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What Freedom Are We Celebrating?

Tomorrow is India's Independence Day. Across India, there are celebrations, flag hoisting events, speeches and lots of things that are planned for the day. In Delhi, the focus is more about security. Delhi's most important areas, particularly the commercial centers, are cordoned off early. Big movies are releasing this weekend, global retailers are offering great discounts and deals to shoppers on Independence Day, elite restaurants are offering tricolor menus that are priced at the most outrageous prices and schools are shut as its also a Saturday. The borders are closed off early,too.

About six years ago, when I celebrated Independence Day in Delhi for the first time, I experienced a total culture shock. In Kerala, which is the State where I came from, its just another typical holiday to watch blockbuster movies, meet friends, go and do chores that you need to complete, that sort of thing, not much of a big deal about Independence day as such.

In Delhi, my first feeling was that, "Is it such a big deal?" My office area was cordoned off as it was right in the heart of the commercial hub. The security personnel looked pretty intimidating and I found myself trembling as I passed them and moved to walk on the nearly deserted roads. I found that most shops were shut. There were cops everywhere scanning the area. Later that evening, my hubby and I went to watch a movie only to find that midway, cops were searching all the seats, with dogs and the works. Needless to say, the mood was sombre and I can't remember whether we really saw the movie. And i wondered then as I do now, what freedom are we really celebrating?

Six years have flown by. Very little has changed about the way Independence Day is celebrated or 'cordoned' off in this country. There is very little to cheer if you look at the number of terrorist attacks that have targeted metros across India to such an extent that now, you say a prayer when you get on a plane and you duck with fear when you hear a balloon pop.

This Independence, I think I will say a prayer for my country and my people. I think we need that to survive till the next year, considering we really have only ourselves to turn back to in emergencies.

Perhaps this is a pessimistic view but I have dear friends in Jammu and Kashmir, and across the country, who pledge their lives to fight for the country as part of the defence forces. They tell me they get no justice if one of them dies. The government, the politicians and the law doesn't give a damn. What freedom can we celebrate when this is how we treat the brave men and women who keep us safe? I don't know how to feel optimistic now.

As a proud Indian, I feel angry that freedom has really taught nothing to us, or perhaps, we have refused to learn what it means. Today, when the security breaches around us are breaking way easily and innocent people are dying because some terrorists want to frighten us as they did by bombing the Taj in Nov'08, maybe its a good time to reflect and learn what history has failed to convince us. Sometimes, the path to real freedom lies with us, not with a government or those who lead it. It all starts and ends with the choices we make, we meaning, all of us.

The question is: Are we ready to learn?

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