What freedoms do we really have, Mr Prime Minister?

Last Updated: Sat, Aug 15, 2015 12:56 hrs

As Narendra Modi wipes his forehead, under the many folds of his grand turban, and his audience flutters newspapers in a futile gesture against the Delhi heat, and we watch from home with ironic smiles, it occurs to me that our Prime Minister’s energy seems to be, for once, flagging. Since he took over the most powerful seat in the country last year, his speeches have begun to sound less confident and more hollow in their jingoism.

So, there he stands, making his promises – electricity to all the villages; healthcare at one rupee a month; subscription to various government schemes at 90 paise a month; employment to the entire country. He urges the people to give up their gas subsidies.

Then, seeming to run out of things to say, and seeking to evade the charge that promises are easy to make and hard to fulfil, he acknowledges that every government introduces schemes and inaugurates them with lamp-lighting ceremonies. But what makes his government different, he assures us, is that they are committed to their promises. As an example, he tells us that they have built toilets everywhere in the months since he stood at the Red Fort and spoke of toilets.

However, every promise he made today is rather noncommittal. We are to ‘expect good news’ about the One Rank One Pension (OROP) demand of Army veterans. Shortly after he said that he had not quite examined the complexities of OROP and would have to give it some thought, he ‘assured veterans under the tricolour’ that there would be good news. But we don’t know what this good news is.

Even as he stresses the importance of farmers to this country, and the urgency of tackling farmer suicides, the most significant action towards that end comes across as a token gesture – the renaming of the Ministry of Agriculture, which will now be called ‘Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare’.

The audience claps listlessly when he says, even as the protests over (Lalit) Modigate and Sushma Swaraj claim headlines in the national dailies, that there has been no corruption charge against his government.

As we celebrate the sixty eighth anniversary of our independence, I wonder what freedoms we actually have.

Recently, journalists have been deprived of the freedom to do their stories about inmates of jails. Equally, the inmates of jails have been deprived of the freedom to have their perspectives heard. No interview with a convict can be conducted unsupervised or uncensored. A journalist’s best material may be confiscated. There will be no proof of a conversation that goes against the story that the authorities want to put out.

We may soon be deprived of the right to browse the internet as we know it, if the telecom companies have their way.

That might well suit the government, which sought to ban us from watching porn, and then relented. Apparently, the only ones who made gains from this little back-and-forth were traders of pornographic DVDs and, of course, columnists who raged against the ban.

We don’t have the freedom to write, paint, or create anything we want, without the danger of our books, art exhibitions, and films being banned.

We don’t even have the freedom to love anyone we want. Our country subscribes to the ridiculous idea that sexual relationships can only exist between men and women – even worse, it subscribes to the idea that they can only exist between men and women who are married to each other.

In this country, it is technically legal to rape your spouse, whereas the police can hound you for having consensual sex with a partner.

Our fundamental right to equality is a joke, when the question of whether you are punished for a crime or whether you get bail is decided by who the victims were, and how famous you are.

The right to assembly is denied in all areas deemed ‘conflict zones’, on any ‘sensitive’ day.

The right to life and liberty does not exist in any area where the AFSPA is in force.

The fact that our towns and cities are segregated into ghettos, the fact that khap panchayats reign supreme in villages, the fact that ‘honour killings’ so often go unpunished, are testament to the fact that we are our labels.

For as long as we don’t have the freedoms that our Constitution guarantees us, our claim of being independent is as pointless as the tired efforts of those at venue of the Prime Minister’s speech to stir a breeze with their newspapers.

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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