Freedoms Galore

Sixty years after 1947, celebrating freedom from the British looks surreal and contrived. Really, for the current generation and the future ones, a free India is a given; near and distant histories have merged on the horizon of time, with the Anglo rule seeming as ancient as Alexander, Allauddin Khilji and Aurangazeb, though all are separated by centuries. Maybe to some senior citizens the word freedom would, by natural association of thought, mean ‘from the British’, but to today’s gen freedom invariably means personal freedom. And it is the present, stupid, the present that matters to them most. To be sure, there are scores of entrapments they need freedom from, besides quite a few areas where freedom needs to be curtailed or even forfeited.

Yet, history and the resultant geography can break through such cordons of amnesia. If the nostalgia of far off’47 still has its practical manifestation in the present, it’s solely owing to Kashmir. This festering tumour in the head of our nation has been cocking a snook at our ‘Independence’ for decades on. For one, the crown that we see at the top of our map is in reality a truncated one,with PoK, beyond our bounds, de facto. The scenario is likely to become de jure too what with the political establishment on the verge of recognising the current LoC as the international border with Pak. Of course, one does not know how the Constitution will be side stepped, for in its scheme PoK is India and there is a clear injunction against surrendering sovereign India’s territory: ‘…the Indian Union is indissoluble…’.

That said, the Constitution itself contains the seed for a de facto and de jure separation of even those parts of Kashmir that are physically still within India. Read Art 370 and you will know why even the already broken crown rests so uneasily on our head. By this provision J&K is exempt from many laws that are applicable to the rest of the country, many other constitutional provisions themselves are declared redundant in that State and worse, the operation of even the ‘residual’ laws are subject to the approval of the J & K Assembly! That is, a State Government can overrule the writ of the Union! Indeed, this Article is a dangerous knife in the nation’s stomach, an independence within an independence and a huge mockery of a free, united India. The raging Jammu & Kashmir, rather, Jammu Vs Kashmir imbroglio over the denial of India’s land for the use of India’s citizens says it all.

1947 and Kashmir are also painful reminders of another grave threat to freedoms of all kind: Terrorism. While the entire world is currently seized by genuine fear, not misplaced phobia, as some apologists claim, of Islamic terror, India is no stranger to it. India’s existence as a free nation has been consistently eroded from the day the first Mullah led his hordes through the Khyber pass sometime in 10th century AD. Post Independence, beginning with Kashmir and then riding on newer pretexts, Islamc terror has kept us constant company, from snowy mountains to shopping malls, and now even in hospitals. At I-day salutes, only one eye is on the national flag; the other is invariably scouting for the lurking jihadi! This is true of the President, the PM and the people! Freedom will remain futile till the last Jihadi walks into paradise!

But let’s assume we will survive those bombs just as we survived the British. Are we then free? Yes and no. As I started saying before taking off to Kashmir, freedom is a generational perspective. Generational gaps are passe. Generations now leap by the second. An Ambassodor lasted for decades, but today even before you walk from the bonnet to boot, a car model becomes obsolete. Even humans are fossilised faster than they realise and worse, the modern child on the fast lane, is really the great grandfather of man. Trapped thus in the minute gone by, and with aspirations and acquisitive instincts beckoning from the gates of the future, freedom therfore has become an eternal quest. An impatient generation, even as it is fast shedding its shackles, is also walking into greater enslavements.

Be it the nation or an individual, economic freedom is the true measure of freedom today. Economists do not tire of telling us that more and more people are rising above the poverty line thanks to high growth rates. With a burgeoning middle class and its booming incomes chasing goods and services that it does not need, ‘growth’ is indeed all too visible. Clearly, freedom must be at an all time high. But is it not also a fact that much of that consumption is leveraged by loans of all kinds? Whither economic freedom when the future is bartered to virtually lifetime EMIs? Much is known about the Indian farmer being born in debt, but India’s urban indebtedness is also a frightening reality. Yet the freedom to splurge is a heady temptation and in any case borrowing, according to wise men, is a notch superior to begging and a better moral option than stealing. Small wonder I-days have become sponsored shows brought to you by some seller or the other!

But economic growth is no alibi for inequity and our collective consciences can never be free so long as huge swathes of population are in bondage to poverty. Freedom has no meaning to them as also to those multitudes at the bottom of the social ladder. Indeed, for many the advent of a socialist welfare State has only meant a change of masters with status quo at ground zero on the freedom front. Even sixty years of quotas, quotas and more quotas, not to speak of free TVs, have brought little succour to the truly oppressed. But then the entire nation is an eternal slave to the bloated welfare (?) State, with no freedom from corruption and sloth. How we wish we get our driving licenses and ration cards from lifeless robots that work rather than from a bored clerk who doesnt! And with robots, the grease will not be on the palms at least!

But British or no British, Bharat’s traditional view of freedom has less to do with politics and economics and is more about spirituality. The Baghawat Gita says real freedom is attained by performing one’s duties without attachment or passion for the fruit and eventually giving up all earthy bondage. Now, coming from the Lord who has a penchant for Vishwaroopa, that is truly a tall order!

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Jawahar T R