Another I-Day passes amidst a lot of noise. My newspapers (all 5 of them) are practically unreadable for all the “messages” by various government agencies, departments, and private firms, not to mention all the tokenism of “freedom related” news and features which are basically rubbish. News channels are doing their twice yearly rehashes of the same old footage, and old patriotic film songs (necessarily old because new Hindi films have done away with the genre) and strange programs (presumably the last minute brainstorms of some harried studio executive) interviewing really odd people. The radio is strangely thanda this year, with most of the FM channels ignoring the occasion altogether. Only All India Radio seems to be doing the yearly rundown of the top 20 march/war/aggression songs from films.
Schools, government offices, and enthusiastic mohalla committees are hoisting the tricolour, and my eardrums are practically blasted off by loudspeakers blaring deshbhakti songs at full volume, all day. People are leaving enthusiastic and over-the-top messages on social networking sites, and text messages, wishing everyone a Happy Independence Day. (now I am not going to get into this whole deal of happy this and happy that, that’s a whole other blogpost in itself). Most of these people couldn’t really care less about this entity called the motherland, or don’t bother to even think about it beyond two days a year (click here for a previous blog post on this topic). And really, most people don’t have the time or the occasion to do so either (doesn’t seem to stop them from having knee-jerk reactions to things that are seen as un-Indian, against our culture, etc, but that a whole different kettle of fish too.)
Watching the hoopla, I am reminded again of all the news over the last few years that has been cumulatively strengthening my belief that FREEDOM is actually declining at an alarming rate in this huge “democracy” of ours. A primary case in point, of course, is the new bill which, in a few months from now, could very well penalize me for saying what I just did, shut down my blog, and even imprison me. (click here for more information). This bill, presumably soon to be law, is only the most recent and OFFICIAL step in an atmosphere of increasing intolerance in a land that has always been a melting pot of widely divergent cultures, identities, and belief systems. The very basic, and primary, fundamental right of every citizen in ANY democracy – the freedom of speech and opinion – is the one that has been seeing the fastest and sharpest decline not just from increasingly touchy groups of fanatics, but also in a more organized and formal manner, from the government itself.
Books, films, art, advertising and blog content, all are under the scissors of self appointed keepers of our collective morals and culture (whatever that means). Taking offense at the drop of a hat is bad enough, but translating that feeling of being offended into violence, book burning, vandalism, forced shutdown of film screenings, and such like are worse. The capstone of the tomb, of course, is the attitude of the state, which loses no time in banning “sensitive” material. It has now gone beyond the ridiculous. Instead of the state acting like a grown up, and telling these trigger happy fanatic groups to “don’t watch/read/see it if it offends you, but let others have the freedom to choose”, it is telling people like me that we MUST bow to the opinion of a handful of fundamentalist jerks about what I should be able to watch, see, or read.
And that’s not the half of it. People in some of the biggest and most reputedly cosmopolitan cities in the country (Delhi and Pune) are now officially unable to have a drink until they are 25. This in a country where I can drive at 18, marry and have kids at 18 (21 for a man). So, according to these laws, I am mature enough to drive, placing my life and that of others in danger, at 18. I am mature enough to marry and procreate, placing my physical, mental, and emotional health and future in jeopardy, along with that of a partner and a child, also at 18. But I am not old enough, or mature enough to decide if I want to indulge in a beer? How ridiculous is that? Other fundamentalist groups, unopposed, and therefore aided and abetted by the state machinery, are telling me where I can hang out, what I can wear, who I can marry, and threatening me with violence if I refuse to follow their diktats! Pardon me for being over reactive if this reminds me of the beginning of the rise of the Taliban!
The government doesn’t have the money or the personnel, (let's call it what it really is… it doesn’t have the will) to prosecute criminals for known and proven crimes, it doesn’t have the machinery to investigate the ridiculously large scams coming to light everyday, but it DOES have the time and infrastructure to tap my phones and monitor my blogs, facebook page, and twitter posts to make sure I don’t put anything OFFENSIVE on them? As foetus, the machinery cannot prevent me from being killed before I am born, as an infant it cannot prevent me from being killed or abandoned for being a girl, as a woman it cannot prevent me from being bought and sold as chattel, or persecuted and killed for dowry. As a grown woman of legal age, in some states the government tells me I need my parents’ permission to marry who I choose, even if it is in a civil court! When my family kills me for marrying against the diktats of some ridiculous bunch of old men, the state machinery does nothing to either protect me before the fact or avenge me after!
When, as a citizen of India, I live in a state that is supposedly not my own (click here for more) the government and its machinery does nothing to safeguard my civil rights, or to prevent hooligans from beating me up, squeezing me out of my livelihood, burning my home and business, or preventing me from taking recruitment exams. As a writer or artist, if I write, draw, film, or create anything that OFFENDS a group of fanatics, they are free to beat me up, destroy my creation, vandalise my home, vandalise public facilities like libraries and shops stocking my work, ban it from curricula, and I have no one to turn to! Instead of protecting my fundamental rights, the machinery of the state will either stand by and watch the naked dance of destruction, or aid in the crime by banning the work or worse, forcing me to leave the country! And these are simple things! God forbid I should demand more contentious things like sexual and reproductive rights!
Do I really think I am FREE? The answer is a resounding NO! do I really feel like celebrating independence? I think not!