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An unequal freedom

Every once in a while, it becomes pertinent that we revisit the idea of liberty as it was enshrined in our Constitution.

An unequal freedom
Representative Image


For several years now, our notion of liberty has undergone dramatic changes, with every subsequent change in regime. As a consequence of such redefinition, it has become obvious that a few individuals in India are placed better than others when it comes to reaping the rewards of liberty. But for the disadvantaged minority, the absence of any such liberties has huge ramifications. Last month, India was left shocked after seeing a viral video involving a Muslim man in Kanpur, UP, who was being assaulted by a mob of Hindu agitators, even as the victim’s daughter watched helplessly beside him, pleading with the mob to spare her father’s life. The 45-year-old auto rickshaw driver was being forced to chant slogans such as Jai Shri Ram, and Hindustan Zindabad by his attackers. While the man was fortunately rescued by the police, his assailants were arrested only to be released on bail a day later.

This is no isolated incident. Just days later another video emerged, this time from MP, where a bangle-seller hailing from the minority community was mercilessly thrashed for selling his wares in a Hindu-dominated area. While his attackers went scot free, the vendor was arrested the next day, as the daughter of one of his assailants accused the vendor of molestation.

Such unprovoked and routine attacks on members of the minority community by politically backed mobs, have seldom invited any condemnation from the Union government. Despite daily news reports, the government has employed a stance of denial, as seen in the comments of senior BJP leader Prakash Javadekar, who said law and order is a state subject and it is their responsibility to deal with it, when speaking about the subject of lynching. One might be forgiven for thinking that the Centre is viewing the world through blinders, when it comes to acknowledging the crimes that are perpetrated against vulnerable members of the minority communities. A fact checking portal revealed in 2019 that over 90% of the victims of hate crimes in India comprised Muslims.

The Centre’s tunnel vision is not just restricted to wishing away the atrocities heaped on certain communities in India. Slowly, but surely, specific legislations are being drafted that reveal an absolute lack of discernment and forethought on part of the lawmakers. These are laws that gnaw at the civil liberties of certain individuals, that in swift strokes not only ostracises them socially, but makes pariahs and refugees out of them in their own homeland. A case in point is the Citizenship Amendment Act, and the National Registry of Citizens. Add to this, a garnishing of divisive rules such as cattle and cow protection bills passed by various states, and laws pertaining to love jihad, which are now being used by miscreants to question the legitimacy of consensual unions between people of different communities. In the larger scheme of things, freedom of expression and the liberties of the press seem like priorities that can be afforded by nations that have taken care of the former fundamentals of equality and justice for all.

In a nation of over 1.3 bn people, and rising, we are still fumbling with concepts such as liberty from poverty, from illiteracy, from ill-health, from generational neglect, from discrimination on account of one’s religion, one’s caste, and so on. Our liberties are in question when we are not even free to enjoy the kind of food that we are used to, when moving from one city to the other. When a potential landlord sizes us up on account of our last names on the Aadhaar Card - there go our liberties. Is anyone even free to love a man or woman without running the risk of being burnt at the altar of honour killings? Far from nitpicking, this is a reminder that the notion of freedom is relative. And 75 years, just 25 years short of a century seem like a good enough window to get some of the fundamentals right.

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