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India at 70

Most nations around the world have that one special day reserved to commemorate their struggle for freedom. It’s the time to think of all the sweat, tears and sacrifices that went into building that nation. In Germany, we have Tag der Deutschen Einheit or Day of German unity which is held on 3rd Oct every year to celebrate the unification of Federal Republic of Germany and the Democratic Republic of Germany to create one united Germany. Likewise, in India we have 15th August, the day we gained our much-deserved freedom from the British rule. This year, India celebrated its 70th Independence Day with great fervour and festivities. It has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride for the country and its people, and clearly, India has come a long way in these last 70 years. India’s inexorable progress towards medical sciences, IT, space studies and nuclear physics has contributed to its remarkable rise in the world. Indeed, India has won many laurels, but the road ahead is not an easy one. There remain plentiful challenges to embrace and myriad obstacles to overcome. 

India is the world’s largest democracy and home to the second-largest English speaking population apart from being a booming economy. But does that define our status any differently? Precisely not. With the ever-widening rich poor gap in the country or the escalating economic disparity, the great Indian dream is but a mere mirage.  India’s richest 1% hold 58% of the country’s wealth according to a recent study. Rampant unemployment is another major concern, over 30% of Indian youth faces unemployment as per the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, which is nearly three times that of China.  India accounts for the largest number of people living below the poverty line which make up to 30% as listed by the World Bank. Homelessness, hunger, unhygienic living conditions and epidemics, claim innumerable lives daily. India takes pride in globally projecting itself as an emerging New India, an idealistic image which is too farfetched. But has this so called new India resolved its old issues? Well, it’s time for some reality check. The other side of shining India faces chronic hunger without any respite.  Drought, failure or late arrival of monsoons, hailstorms, floods, the burden of debt on the shoulders of farmers, have contributed immensely to the unprecedented spurt in farmer suicides each year. Nothing is being done to combat the agrarian crises or to save the lives of poor farmers.

I often ask myself, have we really found freedom? Literally yes, logically no. One might say, off course, we are free, we are no longer in the clutches of Britain. Fair enough! But, merely shouting ‘freedom’ at the top of your voice or unfurling flags, is that freedom to you? Freedom is that which makes you feel safe and secure inside out, it is when you are free to be yourself and above all, it ensures uniformly securing to everyone an equal opportunity for life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. To me, even today India is shackled by social stigmas which have long haunted our society. Though, we have made progress on the economic front, but India’s centuries old struggle to bring about social and cultural reforms has failed miserably.

The country is plagued by wide spread corruption, female infanticide, the brewing rape culture, poverty, malnutrition, communal disharmony, child labour, sexual abuse against children, human trafficking, dowry related deaths, honour killings, illiteracy, unemployment, and the more recent menace of mob lynching. India’s deceitful ploy knows no bound when it comes to ‘cover up’ its human rights violations.

If we look at the broader picture, nothing much has changed in India frankly. It still stands where it was before or maybe has slipped a little further down. We have blood sucking parasites in the name of politicians who are not one iota interested in the welfare of the country, except for their own vested interests. Back then were the colonizers who looted the colony of its riches to make Britain wealthier at the cost of suffering Indians. Today, we have our own people sowing seeds of discord at the cost of the country. The stifling corrupt atmosphere has ruined the nation and badly messed up the life of a common man.

I still remember during my integration course in Germany, one day we were asked questions about our home countries. When my turn came, I was asked something that I had no answer for, except for deep remorse, shame and woe. It was about the crime that I, as a woman, detest the most. I became indignant, I felt hurt and I felt deeply ashamed of what has befallen India. The rising rape culture has spread like wild fire, it’s going berserk, it is unstoppable. This crime has lent a bad reputation to India worldwide. I was asked to narrate the incident in German that sent shock waves across the world. Every time, I think of that horror I clench my fist in disgust and anger. That fateful night of Dec 2012, where a helpless young girl was mercilessly gang raped on a moving bus in Delhi. Rape has, since then, become a recurrent feature in India. Every hour someone, somewhere in India is getting raped or sexually assaulted. If only women were treated more as humans and less as commodities in India. The wave has gripped not just the local women but has also victimized many female tourists. The result of which is a steep fall in tourism in India. But what do you expect in a country where parliamentarians are often caught watching porn during the parliament sessions, unashamedly violating the code of ethics.

In many of the Indian villages, the local village councils use ‘rape’ as a weapon to seek justice. If any male member of a girl’s family has committed an offense against someone, these councils order all the men in the aggrieved party to rape the women belonging to the offender’s family as a punishment for the offense. Women, young or old, who are victims of rape or sexual assaults are often held responsible for the crime. Women are scrutinized at every level, from what they wear to where they go, whom they meet, what they drink and what they eat. The most hilarious reaction generally comes from India’s politicians, many of whom blamed Jeans, Chinese food, non-vegetarian diet and cell phones for the alarming rise in rapes in India. It’s so insanely outrageous, they have the audacity to talk such nonsense instead of taking stringent action against the rapists. Most of the crimes in India are conducted with full or partial support of the police who are often involved in heinous crimes themselves. They dissuade victims from filing report against the convicts. Majority of the convicts have strong political backing and police bow down before them.

The present-day scenario in India is that of fear and insecurity not just among the womenfolk but also among the minorities and the lower castes. The very fabric of India, interwoven with the threads of multi-culturalism and pluralism, is tearing apart. Minorities are now being treated as illicit children of India and the exploitation of lower castes too has surpassed all limits. Churches are vandalized, minorities are threatened with dire consequences, if they dare raise their voice, which anyway remains largely unheard. The recent spate of mob lynching of mostly Muslims on false pretext has further ignited the fire of hatred and intolerance.  The safety of people belonging to different faiths is being compromised without any action. What goes behind this epidemic of lynching is even scarier. It’s more than psychological, the crime is fully orchestrated and has strong government support. The most harrowing of all the recent episodes of mob lynching was that of a 15-year old Muslim boy in full view of the public on a crowded moving train. He was stabbed multiple times and mocked at for being a Muslim. He was thrown out of the moving train and later succumbed to his injuries. He bled to death but none stepped forward to his rescue. The problem with us Indians is that, it takes a lot of shaking, and sometimes, a solid kick in the rear, to awaken our sleeping conscience. By the time, we rise, it is already too late. Another incident which jostled the country, where a mentally challenged woman was stripped and beaten to death by the local public on mere rumours. People make videos of these gruesome spectacles to upload on social media but they are not humans enough to come to the forefront and save these ill-fated preys. Moral degradation mingled with religious bigotry has culminated in the breakdown of many societies and India is on the brink. 

India has witnessed some of the ugliest communal riots in history. But when tensions simmered down, people would forget their grievances and make haste to reconcile. This paved the way for normalcy to be restored.

My grandmother often reminisced about the events during the time of partition of India. Worst communal riots had broken out. There was anarchy everywhere. Her stories which I found so riveting as a child, now give me goose bumps. I feel sorry for the ordeal people had to go through. She was a teenaged girl then. Late one night, when the whole family was fast asleep in the charpoys neatly lined up in the courtyard of her house. Something terrible happened, there was a sudden heavy knocking at the front gate of their ancestral home. Her father nervously hurried to check, there was something ominous in the air that night. He silently unlatched the gate, he saw his Hindu neighbour standing there who had come to inform him of the danger looming around. A big armed mob was heading towards the area destroying every Muslim household and raping the women. My grandmother and all the female relatives (back then it was all a joint family system) hurriedly smeared their faces with coal dust to look ugly and darkened themselves as they were all quite pale complexioned. This helped them to sneak out easily into the dark without getting caught by the mob. They ran for their lives, fled through jungles for days, sleepy, hungry, thirsty and exhausted till they found a safe refuge and then there was no looking back. Their home was torched and all their personal belongings looted. What they lost was no match to what they saved. Material wealth could still be earned back but the honour lost is lost forever. Had it not been for that Hindu neighbour who alarmed them of the lurking danger, they all would have been killed. They owed their life and honour to him. This is a story which dates to 1947. If there were bad people, the good people outnumbered them. Today, we witness someone getting murdered or raped in front of us and we remain indifferent. Catastrophe is not the rise in the number of bad people, it is the silence of few good men in the midst; it is the death of collective conscience.

Never have I felt this way, but this time, it’s a relentless feeling of infuriation and helplessness which just doesn’t cease for a moment. Is it the tsunami of intolerance that is slowly drowning India? Is it the forced nationalism that we are fed day in and day out? Is it the freedom that still enslaves us? Is the resurfacing of the anomalies in India to be blamed? Many questions but no definite answers. Forget black money, India can’t even bring back the defaulter Vijay Mallya who is on the run.

Let’s catch a glimpse of where India stands today, at 70 it claimed the lives of nearly 70 infants who died within hours due to lack of oxygen cylinders at the government hospital, this was followed by a rape of a teenaged girl returning from school’s Independence Day celebration, two separate incidents of massive train accidents which left many causalities etc.

Distorting Indian history is the new cool, the right-wing historians are demonizing the Mughals whose contribution to India is truly unrivalled, yet when it comes to Independence Day speech each year, the Prime Minister chooses to deliver it from the ramparts of the historical Red Fort and when it comes to displaying the architectural marvels of India, we proudly boast of Taj Mahal. But wait? Weren’t they too built by the Mughal emperors? What hypocrisy India!

Where you can’t eat food of your choice, where you can’t wear clothes of your choice, where you can’t speak the language of your choice, where you can’t step out after dark should you be a woman, where minorities are alienated, where justice comes to those who can afford it, where laws grind the poor and rich rule the law, where the media no longer communicates reality but rather an ideology which is being forced upon us, where poor have to carry the corpses of their deceased relatives on their shoulders because they are denied ambulance, where government shows apathy towards downtrodden, what kind of freedom is it? If it is the independence which gives you the licence to spill the blood of innocents and terrorize others, then think again. This is not the India which Mahatma Gandhi had envisioned.

I am fully aware that this blog would rub many of you the wrong way. Believe me, this one is targeted at nation building and not nation bashing. We as Indians are currently fighting a cancer from within. Measures need to be taken to stop it from spreading any further. All is not lost, there is still some hope. India gained its independence on 15th Aug 1947, almost two years after the second world war ended. While India was busy dividing its people, Germany was busy in rebuilding the nation and look where Germany has arrived today and where does India stand? Strength of a nation lies in uniting and working together towards a better tomorrow, something which we haven’t learned till date.

I learnt ‘what real freedom meant’ in Germany and it had a profound influence upon me. During the Football World Cups, I have seen how freely people of other nationalities proudly carry the flags of their countries and wear t shirts flaunting their respective teams without anyone bating an eyelid. That is freedom. I can’t even imagine anybody doing so during Cricket World Cup in India. There would be a massive riot.

You know a country is doomed when follies and fallacies abound, when its art and artists are targeted, when its history gets concocted, when freedom of expression gets you trolled, when you are silenced forever if you try to change the system, when the literati and artists start returning their government trophies as a sign of protest. That’s real crises. What America had as Ku Klux Klan in the past on colour and which was again conspicuous in the recent Charlottesville violence perpetrated by white supremacists, what Germany possessed as Nazism on race as part of its dark history and the sporadic outbursts of violence by neo Nazis (though they are strictly quelled by the Government), India has followed the footsteps very closely by creating a group of cruel vigilantes who attack people, whenever and wherever they want. Such fringe elements roam freely on the streets of India.

While Germany came to the rescue of millions of refugees by giving them entry on humanitarian grounds, India is all set to deport Rohingya refugees back to Burma where they were ruthlessly persecuted. But then we hardly empathize with the plight of our own people, forget others.   

The arguments I have put forth are all blatantly honest and need to be spoken out and dealt with firmly. I have voiced my concerns, it is not the bitterness towards India, not at all. It is the land of my forefathers, land where I was born and raised up and I hold it very dear to me. However, this doesn’t mean that I would live in a fool’s paradise and go all gaga over it despite the many evils surrounding us. As Indians, it is our job to address matters which need attention. By breaking the silence and by speaking out in favour of all those who have been subjected to years of injustice and those who are being deliberately wronged in our country, we are actually doing service to our nation. We are trying to save it from ruining itself, all oppressive regimes have met the same fate. We have ample examples before us. It’s time not to look away but to admit our faults and work towards strengthening India by strengthening our countrymen, no matter who they are. When we start treating the cause of others who are being wronged as our own cause, when we move past that ‘I, me and myself’ barrier and when we ally ourselves with those who are suffering in our country irrespective of their caste, colour or creed, that’s when real patriotism is shown. Nationalism is evil in its essence, it makes your vision constricted and makes you wrongly believe that your country is perfect, free from all defects.  It evokes in you a false sense of pride where you can’t see the reality around you. Patriotism, on the other hand, is love and sincerity towards your country. It brings about willingness in you to accept the pitfalls and to correct them to be a better nation.

I sincerely hope that one day, we work to lift India from the pits of despair to newer heights. I hope of a country which welcomes everyone, where each one of us can freely pursue his/her dreams, where people of all faiths live as one big Indian family where we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.

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