What 15/8 stands forPritish Nandy at TOI blog.
I was born into freedom, grew up with it. So you must forgive me if I am not particularly hostile towards the British who ruled over us till 15/8 1947. You must also forgive me for not hating the Pakistanis as much as I am expected to because I never watched India being sliced into two by Jinnah’s machinations or Gandhi’s indifference, as others claim. I am a child of freedom. Not colonialism. Nor the Partition of India.
For me and millions of Indians, freedom means everything. We love asserting ourselves, even when we are in the wrong, and refuse to be cowed down by truth or fear. That’s why we chose democracy. It gave us the right to speak out without fear. And every now and then, when elections are held in different parts of India, we are surprised by the courage and wisdom of the voters. No Government, no political party, no leader has ever survived by underestimating the electorate. We saw the humiliation of Indira Gandhi in the polls, even after she won the only full fledged war this nation has ever fought. And that was because she imposed an Emergency to curb our freedoms. It destroyed her credibility. Not only was the Congress chucked out of power but she lost her own seat in Parliament to a complete crackpot called Raj Narain.
Having lived with freedom all of my life, I am surprised to find it under so much threat today. No, I am not particularly surprised when Governments try to curtail our freedom. That’s expected. Most Governments use every pretext, from national security to public weal, to try and curb our rights. Faith, caste, regional identity, developmental goals, everything is grist to the mill. The assertion of who we are is constantly at odds with what the State wants us to be. Today, for all practical purposes, each of us is just a PAN number who must be maximally taxed at every point of transaction. Soon each of us will have a UID number, our phones will be tapped, our emails read, our chats followed, our choices questioned, our rights curbed. The almighty State, run by goons, thugs and petty thieves, will become even mightier. Even though some of its most august stakeholders may be locked up in Tihar and a thick cloud of doubt and suspicion overhangs the rest.
The fact that we allow such people to rule over us has emboldened others to attempt similar tactics. The underworld gets murkier by the day and the thin dividing line between law breakers and law enforcers is disappearing. Everyone’s on the same side today, against you and I. On top of that, every kind of radical fringe wants to intimidate us, cull our freedoms, extort us. They are using the same methodologies as the State, the same arguments. They want to dictate to us what we must wear, what we can eat and drink, how we may pray to our different Gods, what books to read, what movies to watch, what art to appreciate and what to denigrate and vandalise.
This is what worries me. You can change Governments that intrude upon your personal freedoms. But you can’t change the way some people think. Burning books, harassing artists and film makers, vandalising libraries and art galleries, outlawing beer bars, beating up college girls who dress in jeans, banning alcohol for those under 25, the increase in honour killings, gender crimes, custodial deaths, and stupid, meaningless bomb blasts that kill innocent people are all different ways to attack our freedom. Now you can’t park your bike in Zaveri bazaar. You can’t go to watch a play or a movie without being frisked. You can’t wear what you want because some perverts believe it’s an invitation to rape. You can’t file your taxes and rest in peace because the system has decided to see every law abiding citizen as a likely tax evader. While the real crooks and criminals are safely ensconced within the ruling system, safe in the knowledge that power protects them.
That’s why 15/8 is a good time to think, ponder, be aware of your rights as a citizen of this great nation. We can overcome every hurdle, fight back every impossible odd if we cherish and insist on the freedoms we still have. For me, they rank way, way ahead of patriotism. Let us build on them.