On Independence Day, It’s Time to Ask: When Will We Really Be Free?


On Independence Day, It’s Time to Ask: When Will We Really Be Free?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

It all began when Tilak thundered, “Swarajya is my birthright and I shall have it!” Of course, he got accused of sedition. Over a century later, a JNU student proclaimed he wanted azaadi. What do you know, he got slapped with a charge of sedition too. The point to be noted is that one wanted independence (swarajya), the other, freedom (azaadi). Both got something they didn’t ask for. But it’s a good day to ask and ponder, what is the difference between the two?

Simply put, freedom is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. That should mean being able to joke without defamation cases following. It means being able to write articles without death threats. It means being able to eat without lynchings. It means a lot of things that we currently don’t have. But then again, aren’t we one of the most free countries in the world?

Before you scoff, bear with me. We can block traffic because our friend is getting married. We can relieve ourselves against any wall or behind any bush. We can honk without any regard for noise pollution, while cutting lanes at will. We are free to be casteist, a freedom we proudly tout when looking for brides and grooms. We are free to practice hierarchies in the subtlest possible way, say by having separate glasses for our maids. We are free to migrate to any part of our country to look for work.

In fact, it makes offence a right not a privilege. On the other hand, independence is being free from outside control; not having to depend on an outside authority.

So, looked at one way, we have the freedoms that make life convenient for ourselves. We perhaps lack those which pose inconvenient questions, but who wants to ask those questions when three months of a year we are asking, “Score kya hua?

Freedom is basically the ability to think and act as you see fit. Even if it offends someone else. In fact, it makes offence a right not a privilege. On the other hand, independence is being free from outside control; not having to depend on an outside authority. Freedom is the absence of such a restraint in the first place. But compared to freedom, independence is a tough thing to achieve.

You’ll know if you’ve ever moved out of your parents house. It means responsibilities, it means the buck stops with you. It is neatly summed up in what Ambedkar famously said, “We have lost the excuse of blaming the British for anything going wrong. If hereafter things go wrong, we will have nobody to blame except ourselves.” Independence is love marriage – you have made your choices, you live with them. You can’t blame your parents if your partner doesn’t live up to your expectations. Independence is being a freelancer. You can’t wait for business or briefs to come for you. You look for them on your own. It means being more enterprising, more driven, more focused.  

You can be dependent on someone and still be free. Remember childhood? In retrospect, dependence seems easy and convenient. As an adult, I often wonder why did I crave independence so badly as a kid? It was so much easier when food was put on my plate, when I didn’t know who paid the bills, when nothing was my problem. You could continue living. Of course there were laws and deadlines, but then, you brokered deals with parents. It was essentially dominion status, something our leaders in the freedom struggle ultimately rejected.

You can be independent and not be free. Remember bachelorhood? Living in your own house gives you the illusion of freedom, but that’s all that it is: there is always someone watching. Complete freedom is perhaps attainable only in your bathroom. Perhaps a reason why long showers are a thing.

Fact is, you are free when you feel free. Come to think of it, independence is harmless to grant, freedom is risky. Freedom gives me the autonomy and right of expressing views in public places even against authority. Independence just gives me rights to go everywhere within the independent state. Independence means I thank authority. Freedom means, I question it. Independence is my right to be heard. Freedom is my right to speak.

Independence is nationalistic and freedom is patriotism. One praises your country no matter what. The latter criticises it (these days, no matter what).

What’s more preferred – independence or freedom? It’s absolutely great to have both, but given how things stand, that may well be a pipe dream. Freedom is dying a slow death; the assassination attempts, sedition charges, cartoonists going to jail, invasions of privacy, labelling citizens as anti-nationals, and so much more is proof.

And without freedom, does independence really count? I guess, kuch haar ke kuch jeetne wale ko democracy kehte hai.