Not just Aazadi: Independence Day in India has many hues of freedom
There is a reason why the younger generations do not identify with Gandhian principles of freedom.
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For teachers of social studies, one of the hardest pedagogic duties is to explain the different meanings of August 15. Many don’t even try. For the few who do, the difficulty is worse if they are teaching English-medium students. This is because English offers three different words for what happened on August 15.
Two words are quite familiar and common: ‘freedom’ and ‘independence’. Distinguishing them is not easy, but then, there is another term, ‘liberty’. Students who are fond of interrogating the teacher want to know if all three are interchangeable.
The Aazadi anthem
In Hindi, the problem is lost, and therefore not faced, because of confusion over the available vocabulary. First, there is ‘aazadi’. Then you have ‘swatantrata’ or ‘swadheenta’. These are typically used to translate freedom and independence interchangeably. That leaves ‘liberty’.
Aazadi, swatantrata or swadheenta: Freedom has different connotations in India. (Photo: Reuters)
The Hindi version of the Constitution published by the government uses ‘swatantrata’ for liberty as well. So, what is the distinction? Few teachers who use Hindi to explain things realise that liberty has a legal connotation. It conveys legally secured freedom. In the Constitution, ‘liberty’ is used in the Preamble, and its sphere covers ‘thought, expression, belief, faith and worship’. The Hindi version of the Preamble maintains ‘swatantrata’ for liberty.
But the difference between Hindi and English apart, ‘independence’ presents a unique challenge to the young mind. The obvious connotation — that you don’t depend on anyone if you are free — seems all right so long as you don’t come across the importance of interdependence. Non-dependence reminds us of economic nationalism which was an important streak of the struggle for freedom from colonial rule.
Now, under the regime of globalisation, economic nationalism has no takers. But inter-dependence is not related to globalisation. The idea that human society is bound by the responsibilities that arise from dependence on each other is not confined to commerce.
Unity is not uniform
Children are told about this principle of interdependence in the context of the family as well. Nowadays, they also learn how important it is in human relations with nature.
The subject of environment studies attempts to explain that. So, the question of independence or freedom from dependence stands out as being significant in the context of political history. Its connotation of freedom to decide, demands considerable capacity to reflect, both on the past and the present. It certainly requires an understanding of the term ‘nation’.
School children find it difficult to grasp the concept of 'unity in diversity.' (Photo: Reuters)
Once you get into that concept, a whole lot of new difficulties and challenges crop up before the teacher. Different nations are different, and so is India. Just how different is it? During childhood, it is not easy to grasp terms that underline India’s distinction as a nation. The phrase ‘unity in diversity’ calls for a lot of reflection it forms the staple of the principal’s Independence Day message.
Even senior-level children assume that ‘unity’ is what the school uniform conveys.
Grasping the distinction between ‘unity’ and ‘uniformity’ is tough even for university students. One of the best explanations of this distinction comes in an essay by Sri Aurobindo. He attempts to discredit the unity achieved through regimentation or with the help of dress and drill.
That kind of unity, he says, is uniformity. Real unity, according to him, calls for an enormous intellectual struggle and the freedom to engage in it. It lies in achieving a collective sense of purpose and the feeling that it is worthy of pursuit. Students find this idea difficult to follow. Quite a few among them don’t know what you are talking about if you tell that modern human beings must create or invent a purpose for their life. I recently read an article in Hindi about how a college student in Kashmir thinks. She says that she and her classmates find it difficult to see a purpose in their lives that they are just living.
In the early decades of independence, August 15 meant that the country was free to find its own purpose.
The Gandhian vision of a free India is something alien to the younger generation. (Photo: Reuters)
This implied that we didn’t need to follow the examples set by other countries. We could choose to be different. For a while, India tried being different, but the models of success proved hard to resist. They exuded power and glamour. Gandhi’s India offered the promise of neither.
It’s hardly surprising that many in the young generation today don’t seem to feel comfortable with him. Some say so quite openly. Others feel reticent perhaps because they have been taught to maintain a respectful sensibility towards a father figure.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)