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By Michael Makri

The celebration of freedom is not only the commemoration of our heroes’ bravery and our people’s victory that took place in 1947. It should rather be a way to scrutinize the difference between now and then. In name, India is a free country. We have our own Constitution, we have leaders that we elected through a democratic process (although doubtful) and we, the citizenry, enjoy basic rights (on paper only). But are these enough for us to be considered truly free? Basically, being free means not being under the influence of anyone, but freedom through the elimination of social and political ills that hamper the enjoyment of such rights.

Since the midnight of 14th August 1947, we claimed to be free, but greedy bureaucrats and politicians are pocketing the taxes we pay. Corruption is prevalent in the judiciary, police, public services, and public procurement sectors. It is only in India that both active and passive bribery are covered by legislation, and public officials are allowed to accept gifts or donations of nominal value. In our country, there is a low level of enforcement and monitoring, hence corrupt practices such as facilitation payments and bribes persist. We claim to be free even though many of us go hungry while the wealth of the nation goes into the hands of a few.  I was inspired to check Google for the corruption Index of our South Asian Countries and I was amazed at their findings. While Singapore is ranked seventh we are 79th in the Corruption Perception Index. In terms of GDP per capita, Singapore is seventh and we are 157th according to the World Fact Book (CIA). So are we free?

We claim to be free while our women are being raped and murdered on an hourly basis. It is shameful that after 71 years of being independent our women and children are living in fear, not free emotionally, physically, culturally even in the choice of food and clothing. Rape is the second most common crime in India. According to The Wire, an online portal, “India’s average rate of reported rape cases is about 6.3 per 100,000 of the population. However, this masks vast geographical differences with places like Sikkim and Delhi having rates of 30.3 and 22.5, respectively, while Tamil Nadu has a rate of less than one.” Meghalaya is not far from Sikkim or Delhi if the daily newspaper reports are to be believed. The Wire continues to say, “even India’s average rate of 6.3, which is not very high when compared with the rest of the world, suffers from under-reporting. According to a recent report by the Livemint, about 99% of cases of sexual violence go unreported. If true, this would put India among the nations with highest levels of crimes against women and children. So are we free? Are Indian women free? Are Indian children free?

We claim to be free while many cannot afford basic education. By the end of  2018, India’s population is estimated at 1.35 billion based on the most recent UN data. Every year there is a 1.11% growth but the literacy rate of India this year is at 74% two percent short of the 2011 census. The drop down in this percentage is obvious.  Education in India is for the rich and the well-to-do and not for the ordinary person. According to an Right to Education (RTE) study conducted by the DNA newspaper in 2014, there are 2085 villages in Maharashtra alone without the basic educational facilities. Matters India reported in 2016, about a village at Bardia (Lahichari) under Chhaygaon Block Elementary Education Office (BEEO) in Palasbari LAC in Kamrup district which has no school for over 2000 children of the said village. In Meghalaya there are a total of 12,878 schools for 6026 villages according to the Statistical Handbook of Meghalaya 2017, but the handbook does not mention if all villages in Meghalaya have at least a primary school. Can we say then that we are free??

We claim to be free while many villages have not seen a proper road and communication. The NCERT textbook in Unit IV, Chapter 10 on roads and communication stated that about “80 per cent of the total road length in India are categorized as rural roads”. This implies that 80% of roads in India are not motorable during the rainy seasons. Like it is in our state, rural roads exist only on paper. One  example is the NEC sanctioned road from Nongpoh via Umden to Sonapur which is not really a road in the strict sense of the word. Can we claim to be an Independent country? In 2013, I was given an opportunity to attend the Asian Humanism Conference held in Singapore, and most of the delegates—even those from Singapore—were envious of our country – India. But by what yardsticks are they envious? Is it by the reality of our country’s debt, poverty, crime, corruption? Singapore certainly has more to celebrate. Its economy is better; its public transportation is better. To supplement its already impressive subway system, two years back it ordered an additional 91 super fast trains. We’re barely managing with super slow trains, and several hours of traffic jams if we travel by vehicles. So is this the freedom that we deserve?

We claim to be free, yet many villages in remote India still live in darkness. On April 29 this year, our PM Narendra Modi tweeted that April 28, 2018 will be remembered as a historic day in the development journey of India. Yesterday, we fulfilled a commitment due to which the lives of several Indians will be transformed forever! I am delighted that every single village of India now has access to electricity.’ But is this true? Forbes in their research after this announcement was made, discovered that ‘according to official data, only 1,417 of India’s 18,452 villages, or 7.3% of the total, have 100% household connectivity, and about 31 million homes are still in the dark. The government deems a village “electrified” if power cables from the grid reach a transformer in each village and 10% of its households, as well as public places such as schools and health centers, are connected.”

In her tweet, Kristina Skierka, of Power for All, a coalition of over 200 public and private organizations campaigning to deliver universal electricity access by 2025, claims that “total electrification” is far from reality and can only be achieved when all the hamlets and households are covered. “As, defined, ‘ village electrification’ still leaves 90% of the people living in India’s 18,452 targeted villages without electricity,” she says. So is it worth celebrating our Independence Day when we are still under the bondage of such social evils?.

The list is long. It appears nothing has changed much. We are still under the same old bondage. As stated above, our country is not yet debt-free, poverty-free, crime-free, or corruption-free. So what are we free from exactly and why do we celebrate it? On 15th August, our officials and those in government will celebrate Independence Day more than an ordinary citizen like myself, since in paper India has been an independent nation for seventy-one years. But what are we free from exactly and what aspect of the freedom do we celebrate? August 15 should be a day of introspection rather than of celebration.

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