TW: mentions of suicide, rape, and domestic violence
(This piece has been previously published in the Statesman, Voices and Eye Art Collective. )
Independence is an on-going process. Associating the 15th of August every year with the unfurling of a tri-coloured flag and echoing the national anthem in unison does not constitute freedom, just as reiterating a set of vows does not define a marriage. Freedom and independence are ideas based on a fallacy, utopian and misleading-lingering myths that one has grown accustomed to.
If mass media is responsible for reflecting the present-day conditions of society, then it certainly does not mirror the conditions of an independent one. Take, for instance, the facts printed in any newspaper. Cases of suicide, rape, and murder dominate the headlines. Instances of corruption, intolerance, unemployment, and other afflictions crowd the inside pages. Voices of turmoil and dissent seem to stir like an underground mutiny. But, true independence would negate the need for resistance and rebellion.
Patrick Henry once said, “Give me liberty or give me death." Consider then, suicide. According to statistics, 135,445 persons committed suicide in the country in 2012.That translates to, on average, 15 suicides an hour or 371 suicides a day. Analyzed further, 242 males and 129 females commit suicides every day. While the causes for suicide may vary, almost all cases stem from an acute frustration, a sense of disillusionment and alienation due to the inability of the victim to conform. Suicide is, therefore, the ultimate rebellion against conformity. If suicide is an act of rebellion, then a society that proliferates it cannot be regarded as independent.
Moreover, the same statistics state that one suicide out of every six suicides was committed by a housewife. Women form an integral component of society, without which society as a whole would cease to function. Therefore, it would be prudent of society to prevent its female population from being subjected to horrors such as rape, molestation, prostitution, and immolation, among others. Yet, the fact remains that 24,923 rape cases were reported across India in 2012. Also, it has been said that the growth rate of crimes against women would be higher than the population growth rate by 2010. This is also without taking into account the numerous cases that go unreported.
However, man’s violence is not merely directed at his own species, but also towards his own environment. Independence comes with a certain responsibility, one that does not include making a wasteland of one’s one and only home.
As Arundhati Roy writes in her essay "End of Imagination":
“This world of ours is four thousand, six hundred million years old. It could end in an afternoon."
Society is indeed living in the Dark Ages if it believes that environmental crisis is a matter of concern only for scientists and the people who write textbooks on it.
Speaking of scientists, it is highly shameful for a country to watch its best minds migrate to foreign shores, beguiled by Ivy-League promises. Then again, it should not be so surprising if the country’s education system functions on a steady diet of bribes and corruption. Reservation of seats, adhering to quotas, and accepting donations often deny the talented students who could have served society in a hundred other fruitful ways. Indirectly popularizing that hypocrisy and not merit grants access to power and wealth further destroys the career prospects of enthusiastic young minds. Finally, a nation that fails to provide its citizens with an adequate schooling not only fails to secure a decent literacy rank, but also loses its self-respect.
Also, a country that exiles its best writers and painters under the pretext of religious differences goes against the very principles of independence, which guarantees the right to liberty. Such a system can never make progress but only stagnates in its own self-created hell.
Though India’s national language is Hindi, it is the English-medium schools that are held with higher regard. From personal experience, I have noticed that learning French or Spanish generates more interest than, say, Urdu or Bengali. It is not the glorification of other cultures that is the issue here, but a lack of pride and belonging over one’s own. The fact that citizens fail to appreciate the beauty and elegance of their own native languages is a sign that society is suffering from an identity crisis.
Another reason to be insecure is the rising unemployment rates. First, the country is unable to curb overpopulation; next, it is unable to cater to the needs of the surplus individuals. Piracy, robbery, smuggling, and other illegal practices are direct consequences of unemployment and large-scale poverty. Instead of finding new jobs, the state should direct its efforts toward inventing new jobs, which calls for creativity and innovation that again is lacking in a system that churns out doctors and engineers like machine-made products.
Besides, a developing nation will never become a developed nation until it learns to reschedule its priorities. Political dissensions, nuclear deals, and seminars on foreseeable threats are important, yes, but not as crucial as ensuring that the majority (if not each) of the citizens has access to healthy food, clean drinking water, and proper shelter. In several European countries such as Finland and France, the right to access the internet is considered a fundamental right. Comparatively, India is lagging far behind. Children die from malnutrition, hunger, lack of vaccination, and poor health care every single day. An estimated 29.8% of Indians lived below poverty line in 2009-2010. According to a study, one in three of the world’s poorest people live in India.
And lastly, religion. A society that claims to be secular yet freely allows its citizens to kill each other on account of religious differences is a deadly place to live. An independent nation does not accept all religions blindly but accepts them with justification. It will allow for objections to be raised, but will deal with them placidly and judiciously. Under no circumstances shall it advocate violence and terrorism.
We call ourselves independent on account of the fact that on August 15, 1947, we escaped from the shackles of British rule and proclaimed ourselves as a sovereign democratic state and since then every year we smear our faces in green and saffron and celebrate our right to self-rule. We see our “independence “as an achievement, and not as a place of honour that we need to strive to maintain and therein lies the flaw.
A central question thus raised may be framed as: Who then deserves independence? The answer is simple: Those who have earned it.