On August 15th, 1947, India was declared a free nation. Shortly before this monumental event, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, made one of the greatest speeches of the century. This speech came to be known as “A Tryst With Destiny”. One of the most memorable sentences from this is “At the stroke of today’s midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.” However, today, on India’s 69th year of independence, it seems apt to ask: was freedom truly what we awoke to?
Following the British Raj, there is no doubt that India has progressed. It began to produce its own food grain through policy reforms and “green revolutions”, eradicated diseases such as polio, and almost doubled its life expectancy rate. It is said to have one of the best space programmes in the world and India’s literacy rate is now in the 70s – more twice as much as it was previously. India is the largest democracy in the world. It has come a long way since the days of British rule.
As a nation, India can boast of its progress but only to a certain extent. How can we celebrate freedom when India is one of the 76 countries in the world where same-sex marriage isn’t permitted and homosexuality is “illegal”? Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code states that “unnatural sexual activity” is a crime and it dates back to 1861. It was introduced by the British and even though they have stopped practicing this archaic law long since, India still clings on to it. Politicians and a majority of the general public see homosexuality as something that is the influence of globalisation and something that is not a part of “Indian culture”. How can we celebrate freedom when over 2.5 million people, according to figures submitted by the Supreme Court in 2012, aren’t allowed to be free and celebrate their love? How can we celebrate freedom when a certain “type” of love is “immoral”?
As a nation, India can boast of its diversity but only to a certain extent. According to Articles 15 and 25 of the Indian Constitution, every Indian citizen is guaranteed the freedom of religion. If everyone is free to follow their religion of choice, why was a church in Raipur attacked in June 2015? Why were there two incidents of nuns being raped in March and June 2015? Why are there “communal riots” against Muslims by Hindus? Why did the 2002 Gujarat riots take place with no intervention from the state government, then led by the current Prime Minister? We talk about how India is a multicultural nation and has many minorities that live in it, diversifying it greatly. How can we celebrate freedom when certain religious minorities do not feel safe within their own country?
As a nation, India can boast of its great foreign relations but only to a certain extent. Article 15 of the Indian Constitution states that no discrimination on the basis of religion, race, sex, caste and country of origin is permitted in the Republic Of India. But then why is it that, earlier this year, two Nigerian nationals were assaulted in a West Delhi neighbourhood? 12 men allegedly attacked them after one of the two reprimanded a young child for throwing a water balloon at him. Such incidents are not uncommon. There have been past reports where people of African origin have been attacked and brutally assaulted by large groups of people in public. A question that is often raised is – “Is it because they’re of a different race?”. In 2013, the Washington Post conducted a survey that unveiled that India was the most racist country in the world. This doesn’t seem far-fetched when you look at instances of violence and discrimination against foreign nationals living in India. How can we celebrate freedom when foreign nationals living in India have to live in constant fear of physical assault?
As a nation, India can boast about the rights guaranteeing freedom of expression it has but only to a certain extent. Article 19 of the Indian Constitution states that every citizen has the freedom of speech and the freedom of expression. Where does this freedom end though? In 2012, after the death of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray, a girl posted on her Facebook that she did not think the city should observe a bandh (form of protest often by a political party where they shut down and declare a general strike). A friend of hers liked this post and both girls were then suddenly arrested. Their family and friends were threatened. This made people question Article 19 – does freedom of expression not extend to expressing one’s opinion? How can we celebrate freedom when journalists in this nation are often afraid to report the news out of fear of legal action?
There is no doubt that India is developing into a great country with a growing economy and more involvement in global politics. The India that existed before 1947 is a mere shadow of the India today. But without massive social reforms, it will never complete its evolution. India still has yet to hear the stroke of the midnight hour and truly awake to life and freedom.
Happy Independence Day, India!