S.K.Maran | 17 Aug 2009

Could the freedom we are celibrating so passionately be a grand illusion ? Find out what it really means to be free from the poems of Tagore


Where the mind is without fear
And the head is held high ,
Where knowledge is free…..
Into that heaven of freedom, my father,
Let my country awake!
(Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali)
Thus   penned the great Tagore about Freedom in his immortal epic, Gitanjali. And this was what came into my mind when my 13 year old asked “Papa, can we visit South City Mall in this Independence Day ?
“No, You  can’nt.” I shot back. “Don’t you know that Independence Day is probably the worst day for an outing as crowded places   in large cities are prime targets of terrorists who happen to be moving freely in our country ? Moreover, haven’t you read the recent outbreak of H1N1 virus in India. Avoid public places and crowd at any cost . Mutiplex shutdown has already been announced in Mumbai.”
“Papa, last week when we planned to go out, there was a bandh, the one before last week it was auto-strike and now it is a virus ! A month ago Are we really free to go anywhere at our own choice in our country? “
“No my dear  boy ,No. The country may be free but today our minds are shackled with undefined fear and confined in a prison of glorious uncertainties. Any thing can frighten us and send us scurrying to the only safe place we know now – our little homes ! Or is that even safe now-a-days?”
Today when we go out , we are never sure when we will return .. or in some cases whether we will return at all ! You send your  kid to school in the morning and any trouble in the city has the potential to close down the city  making his or her return uncertain. You start boarding a train and all it requires to hold the train in midway is just a few miscreants with almost any excuse ranging from a neighbourhood accident to the fallout of globalization for the poor and downtrodden. Remove a few  fish plates from the track  and make your political or social presence felt across the whole country while robbing the hapless train traveler their freedom to move . Ten years after hundreds died in the country’s financial capital because of   rain water lacked the necessary freedom to go   into the nearby sea, the average Mumbai citizen still shudders at the music of the monsoon song !
Sixty two years ago the freedom we won was just a political freedom. For the past zixty two years, the average citizen is supposed to have been the controller of his/her own destiny? The highest number of poor people in the world live in our country –how are they free when they fear that they might not get their next meal ? The largest number of terrorist related deaths , except for Iraq happen to be in our country . How is a person free when he does not when the next bomb will blast? Despite years of subsidy and grand literacy campaigns, half of our children drop out before the tenth grade. How are they free, if they do not a right to be educated? Today, if you want to have decent education, you got to shell out a lot for being taught ( coached or tutored) in plush private institution. Knowledge is no longer free in this country where great gurukuls  once dotted its   vast landscape !
The real freedom comes when , as Tagore told, the mind is without fear ! And the mind is without fear, when he has a reasonable control over the uncertainties of the   economic, social and cultural environment around him/her. His mind can’nt be without fear if he is overwhelmed by the these uncertainties at each moment of his life  
Political freedom   actually is not as basic need as that of safety. Years ago, psychologist Maslow had spelt out a hierarchy of needs for humans. Safety comes second in that hierarchy, next to our basic primal needs. The need to feel sovereign , the freedom to exercise political choice is a secondary and higher order need . Untill the lower order needs, such as safety (freedom from fear ?) has been satisfied, the freedom will ring hollow in the average citizen’s ear .
That is just what happened in the small island nation of Mayotte in Africa. When a political referendum was held in that country in 2009, their people voted overwhelmingly   to remain under France, their earlier colonist , rather than become an independent African nation . In 1974, they had voted similarly. In fact, in the recent referendum ,  the choice for remaining “dependent” had harsh conditionality attached with it. For instance , to lose their freedom to France , this   predominantly Muslim country  would have to force its residents to adjust to the cultural customs of France such as raising the minimum age for women to marry from 15 to 18 and outlawing polygamy. To exercise the choice of “freddom” they did  not have to do any such thing .Yet they consciously chose to inflict these counter-cultural changes on themsleves , merely to remain without “freedom”.
Why did this country choose not to  remain  “free” when given an explicit choice ? In fact , today many African nations , under such an hypotehtical referendum, may vote to reamin under their earlier colonial masters rather their own home-grown despots . Their socio-econmic condition has detriorated very fast after they attained their  exalted status of freedom . For them , freedom can not be contemplated in an empty stomach with a frighetend mind.
While celebrating our freedom , let us a do a bit more this year. Let us try to search the meaning of this freedom in true sense and find out whether this is the same as what was so pertinently defined by Tagore .