Dr. Asangba Tzüdir
“The capacity for compassion and empathy is the true foundation of our civilization. But every day we see increased violence around us. At the heart of this violence is darkness, fear and mistrust. We must free our public discourse from all forms of violence, physical as well as verbal.” – Pranab Mukherjee (In his last Presidential Address to the Nation)
“At the stroke of today’s midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom,” said Jawaharlal Nehru. India was born as a free democratic nation 70 years ago with a lot of challenges to take it forward. Over the years, India has gone through many changes from political to economic to social life. Be it physics, maths, medicine, chemistry, literature, music, film, sports or space, India has achieved new heights, going through different hurdles to earn global recognition in many fields. But, as India celebrates 70 years of Independence, it should not be simply seen as a day to celebrate India becoming a free nation but to sincerely reflect on ‘how free and liberated India is today.’
Currently, on the one hand, India is going through a process of ‘revamping.’ From planning Commission to NITI Aayog, demonetization, GST etc. It has unsettled India. While, on the other, rural Indians continue to struggle for basic amenities like water and electricity. The latest tragedy that claimed the precious lives of at least 63 children in Gorakhpur Hospital is reported to be due to lack of oxygen supply.
Every now and then, news catches the attention of farmers committing suicide unable to pay their debts. While, another equally worrying factor is for those farmers who stand to lose their land to make way for industrial projects. The economic condition is such that the rich get richer while the poor becomes poorer. Every year the budget which is being presented with a tall claim to uplift the people ends up imposing additional burdens on people. Change and transformation is a time taking process but policies seem to be slowly getting reduced to promises.
Even at 70, India still debates whether privacy is a fundamental right. The issue has heightened in the wake of Aadhaar card being transformed into some sort of a ‘life ticket’ at the cost of privacy. The way in which right to privacy is being addressed by ‘denouncing the present and referring back’ is a clear case of India going backwards. Nonetheless, the larger concern is about whether the government can guarantee safety and privacy concerns of its citizens.
Media, especially the press, continues to live under the veil as the “Fourth Estate.” But, in reality, its freedom to express the ‘truth’ which is an integral component of democracy is curtailed by defamation laws and other central board regulations. The release of the much-awaited documentary on the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, by the National Award winning film-maker Suman Ghosh, has met a hurdle from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) asking for the deletion of the words “Gujarat,” “Hindu,” “Hindutva” and “cow” from the documentary. Can India deny an objective fact?
Further, beyond the issue of cow and the Gau Rakshaks, the statement made by RSS’s Aniruddha Deshpande that, “A non-Hindu dedicated to the country’s progress is a Hindu to us” is a clear message that RSS is rallying for a sweeping national agenda of building India into a “Hindu Rashtra” and also the fact that RSS is gearing up for its centenary celebrations in 2025.
On the global map, the Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 puts India behind only Iraq and Afghanistan in the number of attacks perpetrated on its soil. The fight against terrorism is a global issue but India must be cautious about inciting terrorism while fighting terrorism.
Even after 70 years, a lot more is found wanting on the aspect of India’s foreign policy with her neighbours – China, Burma, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal. The unresolved issues need to be given serious attention because a lot depends on it for India’s emergence as a global economic powerhouse. Building a strong relationship with one’s neighbours should hold primacy over countries like the US and Russia.
In a similar strain, the current standoff between India and China at Doklam has created a lot of tension where China has upped the rhetoric by saying that China’s willingness to defend their sovereignty “is indomitable,” and that they “will do so whatever the cost.” This message for India came as Xi Xinping’s Red Army, The PLA, marks its 90th anniversary. While both sides have compelling reasons to avoid it, it is also a lesson for India on its defense preparedness and the fact that PM Modi has not had a full time defence minister since March. The terrain may favor India but the military might of China cannot be undermined. Will China go to war with India at the cost of her global image as a responsible, rising China? But both nations should be once again reminded that there is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare. China or Bhutan alone or even India alone cannot resolve this standoff. The solution should be sought through tripartite talks.
What the outgoing President of India said needs a lot of honest and sincere reflection. The incidences of violence across the country especially in campuses, and particularly the JNU chapter where it ended up being tagged as ‘anti-national’ can be taken as a clarion call on the need for freedom of speech and to empower public discourse through healthy dialogue and more so, to free it from violence. It is not just about freedom of speech but for the growth of a tolerant and healthy society and for the intellectual development of India.
At the core of all the political, socio-cultural and issues of religious intolerances, a lot can be derived from a society that is still not willing to let go of social constructs like dowry and triple talaq. On the whole, if India wants to live as a truly free and liberated nation, she should first begin by reclaiming its status as a democratic Nation – a Country where citizens rights are honored; where there is no more religious intolerance; where cultural diversity is accommodated and celebrated; where violence is replaced by peace; and where every citizen can express freely without fear and take pride in being an Indian.
There are many unlearnt lessons from Gandhi and Tagore, to name a few, and even today, their profound philosophies continue to tell India to learn how to live. The question is whether India is willing to revisit the true path of freedom and liberation.
(Dr. Asangba Tzudir contributes a weekly guest editorial to The Morung Express. Comments can be mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org)