When I think of independence the first thing which crosses my mind is Rousseau’s most famous and contradictory quote: “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains”. This is a strong and controversial statement and my idea of independence is somewhere inspired by this thought.
Independence is a relative term and it can never be absolute. Desire for absolute independence is a Utopian concept. We can never be independent in a holistic sense. Rousseau made this statement centuries ago, which makes perfect sense till today and which I believe will do for the times to come. Living in an independent country free from the subjugation of some foreign power doesn’t make an individual independent. If I were to ask myself the question: ‘Am I truly independent?’ I would answer: No! We are bound to certain things in some way or the other which obstructs our freedom and independence. I would term this idea of independence as half independence. No matter how much we say we are completely independent aloud — we are not. On a daily basis, we are living in the condition of half independence.
India is turning 67 years old this independence day, the citizens of this country according to its vast and comprehensive constitution are entitled to several rights. Now the question arises are we able to exercise our rights wholly. Let’s understand this with an example, our constitution entitles us the right to assemble and peacefully demonstrate, but more often than not, when people demonstrate, government authorities try to repress it. Protests regarding the 16th December 2012 rape incident is a case in point. We all witnessed how the police treated the masses on peacefully protesting; and a bandh was imposed at some places to avoid protests. It means that merely penning down the rights in the constitution is not a road towards independence; it is through ensuring them practically so that we can minimally lead our lives of half-independence.
Independence is about creating your own independent will and decisions, and carrying them out without obstructions. Girls are constantly made part of that social engineering where they are always instructed to behave in certain ways. They are over and over told of their boundaries and the extent of their reach. It is engrained in our society where at every step we witness gender discrimination and violence, but interestingly when we experience this discrimination from the face of political class who claims to be the guarantor of our rights and our representatives, it becomes absolutely crystal clear that independence of an individual is at stake at every point and can be violated at the hands of ‘guarantors of independence and freedom’; it can then be violated from any trivial source.
If I have to place my idea of independence in terms of which idea of independence our country subscribes to, I would then say that independence of each citizen here is at great stake. Forget about freedom of thought and expression or intellectual independence, our country even fails to ensure its people with basic rights by which they can at least live with some hope that they could wish that some or the other day they will get more than what they have today. Then on top of it there are politicians making statements that, “poverty is a state of mind”. This is literally humiliation for that person who is striving day and night for two square meals a day. Independence does not mean throwing subsidies at the poor people’s faces and telling them that now you have food for two meals a day and your life exists for this sole purpose. No! Independence is a sense of respect, dignity and hope. Hope, which the government of a country instills in its people and assures them that their life has more to it, and to evoke that sense of freedom in them by providing greater opportunities so that an individual breaks some of the ‘chains’.
If I talk in philosophical and psychological overtures of independence then I would again recall that independence can never be absolute. For instance, if we were to take any decision on some matter, our ‘independent’ decision would be influenced by several other conditions and factors, and the end product of our decision — of what we actually thought in our minds — would be altered. Therefore, independence for me is about making free choices, having the opportunity to make decisions for oneself and anything from equal treatment to respect and dignity to protection of rights to unimprisoned mind to live in a state of peace defines my idea of independence.
Moreover independence, whether at personal level of instincts and will or at the level of country, I believe we must only strive for half independence, which is more logical and easier to strive for. And that half independence is the right of every individual to attain its maximum potential. We are ‘everywhere in chains,’ we have to accept that, but we deserve to break some of the chains and claim that much independence which we are entitled to by the virtue of being humans.
Someone has well stated, “strive for independence even if it means to live on a barren heath”.
In conclusion I would say — explore the maximum of your half independence!
Happy Independence day!
[Aqsa Khan (class of 2015) is a postgraduate student in the Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution. She can be reached via email at: [email protected].]
[This article is in response to a call-for-articles made by Jamia Journal on the occasion of India’s 67th Independence Day. We asked our readers to write and send in their opinion on what independence meant to them. Of all the submissions we received, “Independence Lies in the Freedom to be Happy,” by Zainab Abrar was deemed to be the best. The first, second, and third runner-ups respectively were: “Born to Fly,” by Mohd. Usman Mallick; “Strive for Your Full ‘Half Independence,'” by Aqsa Khan; and “Independence: Freedom to Live Freely” by Sheikh Aamir Ali.]