Every Independence Day, the virtual space and newsprint is flooded with articles seeping with nostalgia, thrill, hope, recrimination, bitterness and cynicism.
I have written some of these over the years, and I am not sure under which category this one will qualify. I love my country. I love my flag. I love my passport. I love that we are such a motley lot, with so little in common, and yet we can come together to celebrate a victory in sport or cinema or justice.
But, as I sit down today and think about the freedoms we have and the ones that we don’t, I worry that the various chauvinistic minorities that make up this nation – linguistic, religious, gender-based and cultural – will destroy the freedoms we hope to have someday.
India, I feel, will be truly independent when we can say we have the freedom:
To love and marry anyone whom we choose
Over the last few days, two male friends of mine married their respective boyfriends. They live halfway across the world. While I am thrilled for them, it hurts me that they will not be recognised as married men in the country of their birth.
It is not only a question of sexual orientation.
Our society stands judgment on people who marry out of religion, out of caste, or out of choice. A girl who eloped with her lover and married him was raped and killed by her own father and his friends, so that she would be “taught a lesson”.
Several villages in Tamil Nadu were involved in a caste conflict over the marriage of Divya and Ilavarasan – a love story that culminated in the death of the latter.
We will be truly free when we are free to love and marry the people we want to, and when the country respects our choice.
To be who we are
This is a country where people are lynched for being Sikh, Christian, Muslim, or Hindu.
This is a country where men are mocked for wearing leggings or earrings.
This is a country where transmen and transwomen are traumatised by the very authorities who owe them protection.
This is a country where one’s caste determines one’s life – not just how one is treated by society, but also the educational access one has.
This is a country where one cannot live without a label, and where that label will not determine one’s life.
Equal treatment for all will exist only when we stop being ‘minorities’ and ‘majorities’, when we don’t divide people into vote banks and tantalise them with reservation.
We will be equal only when we look at each other, and see fellow human beings, with no thought for labels.
To wear what we want without ‘asking for it’
The fact is, you could get raped if you were wearing a burqa. You could get raped if you were wearing jeans so tight they look like they were painted on.
Every day, little girls and little boys are sexually abused.
We should have the right to go out, live our lives, and come back home safely.
To say what we want
One of the fundamental rights guaranteed to us is the right to freedom of expression. However, it comes with a clause – we can say what we want, as long as it does not hurt anyone.
We ought to have the right to say what we want, and people are free to agree with us or disagree. They are free to condemn us. But they ought not to be free to silence us.
India has been quick to ban literature and cinema that is ‘offensive’. Everything is offensive to somebody or the other. Why, political correctness is offensive to me.
We burn books, we attack cinema theatres, we hold dharnas and celebrate when we get what we want – books banned, films erased from the ‘now showing’ lists, dialogues muted.
Cartoonists are jailed. Writers are unwelcome. Activists are threatened.
Can we call a country independent when there is no space for people’s voices?
To watch what we want
As a fan of cinema, I am irked by censorship. I don’t see why a group of people gets to decide what the rest of the country ought to watch. I don’t see why women who gyrated to innuendo-filled ‘classic’ songs fifty years ago can now preach about ‘morality’.
Morality is subjective.
The role of cinema cannot be confined to advocacy. An actor who smokes or drinks on screen is depicting a character who smokes or drinks – if his fans interpret that as an advertisement to smoke and drink, they are fools.
This is a time when we need to confront several realities. Art is a powerful form of inquiry and exploration. To stifle artists is to stifle society.
When we have these five simple freedoms, perhaps we can think about the others we ought to have. Perhaps we can look back and celebrate what we have achieved. But, for now, we are simply being oppressed by a different set of people, with a different colour of skin and a different language and a different name, but with the same philosophy.
Read more by the author:
Sexual harassment: When cops turn criminals
Can we create a secular India?
Is there a saviour between the devil and the deep sea?
Spice Jet fiasco: So, you think you can dance?
The death penalty cannot be selective
Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage. She sells herself and the book on www.nandinikrishnan.com