Lets now descend from the stratosphere to ground reality. The fact is that perhaps never before in Indian society we were less free than we are at present; both physically and in our thinking. Satyamev Jayate, the serialised programme by Aamir Khan, is all about individual and collective freedoms and desirable restrictions thereon; for example, in the last episode, it was brought out that the unrestricted littering and pollution of water sources in India need to be checked. However, it is my firm belief that changes in societies and individuals come from within, as a response to the perceived environment. Individuals think of these changes; but, finally, they require people’s support to bring about the changes. Sometimes only they are forced upon us; such as cleanliness drive after plague in Surat or need for coastal security after 26/11 attack in Mumbai. However, such changes have limited sustainability; as soon as the threat posed by the incident recedes, we go back to our routine way of doing things.
So, what this article seeks to do is to make us aware of some of the significant issues and suggest ways out. In each one of his episodes, Aamir Khan invariably brings out about individuals and organisations that are doing a yeoman service to get over the problems. This article is a small contribution to increase awareness.
Freedom or Right to be Born and Live. We have a very high Infant Mortality Rate in India. The infant mortality rate (IMR) is the number of deaths of infants under one year old per 1,000 live births. This rate is often used as an indicator of the level of health in a country. The infant mortality rate of the world is 49.4 according to the United Nations and 42.09 according to the CIA World Factbook. As per the list of countries by infant mortality rate from the 2011 revision of the United Nations World Population Prospects report, by five years averages, India ranks at 150 in 194 countries with an IMR of 60.82. Our ranking is tucked in between that of Bangladesh and Ghana on top of us and Eritrea and Zimbabwe below us. Singapore has the lowest IMR with just 2.60 deaths per thousand. Since our death rate is 6.4 deaths per 1000, our IMR is about ten times. This means that in India ten times more children die before attaining the age of one than the number of deaths in other ages.
It would still have been alright to be complacent about these statistics. However, when the incidence of Female Infanticide is added to these, it should make us sit up and take notice. Some activists, including as brought out in an Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate episode, believe that India’s 2011 census shows a serious decline in the number of girls under the age of seven – activists fear eight million female foetuses may have been aborted between 2001 and 2011. I brought out the plight of being an Indian Woman in an early article ‘Is There Reason To Celebrate Women’s Day in India?’ and how female foetuses were discovered in a well in Patiala. Wikipedia, however, holds that these claims are controversial and that the 2011 census birth sex ratio in India, of 917 girls to 1000 boys, is similar to 870-930 girls to 1000 boys birth sex ratios observed in Japanese, Chinese, Cuban, Filipino and Hawaiian ethnic groups in the United States between 1940 to 2005. They are also similar to birth sex ratios below 900 girls to 1000 boys observed in mothers of different age groups and gestation periods in the United States. I don’t agree. I feel that Female Infanticide is prevalent in India in significant numbers and even if a girl-child exercises the Right to be Born, she soon starts praying that she would be dead.
Look at the picture below. It is from the television serial on Colors channel. The series were titled ‘Na Aana Is Des Laado‘ (Don’t Come to this World Girl). It premiered on 9th March 2009, much before Aamir Khan brought it out on SJ. The story deals with the social evil of Female infanticide, and concentrates on the problems faced by women in a male-dominant world.
|A scene from Colors serial ‘Na Aana Is Des Laado’|
Solution. Being born is a gift of God; to live depends upon our conditions. As a society we have to realise that life starts much before the actual birth and that female infanticide is murder. A child should be allowed to be born irrespective of its sex. After having been born, it should get adequate nourishment and health-care so as to live. We keep talking of an emerging great power called India. It is total hogwash if 6 percent of Indian children die within a year of being born and millions of female foetuses are discarded because our society has little use for women. We cannot change the entire country; but, we can certainly change the way we look at things in our own families and immediate neighbourhood. Others will have as much value for Indian lives – both male and female – as we have for our own lives. Six percent IMR doesn’t suggest we value Indian lives too much.
Freedom to Choose Religion. This is a very touchy subject with us. Just like during the elections when we see that there are people whose votes have been already cast, we have our religion already chosen for us even before birth. After that, even in the kindergarten admission form ‘Religion’ has to be specified. This continues during our lives for all admission forms and other applications. Whose religion is it? It is that of our parents and their parents? We cannot dare to go outside the ambit of the religion chosen for us by our parents. We have no idea whether other religions are good or bad (actually ‘bad’ is not even an option; we are talking about religion and not potatoes or appliances); but, we are somehow told that absolute and blind loyalty to our religion is the stuff that separates us from pagans or beasts. It is therefore an acceptable thing to break the legs of or burn the house of a person who is perceived to be desecrating our religious symbols or monuments. Our religion itself might just be teaching us to look at all human beings with kindness; but, to hell with that. It is the religious practice or rituals that are more important to us. Hence, we are prepared to do irreligious things, even to kill, in order to defend our religion that our parents chose for us and about whose virtues we simply have had no idea. Some loyalty this.
Freedom to Live Anywhere in the Country. Now this sounds rather easy and doesn’t look like an issue at all; especially since Aamir Khan has not (yet) talked about it being an issue. Let me, therefore, give you a few facts. Two years back, in response to a PIL (Public Interest Litigation), the Supreme Court of India ruled that an Indian has an inherent right to settle down anywhere in the country. Now, why would you require a Supreme Court ruling on it? A few years back, in an election rally, I heard the Chief Minister of my home-state make an unlawful and unconstitutional statement saying, “Himachal is for Himachalis only.” Similarly, the goons of MNS want us to believe that only ‘sons-of-soil’ have the right to settle down in Maharshatra. A RAND study, a few years back, concluded that within the next two decades India would be divided into at least 50 states. Why are we becoming so parochial? Who is profiting from dividing us? This time it is not really a “foreign-hand” that is manipulating us. This time, just like pre-independence days when British ruled over us by following a ‘Divide and Rule’ policy, our own politicians too have learnt how to manipulate people by dividing them along religious, geographical, linguist and casteist lines. So, whilst earlier we lost our independence to the British, now we have lost it to the politicians. The states are now becoming more and more isolated from the concept of a united India. Within the states and cities we already have colonies of Muslims, Sikhs, Biharis, Bengalis etc. Three years back a Muslim was refused permission to buy a flat in a predominantly Hindu building in Pune. Many a times any opposition to these parochial ideas are met with threats of or actual killings.
Solution. Parochialism of this nature is anti-Indian. We have to publicly and individually shun it. We have to focus on the concept of one India rather than being divided into various regions. If we don’t do so, very soon we shall have anti-social and anti-national elements ruling over us. As an example, Maoists writ now runs large in about one third of the districts of our country. For any movement to succeed, people have to stand up to the nonsense dished out by politicians who take up the patronage of colonies and regions based on parochial interests. We, as people of free India, must stand against these. Lets ask of our candidates in the next elections that we would vote for them only if they undertake not to divide us further. As a small step, all vehicle registration plates, by law, are to be based on “modern Hindu-Arabic numerals and Roman alphabets”. Lets shun those that are in local script; these are illegal.
Freedom to Choose Government. “Aha, here we got you” you are bound to say, “India is the largest democracy in the world and we choose governments on the average of every five years.” Think again. Do you really exercise a choice? Is it really functional democracy? One and a half years back, on the occasion of our 62nd Republic Day I brought out in an article ‘How Proud Should We Be Of Indian Republic at 62?‘ that an elected representative in our country represents, on an average, about 9 percent of the electorate (people of voting age who are registered voters). This means that a good 90 percent of the electorate haven’t elected him/her. However, when he/she enters the parliament he starts using such arrogant words as ‘supremacy of the parliament’ (mind you not ‘supremacy of the people’ but that of his seat of “power“). And these 9 percent voters; how did they elect him/her? The only issues that he brought out to them during his/her messy election campaign were those of caste, religion, and vituperation of the other candidates and parties. Think again; what choice did you exercise whilst electing him/her? Did you exercise your choice of ‘none of the above’? Or, most likely, you only chose what appeared to be the least harmful of a band of rogues? If you did you are amongst the lucky few who actually went to vote and after going there found that your name is actually on the voters’ list (a tall order in case you happen to vote conscientiously and not enmass as people in the politically patronaged colonies do) and your vote has not already been cast after you have reached the voting booth.
Solution. We require a truly representative government in India; one where we actually exercise a choice. It wouldn’t come about unless the thinking middle-class wakes up and hold the representatives accountable. Please remember after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, when the middle class took out candle light marches for the victims and stridently took the elected representatives to task for complete absence of security, Colaba, the constituency where the attacks took place, recorded the lowest voter turn out of just 37 percent. Most middle class voters enjoy the three-four days holidays that they get for voting. Simple solutions then: One, ensure your name is on the voters’ list; two, ensure that you vote; three, lets have a strong enough movement to get ‘none-of-the-above’ choices included in the voters pad; four, vote conscientiously and not as an ad hoc choice at the spur of the moment.
Freedom to Choose Life Partner. India is a country where until recently we had the prevalence of Sati. A widow was expected to jump into the funeral pyre of her dead husband since it was considered that after the husband was dead, the wife had no right to continue living. And who was her husband? Did she choose him? No, for heaven’s sake, what are you talking about? Many of the Indian girls are still married when they are children (see pic below). The parents decide who she should get married to; of what religion and caste are the governing factors. It is the same with boys; he dare not marry anyone outside the ambit laid by the parents and the community. In many cases, should the boy and the girl decide to exercise choice, the future that awaits them is that of complete ostracising and also of death. With the increased expectancy of life, the couple is expected to spend the next five decades or more together but both of them do not exercise choice for fear of parents, relatives and khap-panchayats. In majority of the cases, the boy’s family either demands dowry directly or makes it clear that the girl will be happier if her parents provide something for her; eg, “Humein kuchh nahin chahiye, jo kuchh hai aap apni ladki ko de sakte hain.” (We don’t need anything; you are free to give anything to your daughter though)
|Prevalence of child marriage (Pic courtesy: asianews.it)|
Freedom of Expression. This is a very sensitive subject with us. From ostracism of MF Hussain to Mamta Bannerji getting after people with vengeance who were making cartoons of her, we are certainly losing patience and becoming more rigid in our approach. It is not just James Laine’s ‘Hindu King in Islamic India’ but, nowadays, increasingly large number of movies and books are found objectionable by communities and vested interests; many of these without either seeing the movie or reading the book. It is true that freedom of expression should be responsibly used; however, I am talking about more and more people in our society being pseudo loyalists and jingoists. We are gradually becoming a society where fear prevails and true expressions remain suppressed for ages.
|Laine burning (Courtesy: patwardhan.com)|
Solution. We should be proud of the pluralism of India. Even when foreign kings came to India and ruled over us, we didn’t require armies and senas to protect our beliefs and ideas. In the end, ideas conquer because of the strength of the ideas and not because of the authorities or senas protecting these. What we need is a society more tolerant of others’ ideas. As Winston Churchill said, “I do not agree with you but I shall defend to the hilt your right to say your thing.”
Right to Privacy. Lets face it: we are too many of us. There is no way we can let people by themselves; everything is public, everything is everywhere. In this, the role of the present day Indian media is to be abhorred. Imagine sending a microphone down to Prince having fallen into a 40 metres hole and asking him, “Kaisa lag raha hai tumhen?” (How do you feel being down there?). Similarly, telling us live what is happening every minute to the innards of Pramod Mahajan after having been shot by his brother, I would think it is invasion of privacy. Listening to people’s calls, e-mails, messages in the name of tightening security is also invasion of privacy. There is nowhere to go these days. Young boys and girls in love are frequently hassled by the police. All your sensitive information is public knowledge. India has emerged the capital of the world for white collar crimes such as stealth of banking data of people and credit card details. Similarly, the police feels that they can stop anyone anywhere and start harassing ordinary citizens in order to show their “supreme power”. Any number of promoters ring you up and sms you any number of times to advertise their products. You won’t find directions on the road as to how to reach the airport, hospital or railway station but you will find large hoardings telling you how far and where the next MacDonald is. Whether or not you want to participate in a religious festival, since these are largely celebrated on roads and public places you end up participating in these against your choice. You cannot dare to speak against the noise levels. We have simply lost privacy.
|Loss of Privacy (courtesy: wearethebest.wordpress.com)|
Solution. This will take a long time to come in India beset as we are with the problems of terrorism both from across the border and home grown. The law enforcing agencies feel that they have a right to pry into people’s private lives and people on their own feel helpless. Some of them even ask what’s the big deal about it? Possibly, we can start asserting individual’s right to privacy in awareness campaigns. The more people talk about it, the more will be the compulsion to do away with privacy. As far intrusions into privacy of individuals by communities are concerned, includind intruding by unwanted and illegal noise, we can start with ourselves, our children and our families and perhaps the movement will grow.
Freedoms We Can Do Without. Having given vent to some of the desirable freedoms that we should have as Indians and the ones that we are still far from having, let me now make a short list of freedoms that we have ascribed to ourselves but which encroach upon others’ rights and freedoms. We should restrict these so called ‘freedoms’:
The first one of these is the freedom to have sex with everyone and everywhere without consideration of age and circumstances. The instance of incest in our country is as high as 49 percent. Many very young lives have been scarred for life with our people’s inability to control sexual urges. Rapes are on the increase and Delhi has now earned the dubious distinction of being the ‘Rape Capital of the World’.
The second is freedom to use the roads every which way. The other day a foreigner asked me to describe traffic in India. I have written a lot on the subject in this very blog. But, in order to cut a long story short, here was my reply: In India you would do well to understand that on our roads we have all types of vehicles and non-vehicles at all times in all directions at all times. Can’t we individually and collectively bring some order into it?
The third is our uncontrollable urge to litter; the freedom that we feel our forefathers have won for us. The result is that our houses, colonies, roads, public places, anywhere and everywhere, look shabby, full of paan stains, with mounds or heaps of filth. Diseases and epidemics result from this unchecked pollution especially of all our water bodies. However, we don’t want to bring in even an iota of discipline in our civic lives.
Lastly, we can do away completely with the freedom to consider public moneys and properties as our own. From netas to common man, everyone is now part of the great Indian corruption scene; it is all to do with shortcuts to get ahead in life somehow. We Indians have really lost our soul. (Read ‘Indians – Bartering Character For Prosperity‘)
Fortunately for us having touched rock bottom there is no way to go but up. Lets work towards it.
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