This year we will be celebrating our 70th Independence Day – an achievement that took us a couple of centuries and the loss of innumerable precious lives that could always have served a higher purpose. Now, standing on the verge of yet another celebration of this momentous day one question comes to our mind – what does the word independence mean to us? Is it different for various people? Perhaps, it is. After all, no two individuals think the same way and that is an age-old fact of existence. When we come to think of it, not even our freedom fighters thought of the same way regarding independence. Their notions regarding it tended to vary and anyone even faintly acquainted with our history would agree to such a statement.
People like Subhash Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh were always more focused on emancipating the nation from the clutches of British. They thought that with the British gone the glory of yore would return and India would once again take its rightful place among the elite of the world that have prospered and done well for themselves. However, thinkers such as Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, and Jawaharlal Nehru had taken a different path. For them the ills that had plagued India since millennia – social and economic – were of greater concern and the word independence signified freedom from these evils as well.
Independence across genders
It is said that India has a closed society where people of various genders are expected to perform various roles. Men are supposed to do some things that women are not and vice versa. There is no place for people belonging to the third gender. The situation is more pronounced in the rural and semi-rural areas. As far as the third gender is concerned some progress has been made with the Transgender Bill. However, the roles of men and women are largely set in stone.
For a man one feels that the notion of independence would entail being able to choose the subjects that he wishes to study and not be saddled with something that he does not want to. He should be allowed to choose the profession that he enjoys working in and not always be the main breadwinner for his family.
In a man-dominated society like India’s the scope of freedom is far greater for women. For starters, they should be allowed to be educated and choose their careers if they wish to and not be married off against their wishes. They also wish that they receive the same amount of remuneration as men in their posts do and be allowed to make more decisions in their families, workspaces, and immediate community, rather than always being on the receiving end. They want to be able to live life on their own terms and not be judged for the same. Perhaps for women living in the rural and semi-rural areas the wish-list is greater like being treated as an individual with dignity and respect and not some furniture; not being reduced to a baby-producing machine that can be beaten up every now and then; to receive some education and do some work that allows a modicum of self-determination and financial independence; not be married off at an early age, and most importantly seeing their daughters treated on an equal footing with their sons.
Independence across economic classes and professions
Indian society can be broadly divided into four economic classes – lower class, lower-middle class, upper middle-class and affluent class. In the case of the lower three rungs the dream is more and less the same – upward social mobility. It is all about escaping the problems and heading to a better tomorrow by climbing the social ladder and enjoy the sort of prestige and adulation that comes as part of that package.
As regards to profession one feels that people who run their own businesses – the entrepreneurs and the big business houses – in India want freedom from the political actors that pose problems for them on a regular basis. They also wish to be emancipated from the corrupt practices of bureaucracy such as red-tapism and bribes that have bled them dry over the years. For the ones in the lower steps of this ladder it is about getting more people to believe in their authenticity and quality and thus carve out a better tomorrow.
For people who are in working age the word independence means that one day when office closes earlier than usual and they get to spend some extra time with their near and dear ones. It is those few days of a festival when they don’t need to worry about deadlines and can just care about themselves and what pleases them. This is especially applicable for people working in the private sector.
Independence across age groups
For a toddler who has just learnt walking and uttering a few words the term independence would signify the joy of discovery that he or she can run, can speak a few more words and obviously taste a few things that his or her parents eat or drink. For youngsters it is perhaps escaping the dreary routine that most of their lives have now become – especially in the cities – and letting their hair down and doing what pleases them, even if it is just for one day. In the villages one feels that youngsters dream of a better future and leaving their plight behind by doing what they do best with greater intent and focus.
For people who have retired independence is about living how they used to before they got old and that knee pain or diabetes laid them low. It is about being economically independent and not depending on one’s children for some money to fulfill even the most basic needs. It is all about bowing out of life on a positive note – surrounded by family members – and not some unknown people in the midst of an old age home.
Independence in educational institutions
The condition of educational institutions in India is far better in the urban areas as opposed to the rural domains. From the point of view of students in these areas – in both primary and higher educational institutes – the word independence would signify access to better educators as well as facilities in terms of setup and educational material. One feels that teachers in these areas feel the same way as well. They would want the schools and colleges to be better equipped so that they are able to impart the best possible education to their wards.
Independence from the perspective of administrative bodies
In India we have the unilateral assumption that everything bad happens because of the government. However, we never congratulate the government for anything good that it does. So, one feels from the point of view of these administrative units the word freedom would entail emancipation from such misguided ideas. The government would also dearly love its citizens to perform their duties properly like paying taxes, not breaking the law, etc., and thus help it run without any problems whatsoever.
Independence from the perspective of the specially-abled
Last, but a universe away from being the least, are our specially-abled brothers and sisters, perhaps the strongest individuals of our kind. They are far better than us because they go through real problems with lot of grace but are normally met with derision and general disregard for their perceived shortfalls at worst and treated sympathetically at best. Perhaps they wouldn’t want either of these treatments. They would want to be treated as normal individuals like everyone else and have some faith reposed in them as well that they are just as capable as the so-called normal people.
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