INDIA AT 61
The struggle continues
Freedom and independence in its true sense is yet to reach many marginalised communities ...
Photo: G. Krishnaswamy
Independence for a few? Kancha Ilaiah.
For a sportsperson, the celebration of Indian independence plays out into nationalist jingoistic fervour at a match. The idea of the nation at an international match is expounded in the cheering of spectators. A citizen cheering for another country is deemed to be disloyal and anti-national. In Shimit Amin’s “Chak de! India”, the Indian Muslim hockey player Kabir Khan is accused of contending with his Pakistani counterparts and is banned from playing. The idea of identity — religious and territorial — is interesting as very often, non-Hindu Indian citizens are not seen as true inhabitants of the country. So for players like Irfan Pathan, playing as an Indian Muslim becomes emphasised when he plays against a Bangladeshi or Pakistani Muslim as he has to reinforce his national identity over his religious one. So for Omar Abdullah, it becomes important to blur his identities as an Indian and a Muslim to herald a “national deal”.
For political scientist Kancha Illaiah and author of Why I am not a Hindu, Indian Independence was the independence of the rich, affluent and elite. “The vast majority of the people do not have a claim on Indian Independence.” He asks, “Independence from whom? Independence from the colonial power meant social mobility and justice for the powerful. But for the masses, they can’t even think of claiming the same educational or vocational opportunities as the upper castes/classes.” He feels that when the media joins in this euphoric festivity, they are also part of the same elite which acquired many privileges and powers post Independence.
Arvind Narrain, a human rights lawyer at the Alternative Law Forum, Bengaluru, feels that while “1947 was an important time as it signified the birth of a new nation and people, but 61 years later we have lost our way.” He points out that for tribals, farmers, sexual minorities and other marginalised communities, it’s difficult to celebrate freedom. “To commemorate the freedom struggles of Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh and Gandhi, we could reclaim the meaning of Independence and take on the individual struggles of different communities.” He feels that it’s so far been the celebration of Independence for the Indian State and that colonial laws are still prominent. He points out that on August 16 in Mumbai, there will be a “Queer Azadi”, gay pride parade where those who have been left behind in the Indian struggle for freedom, will try and reclaim the meaning of Independence.
For Onil Kshetrimayum, Co-ordinator of Reachout, a Delhi-based forum working on peace and development of the Northeast, Independent India has not seen real democracy. “Instead of having a process of dialogue, draconian laws to oppress people are in place.” He feels that Indian Independence has largely become regimented where the ruling, high-handed upper castes have been responsible for this misrepresentation. “The real problem in the Northeast is alienation — a symptom of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958 (AFSPA).” He concludes: “Independent India is just propaganda to fool the people.”
Director of Zubaan Publications Urvashi Butalia emphasises that despite some positive changes in the policy initiatives, there is still a deep discrimination towards women in Independent India. “It is as if women don’t exist or are not recognised.” She feels that since the birth of the nation, there has just been silence towards violence against women. “When you talk about the term status of women, there is already an acknowledgement that there is a lack of status for women.” She feels that the growing participation of women in the Panchayat will see positive changes many years hence.
Founder of ASMITA, a women’s collective in Hyderabad, Kalpana Kannabiran believes that there was always a dual struggle by women in the Indian sub-continent — against colonial rule and against the subjugation of women. “According to B.R. Ambedkar, the fulcrum of women’s discrimination lies in the caste system and if that were removed, the caste system would not exist at all.” She feels that though laws are in place for women’s liberation, the victory for Indian Independence has remained and assumed that it is victory for all. “1947 was important as it was the realisation of independence and the birth of the Constitution, but Independence for women has only remained on paper due to attitudinal problems.” She, like many others, feels that the struggle for Independence has been dual and that somehow in the last 61 years, we have forgotten that and lost our way…
Send this article to Friends by