India celebrates Independence Day-what independence?
The picture of a little lad straddling the chest of his grandfather – who had just been shot dead by Indian security forces in Kashmir – is an image that cannot be erased from the mind or the conscience very easily. The blood spattered faces of the beautiful faces of Kashmiri women and children, victims of pellet guns, can only move fill one with shock and horror. Muslims dare not utter a word of protest or dismay as the Hindu temple Ram Mandir is built on the demolished ancient mosque, the Babri Masjid. In northeast India, Bengali speaking nationals quake in fearas they are threatened with eviction from their own homeland. In the upscale Delhi, the capital of India, women are too scared to travel by bus for fear of rape. The same Delhi had the most polluted air in the world.
India celebrates independence.
What independence? Is this independence?
Is this independence where the media is either muffled or used as a lackey or the Modi machine? Where women are not safe on the streets? Where men are marked as militants if they dare protest against injustice?
If India was truly celebrating independence, would its own citizens in impoverished bordering villages say they would rather join Bangladesh and see some glimmer of development? Would Kashmir lose it state of autonomy and continue to be bathed in blood? Would Muslims still be blamed for Covid and lower caste Hindus still be treated as untouchables?
This is India. This is independent India celebrating 73 years of independence.
In India, there is still a rising fear of persecution for reporters and other dissenting voices. India’s place in Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index has dropped to 142nd in 2020 from 136th in 2015. A stiff fall in just 5 years.
This is not independence.
The proud people of India, rising up in business, economy, IT, art and culture had looked forward to being the leaders in the neighbourhood. They wanted India to be the South Asian big brother in the South Asian sense, not the Big Brother in the bully sense. That was what 15 August 1947 meant to them
Instead, their leaders, the politicians, the government machinery has pulled them down. Their heads bow in shame and regret as they see their retardation in regional relations rather than progress.
They had looked forward to the materialisation of Aman ki Asha, the ‘Hope for Peace’ move initiated by two media house –The Jang Group of Pakistan and The Times of India. But the efforts fizzled out and sworn foes remained sworn foes just because the myopic populist leaders could not see through the haze of saffron.
The people are not the problem. The people still are not the problem. If Pakistanis smiled at Shahrukh Khan, the Indian’s swooned for Fawad Khan. In fact, when it came to music, the Indians opened their arms and hearts to Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Atif Aslam, Junoon, Strings, Ali Zafar just as they had in the past to Noor Jehan, Mehdi Hasan, Ghulam Ali and Nazia Hasan. But the politicians soon put a stop to that. Pakistani artistes were banned in India. “The loss is ours,” says a young music lover in Delhi, “Music, art, culture has no borders.”
Indeed, India had effectively monopolized the television culture and people in the neighbourhood were glued to the serials where mothers-in-law bad mouthed their daughters-in-law, daughters-in-law slaved in their new homes hoping to win favourfrom their husbands, only to be misunderstood, and all in full sequined glamour. But with Covid taking over along with Netflix, YouTube and web films, India seems to have lost that monopoly too. If they deny it, just a look at the comments on the Pakistani drama serials on YouTube will reveal that most of the fans are from India, full of praise for the Pakistani serials and derogatory comments for their own.
When the statisticians put on their glasses and pull out the indexes, they are not pleased. Bangladesh, which they look down on with visible condescension, has sped way ahead of them when it comes to primary education, girls’ education, immunization against deadly diseases, and other indicators of socio-economic development.
This is not the India the people wanted. They wanted Nepal to be their friend, not a defiant neighbor redrawing their map with not a tremor in their hand as India watches on.
And as China grows from strength to strength, wooing Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, everyone in the neighborhood and beyond, the sheen or Shining India seems too lose some of its glaze.
How long can a country live on rhetoric, religious fanaticism and pseudo-democracy? Calling itself the world’s largest democracy doesn’t make it the world’s largest democracy. Democracy is not just a word, it is about freedoms, rights, choices, and independence.
So as India celebrates its anniversary of independence, its people take a moment to ponder, is this what independence is all about?
The Kashmiris want independence. The northeastern states may have been suppressed by force, but do they still not yearn for independence where their resources will bring them development, not be siphoned off to Delhi?
The people want to live in peace, prosperity and happiness as they were promised. Even the more hawkish of them who had ambitions of India being a superpower, realise that it takes more than power to be a superpower. The Marvel comic superhero Spiderman puts it the best: “With great power comes great responsibility.” That is where the Modi machine has failed.