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How Can We Celebrate Independence Day Without So Many Freedoms?

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By Agomonee B Chetia:

The husband is a public servant, working his back off, pretty much most of his waking time. Engaging in celebratory affairs, other than those belonging to his own tribe, he has left to me. People almost stumble and dash off a pole if they see us together in a social gathering, choking on their drinks or gulping back the air they were about to belch out. Same goes for matters concerning his end of the social business too, you know.

I play truant, to save my layman-liness. Occasionally, of course, we find a neutral ground a.k.a. The Couch of Discussion and Playful Planning. We share ideas and ideologies pertaining to matters beginning from our kitchen sink to religious fanatics spreading bigoted faiths and beliefs. We argue, almost redden our cheeks and grey our hairs; and then sheepishly calm down, when we realise we are not at the News Hour.

Lately, with India’s 69th Independence Day ushered in with the pomp and blasting gaiety of flash floods and apparent fidayeen attacks, and with imminent crackers waiting for the matchstick, Husband and I sat back one rare, lulling afternoon to discuss what India’s Independence Day celebrations should ideally be like.

One thing led to another and we weren’t talking about the celebrations anymore. The topic skillfully shut the door on us and gestured towards what kind of an independence we were actually talking about!

First things, first. Independence means, being ‘not dependent’. Is our freedom dependent on things? Of course, on a lot of things.

It is dependent on whether militants decide to ruin or not ruin a perfectly bright sunny morning with a boom in the midst of traffic.

On trade syndicates (or should I say cartels?) not raising the rates of everyday objects – edible and otherwise.

On atrocious hunters choosing to take a day off and stop bloodletting on the rhinos.

On people in any power to put a pause on the corruption (because stopping it altogether is too utopian, eh?) and assume the job they took their oaths for.

On wannabe protesters of all kind, tribe, caste, colour, social standing, et al to find a better vocation to utilise their grievances than tip the media and hog the limelight, causing primetime news and daily traffic to choke and collapse.

On governments to look into loopholes that jar development and productivity instead of letting loose-tongued racists and misogynists throw up on powerful speaking platforms and turn the entire social networking space into a frenzy.

On women coming back home without getting felt, groped, stalked or lecherously stared at.

On being able to mingle with other people really or virtually, without thinking for once, if they could be broadcasting your thoughts to a think tank.

And on media deciding to report instead of reviewing and remarking, just for once.

Yet, these are things we can afford to sweep under the carpet for at least one day and celebrate the going away of the colonial sahib and having the whole country to ourselves.

But, no. Someone figures out a way to rug-beat the proverbial dust on our faces, by simply closing us down on I-Day. ‘So, where is the freedom in it?’ I ask Husband. He clears his throat and shifts his position, to explain the etymology and anthropology of it all.

Fearing that global academic erudition will swamp me over and leave me no space to breathe, I quickly change the topic, ‘What is it you asked?’ He says, ‘How to celebrate Independence Day in a befitting manner!’ Heaving a sigh, I ask – Aren’t you having a seminar?

Instead of lecturing people off their heads in this sweltering heat, how about letting common people – you know, maybe school/college kids, homemakers, shopkeepers, etc. – talk about what freedom means to them and where it’s lacking, so they could suggest how you could help them? He placidly replies, ‘I need celebration ideas befitting the occasion. These are ideas about discussion that you’re talking about.’

Back to square one.

All my enthusiasm is quickly drowned by the practical sound of my rumbling belly. ‘You know, now that I think of it, I can’t remember celebrating Independence Day really. As kids, we used to have a day off at school. So we’d probably watch the parade on TV, finish homework and study time by dusk, and then wait for the blockbuster movie to be aired in the evening and mum’s snacks coming with it.’

By this time, Husband is rolling his eyes and probably regretting his idea about asking me in the first place. But he concurs. Independence Day in the Northeast, don’t know. But Independence Day in Assam, some outfit will inevitably call for a bandh, ensuring that there is young pulsating blood out in the roads, to pelt stones on your vehicle, should you get smart and drive around. And we will passively watch again, freedom, farting out of the country’s rectum after centuries’ long case of socio-politico-economic-religious dyspepsia and the side effects of the same.

Sometimes, I feel like spraying Colin on my country and wiping it clean. Germ-free and sparkling – befitting a nation!

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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