A hymn for I-Day
On the 74th year of our country’s independence, it is important to evaluate the significance of what ‘freedom’ truly means to us
It is in challenging times that we realise the fortitude of spirit. As we enter the 74th year of our Independence, the nation stares at uncertain times ahead. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a surreal, existentialist environment worldwide, but in spite of everything, we are forging ahead to the best of our abilities aided with resilience and hope. Birthdays, festivals, weddings, and anniversary celebrations are muted in this new normal, and so will be our Independence Day. There will be no spectators at the Attari-Wagah border for the first time in 61 years! No distribution of sweets to sweeten the moment. Schools and colleges will also celebrate the historic day virtually. Even the celebrations at Red Fort will observe social distancing.
While physical celebrations may lack lustre, one can observe true fanfare in our hearts. Because our day of freedom is that one day that can fill us with inspiration and courage that is much-needed today. While Independence Day stands for when India received freedom from her colonial masters, we have to remind ourselves of the real meaning and value of independence in today's context. Our enemies today are different; they aren't British oppressors but a possibly fatal virus. Our economy is in shambles and likely to contract further. There are attacks on our foundations of secularism and a desire to push through religious hegemony. And while the idea of India is changing and evolving, the struggle remains to adapt to the demands of the new India while keeping some connection with the past ideals that our freedom fighters strived for.
Freedom governs every aspect of our lives. The freedom to pursue work and professional opportunities as per our interest and acumen. The choice to live a life based on our own rules and beliefs. The independence to love whom we want irrespective of caste, religion, and gender. These form the essentials of the freedom that we enjoy in this country; that is safeguarded by our Constitution and courts of justice. For us, 'freedom' stands for the ability to 'eat, pray, love' as we deem fit.
Freedom also constitutes the individual's right to not only live as they wish but also hold divergent views. It is also our right to be able to criticise the powers that be even if our opinion is an unpopular one. Our freedom to express our views and not be tagged 'anti-national' is an important liberty that is fast losing stock in today's India. Where silence or cyber trolling follows instead of educated, informed debates. Where women are still made to feel powerless and threatened with rape because that is the ultimate exercise of misogynistic power. Our freedom to differ with the state and not be thrown to the gallows with the repeated rejection of bail should be an intrinsic right too. Our freedom to conduct peaceful protests and deride draconian laws must remain guaranteed in the years to come.
This Independence Day, as we pay tribute to freedom fighters who fought for our liberation and salute martyrs from the Indian armed forces who ensure our territorial freedom, let us also remember those who fought and continue to fight to ensure our other freedoms. The intellectuals who dare to spew unpopular views, the rights activists who continue to languish in jail, and student voices that are being surreptitiously quelled even as the COVID virus rages on. The right to disagree and dissent is also part of our freedoms and allowing space to conflicting views in a democracy would be to ensure that Rabindranath Tagore's dream continues to exist in today's India —
"Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action;
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake."
The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are personal