Although activists and social workers have taken strides in this direction, freer horizons are still far away.
The issues relevant to our azaadi and how it has eluded many were raised at Una during Dalit protests on August 15. But is one Una sufficient, or do we need more. Shouldn’t each colony, village, town and city echo a voice similar to the on heard in Una and ask how everyone can have the freedom which the founders of this nation envisioned.
The only reason which justifies the celebration of independence is the unshackling of political chains that took place. It let every Indian the freedom to dream a country of their choice and everyone did dream accordingly. The dream then carried the historically inherited biases. Few who were aware and sensitive about the social discrimination, worked to remove it. The vested interests who benefitted from such discrimination tried to retain it. The best example of such a discrimination is caste.
When the chains were removed Indian-ness got new breathe of life and the country moved joyously. Yet, shedding of a political chain was also marred by rampant orchestration of riots. Recent atrocities in Kashmir and the lack of willingness to have a political dialogue with its people is an example of how we started mimicking our British tormentors. Citizens of a free state should value freedom everywhere and keep its spirit flying high. It should also volunteer for freedom everywhere. There is a serious lack of such sensitivity towards the freedom of others. We have draconian laws like Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act for civilians in some places and majority of us look away. Issues of Kashmir and North-East are ‘othered’, leaving many in shackles. So, the notion of freedom is important here too.
Questioning our freedom becomes legitimate if we look at our society with critical lenses. But how to attain the freedom promised, the freedom which is due to all of us? There are numerous issues in the country. Caste, religion, region and gender being few of the issues which are responsible for social handicap. These barriers need to be broken to get equality in a truer sense. Prevalent inequality leads to the endless trail of discrimination and subjugation. Oppressor-oppressed dynamics get fodder from the existing inequalities and curbed social chains. We need to introspect on the social handicaps preventing our freedom and echo as Kanhaiya Kumar does, “Hum Kya chahte?”— ‘AZAADI’.