ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Blogging Competition Shortlisted Entry
Freedom to Dream: India at 70
By Sitamsini Cherukumalli, 19 years, Hyderabad
Change is the only constant in the histories of our countries. In the past seventy years of Independence, India has seen its share of change – sometimes gradual, but often sudden and too many times, violent. The sheer polarity of our lived experiences as Indians is stunning. You pass by the small shops, the slums and all the geographies of the lower middle classes to the sleek banners and smooth roads and the clothing shops with international brand logos displayed prominently in English.
I lived in a village for the first few years of my life, and my obsession with escalators my first year in Hyderabad was for many years a great source of personal embarrassment. I would blush thinking about how gauche my loud excitement was, how the city people must have known that I was a villager. Class signifiers in India are often ridiculous and ripe for satire – knowledge of Western culture: posh; Good English: posh. Of course, these signifiers don’t seem so ridiculous to those climbing the economic and social ladder. I spent uncountable hours torturing myself over some English word mispronounced, about not knowing how to eat an idli with a fork and spoon, about mixing up ‘Kannada’ and ‘Canada.’
This elevation of the English Language, and Western things, and white people in our social and cultural lives is of course, a by-product of colonisation. We have yet to decolonise our minds. To decolonise our minds is the first step to freedom – a mind free of a double consciousness is a truly free mind. Only when we stop thinking about what our clothes or car or level of English signifies to those around us, can we make space in our consciousness for our true aspirations.
When I say “we,” I am referring to those of us who, by law or cultural norms, have not been given the freedom to dream. I am talking of Indians who cannot lead the lives that they wish to. Those who actively benefit from the status quo do not feel much of a need for change, and they already have the freedom to dream because class, caste, religious or gender anxieties have not created a blockade in their consciousness.
One cannot objectively say that freedom is readily available to all the citizens of our nation. This is hardly a surprise, for history does not come in discreet packages of time: it does not stop and then begin at a new point. History and time are continuous, and the current systems of social and economic standings in our country are the fruit of many centuries, of many millennia. We look at traditions and we look at the lives of our fathers and forefathers to map out our own lives. One does need a truly free mind to tread off those beaten paths. And one needs true empathy to understand that it is much harder for some of us to do so, because of the arbitrary nature of the circumstances we were born into.
Change always leads to people closing ranks around themselves. Globalised markets, economic downturns, forced migration, resource scarcity have all led to a rise in right-wing and xenophobic political practices all over the world. Men threatened by their loss of power continue to wield any available tools to suppress women, whether through religion, arbitrary codes of morality, or the pay gap disparity. It is only natural for any human being to want to retain their power, and tragedy lies in the fact that throughout history, when power is wielded, it often comes at the expense of the freedom of others.
Every school child in India has been taught about “Unity in Diversity,” yet sometimes I wonder how many people feel safe in their identities in this country: safe enough to take risks and to be ambitious in their dreams. The unity of all our citizens cannot be declared by mere law, because the law does not control our thoughts, but rather, depends on a spirit of unity. Unity is a feeling that I fear has been felt rarely since our Freedom Struggle, with the exception of our cricket World Cup finals.
And yet, to be cynical about our nation is an insult to the oppressed; it is to dismiss their courage and their challenges. The oppressed cannot afford to just shrug their shoulders and carry on. We must recognise the privileges that we have been blessed with and use them to amplify their voices. To be hopeful about our country is to honour both the difficulties and the grace of our lives. Hopefulness that it can be otherwise is just the beginning: it opens up the freedom to dream. Hope is radical.