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Saturday, 15 August 2015

Happy Independence Day - but we're not free yet

I'm all for nostalgia and celebrating past achievements; but while it feels somewhat arrogant, I feel compelled to get on my little soapbox and join in the voices admonishing us not to get too self-congratulatory. Patriarchy, objectification, that strange beast - 'culture', an outdated need for moral policing, a tendency to take offence at just about everything; some of these are perhaps issues only those of us among the urban affluent can afford to worry about; but there are plenty of 'real' issues out there as well. Uninclusive growth, abject poverty, farmer suicides, infanticides, child labour, child marriages...I could go on but I don't need to, because I'm sure every Indian knows exactly what I'm talking about. The problem, see, is that we'd much rather pretend that the progress we've made is shiny and unsullied by the popular image of slums beside high-rises. You run the risk of being called a wet-blanket if you attempt to bring up such things, and perhaps it is inappropriate to remind everyone of how behind we are when the goal of such celebrations seems to be to commemorate how far we've come. Have we, really, though, and doesn't such a discussion deserve airtime? I'm not going to pretend that I am doing something unique by bringing such a discussion up because newspapers and magazines do bring these discussions up, and perhaps I shouldn't generalize what dinner-table conversations look like everywhere from the dinner-table conversations I know of (and I'm not trying to imply that my friends and family refuse to discuss these things; I'm merely stating a general observation about what these discussions tend to steer towards in the absence of prodding in that direction).

I would be a hypocrite if I claimed that I don't want to pretend everything is sunshine and rainbows too. I have as much fondness as anyone for slideshows with swelling music that inspire patriotic fervour - and spread through Whatsapp like wildfire. I am not egoistic enough to believe that I know better than anyone; after all, who am I to say or even attempt to say that 'this' is what we should be talking about? Perhaps all I can say is that I think we should be mentioning this at least in passing so that the 70% of our population that isn't enjoying the fruits of the progress we all love so much isn't lost in the grand chorus of our patriotic song.