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TOI EDIT-State Of Freedom As we celebrate today our ancestors who fought for freedom, we should also take stock

August 15, 2019 08:55 AM

COURTESY TOI EDIT AUG 15

State Of Freedom
As we celebrate today our ancestors who fought for freedom, we should also take stock
As we celebrate 72 years of independence today, we should not just stop at recalling the storied events of our freedom struggle which occurred close to a century ago. Rabindranath Tagore had written “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high … into that heaven of freedom. … Let my country awake.” Alongside EM Forster had also written, in his A Passage to India that was set in colonial India, “Here all was wire-pulling and fear.” These two disparate visions should induce us to think: which of them are we closer to at present?

To look at the state of personal liberties in India today the most obvious reference point is Jammu & Kashmir – to which, however, there are layers of complexity. At one level Kashmir’s troubles go down to the legacy of independence itself, the flip side of which was Partition and Pakistan’s determination to see through what it considers Partition’s “unfinished business”. Large parts of J&K are in complete lockdown, including severe restrictions on movement and the cutting off of all communications including landlines. When the issue was taken to the Supreme Court it too worried about the lockdown’s implications for civil liberties, but also said the Centre needs time to normalise the sensitive situation in the state.


Simply put, if large scale riots break out in the Valley following the nullification of Article 370, and murder and mayhem ensues, that too would violate civil liberties and the government would be blamed for it. Article 370 itself raises similar issues. Its nullification has been welcomed in many quarters of Jammu and Ladakh, who saw it as a tool to impose the rule of an uncaring Valley elite on their regions, as well as by Kashmiri Pandits who saw 370’s nullification as the first step towards their return to a homeland from which they had been expelled. But in large parts of the Valley, it’s liable to be seen as a forcible imposition that drowns Kashmir’s unique identity.

Outside Kashmir too threats to civil liberties abound. For example, draconian colonial-era sedition laws seem to be invoked more frequently, and trivially, these days than even the colonial period. Alongside, the notion has taken hold that anything “hurting one’s sentiments” is a criminal offence deserving arrest and prosecution, precluding the freedom of expression that is democracy’s necessary precondition. Freedom thus remains work in progress, sometimes even regressing.

 

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