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A lot more barriers need to be broken and freedom needs to be realised in an imperfect ‘social structure’ that exists in India and abroad. You still need to fight racism, sexism, casteism, class-ism and boundaries you have created for yourselves in your head because of how you were conditioned to think or made to believe about yourself by the society you live in.Navodita, our Associate Editor, enquires into the meaning of ‘freedom’, as part of the Special Feature on Independence Day. A Different Truths exclusive.
‘Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains’ – what Rousseau said ages ago is subject to multiple interpretations. Yet it reverberates what many feel even in this age and day of independence and freedom- a power vacuum of sorts.
You often feel powerless to influence your decisions, often taken by your parents when you are children, influenced by your in-laws or spouse when you are adults and often coloured by children’s priorities when you age or grow old. So when do you have the time to actually think and act according to your own ‘individual choices’? Never! Isn’t that living in misery? That’s when you truly realise the value of freedom and the right to take your own decisions and make your own choices in the given circumstances. So here’s a think about how truly independent are you?
To begin with, you get defined your gender stereotypes. You have to live with the conditioning and the social behavior taught from the very start. Any deviation may term you a rebel or an ignoramus who needs to be ‘cultured’. With the onset of modern values and technological awareness, gender roles are being redefined but there are instances that make you feel you are still living in a ‘feudalistic world’ especially when it comes to women. For women living in a remote part of a state like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh or Bihar, security and safety itself is at stake. You walk out of the house on a street or a road to run errands without a Chunni, you still attract a stare or a glare. For college girls walking or strolling out in shorts or talking to a male friend, you are often the subject of gossip and talks by middle-aged aunts and neighbours. It’s high time you rephrase the term ‘sati-savitri’ as women are breaking out of the protective mould to create history and be the torchbearers for their families, in the form of beti, bahu or behen. There is a transition going on in the society where you read a headline about the first woman fighter pilot or a naval officer or an Olympic medal winner; on the other hand, you still read haunting sagas of rape victims and orphans smouldering in ‘dark dungeons of crime’. The question is: how accountable is an individual to the other person? Is there a ‘social contract’, in Rousseau’s words, at every step?
In India, with political leanings becoming sharper, a new ‘identity’ that is taking the front seat is – ‘which religion do you follow’? Having grown up as liberals in the first few formative years, religion was not highlighted as much as values, culture and ‘sanskara’ were. In schools, you rarely asked your classmate a question- Do you eat beef? Do you eat pork? Do you cover your head? It was a world of ‘freedom’ where a Muslim or a Hindu girl learnt yoga with equal interest and ease; a Hindu girl took up Urdu as an optional language as much as a Muslim girl took up Sanskrit or Yoga. Twenty years hence, as ‘Muslim veils’ become more visible among young girls, Hindu girls have become more aware of their ‘sanskriti’ where ‘love jihad’ is a no-no. With rising incidents of mob lynchings and even more Akhlaqs in creation, the Hindutva agenda is accomplished but at what cost? Is the freedom to practise your religion not curtailed? Is the message going out to the world that India is where Hinduism gets redefined within the political ambit of high-handedness and dictatorship of a kind? Is there a difference between ‘popular’ and ‘political’ Hinduism?
Thirdly, a major ‘freedom’ that needs to be redefined in the 21st century is in the form of ‘definitions of class’. Without delving too deep into the classless society as mentioned by Marx, it is time to question how sensitive are you to your domestic help, your sweeper or your plumber and electrician? It leaves you open-mouthed when you still see your mother or grandmother chiding you for not keeping a separate glass and vessels to eat in for the maid-servant working in the house, whether she is from the same religion, caste or biradari; to such women, with due respect for age, my answer is- she (who works to feed and serve you) doesn’t have a contagious disease. In the 21st century, are these ‘social evils’ we are still living with? Is there a sense of ‘major mental and psychological captivity’ you need to break away from? When you hear of stories where a fruit vendor’s daughter tops a civil service examination or the likes of Hima Das winning a world championship, you feel proud of women and girls who fight all odds to break boundaries and carve a niche for themselves irrespective of financial or social problems.
The bitter truth is – a lot more barriers need to be broken and freedom needs to be realised in an imperfect ‘social structure’ that exists in India and abroad. You still need to fight racism, sexism, casteism, class-ism, and boundaries you have created for yourselves in your head because of how you were conditioned to think or made to believe about yourself by the society you live in. You are still a far cry from Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, that non-conformist character Bach eulogised and it will be some time before you have actually unfurled the national flag of freedom and liberty in the country.
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