Your freedom, our struggle, and nothing to celebrate

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Why is Independence Day celebrated? Image: Prathap Ravishankar

Why exactly should we celebrate a day earmarked as a country’s Independence Day?

You’ll argue it’s a celebration of freedom. But, freedom has nothing to do with countries, societies or cultures. It is primarily a private pursuit based on man-made constructs and individual philosophies that aim to extend the boundaries of human will.

There isn’t a universally accepted definition of freedom either. It is basically an idea based on the concept of ‘to each their own.’ The 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant defined it perfectly when he argued that freedom is “involved in the moral domain, at the question: ‘what should I do?’”

Because freedom is a man-made construct, it is also a source of constant clashes, both verbal and physical, intellectual and violent. One person’s freedom, as we have heard many people say in different contexts, is another person’s terror. One country’s idea of equality, fraternity and liberty can be construed, as libertine philosopher Marquis de Sade argued around the time of the French Revolution, a pursuit of pleasure at any cost, including murder and rape.

Also read: Freedom and integration: A swaraj of the Mahatma’s dream

The only thing that can be said with certainty about freedom is that nobody ever seems to have enough of it. And rightly so, because it is an eternal quest to extend the right to do whatever people want — right or wrong. Unfortunately, in its quest for freedom, humanity has never stopped fighting — as nations, as societies, as genders and even as individuals. The pursuit of freedom has always remained a source of conflict.

So, if collective freedom is a delusion, what exactly is there to celebrate on a day like August 15, accepting, for argument’s sake, there could be a celebration in the first place on a dry day?

It would be more appropriate to say that our Independence Day is a moment for introspection, taking stock of a country’s journey, and the tryst with destiny that began on August 15, 1947.

India and Independence

The idea of our identity as Indians is premised on two primary arguments: one, we live in a certain geographical area that is called India; and two, all of us are bound by a Constitution that defines this idea of India as a sovereign entity.

On August 15, 1947, both these processes began simultaneously. India, an amorphous geographical entity till then, took a definitive shape with its maps, boundaries, flag and symbols. On that day, we also pledged a Constitution to define the legal, ethical and moral foundations of the new nation.

On the eve of our 73rd Independence Day, especially in the backdrop of the debate on Kashmir, an interesting irony is playing out in the context of our idea of Indian-ness — while the geographical area that defines us appears much more secure than in the past, the other pillar of our identity, the Constitution, is under attack.

But, what exactly is the Constitution? Isn’t it basically a compact between the government and its citizens that allows the latter to pursue what they want within an ecosystem of moral and legal laws? So, isn’t it a cause for worry that this framework committed to individual pursuit of freedom is being demolished?

The Constitution guaranteed us a secular, federal union of states that didn’t restrict our choices related to faith, food and many other things, a heterogeneous entity that took pride in its diversity and liberal ethos. All these concepts are being redefined by a muscular Centre that’s taking India towards majoritarianism, Hindu-isation and forced concepts of morality and nationality through a fiat of uniformity.

Words like liberal and secular have been denigrated to the level of slurs; individual rights and freedoms, as we are witnessing in the case of Kashmir, are being subsumed in the name of national interest and geopolitical concerns. Meanwhile, a brutal attack is being made on institutions of democracy by circumventing laws that prohibited trade in legislators, misuse of Presidential decrees, ordinances and majorities for chipping away at federalism and civil liberties.

Also read: Article 370: India should dread outsourcing its fate to 3 men in a hurry

The founding fathers in their collective wisdom gave us the privilege of a liberal Constitution, mounted on the edifice of democracy. But, in the past few years, we have obliterated the fundamental premise of democracy — the right to elect a government of our choice. This right, as we have witnessed in Goa, Karnataka, Arunachal Pradesh, vests with parties with the wherewithal to co-opt legislators from across the political spectrum with money, heft or plain blackmail.

The ethical and moral principles that defined our civilisation are being reshaped. Nehruvian model of jamhooriyat (democracy) with insaniyat (humanitarianism) is now being sold as a synonym for cowardice and effeminate nationalism. Gandhian ideals of non-violence and compassion are being discarded as a new credo of aggression and suppression through the use of jackboots, electoral majorities and empty slogans.

India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru was once asked his definition of Mother India. He responded by arguing that Mother India is nothing but its people. The same sentiment was reflected in the Preamble of our Constitution that begins with the solemn resolve of “We the People of India” to give ourselves a vibrant, liberal, secular country.

That idea of India is being weakened at a time when India’s geographical boundaries are the most secure. Having dealt with external threats, like some European nations of the 20th century, we have turned against our own people and, by inference, against Bharat Mata.

The irony is that the latest assault on the idea of India is being launched with the war cry of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai.’