Prof. Dr. Rameeza A. Rasheed for BeyondHeadlines
“At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.” It’s been sixty six long years since these golden words floated throughout the free India when ,on the midnight of August 14, 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of an independent India made a ‘tryst with destiny’ heralding the freedom from a foreign hand rule.
The 67th Independence Day of India was celebrated with the usual festivity by the Indians, with President’s address to the nation and the Prime Minister’s speech at the red fort in old Delhi. One more holiday for the Indians so that they can sit in front of the television and enjoy the cinema events the whole day. When we sit back and ponder over the concept of independence and its practical value in India today only the negative points score over positive ones.
In spite of few decades of independence, the nearly half the population of India ie., the women are not free to pursue their goals due to several hurdles in their path towards progress. The social moorings work strongly against their progress. They are subjected to violence within homes, in work and in public places. Their movements are restricted due to unsafe conditions prevailing in this nation resulting India getting 4th international rank as unsafe country for women. The United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Report 2013 reports a very bad picture on this front. According to this report India stood at 132nd position out of 187 countries on the gender inequality index – performing worse than even Pakistan (123). Adverse sex ratio is one of the reasons for this lower rank because ,in India females do not have freedom to be born, to live after birth, to live with dignity during adolescent period and later in life due to all types of violence against them.
The children are subjected to all types violence, at homes, schools and work places. They too are subjected to sexual violence and suffer due to child labour. The parents create traumatic situation for them due to their efforts to make their children achieve all their failed ambitions through them . Even the schools do not have a pleasant learning atmosphere due to strict rules, over loaded syllabus , treatment of children by unkind teachers who subject them to corporal punishment and the parental pressure to achieve excellent academic record. They have no freedom to learn at their own space and enjoy their childhood pleasures .
The un organised labourers are thoroughly exploited and even the organised labourers are not protected by labour laws due to the unlimited powers of the corporate sector. The unemployment situation in this country is fully utilised by the employers to treat them as bonded labourers with no freedom to work with dignity , fair wages and job security .
The higher and professional education sector has become a very lucrative sector for profiteers and hence has gone into the hands of politicians and business men with zero academic background. Such persons decide the fate of the millions of the students . The domination of non academicians in the higher education scenario has resulted in the mass production of unemployable graduates .Ever since the mushrooming of self financing colleges happened in India, higher education has become a commodity, salable to the highest bidders hence wealthy students get courses of their choice in spite of poor academic performance and those who can not buy the seats end up with courses allotted in spite of better marks. Thus, the difference between the haves and have nots is implanted in the students mind strongly at that age and it is one of the reasons for the development of materialistic attitude among the younger generation. The teachers in these institutes are treated like bonded laboures with no facility for quality enhancement .
The academic scholars, the NGOs and human rights activists are often accused of sympathising with extremists and Maoist insurgencies and subjected to tortures of different types and slapped with several cases and arrests and prevented from carrying on with their social responsibilities with total freedom.
The marginalised communities like the Dalits, tribals and minorities are denied of their share of gains of growth and exploited in different ways . They are not free to raise their voice against any injustice, since they will face life threats or legal action under severe provisions of the of some draconian laws. The tribal communities are robbed of their natural resources and habitats by corporate sector and the government, in the name of infrastructural development without due compensation and rehabilitative measures. The Land acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill is long pending.
Creative persons like writers, painters, cartoonists and film personnel are not free to express their creative ideas without any opposition from some fringe groups. They create law and order problem and succeed in forcing the ruling government to ban the exhibition of creative works.
The opposition party’s freedom to perform their political duties is restricted whenever, the ruling party at the states level get brutal majority. They are often slapped with defamation cases , arrested on flimsy grounds and prevented from performing their democratic functions for which they were elected by the citizens. Section 144 of the criminal procedure code is often used to restrict the opposition party’s activities.
Even the judiciary which is considered as the custodian of justice is slapping contempt cases on activists and journalists if they expose judicial corruption
The online censorship introduced under the provisions of the 66 A of The IT Act is restricting the freedom of the cyber world. Any face book or twitter comment can cause problem to the contributor of that idea and cases can be filed . Any comment can be treated as harmful or harassing of blasphemy or menacing or falsehood and invite problems . Internet rules introduced in 2011 have imposed lot of restrictions on internet service providers
The Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) grants excessive powers to the security forces. They are given the power to use force against the suspects in disturbed areas. There are several charges by human rights violations and misuse of their powers in states like Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur and Nagaland . In these places, people are not free to protest even against genuine grievances. In seven north eastern states the insurgent faction seeking greater autonomy for their ethnic groups are implicated in several cases and sometimes even ordinary citizens are slapped with false cases.
In the name of internal security the several Muslim youth are falsely implicated under Internal Security Act and remain in prison for a number of years wasting their productive years and finally discharged as not guilty with out any compensation for the loss of their learning and earning periods . Their entire future becomes a tarnished one since the stigma attached to them because of the government actions remain with them throughout their life.
Press freedom is often curtailed due to external and internal pressures such as interference by political and business leaders, pressure from advertisers and physical attacks on the press people. Various media laws, such as the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, The Copy Right Act, 1957, impose restrictions on the exercise of the right of freedom of speech and expression by the press. The second Press Commission has suggested certain amendments in the existing press laws to expand the scope of press freedom. India is ranked 140th in the 2013 World Press Freedom Index – it’s lowest ranking since 2002 – because of an “increasing impunity for violence against journalists and because internet censorship continues to grow. India has slipped nine positions on this list with the “government increasingly refusing to grant citizens the freedom to be informed”. The print and electronic media are slapped with several defamation cases to discourage their fearless reporting.
According to the Heritage foundation and Wall Street Journal report India, has been ranked as the 119th free country in the world out of 177 in the 2013 index of economic freedom. The reasons listed are, higher level of corruption at every level of the administration , absence of a well-functioning legal and regulatory framework, highly protective trade policy, the notoriously onerous set of regulations and licenses required to do business in India, a thriving black economy, maximum rate of corporate taxation and state-run banks domination over the financial sector. In short the foreign investors feel India is still a restrictive economy in spite of WTO’s regulations for free economies.
Our own administrators are doing everything the foreigners did such as the robbing of natural resources for private gain, following the policy of divide and rule on the basis of religion, , race, castes and language, transferring black money to unknown destinations, and permitting unrestricted flow of foreign goods and services even in vital sectors in the name FDI . We struggled hard to achieve Swadeshi concept and now we invite foreign investors, luring them with incentives and worry if they hesitate to enter Indian market without bothering about protecting Indian business interests.
This how the Indians are living after 66 years of independence.
The net result is, the absence of free and fair atmosphere in every field which has created a choking atmosphere for the marginalised sections, human rights activists and honest bureaucrats The growing crimes in India and the internal security problems have created an unsafe conditions for the Indians in general and for women, children and senior citizens in particular. The ethical values are fast disappearing among the administrators, rulers and the citizens due to growing materialism .We often wonder why should self rule has brought out multiple problems in the life of average Indians though no one expected paradise after independence from foreigners rule. Infrastructural development and technology advancement alone will not enable human to live with dignity. In a country where the women, the poor , the physically handicapped persons and the senior citizens are not treated with dignity and in human rights violations are rising and where the rich and the powerful enjoy unlimited rights and allowed to loot the country in every possible manner people will surely become weary of living in the independent India .Yet, we have great faith is our Constitution and the judiciary and it is always better to live in country like India which is a functioning democracy despite it’s under performance in certain matters than in countries with economic prosperity, but without basic freedom to the citizens. Living forever in golden cage will not be a pleasure but a choking situation.
(The author is a Chennai based academic and a retired Professor of Economics with specialization in gender and Indian economy.)