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We are independent but are we free?

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More than six decades ago India gained independence, meaning freedom from colonial governance. On this day in 2015 as we celebrate our tryst with destiny, it is indeed time to salute a whole generation of leaders from across all divides who led millions of Indians in an unprecedented show of human solidarity against the Raj and finally won us our independent place in history.

We fought hard and non-violently, we struggled for decades with extraordinary guts and conviction for our right to rule ourselves and determine our fortunes. We battled the world’s most powerful empire armed simply with principles and integrity, always putting moral correctness ahead of political expediency. This to us must stand as the ultimate metaphor for Swachhatta---or cleanliness.

In its narrowest sense, Independence is self-rule. But does Independence necessarily and always translate into Freedom? Freedom is essentially about feeling safe and living healthy in a clean, secure environment. By that definition are we really a nation of free people? Bharat is without a doubt an independent sovereign nation but Swachh it certainly is not and Suraksha is a concept that is still quite alien to many of us.

When our women step out of their homes at nights they are stalked by fear, our roads are rough and among the riskiest in the world, huge multitudes of poor people live in subhuman slums in our cities surrounded by squalor, a vast majority of Indians still do not have access even to a toilet and must therefore suffer the ignominy of defecating in public, tens of thousands young Indians die on our roads every year in accidents for the lack of meaningful pre-hospital emergency care.

India is an independent nation of millions of people subjugated by fear of disease, violence, health crises, corruption and political betrayal. Swachh Bharat, PM Narendra Modi’s flagship programme to clean up the nation is a laudable step, but it will require mass awakening on the scale that won us our freedom for it to liberate us from dirt …physical, moral and spiritual. Swachhatta cannot be achieved by any one individual or a single government programme, regardless of how well-intentioned and planned it may be. For India to become a clean and safe country and thereby gain real freedom, each one of us needs to become an agent of change.

Even Bangalore, recently named by a survey as the cleanest capital city in the nation, is hardly clean by any decent international standard. Cities need to be ranked not on the basis of narrow comparisons but global benchmarks. There is no point getting all excited about Kanpur being cleaner than say Patna. Heaps of rubbish litter Bangalore’s streets unattended and in the absence of an adequate number of public toilets, people still regularly urinate in the open adding to the filth and poisoning the very air we breathe. Is this freedom?

Is this the kind of self-rule that our freedom fighters sacrificed their lives for? Through decades of resolve our leaders engaged the British in a heroic moral battle and won, enduring indescribable personal pain and hardships with a smile. At the core of our freedom struggle was non-violence. The abominable scenes witnessed over the last three weeks in Parliament, the defining symbol of India’s democratic nationhood, showed how far we have slipped from that high moral ground. Even as important bills that could possible win freedom for our nation’s faltering economy and its poor people languished, lawmakers across party lines turned our Parliament into a fish market. From our roads to our highest places of public discourse, violence appears to have replaced non-violence as the principle method for settling scores in all walks of life.

Are we free in the real sense, the sense that brought millions of our forebears together in a show of spectacular human solidarity that defeated the world’s most powerful nation purely by its indomitable will? Its time not only to introspect but think again and rewrite history the safe and clean way!

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Guest Tuesday, 26 September 2017