Freedom was always a multifaceted term; it evolved in paper and spirit every time man learned and understood the changing demands of the century. Freedom was sought right from ancient times and still is a demand, but the only variable was the enraging situation that called for such a demand. This situation was the consequence of either a brutal transgression of the law of the land or the law itself, which was archaic, imperialistic, religiously centred or patriarchal.
In ancient India, when castism denied the Shudras the right to study Vedas and mandated them to be at the service of the upper three classes, viz; the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, and the Vaishyas; the religiously centred law brought about feelings of class division. But this oppression wasn’t the birth right of just the lower caste, even amongst the upper classes, the women were denied the opportunity to study the Vedas. The strong foundation on which resides our modern patriarchal society. Centuries hence, situations have changed, but casteism still divides freedom and us, is a mere illusion, a pleasant dream.
Women, on the other hand, have been subjects of several other atrocities. Higher education, right to voice opinions, choose at least the outfit she prefers let alone life partner, sati, widow remarriage, domestic violence, dowry harassment, workplace abuse and sexual exploitation forms the long list of types of oppression faced by women, freedom from which has often limited to chants of ‘women empowerment’ without any practical applicability.
Amidst casteism and gender bias, empires rose and fell, from Magadha to Mauryas, Mughals to Marathas, East India Company to British Raj and Congress to BJP, but the fate of the petty farmer was limited to paying taxes and incurring losses, but never to prosper. The ancient emperors levied several exploitative taxes and land revenue systems to fuel their large armies and feed their own selfish motives. Although every time there was a flickering flame of hope, a visionary ruler who seemed to turn the tide favour of the petty farmer, but that wouldn’t last long. Centuries of fall of empires and governments hence, the name of taxes have changed, but the common man is still hell-bent on protecting the occasional flickering flame of hope; a celebrated orator but seldom a visionary. Chasing freedom from Aache din, which doesn’t seem to last long.
At the turn of the 20th century, the term freedom gained new importance; it was now synonymous with the independence of India from the colonial British Raj. It was during this period that print media gained prominence and several leaders in the likes of Dadabhai Naoroji, Mahatma Gandhi, and Bal Gangadhar Tilak et al penned down their views on independence and Swaraj. This played a vital role in arousing a spirit of nationalism amongst the masses, in instigating them towards peaceful satyagrahas and educating them regarding their rights. The drain theory proposed by the Grand old man of India showcased to the world how the ‘riches of the Ganges was being drained at the banks of Thames’. Other works like ‘Kesari’, ‘Young India’, ‘Harijan’ etc., are also noteworthy. All these deeds won us our freedom, freedom from foreign oppression; but only to be replaced by local rule suppression, even 70 years hence!
Bygones are the bygones, but it does teach us a thing or two. Knowing the past will let us promulgate the new definition of freedom that we the people of India are still in pursuit. It is most certainly an amalgamation of all the versions of freedom we ever desired over a period of 2500 years. Freedom from religion, caste, gender, birthplace, language, accent, skin colour, qualification, designation and economic status-based discrimination. And to top it all, freedom for our own women from patriarchal customs, and laws. Freedom from sexual exploitation and RAPE.
The nation comes together as one force, at the darkest hours, at times when humans stoop so low that humanity seems endangered or inexistent. But that kind of selective outrage is inappropriate, highlighting just the most gruesome or communally and morally charged incidents. We need to rise, rise in unity and enormity against all injustice, our print media and social media should carry the message of every individual who was victimised and not a selected few. All discrimination is wrong, every rape is unacceptable and every justice delayed, is justice denied.
The freedom we demand is multifaceted and multidimensional. This freedom is our birthright, and we shall have it!
(Views expressed in this article are author’s own)