Friday, August 17, 2007

Another Independence Day


Ah! Another Independence Day has come and gone. The fact of it being the sixtieth, or, actually, the sixty-first didn’t evoke many feelings. I looked forward to some rest, sleep and some work. Alas, not to be. A party of fund-raisers landed up from church and robbed my sleep and my deep meditative stasis. Hmmp! I am poorer by Rs 1500, which the smart marketers literally extorted from me.

What does freedom and independence mean to me? I was asked this question by a local news channel, as I was waiting for wifey and sonney on the way to meet a relative who had just returned from the USA. There I was standing at the bus stop and this man and his cameraman – who were being avoided as if they had the bubonic – came to me and asked if they could interview me. I couldn’t believe this, or, is it just me. Usually I would love the chance to let off some steam, and here the young boys and girls, were running away from saying a few words. Of course, I said I would speak and some words came naturally to my mouth and I said them.

Those words were, “I don’t feel free, how can I be free when I am scared and afraid. In fact, you saw these people running away from you when you asked to interview them? They are afraid, afraid that someone would beat them up if they saw them on television. They don’t have the courage to say that they are free. How can they be free when they are afraid, really afraid?

“Jo insan dara sa hai, he cannot be called free.”

Goodness gracious me! I hadn’t even thought of these things, and these very words tumbled out of my mouth, half in Hindi, half in English, as I always speak. I don’t know when it was broadcast, or, who all have seen it. I would switch to Navi Mumbai Television now and then on Independence Day, but drew a blank.

*****

Another Thought on Independence Day. One of history biggest migration of people took place during independence, which can be seen in the picture I have selected to display above. Many people died in this huge transference of people across an arbitrary line drawn across a country. How could anyone draw a line across a country and say that such and such area is Hindu and such and such is Muslim? How can a country that swayed over its colony merely as a trading hegemony, divide a country and grant them independence? The division was done by a man who knew nothing about the regions he was dividing. The following excerpt from Wikipedia illustrates:

“The border had already been roughly drawn up by Lord Wavell, the Viceroy of India, but the final version was set out by Sir Cyril Radcliffe. Radcliffe had never visited India and didn't know anybody in India before his arrival. Thus, he was considered to be unbiased. However, he was ignorant of realities on the ground and this caused avoidable gaffes in the division. For example, there were instances where the border was drawn leaving some parts of a village in India and some in Pakistan. There were even instances where the dividing line passed through a single house with some rooms in one country and others in the other.

“Radcliffe's justification for such a casual division was that no matter what he did, people would suffer. He also had to work in a very short time period so there was little point in being careful where exactly the border lay. He made no real attempt to ensure that the border skirted villages or was drawn between thickly populated areas instead of right through them. Radcliffe has been accused of being completely unconcerned about the sufferings of the Indians. The division was done in secret, and the British government allowed no Indians to review it, since disputes were bound to have arisen then and it would delay the Partition.”

Part of my feeling of insecurity could arise from the thought that the independence and freedom we have is tentative, it can be snatched away, revoked any time. Every citizen feels constricted by the lack of proper implementation of laws. Police atrocities have shown that the country is not ruled by law, but by some other tacit arrangement, too complicate to enumerate here. A man can be killed – his freedoms terminated for ever – by giving a “supari” in the north and a “quotation” in the south. And that isn’t much – around Rs 50,000 would do. Because we have proved to be unable to govern ourselves, we are at the mercy of powerful intra- and inter-national economic forces that can take away our freedom.

So, the thought I would like to take away from this blogpost, dear reader is: We wouldn’t be really free unless we are economically and politically free and governing ourselves with a confidence of a nation that is sixty years old. What I mean is many of our brothers working as outsourcing agents and laborers in the Persian Gulf and other regions aren’t free though they belong to a free country. They still are under the hegemonic rule of the white masters who left the country a long time ago.

******

Just as I write this, there’s a riot going on in the place I live in New Bombay. Miscreants have smashed private car windows, burnt public transport buses, and shattered window glass of government corporations. There aren’t any private or public transports available and I wonder how I will reach home. My wife reached home safely from school, thanks to the generosity of a rickshaw driver who lives in our locality.

Their anger is directed against the government for approving a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in New Bombay which is to buy land from farmers. Now, what exactly are Special Economic Zones? They are stagnant backoffice backwater zones where a foreign company can set up its outsourcing unit and employ the cheap labor that's in abundance, for a fee of course. The government gets a lot of investment, the common man employment, all benefit except the people from whom the land was seized. If we are a democracy, why create these isolated pockets of affluence where only a few people (that too, highly qualified, young workforce consisting of the best minds of the country) would benefit. Why create a green patch in the middle of an arid wasteland? Why couldn't progress be equal for all, if we really are a democracy and wish to uphold democratic values.

The situation is the same as what happened in Nandigram and Singur. The villagers fear that they will not be adequately compensated for their land by the government. And that’s a genuine grievance (see this related document regarding compensating for land submerged under the Narmada Hydro-Development Corporation). In most cases the buying of land for government projects are done with some force, and compensations, if at all, are inadequate. The villagers are not only protesting the taking away of their land but also the loss of their traditional, centuries-old way of life. But is their violence justified? Isn’t there a free and democratic way of addressing their problems in the free country they belong to?

A good question to ask in the aftermath of another independence day.

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1 comment:

Bitter Sweet said...

Are we truly free? A good question. We really need to think.