Today, India is celebrating its 77th Independence Day, marking 76 years of freedom. The country’s landscape has changed dramatically in the last couple of decades – seeing progress in the frontier areas of science and technology, education, manufacturing, trade and commerce.
But there are also challenges – corruption, gender discrimination, unemployment and illiteracy, to name a few. A refrain we commonly hear against young people is how they tend to take today’s freedom for granted since they didn’t have to fight for it. But nearly 80 years since the country got its independence, is India truly free?
“For me, India will only achieve freedom when all citizens of our country are free to live and love however they want,” says Ritika, 21. India decriminalized homosexuality in a landmark 2018 verdict, but since then, the LGBTQ+ community has been fighting for the right to marry and the prejudices in society that persist. On the other hand, since early May, ethnic violence has consumed Manipur, leaving nearly 150 dead, 60,000 displaced and entire villages in ashes. “This is not a truly free country, where half of its citizens live in fear every day,” Ritika adds.
For some, freedom means nothing if they’re not able to voice their concerns without fear. “To me, freedom means expressing my thoughts openly without the fear of being categorized, criticized, or confined within predefined labels. True freedom is the ability to expose the inconsistencies, double standards, and prejudice of those in power, without facing threats of violence, harm, or malicious attacks on my reputation,” says Mihir, 21.
“The day I finally won’t have to think twice about what I’m wearing outside my house; the day I can finally step out at night freely, alone and without any worries – is the day I will be truly free,” says Nidhi, 25. Nidhi, who lives in Thane, realised she wasn’t truly free, when her family convinced her to give up a good job opportunity out of town, because they did not have any relatives nearby who could keep an eye on her. “I know many families are less conservative now, but families like mine still do exist – and it’s not because they don’t trust their daughters, it’s because they don’t trust other people’s sons.”
For Ashwin, 24, freedom is when society will stop dictating his life. “I’ve grown up loving dance, and although my parents were supportive of my learning Bharatanatyam – my extended family and friends weren’t so kind,” he added. “I gave up dancing at the age of 15, after intense bullying in school and I regret it so much. A friend and I started classes again last year, and it’s the most cathartic experience ever. I wish I don’t have to give up my youth just to fit in.”