Are we really free? What does freedom mean to us? What have we got from the notion of freedom? What are our rights and duties as a citizen of a free nation? These questions come repetitively in my mind and I think that these are the questions that may have struck you too. After 72 years of freedom, India is still struggling with issues and challenges that were present before its independence.
We often listen to this argument that the Hindu-Muslim conflict is the result of the British divide and rule policy. But we always forget that the larger Hindu society is intolerant towards Dalits, other religious minorities, and Adivasis. The socio-political scenario of the nation is the manifestation of the historical hatred of the dominant religion and castes. The hatred against ‘other’ people is deeply rooted in the social inequalities. Historically, the larger society has maintained distance from other communities. The reason is very simple – prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination on the basis of religion, caste and ethnic identity.
Now, every day when we listen to any news channel, we mostly find the same orthodox ideas floating into our minds from our television sets. Prime-time programs of news channels are the prime source of hatred against the marginalized and disadvantaged citizens of India.
Without wasting many words, I would like to draw your attention to the organization called RSS (Rashtriya Swayam-Sevak Sangh). This organization was banned when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by one of its members – Nathu Ram Godse. This organization has been infamous for its role in communal riots across the nation. The 1992 Babri Masjid demolition, 2002 Gujarat communal rights, 2013 Muzzfarnagar riots are just some of the examples where it was reported that the RSS may have had a role to play.
Even today, whenever we come across any news related to mob-lynching by cow-vigilantes or the murder of innocent people based on rumours; all the cases are related to the hatred against ‘other’ people. Needless to say that the political party heading the central government and most of the states of India, has chosen to remain silent so that they do not lose their Hindutva identity and the communal vote bank.
Now, the question that may come to your mind is, why am I quoting these examples? I must admit that I am a concerned citizen of the nation. A nation that is based on diversity and respect for all identities be it race, caste, gender, ethnicity, religion, region and class. My notion of a nation is different from the definition that has been spread by Hindutva forces. After all these years of independence, our primary focus is still not on social democracy. Our freedom fighters dreamed for a nation without fear of expression and dissent.
But in today’s India, freedom of expression and dissent has become a life threat. Poets, intellectuals, social-political activists are living in constant danger. A number of them have been killed by alleged Hindutva outfit members. Intellectuals like M.M. Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh are victims of Hindu religious fundamentalism. India has always been a nation with a culture of dissent. From Periyar to Dr. Ambedkar, dissent was never in the shadow of a threat to life. Every idea was challenged by debate and discussion.
There is an old saying that “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely”. This is an apt statement for the current regime. And this is not just in the issues related to the Center but states also. There is news from the state of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh related to the rape of minor girls in shelter homes. The irony is, in all the cases, a member of the ruling party is involved, directly or indirectly. These people are so powerful that despite evidence, the administration hesitates to arrest them. Even if they do get arrested, they are treated like VIPs in jail too.
In the recent events before Independence Day, some hate mongers burned the Constitution of India at Jantar Mantar in Delhi. They shouted slogans against Dr. Ambedkar and the Constitution. They were also shouting caste-based abuses. But they forget that this Constitution provides equal rights to every citizen of India. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, caste, gender, ethnicity, religion, region and class. I wish that when they will be locked up in jail they will be granted rights as a prisoner that are mentioned in the Constitution they burnt.
Any youth questioning the state is given the tag of ‘anti-national’. They are questioning government policies, that does not make them ‘anti-national’. In the parliament, the role of the opposition is the same. However, there is no strong opposition in the parliament. Thus the students are questioning the state. These policies directly impact our lives. The narrative of ‘tax-payers money’ has been given so much importance that the people who are paying taxes are unaware of their rights as a citizen. They are not willing to question the policies that are making their life and value of their labour vulnerable. The taxpayer does not even know that the money they are paying is being used by the corporates. The sharks of the economic ocean, who took the loan and never returned the money. Forget about returning the amount, they left the country.
In the 21st century, the world is heading towards the scientific achievement and India is struggling with poverty, malnutrition, corruption, poor health facilities and death from starving from hunger. With each passing year, our world rankings on the parameters of development have also dropped drastically. What should a nation think about? Issues related to hate-crime or how to resolve the primary issues of hunger, unemployment, illiteracy and many other basic issues such as shelter, health services and life with dignity? It is not that we have not achieved scientific and strategic milestones but the question is how it has brought change in the life of people who are living at the margins of society and nation.
One must think critically, are we really free? If you are not free to express yourself, to question the government; then you are not free. If you think that we must focus on the issue of hunger, unemployment and health facilities, then you will have to raise your voice against the powerful. If you think that you don’t want a society based on hatred against another human being, then you will have to fight against caste, religious fundamentalism and all sorts of discrimination. Real freedom comes with a price and with passing time the feeling of freedom will change. So will the price. To celebrate one’s share of freedom, one will have to pay the price.