Happy 70th Independence Day of India.
It was on this day, 15th August, in the year 1947, when we received Freedom at Midnight. Our first Prime Minister of independent India made his famous Tryst with Destiny speech to the Indian Constituent Assembly in the Parliament, a speech that is counted amongst the most famous speeches in the history of the world. The opening two paragraphs of this speech are:
“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now that time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of today’s midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.
It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity with some pride.”
Just as I did with the Republic Day five and half years ago, in 2011 (Please read: ‘How Proud Should We Be Of The Indian Republic At 62?’), I have to be the devil’s advocate and suggest that though, of course, freedom is a great thing and we fought hard to get it back (having lost it to the British two hundred years before winning it back), there are a few freedoms that we have granted ourselves and we can do without some, if not all of them. Just as I did with the Republic Day, then, these are our reality check nearly seventy years after we won independence.
1. Freedom to Urinate and Defecate in Public and to Litter. I don’t know at what point of time in history we acquired these habits that not only make our villages, towns and cities filthy but also make us spend enormous money, resources and efforts to clean up our act, whether in our holiest river Ganga or anywhere else. If the cost of diseases and epidemics has to be added, it is a freedom that has already done enormous damage to the country, let alone its image abroad. Basically, this freedom emanates from the we versus the authorities rebellious attitude that we have and that we are proud of having won us the independence (the Civil Disobedience Movement, that is, during the British time). Try stopping a man chucking out empty soft-drink tetrapaks from the train or the bus; he would immediately come up with the argument, “What do you think that the sweepers are paid for from the taxes we pay? Let them do some work once in a while rather than sit on their haunches.” I was posted in the city of Vizag on the Eastern coast. Before I could obtain accommodation with the Navy, I rented a house in a civil locality. Whereas another country in the East, Japan that is, is called ‘Land of the Rising Sun’, the civil localities in Vizag could be easily called ‘Land of the Rising Bums’. One would see many of these if one ever went for early morning walks after following the English motto: ‘Early to bed early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’. In Vizag, if one went for a walk too early and not able to sight the gooey stuff on the sides of the road, one would not be anywhere near healthy or wealthy. One would be wise though to have a bath immediately on return.
2. Freedom to Molest and Rape. Am I the only one who feels that this so called freedom is as serious an issue as to be at the level of freedom for some people? Nearly three and half years ago, I wrote an essay titled ‘Nirbhaya’s Rape – A National Shame, Time To Look Within’. This essay was written immediately after the most infamous rape case in the national capital that took place in Dec 2012. It shook the national conscience. And then many skeletons in our national cupboard came tumbling out. For example, there was this minister in the Goa Assembly who asserted that women who dressed provocatively deserved to be raped. Imagine a responsible representative of the people saying that! We also had the unseemly sight of elected representatives blithely watching pornography in the assembly whilst government business was being transacted (Please read: ‘Guardians Of Porn And Morality’). In the same article about Porn and Morality, I brought out about a play I directed and acted in the Navy: Mahesh Dattani’s ’30 Days In September’. The play was about the incidence of incest in the country. Whilst researching on the topic, I came across government figures given in the parliament by Ms Renuka Chaudhary, the then Minister for Women’s Affairs and Child Welfare. She brought out that about 49 percent children in our country are victims of incest and child-abuse; a large percentage of these being at the hands of known and close relatives. Women are still considered in various sections of the society as mard ke pair ki jooti (footwear for the men) (Please read: ‘Is There Reason To Celebrate Women’s Day In India?’) We can certainly do without these freedoms to molest, rape and indulge in child abuse and incest.
3. Freedom to Make Unrestricted Noise Especially in the Name of God and Religion. I have written extensively on the subject (‘A Quieter Mumbai – Is It A Pipe Dream?’, ‘Indians Love To Honk – Don’t They?’, ‘Noise Is The Newest Form Of Devotion’, ‘Politicisation Of Religion And Idol-Worship In India’, ‘State Sponsored Noise’ , ‘Who Are The People Whose Sentiments Need To Be Respected?’ and ‘Whose God Is It Anyway?’) and so have other activists who have seen in such unrestricted unlawful acts serious issues of health, hygiene and harmony. But, all this seems to have fallen on deaf ears; so much so that the High Court of Mumbai, for example, has recently taken the Maharashtra government to task for doing nothing about this menace of alarming proportions.
4. Freedom to Use Public Funds and Resources as Own. This freedom is of gigantic proportions in our country, particularly so with elected representatives and bureaucrats; the latter have recently appealed that they not be called by the derogatory term ‘babus’. It will be only sooner than later when the elected representatives also appeal that they not be called by the derogatory (!) term ‘netas‘. What an irony! In both cases, if we have to examine as to who demeaned these terms, one would get the quick answer that those who are now appealing against being called these are themselves responsible for it. The Indian constitution has a term called ‘Public Servant’; both these form the bulk of the representatives of the government who are so described. A ‘Public Servant’ is not a derogatory term but a reminder to such people that they hold their positions for the service of the people. However, these self-serving people feel that the only reason that they are there is to enjoy power and the perks of the positions that they hold. This freedom to consider public funds and resources as their own has been the subject of many a blog-post from me that you would find in this very blog.
5. Freedom to Take Law in One’s Hands. Almost everyone indulges in this in India; we are amongst the most unlawful people on earth. Drivers even in the national capital, for example, drive through red light on a traffic crossing, with impunity, if they feel no one is watching. This is a freedom that we have gifted ourselves (Please read ‘We Are Like That Only’). It has nuisance value on the roads in addition to it being dangerous. Our national figures are:
- Over 1,37,000 people were killed in road accidents in 2013 alone, that is more than the number of people killed in all our wars put together.
- 16 children die on Indian roads daily.
- 5 lives end on Delhi’s roads everyday.
- There is one death every four minutes due to a road accident in India.
And yet, we have a tendency to take shortcuts with any rule or law not just on the roads but everywhere.
It is of alarming proportion when those whose duty it is to maintain law and order routinely indulge in unlawful activities. Amnesty International, for example, repeatedly brings out the flagrant incidents of police excesses and custodial deaths and violations of human rights (Read, for example: Bhagalpur Blindings of 1980 when the Bihar Police blinded 31 under-trial people by pouring acid into their eyes). However, so used to are these people to enjoy their self-ascribed freedoms that they don’t seem to care. Here is something sickening in the news just three days before the 70th Independence Day:
One third of the districts of our country now openly oppose Indian law mainly because of such freedoms enjoyed by our so-called public-servants. Isn’t it high time that we restrict these so called self-ascribed freedoms and do our bit towards nation-building that the famous ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech of our first Prime Minister exhorted us to do 69 years back?
The danger is palpable: if we don’t follow the evolutionary way, we face the revolutionary way; and revolutions are often (if not always) bloody and violent.
© 2016, Sunbyanyname. All rights reserved.