Are we truly Independent?

Independence Day is over. We have posted #HappyIndependenceday hashtags, heard patriotic songs and saluted the tri-colour proudly yesterday. We remembered Nehru’s famous independence speech the ‘Tryst with Destiny’ and were inspired yet again by the ancient words. As we discover that the Prime Minister’s speech on Independence Day wrongly claimed accolades, where there were none, let us take a step back from the pride and dissect the state of freedom that marginalized communities enjoy in this democracy. Are we really free? Are we all equally free today?

Video Volunteers travels into rural India, to find out what does freedom, azadi, mean to them?

A farmer cries, “We were freer before independence. In independent India, our conditions are getting from bad to worse.” While the NDA government focuses on entrepreneurship, service industry and primary industry such as mining, production, manufacturing; Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his town hall meeting on August 6’16, acknowledged that agriculture held the key to India’s growth.

Farmer Suicides account for 11 percent suicides in the country

Over one-third Indian districts faced severe drought in 2015-16. While at least 33 crore Indians reeled under the dire situation, the central and state administrations remained unmoved by their plight, lacking both in tactful urgency and compassion. Rather than relieving them from their distress, by ensuring job and food security, implementing technologies such as GIS technology to conduct crop forecasting, providing effective compensation, and reaching out to the farmers in such trying times, the state and central administration have been corrupt and irresponsible and the ministers across the country have remained insensitive. Implementation of job schemes such as MGNREGA, which would guarantee minimum wage income, was riddled with poor implementation and corruption, providing neither full employment of 100 days, nor paying the wages for months.

Crimes against women reported every two minutes

While there are shining examples of women are striding forward in corporate, sport and cultural avenues, at large, women of India are still seen as subordinate and inferior to men. Even as government schemes to save girl child, educate women, amongst other such schemes, gender-based discrimination is highly visible in rural as well as in urban areas, across all strata of society. Even today, menstruation remains a taboo, and a woman’s education and aspirations in life, remain a familial decision, not her own. A striking example of patriarchal mindset is revealed in this statistic that states 65% of Indian men believe women should tolerate violence in order to keep the family together, and women sometimes deserve to be beaten. India accounts for the maximum number of maternal deaths in the world — 17 per cent or nearly 50,000 of the 2.89 lakh women who died due to complications related to pregnancy.

 

According to the data released by the National Crime Records Bureau in 2015, 26 crimes against women are reported every hour across India in the past decade. Patriarchal mindset and male-domination have been responsible for most of these crimes. Cruelty by husbands and relatives under section 498‐A of Indian Penal Code is the major crime committed against women across the country, with 10 cases reported every hour. Dalit and tribal women are especially at the receiving end. They face severe discrimination being both, a Dalit and a woman, making them unfortunate target for caste and gender violence, which systematically denies them choices and freedoms in all spheres of life. NCRB statistics show a steady rise in crime against Dalit women. In 2009, 1364 Dalit women were victims of rape. But in six years, the crime increased by more than 50% - 2,233 dalit women were raped in 2014.

A crime is committed against a Dalit every 18 minutes

Even 69 years after independence, Dalits have been subjected to discrimination, apathy, neglect and violence due to their caste. While article 46 of the Indian Constitution had promised them special care in spheres of educational and economic interests, it had also promised to protect the Dalits and tribals from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.

The recent attacks on Dalits, from Una, Gujarat for skinning a dead cow, to protests by Dalit students across India in the wake of Rohit Vemula’s suicide, the Dalit PhD scholar in University of Hyderabad, it is evident that caste is gaining a grip on the developing India.

37 per cent Dalits live below the poverty line, more than half of the population is undernourished, and about 45 per cent Dalits are illiterate. Discrimination in justice is also evident from the data which reflect that 28 per cent of Indian villages prevent a Dalit from entering a Police Station.  Discrimination against Dalit children has been prevalent in many ways – 39 % Dalit children are made to sit separately while eating government schools, more than 40% Dalit children drop out of school due to the discrimination that they face at the hands of teachers, students and society at large.

Dalits continue to be oppressed and discriminated against in villages, in educational institutions, in the job market, and on the political battlefront, leaving them with little respite in any sphere or at any juncture of their lives.

This is the freedom that rural India enjoys in the 70th year of India’s freedom from the British rule. Halima Ejaj, Video Volunteers’s community correspondent from Jharkhand sums up the responses in these two poignant lines of her poetry

“When 70 humans out of 100 are suppressed,

Can you then say with all your heart

That our country if indeed free?”

 

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