Come wave your flag: What does Freedom mean to you?
In 1930, on his visit to England for the Round Table Conference, Mahatma Gandhi was asked by a reporter, “Mr. Gandhi, what do you think of modern civilization?” And Mr. Gandhi replied, “It is a good idea.” Today we ask if our freedom has remained only an idea, and if we are caught up in a slavery that is not more awful precisely because it is invisible.
Remembered, celebrated, and almost immediately ignored, our Freedom in its present form, ironically proclaims our helplessness from all the flagpoles. For, one wonders if the flag of our Freedom is waving or shivering in the wind. It is, at seventy, noticeably and obviously feebler, as if stricken with Alzheimer’s, foggy in the head. The grandfatherly Independence Day is called forth only on 15th of August, its birthday, to be completely waved aside by laymen and politicians alike. Freedom from British rulers, yes, but put a hand on your heart and can you say that you are not effectively exploited and colonised? The Enemy Within is our new threat. It is there in the inhuman ways we interpret and implement our morals, traditions, and laws. The weapons that maim and bleed us are self-forged.
Freedom of Individuality
Religion in our country is a hand-me-down entity received at birth and borne for a lifetime. Perhaps, individuality ends at the birthing tray, when a new born is first shown to his family, and marked in minutes’ succession as Amar, Akbar, Anthony. Just as matrimonial classifieds seeking brides demand beauty, the ones soliciting grooms focus on income and job designations, specifying that only engineers, doctors and high governmental officials need to bother to contact. It is still a taboo for women with high paying jobs to marry someone who is struggling with his career or makes less than her per month. Patriarchal pressure of being the dominant alpha, the breadwinner of the family nips a man’s ability to show emotions at a tender age. If a boy plays with dolls, he is reproached with remarks like “Are you a girl?” and when girls ride bicycles or climb trees they are promptly damned into the limbo of tom-boy. It is time to be rid of such antiquated notions of feminine and masculine, freeing men from norms like “Men don’t cry”. If a man wishes to, he can stay back at home taking care of the kids while the female partner goes out to work. If a woman wants to be a housewife, she can be one without being subjected to humiliation like “Oh she is just a stay-at-home mum”. And there are agoraphobic minds, closed in their nuts, who think that their region and their regionalists are the best—an ethnocentrism that militates against humanity.
This Independence Day, strike out on your own, and make a way for individuality and help free the minds and souls that are being blighted and cankered by customs.
Freedom from Inequality
Like an evil worm creeping into a luscious fruit, feelings of caste, race, and the like have begun to eat us from inside. Before Dr. B. R. Ambedkar introduced the SC and ST quota systems, later supplemented by the OBC reservations (“affirmative action” in American usage) those belonging to the lower strata of caste-based hierarchies were kept away from educational and financial opportunities. However, now even the rich and affluent members of SC, ST and OBC communities are enjoying its benefits while general candidates from poorer families and better results are losing out on jobs. Undoubtedly, there is a need for quotas, not only for these, but for all women, irrespective of caste, but not for the creamy layers. Concern for the weak, however, is never absolute, but is almost always relative. For example, in public vehicles, men are expected to vacate seats for women as an act of chivalry. But, there is no dearth of incidents where able-bodied women snatch seats from obviously ill and feeble men, even those undergoing chemotherapies or recuperating from recent operations. Uncomfortable gazes, frowns and refusals still accompany women who personally go buying liquor. This Independence Day, glare inequality down and earn your freedom back from its bondage.
Freedom from Being Judged
How many times have you stepped back and stopped yourself from doing something you love in life, thinking, what will people say? No matter how hard you worked, how many midnights’ oil you burnt before buying that high-end Ray Ban sunglasses, if you are a wife and a mother, your peers will either express admiration for your husband in letting you splurge or dole out unsolicited advice you on motherly duties saying, “save something for the kid too”. Fathers, also not spared from the judging and accusing eyes, are called peacocks and spendthrifts for buying anything expensive for themselves.
Circumstances could have made you a single parent, raising a child and holding a job and running a million errands, and loiterers and thugs taunt and troll you. Your baby is hungry and millions of years of instinct and habit have the milk flowing—and yet a perverted society can only stoop to voyeurism as you breasted your baby. You are damned if you do, and you are damned if you don’t. You will be free when you can be a single parent and a nourishing mother when you are able to do your work without harassment.
If you are speaking your mind on topics revolving around women-empowerment then you will be dubbed as a Femi-Nazi. When one expresses they opinion publicly they run the risk of being trolled with various disgraceful terms like Know-all, Dumb, left-wing and people-pleaser among others.
Freedom in a ‘Mordant’ Modernism
New forms of snobbery and slavery always rise from the abyss. Seventy years of Independence hasn’t changed the servile mentality towards the English language evident from the judgmental attitude people take towards those who cannot speak the language fluently with a British or American accent. Remember the term vernacular? Etymologically it has to do with colour (from the Sanskrit Varna=colour) and has acquired the meaning of “slave language,” as Indian languages have come to be called. Fashion gone bad. But good or harmless fashions too are fair game. A single mother coming back late from office, wearing lipstick or smelling of alcohol will immediately be branded as dangerous, a home-breaker, and her promotions will be credited to sexual manoeuvres. Women who love makeup are labelled ‘high-maintenance’ and those who wear no makeup are plain Janes and dowdies.
This Independence Day, shatter the walls of judgments and thumb your nose at the canaille that cannot accept someone who is successful and is enjoying the fruits of their own labour.
Freedom from Stereotypes
Most men are couch potatoes who watch reruns of cricket matches or the WWF, hate rom-coms. They check out women colleagues with drooling mouths or sucked in pot-belly whenever an attractive woman is nearby. Women on the other hand, in the habit of falling for any man just by sniffing his alluring deodorant, are the cry-babies, attention seekers, diaper changers and mushy lovers who thrive on cute things—gewgaws doled out by the experienced and cunning society. Slickly made exaggerated stereotypes are nothing but selling the agendas propagated by smart ad tycoons. The blue-for-boy-babies-and-pink-for-girl-babies theory too is a hatchling of a consumerist society, triumphantly segregating genders and casting them into iron moulds. An entire industry of memes and comedy shows thrives on petty regional stereotypes, proliferating biases against each other. Punjabis are shown as nit-wits who break into a jig of bhangra at the slightest opportunity whereas Bengalis are oily-haired nerds who cannot speak Hindi or English without being comical. In a country of diversity, stereotyping, in the name of harmless fun, does more injury than meets the eye. This Independence Day, shatter the stereotypical images that fragment and stifle your world.
Freedom of Self-love for Mothers
One of the most ignored figures in our ‘Mother Nation’ is mother. A mother in India shoulders not just the responsibilities of her toddlers but a crushing load of ‘Sanskari’ attributes dumped on her without so much as a by your leave, the prime of them being selflessness (sometimes enforced), which crosses over to self-negation unawares. Absolutely unwittingly, a self-negating mother imparts to her daughter that she too should kill her desires and slog herself out of existence if needed, to please everyone in the house. And her son grows claiming the same sacrifices from their mothers, sisters and wife. Yes, you are a mom but you are first a human being who deserves to pursue her happiness and carve out her ‘me-time’ space what the British writer Virginia Woolf called “A Room of One’s Own”, and cease being the “Angel in the House”.
This year, on Independence Day, vow to say ‘yes’ to yourself, to self-love, and let others (read spouse) do your duties while you catch up on sleep, finish that novel book-marked at the middle, paint your nails, go out for a drink, all without the stigma of being labeled selfish or egoistic.
Freedom of not Having Kids
In a family dominated social structure, couples relishing marital bliss over for about one or two years inevitably meet many questioning and accusing glances, even gleeful looks from the not-so-friendly, if they haven’t had any progeny. Having children should not be considered the two-plus-two-is-four consequence of marriage. Partners should be able to exercise choice when it comes to conceiving a child. With a hectic lifestyle, changing priorities, and soaring aspirations, many couples are finding it hard to commit to the responsibility that children entail. This Independence Day, take the power back from your peers and decide whether you want to have children now or ever, and decide if you are ready for it or not.
Freedom of Being a Survivor, and not a ‘Victim’ of Rape
The cowardice that rape is also takes on shockingly perverted and sadistic forms that leave victims physically devastated as well. Literally adding insult to injury, the victim is blamed for somehow “inviting” it. Instead of dealing justice, society perpetrates a new injustice on them.
And what can we say of the eve teasers—“street hazers”—and oglers who will cower when a girl is safe in the company of her friends, but will shame her and take it as free-for-all if she wears the very same “provocative” dress when she is alone? These losers will be free when they learn to get over their perversions and learn their discipline.
Withstanding and combating physical assaults beyond the levels of inhuman monstrosity, raped women/men are not ‘victims’ but survivors.
This Independence Day, pledge to end the shame poured upon rape victims, to never look at the raped with eyes of pity, but with respect.
Freedom of Loving and Love-Making without Persecution
“Consenting adults who checked into several hotels in Madh Island and Aksa area were shocked to find policemen knocking on the doors of their rooms on Thursday.”
– Hindustan Times, August 9, 2015.
Just two years back social media erupted with protests at the unjustified harassment the hands of Mumbai police of unmarried couples, who had checked into hotel rooms together. From slaps, calling parents to morphing consensual sex into a heinous criminal offense, intolerance towards lovers and love-makers in India doesn’t stop at insulting but takes lives in the name of honour. It is this vigilante tendency which makes us grimace at hand-holding of couples yet overlook those tobacco-spitting social workers painting roads and walls red. This Independence Day, choose to be who you are without fear, and free of caste, creed, gender and other such artificial and concocted barriers.
Freedom of Staying Unmarried
As soon as Indian girls reach the age of 23 and males 28, family pressures for marriage start increasing, perpetually browbeating and thereby reducing the volume of protests from the prospective brides and grooms into inaudible murmurs, reaffirming Boyle’s Law of Gases. Your mother’s third cousin’s father-in-law’s sister should have no say in your marital status and neither should the neighbourhood aunty express how relieved your father will be if a son-in-law is there to share his crisis, meaning you. When it comes to marriage, men and women in India are equally helpless, desperate after a certain age to get themselves a match, going on dates or resigning their will to repeatedly circumnavigate the “arranged marriage” market. In the last seventy years, the criteria of arranged marriages might have changed a little, but the custom is nowhere close to abolition. Spinsters are subject of forever alone memes and couples living together are reminded of their lack of security. Now ask if sex in a loveless marriage is any better than a relationship of love, love that can be found quite often in the so called “live-in” relationships? These relationships are no mockery of marriage—the people in them only want the law to be out of their respective ways in case these diverge in some yellow wood.
This Independence Day vow to marry only when and if the heart permits and that includes an eligible person via the “arranged marriage” window. And be free from the parasitical and pestilential bloodsucking called dowry.
Freedom of Saying ‘No’ to Sex within Marriage
The Wikipedia entry on Marital Rape in India begins, “Marital rape in India is not defined in the Indian Penal Code and thus not criminalised and is largely not viewed as rape by Indians due to the sacred nature of marriage in Indian culture.” No matter how monumental a value is laid on virginity of brides for the so-called sanctity of society, wives have to be “Shayaneshu Rambha”, Rambha being the trained courtesan of the gods, as described by Baddena in his Neetisara. In circumstances such as these, a woman has very little opportunity of choosing or declining sex within marriage. There is fear of losing her man’s loyalty, and the resultant infidelity, if she refuses him too many times owing to some physical distress or tiredness, with the visual media not really helping by exaggerating the same.
This Independence Day, man or woman, allow yourself to decline sex respectfully but firmly without fearing disloyalty or rape.
Freedom of Carrying Sanitary Napkins Openly
In a country where the vermilion that crows and proclaims the woman’s marital status is offered at 0% GST and an essential like sanitary napkin, unavailable to huge masses of suburban women, is sold as a costly commodity with 12% tax, we are so habituated with twisted or no logical semblance that anything in the name of chastity—and shame (actually a false and harmful sense of modesty) goes. A glaring and common example of this is the newspaper wrapping and grim black plastic in which sanitary napkin packets are placed before they are handed over to buyers. Early into puberty, becoming aware of her femininity, a woman is told that she is inauspicious during her period, banning her from visiting temples and participating in religious rituals, which turns her status into that of an outcast. Seriously?! Why is menstruation still a taboo? Why is buying birth control pills or condoms shameful? So what if you have a healthy sex life or a healthy body capable of reproduction? Do not be ashamed of your body functions—functions formed over millions of years of evolution. They can’t be bad.
This Independence Day onwards ditch that kala-plastic and anything that makes you ashamed of your biological needs. Claim back this land of the Kama Sutra that fuses coitus with the sacred, a culture that tells us that the Universe was created from one Cosmic Sexual Act!
Freedom from Complexion Complex
From time immemorial, fairness has been equated with loveliness or rather deemed a prime loveable quality in our country. A quick recapitulation of fairytales will show how every beautiful princess has a milky-white complexion while the lyrics of Hindi songs keep lauding the “Chandan sa Badan,” meaning sandalwood- coloured skin. Switch to any TV channel and you will see some celebrity or the other endorsing fairness products, exacerbating the rabid hatred people nurture for darker skin tones. Despite the biological truth of sun rays and activated melanin, numerous men and women are rubbing fairness creams, serums and face-washes on their bodies, exposing themselves to harmful chemicals and potential skin damage. The hue and cry against colour discrimination hasn’t decreased the number of matrimonial ads demanding brides with fair complexion and natural beauty even by a bit.
This Independence Day, break the yardsticks of physical beauty, laughing defiantly in the face of colour biases.
Freedom of Having Friends of the Opposite Gender without Being Slandered
Disproving the adage of “blood being thicker than water” at every turn of life, friendship is one of the holiest bondings that men and women can share with each other. But, time and again, friendship between members of the opposite genders is questioned, analysed, belittled and ended by compulsion. A woman who has male friends is slut-shamed and bad-mouthed not just by her contemporaries but also by her closest kin. If a man is seen coming to woman’s home conjectures are soon made about their immoral relationship. Compassion for a female friend in a man is looked at as hormonal and his kind gestures are dubbed as carnal intentions. This Independence Day, promise to protect your friendship from the prejudices of others.
Freedom of Raising Children with Autism/Cerebral Palsy without Shame
Last year, in December, an eleven year old autistic boy was left alone in Mumbai, inside an auto-rickshaw, after his parents abandoned him. Once the police of Raigad issued an alert, the parents came forward to take the child home. Children diagnosed under Autism Spectrum Disorder usually demonstrate a number of behavioural and developmental problems such as the inability to make friends, poor eye-contact and learning disabilities. Due to their mental and physical differences from the so-called ‘normal’ children, these children fall prey to harsh criticism from their relatives. Equally helpless, children with Cerebral Palsy, suffering from physical incongruities such as difficulty in movement, muscle spasms, epilepsy, and paralysis, are often shunned by family members as well. Their parents face innumerable hurdles every day, ranging from lack of appropriate educational institutes and apathy of educators to the obvious intolerance exhibited by the parents of ‘normal’ kids. Genes, karma, and lifestyle of the parents are blamed for the condition of their child.
This year, celebrate Independence Day embracing the joy of parenthood sans the undeserved and inhuman stigma attached to raising kids with autism or cerebral palsy.
It’s Time to Break Free…
In a country of numerous bindings and restrictions, freedom is a luxury that we have forgotten even to crave for! Fear of criticism, competition, molestation, and what-not have colonised our souls. Even the Grammar Nazis have joined the fray!
This 15th let it be an inception of true freedom, breaking free from every man-made norm that divides, humiliates, hurts, ostracises, represses, or punishes us. As Tagore aptly out it, the “heaven of freedom” is “Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way”.