On the eve of the Independence Day celebrations, our Prime Minister blew us away with his brilliant feat. It was perhaps the first time suggestions were asked for the Big speech by the PM himself. And after much furor and uneasiness, where one is bombarded with the harsh existence of a spineless media, I was reminded of Edward Bernays’s words: ‘The important thing for the statesmen of our age is not so much to know how to please the public, but to know how to sway the public.’
And how greatly the public swayed.
But the annals of history reveal how often the public swayed at the mention of freedom, liberty and independence of a nation; some genuinely, while others because everybody else was doing so, and still others for their own agendas. Not to deny the pros, the magnanimity and nobility of the ideas these terms represent, history also tells how these were seldom used for what they actually were supposed to mean. For instance, the protector of human rights, aka America first waved its flag symbolizing liberty and equality even though the world saw the grim reality of an apartheid state under its humanitarian garb until the 1960s. The historical ’emancipation of slaves’ has a hole in its history and one might find it difficult to gulp down its ugly truth. After scanning various archived articles one will find similar stories revolving around lady liberty, like the one where a cartoonist drew her with three black men killed and hung on one of her arms, her shadow forming an outline of gallows on the ground. The cartoonist had captured one of the bloodcurdling racist events during that time.
And if ever colonies were left ‘free’ by the colonizers, it was often after a bloodbath followed by speeches delivered on virtues of liberty and equality.
It seems our history did not differ either when it wished for a ‘Free and United’ India. AbulKalam Azad narrates in India Wins Freedom what he saw during our time of Independence:
If independence brings to mind the struggles of our unsung freedom fighters, it also stirs some painful memories of injustice and persistent tyrannies on some sections of the society who even after years of struggle for justice, see no respite on the horizon.
‘There have always been…some men who have posed as nationalists but who are in fact utterly communal in outlook. They have always argued that India has no unified culture and have held that…the social life of the Hindus and the Muslims was entirely different. It was surprising to find that members with these views had suddenly appeared on the platform as the greatest upholders of Indian unity… I agreed with what they were saying, and had no doubt that what they now said was true. I could not however forget that they had all their lives opposed such a view. It was strange that now at this eleventh hour they should be the persons to raise the cry for an undivided India.’
The reality was, when ‘freedom and liberty for all’ was clamored and disputed and fought and made the law, it was intended for only those who appealed to those in power- the whites and the colonizers. Others, the Blacks, the natives did not exist, did not matter. The natives were made extinct and ‘herded like animals’.
When unity and freedom was roared before our independence, it seemed to be only for those who belonged to our respective kind. Ironically, we see the same antics and game phrases that were used then with similar reverberations to the present. I am reminded of Noam Chomsky this time, ‘If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for those who we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.’
Freedom, liberty and equality have been reduced to game phrases; sprinkle them wherever and whenever to gain some brownie points. If independence brings to mind the struggles of our unsung freedom fighters, it also stirs some painful memories of injustice and persistent tyrannies on some sections of the society who even after years of struggle for justice, see no respite on the horizon. The very law, which is supposed to represent and protect them defangs itself in the face of bribery, despotism, deceit and trickery. It brings with it the pungent waft of the ugly notion of ‘us and them’ , the majority vs minority and the communal hostility still ingrained in the masses. Still worse, however, is the officially sanctioned bigotry and prejudice, that has infected our very idea of freedom.
With this inherited idea of freedom, we choose our leaders at the polling booths and like will-less servants grumble at the repercussions that follow- real control of our lives in the hands of leaders who adopt the luxury and fame of their positions, who spend more time in air than on land, make monumental speeches leaving their audience at home with a certain distaste, and dole out honors and rewards to their pet favorites during a very rare surprise visit. It is nothing short of breath-taking, when their worthy citizens focus their energies in molding that noble public image of a leading revolutionary leader of all times. If there is anything our politicians excel in today, then it is the careful use of expert propaganda, so much so that even an informed citizen sometimes tends to doubt his own judgement of things around him, for instance, selfies and campaigns with hashtags that take over the nation overnight are a scary reminder of how controlled the public’s interests and choices are.
We may be free from the manacles of our colonizers but we are trapped and subdued by our own narrow-mindedness with prejudice and communal hostility still gnawing at our very unity and existence. It isn’t just our perception that is colored but our education system too where obedience and military styled discipline is rewarded and ‘independence of mind’ is chided, and rebuked. Our ‘free’ minds have little space for differences, while our own interests are locked away in our personal pride of our country. If independence truly entailed the right to one’s identity, those same ‘free’ minds would have focused their energies in recording historical facts than farcical stories and myths, aiming at erasing one’s knowledge of themselves and in turn their identities. And even if our minds are ‘free’ from this ignorance, we cannot deny the fact that we still live and survive under the rule of the intellectually not-so-free.
The suggestions given for the Big speech came as a surprise- issues of intolerance revolving around Dalits and Muslims, the Kashmir crisis, poor quality of education, women and safety. So, if this year’s Independence day celebration calls for the public to remind their PM of issues that have been troubling them, despite their persistent hideous existence in the country, I am forced to believe that we are under the false impression that we are progressing and moving forward away from our ignorant past, when in reality we are standing still and perhaps on the same slippery ground as before. On the idea of Independence and constitutional law, Yamin Zakariya adds, ‘No matter how well intended and clearly worded the principles laid down are, what really matters is how those principles have been interpreted and applied. Just as the best judge of a man are the actions, along with the words spoken.’
Perhaps we are not free enough, just yet.