I know this question bugs you as hard as it does me. In this opinionated world, allow me to have my share and put forward some of my observations. We all are free to think that we are independent, however, I feel somewhat different.
A sizeable population of ‘independent’ India still represents an emaciated nation continuously expanding its stronghold in poverty and illiteracy. Then there are individuals and entities thrusting regressive policies and threatening edicts upon the citizenry. India’s secular fabric has got stained all over. It’s being abused, twisted, and manhandled to create a communal tinderbox. It’s disquieting to note the transgressions being committed in the name of religion.
Our women are not independent. They are dictated and their fundamental rights are ruthlessly violated. Religious extremists and caste councils are in their prime. They are the new ‘omnipotent’. The prudishness with which they announce their verdict and make sure that orders are carried out, the fear of the nation getting Talibanized is not unfounded.
A dependent healthcare sector
A detour is needed. Let’s figure out whether our nation is self-sufficient enough to call itself truly independent. Much has been said and written about the poor health of India’s healthcare sector. But there isn’t any hullabaloo about our growing dependence on China when it comes to procuring essential drugs. India’s pharmaceutical sector is growing more vulnerable with every passing day as it heavily counts on China for its essential drugs. Indigenous manufacturers are lured into making value-added formulations for higher profit margins. As of now, we are at the mercy of our neighbour, with whom we share sweet-and-sour relations.
For something as crucial as energy, India can’t call itself independent. While it’s the fourth biggest energy consumer in the world, its dependence on oil imports is staggering. We import 82 percent of our oil needs. For those uninitiated, more than half of our trade deficit is because of the imports. In such cases, independence is a far cry.
We fight with borrowed weapons
Should it not be a matter of concern that India can’t take care of its defence sector independently? Our defence preparedness is wobbly; we fight with borrowed weapons, and our structural deficiencies are glaring. For every advancement we seem to make on the arsenal front, we find ourselves indebted to foreign suppliers. That way we can’t think of ourselves as independent.
We are overly reliant on trade ties with other countries. Regressive labour laws and myopic policies have miserably failed the manufacturing industry. India’s BPO industry is thriving because of the services outsourced by the US. The nation looks desperate to welcome FDI in almost every important sector of the economy.
Capacity constraints in Indian education sector is a reason why students are looking for ‘greener pastures’ and getting dependent on foreign varsities. The education system seems to discriminate between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. While a handful of students receive quality education, the rest are left to shiver in the cold. It’s an ignominy for a country that cannot educate its people on its own. Lakhs of students every year are forced to fly overseas in the absence of adequate state-of-the-art academic institutions.
How long we can exist like this
The nation of 1.2 billion is taken hostage by corruption. Honestly, our government has been easy on corruption. The calls for transparency and accountability are dethroned. The law is not allowed to run its own course.
When it comes to taking confident strides on the issue of climate change, India has kept itself cocooned. We have forced ourselves to be dependent on technology created in foreign nations. India can proclaim to be truly independent when it can leverage its existing capabilities and reduce dependability on outside mechanisms to deal with the issue.
It’s comforting to know that we are constitutionally independent. At the same time, pretending that our independence remains unchallenged is not going to take us far. I am reminded of Dylan’s thoughts: “How many years can some people exist, before they’re allowed to be free? / How many times can a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see?”
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