Skip to main content

Need to ask at today's 'critical juncture' of India's history: Whose Freedom@75?

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ* 

The official propaganda states that:
“Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav is an initiative of the Government of India to celebrate and commemorate 75 years of independence and the glorious history of it's people, culture and achievements. This Mahotsav is dedicated to the people of India who have not only been instrumental in bringing India thus far in its evolutionary journey but also hold within them the power and potential to enable Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision of activating India 2.0, fuelled by the spirit of Aatmanirbhar Bharat. The official journey of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav commenced on 12th March 2021 which started a 75-week countdown to our 75th anniversary of independence and will end post a year on 15th August 2023.”
So as India completes a landmark seventy-five years of freedom – a platinum jubilee – the only question one needs to ask at this critical juncture of the country’s history is “whose freedom@75?”
Since March 2020, it has been a disastrous period for many: the pandemic Covid-19 played havoc with lives and livelihoods of millions. The victims, in good measure, were (and continue to be!) the poor and the downtrodden; the marginalised and the minorities; the excluded and the exploited; the Adivasis and the Dalits; women and children; the small farmers and the migrant workers; other sub-altern and vulnerable sections of society.
The economy is in a shambles. Inflation is on an upward spiral; the cost of fuel and other essential commodities have reached an all -time high. It is a bad time for human rights in India: in a systematic but brutal manner, the legitimate rights of people are not only denied but are crushed.
To add to it, human rights defenders, and others who take a visible and vocal stand against for justice, against a regime which is anti-people, anti- Democracy and anti-Constitutional, are at the receiving end of a system which reeks of vendetta. 
All ask, “whose freedom@75?”
In the recent past, there are plenty of signs that democracy is slowly but systematically being dismantled in the country! Democratic values are being eroded and democratic space is shrinking! The V-Dem Institute at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg recently published its ‘Democracy Report 2022: Autocratisation Changing Nature?’. India’s performance is dismal, with the report stating that, “an anti-plural political party driving a country’s autocratisation.” India was ranked 93rd in the Liberal Democracy Index (LDI) figuring in the bottom 50% of countries.
It has slipped further down in the Electoral Democracy Index, to 100; and even lower in the Deliberative Component Index, at 102. In South Asia, India is ranked below Sri Lanka (88), Nepal (71) and Bhutan (65) and above Pakistan (117).
Delivering the inaugural speech recently at the Justice SB Sinha Memorial Lecture on 'Life of a Judge', Chief Justice of India, NV Ramana observed that in absence of judicial review, people's faith in the Constitution of India would have diminished. He added:
“After the end of the 2nd World War, it was clear for modern democracies, that law is not a mere one-way projection of authority. Renowned scholars have therefore argued that a law cannot really be classified as a ‘law’ unless it imbibes within itself the ideals of justice and equity. Any enactment devoid of the object of substantive fairness can never be justified on the grounds of meeting procedural fairness alone.”
Those who cherish democracy ask, “whose freedom@75?”
Human rights defenders, dissenters and others who take a visible and vocal stand for truth and justice are at the receiving end of a fascist regime that brooks no dissent. A case in point is those arrested in the Bhima- Koregaon conspiracy case’ where thirteen are still languishing in prison (for more than three years now), under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). 
There are many others who are incarcerated for no reason and even denied bail including those who protested against the Citizenship Amendment Act. Eminent citizens like Teesta Setalvad, RB Sreekumar, Sanjiv Bhatt, Umar Khalid and others are imprisoned and denied bail just because they spoke out against the fascist regime!
On 2 August, the Allahabad High Court rejected the bail plea of journalist Siddique Kappan, who was arrested in October 2021, booked under the UAPA, in connection with the Hathras rape case.
Interestingly, on 30 June, the Chief Justice of India NV Ramana while delivering the17th Justice PD Desai Memorial Trust lecture, spoke at length about the importance of dissent and accountability in a democracy! 
Human rights defenders challenge “whose freedom@75?”
The rights of minorities are being crushed: it keeps happening at a frightening regularity. Muslims and Christians are at the receiving end of venomous hate speeches, constant denigration and even attacks. From the verdict on the Babri Masjid to the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A regarding Kashmir, the communal divide has become wider.
The ‘Love Jihad’ law of UP is clearly focussed on a Muslim boy marrying a Hindu girl. There has been a spate of unconstitutional anti-conversion laws in different States; clearly a bogey and which certainly violates the fundamental rights of a citizen.
The Gujarat government wants the Bhagwad Gita to be taught in schools and that all primary schools must do a ‘pujan’ to ‘Bharat Mata’ these days! In Assam the latest is ‘flood jihad’ – when Muslims are held responsible (and even arrested) for the torrential rains and floods in the State. In Madhya Pradesh recently, in a mob lynching incident for alleged cattle smuggling, a Muslim was killed and two others seriously injured!
According to a draft Constitution for a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ prepared by a group of Hindu seers and released on 12 August, the minorities (Muslims and Christians) will not be giving voting rights in the proposed ‘Hindu Rashtra’! 
So naturally the minorities demand “whose freedom@75?”
The environment is being destroyed and with that, the rights of all the citizens. The Environment Performance Index 2022, by the World Economic Forum, has ranked India last among 180 countries on the list. Sometime ago, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) gave a green signal to more than forty projects without the mandatory environmental clearances.
Most of these projects favour their rich crony capitalist friends literally giving them a license to loot, plunder and rape the environment and much more! The felling of thousands of trees and the destruction of a natural sanctuary in Mollem, brought thousands of Goans out on the streets.
The aim of the project was to build a double track railway line for the shipping of coal for the corporation of one of the country’s henchmen; the Western Ghats and the Aravalli Hills; the metro shed in the Aarey forest; the Bullet train project being re-started; the building of a dam in Dibang; the selling of coal mines to private companies; the NCR Draft Regional Plan 204, threatens the quality of millions of people living in the 25 districts of the 4 NCR States. The Government does not care and is on a downward spiral: destroying our precious environment and biodiversity! 
Environmentalists and other concerned citizens are aghast and say, “whose freedom@75?”
The ‘World Inequality Report 2022’ by the World Inequality Lab emphatically states that, India is now among the most unequal countries in the world:
The average national income of the Indian adult population is INR 204,200. While the bottom 50% earns INR 53,610, the top 10% earns more than 20 times more (INR 1,166,520). While the top 10% and top 1% hold respectively 57% and 22% of total national income, the bottom 50% share has gone down to 13%. India stands out as a poor and very unequal country, with an affluent elite.”
The report also talks about stark gender inequality in India. As per the report, the share of female labour income is a meagre 18 per cent. This value is one of the lowest in the world. Disparities are growing in India at a rapid space: the poor are becoming poorer even as the few rich amass a scandalous amount of wealth.
 Those who are at the receiving end of a corrupt, unjust and unequal system categorically demand, “whose freedom@75?”
The country needs to hand its head in shame where freedom of speech and expression are concerned. India’s rank in the ‘World Press Freedom Index 2022’ slid down to 150 out of the 180 countries that were ranked. The report, published by Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF-Reporters Without Borders), ranks countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists. India’s fact file in the report declares India as one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the media:
With an average of three or four journalists killed in connection with their work every year, Journalists are exposed to all kinds of physical violence including police violence, ambushes by political activists, and deadly reprisals by criminal groups or corrupt local officials. Supporters of Hindutva, the ideology that spawned the Hindu far right, wage all-out online attacks on any views that conflict with their thinking.
“Terrifying coordinated campaigns of hatred and calls for murder are conducted on social media, campaigns that are often even more violent when they target women journalists, whose personal data may be posted online as an additional incitement to violence. The situation is also still very worrisome in Kashmir, where reporters are often harassed by police and paramilitaries, with some being subjected to so-called “provisional” detention for several years.”
Those who value free speech cry out “whose freedom@75?”
The rights of our Adivasis are systematically being eroded. The areas which they have inhabited for centuries are used for industrialisation and commercial purposes, mining is rampant for profiteering of the mafia, the so -called ‘development’ works and other mega-projects are geared to making the non-Adivasis richer!
India’s rank in World Press Freedom Index 2022 slid down to 150 out of 180 countries that were ranked
Their precious jal-jungle-jameen is being taken away from them. More than two million of Adivasis and other forest-dwellers still remain at risk of forced displaced and loss of livelihoods after their claims to stay on in their habitats under the Forest Rights Act have been rejected. Many Adivasis from the Kevadia area (which is around India’s latest white elephant – a gross statue in the name of Sardar Patel) were made to leave their homes overnight. The anti-Adivasi river-linking project in Gujarat has been temporarily stalled due to protests.
Adivasis are being denied their legitimate rights under PESA (the Provisions of the Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, 1996) -a law enacted by the Government of India for ensuring self-governance through traditional Gram Sabhas. Fr Stan Swamy struggled for the identity dignity and the rights of the Adivasis and was ultimately the victim of an institutional murder. 
Adivasis are becoming more vocal when they say, “whose freedom@75?”
The casual labourers, migrant workers, small farmers, slum-dwellers and unemployed, comprise a large section of India’s population; most of them are poor. They have to eke out a living to survive! They live on the peripheries of society and lack basic amenities- like clean drinking water and sanitation.
The anti-worker labour codes, the anti- farmer legislation (now kept in cold storage), the raw deal given to migrant workers are all symptomatic of a sick system which caters only to a particular segment of people! In the 2021 Global Hunger Index, India was ranked 101 out of the 116 countries.
This is abominable! With a score of 27.5, India has a level of hunger that is serious. Multidimensional Poverty Index 2021 (MPI) is in line with the global index released by the United Nations each year. According to the Global MPI 2021, India is ranked 66 out of 109 countries
The poor and the hungry, the excluded and the exploited ask “whose freedom@75?”
It is not only the human rights defenders who are targeted – but anyone who opposes the Government in any way including the opposition leaders. So, the Government introduces and uses draconian legislation like the ‘Prevention of Money Laundering Act’. In an op-ed in the Indian Express (29 July 2022) well-known intellectual Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes, ‘By upholding PMLA, SC puts its stamp on Kafka’s law. The money laundering Act is opaque and draconian, gives state arbitrary powers over citizens. Now, it has the SC's approval’. Mehta firmly states:
So imagine a law that is Kafkaesque in its opacity. An investigation commences against you. Some vague ground of it is shared with you, but you are completely in the dark about the Enforcement Case Report (the analogue of an FIR). Or, you are summoned and you do not even know if you are being summoned as a witness or as an accused. Nor are the full grounds of arrest shared with you.
Now imagine further that you apply for bail. You are considered such a threat to the state that bail cannot be granted without hearing the prosecution and you are required to prove your innocence to get bail. Now further imagine that the definition of crime under this Act is almost infinitely elastic — what counts as money laundering crimes include everything in the kitchen sink. The sovereign has immense latitude to define what counts as the relevant crime. It can also in a classic instance of rule by law change the presumption of innocence”.
The way citizens are being subject to this draconian law is there for all to see! So, “whose freedom@75?”
A few days ago, a well-known school in Vadodara had planned a field trip, for kindergarten children to a mosque in the city. All the parents (mainly Hindu) had given a written voluntary consent to this trip. However, the ‘Bajrang Dal’ vehemently protested against it forcing the principal to cancel the trip. One of the parents said:
“My daughter was very excited for this trip and we were even telling her about a mosque as she has never been there before… It is only a field trip and as parents, we have chosen to support the school that is trying to teach children the values of harmony and unity. There was no pressure on parents to send children to any activity or field trip”.
That sums it all! Freedom is being throttled in India – at every possible level! Millions of Indians are still not free! That is the sad and painful reality. It was not without reason that Tagore wrote long years ago, “Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake!” 
 If we truly want to celebrate this landmark event, we all first need to ask “whose freedom@75?” and start doing something substantial and meaningful to change this serious and pathetic reality immediately!
---
*Human rights, justice, reconciliation and peace activist / writer

Comments

TRENDING

'Blatant violation' of law by Central government in making NREGA payments

By Our Representative  In September third week, NREGA workers across the country were mobilised for two day so raise their issues and submit a memorandum to the Prime Minister. Organised the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha (NSM), a collective of groups that work with NREGA labourers across the country, workers from 13 states -- Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal -- carried out Kaam Do Abhiyaan, staging demonstrations and rallies against what they called blatant violation of law by the Central government in making NREGA payments. While NREGA has had very positive impacts, it has lately become fruitless, exploiting labour, even though workers who have put in honest hard work have to wait for their wages endlessly, it was suggested.  In such a situation, there is a need to firm up NREGA implementation and end systematic corruption to ensure that workers get their basic NREGA entit

Fascism on prowl? Religious meet 'deeply pained' at silence of Church, bishops, priests

Counterview Desk  The ‘Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace’which held its 17th National Convention at the Montfort Social Institute, Hyderabad, Telangana from 22 to 24 September 2022 on the theme “Deepening our Identity as Religious: Responding to the Signs of the Times”, has expressed concern “at the deteriorating situation of our nation on every front”, especially stating, “Fascism seems to have come to stay” in India. At the same time, the convention, which took place with the participation of 60 persons from 16 states representing 20 religious congregations, in its unanimously-adopted statement added, “We have reached abysmal depths on every parameter: be it social, economic and political”, underlining, “The poor in India become poorer every day; the rich and powerful continue to profiteer at their expense and amass scandalous amounts of wealth.” Text: We, members (63 women and men Religious, from 16 states representing 20 Congregations) of the Forum of Religious for Justice

Rajasthan cops 'halt' Gujarat Dalit women's rally: homage to untouchability victim boy

By Our Representative  In a surprise move, the Rajasthan police stopped a Dalit women's rally from Gujarat on the borders after it crossed Gujarat alleging that it would "disturb peace" in village Surana, Jalore district, where the gruesome incident of death of a Dalit boy took place on August 13 after he was brutally beaten up by his teacher on touching the drinking water pot. Sources said, while the Gujarat government had "no objection" in allowing the rally, which originated from the Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK), an empowerment-cut-technical institute for teens founded by human rights leader Martin Macwan, on September 24 morning, the Rajasthan police stopped it for two and a half hours before allowing it to proceed to Surana. The decision to take out a women's rally was taken at a DSK meeting on September 5 following a condolence meeting of the NGO Navsarjan Trust, also founded by Macwan, activists committed to work against caste-based discrimination, orga

Introducing non-native cheetahs is 'not equivalent' to restoring pride in the nation

By Bappaditya Mukhopadhyay*  The Cheetahs from the African continent has finally been introduced to India by the Indian Prime Minister on his 72nd birthday. The process had started with the previous Government in 2009. However, the Supreme Court clearance was pending owing to the objection by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) plea to reintroduce cheetahs. Finally the clearance was obtained in January 2020 and thereafter Kuno National Park (KNP) was chosen for the reintroduction of first set of Southeast African Cheetahs. In the near future, depending upon the success story of the current reintroduction, more cheetahs from South Africa may also be introduced. This exercise has generated a lot of interest among various stakeholders with opinions on both sides galore. It is important to pose some questions that surround the whole exercise. Let us evaluate some of these arguments. The first set of arguments are quite detached from the issues of conservation as they most

'Military diplomacy': US praises Bangladesh Army for leadership role in UN operations

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder* As the Indo-Pacific region represents the world’s economic and strategic center of gravity, the Indian Ocean today is becoming the centerpiece of all geo-strategic play. Cooperation in the region is crucial to implementing the international community’s global agenda, including achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Major powers like the US have enhanced and deepened their strategic engagement and leadership roles with countries in the region. The Indo-Pacific Army Management Seminar, or IPAMS, is a U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) initiated conference that is aimed at facilitating and enhancing interactions among the armies of the Indo-Pacific region. This year's 46th Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS)-2022, co-hosted by the Bangladesh Army and US Army Pacific (USARPAC), concluded in Dhaka. The objective of IPAMS is to promote peace and stability in the region through mutual understanding, dialogue, and friendship. It is the largest confer

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Shocking? No Covid vaccine trials conducted on pregnant, lactating women: RTI reply

By Rosamma Thomas*  A Right to Information applicant who sought details of safety trials conducted in India on pregnant and lactating women for three Covid vaccines in use in India – Covishield, Covaxin and ZyCov-D -- was shocked to learn from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) that Serum Institute, manufacturer of Covishield, and Cadila Healthcare, manufacturer of the ZyCov-D vaccine, had not sought permission for such trials.  Bharat Biotech, manufacturer of Covaxin, had sought permission for trial on pregnant women and later withdrawn its application. This response , provided after the applicant was initially unsatisfied with the response and went in appeal, is from the joint drugs controller, CDSCO. It was dated September 13, 2022. One researcher closely following the vaccine rollout, however, is of the opinion that the lack of a trial on pregnant and lactating women is a blessing; potential trial participants and their unborn babies thus escaped harm. Aruna Ro

Is coal import dependence of more than 50% by 2047 of any relevance to India?

By Shankar Sharma*  I have read the article " Building Resilience in India’s Power Sector " by N Vedachalam, released by the Observer Research Foundation, with a lot of interest. I expected it to provide few useful recommendations to our authorities in charting out a sustainable pathway to green energy transition much before the climate catastrophe push our communities to the precipice. But I am sorry to say that the overall discussions or the message implied in the article disappointed me. I was expecting the article, coming from an engineer with past experience in the power sector, to discuss the much needed recommendations to put the power sector on a sustainable developmental pathway. But I could notice mostly technical jargon and a lot of statistical information, which may already be available in the public domain.   The article also seems to have simply accepted what some of the official agencies seem to have indicated as inevitable for the power sector in our country;

Older than Delhi, no other school may have witnessed so many vicissitudes as this one

By Firoz Bakht Ahmed*  Behind every book there is a writer or writers. Are the books written for the personal gratification of authors? Is the purpose utilitarian, educational or to gain public ovation? There are writers who publish books because they are inspired by a purely disinterested and fair-minded pursuit of knowledge and to clarify the issues that agitate them and society. The book under discussion   is a masterstroke on the life and times of not only an institution at Ajmeri Gate, Delhi — Anglo Arabic School — but about the complex relationship between the school and the cajoled Muslim community. Just while you are at Ajmeri Gate, supposedly, the border of Old and New Delhi, barely a few meters from the cacophony and the chaos outside the New Delhi railway station, lies an island of serenity — a school much older than New Delhi, with a wholesale machine tools market on its West, a road leading to Rajiv Chowk (Connaught Place) on the East and colourful confusion of rickshaws,

Government 'fails to take up' Indian migrants' unpaid wages issue with other countries

By Rafeek Ravuther, Chandan Kumar, Dharmendra Kumar*  The migrant workers were one of the most vulnerable sections during the pandemic. India experiences large-scale movement of migrants internally and internationally. After the outbreak of the pandemic, migrant workers continued to face injustice especially in getting wages in expedited manner. In the international context, India, the home of 9 million cross-border temporary labour migrants, carried out the largest repatriation exercise ‘Vande Bharat Mission’. Even though the Indian government addressed the immediate requirement of repatriation, it failed to understand and recognise their post-arrival grievances, like back wages, social protection etc. Recently many workers were deported from the middle- east region. Amidst the establishment of grievance mechanisms such as Consular Services Management System (MADAD) and helplines in Pravasi Bharatiya Sahayata Kendra (PBSK), the unresolved grievances remain high. The number of unresolv