I have never really thought about my idea of freedom. Perhaps it was because I was born on the eve of the 44th Independence Day, which many view as the year when the country became free of its socialist pretensions. When I was born, my country was liberal, already free and on the brink of globalisation. Freedom, therefore, for me, is a state of being that arises from continuously coveting it, not necessarily struggling for it. The day you start questioning your freedom, you are not really free. You either have it or you don’t. There is no middle ground.
But I do realise that in a country as vast as ours, freedom is not an absolute term available to everybody. It is spurious and intermittent, based on your class and the society that you inhabit. The definition of freedom differs from person to person. Sartre claimed that we are all completely free, 100 per cent of the time. We are free to choose whatever course of action we might like and the only constraints we have are the ones that limit us as women. Politically speaking, this is never the case. Freedom seems to be defined always by the laws that govern us.
Freedom for India would mean to rid itself of its religious and cultural biases, which are the biggest deterrents to its progress. My idea of a free India would entail how it originally started—with Gandhian philosophies of a just society. But I also do realise that this is slightly utopian in concept. On most days, I feel utter freedom and exhilaration but it is those little instances, where I am walking down the road and made to feel uncomfortable by men, that I realise the precariousness of my freedom. The biggest hindrance that I face despite coming from a so-called cushioned lifestyle, is being a girl, having an opinion and being in the field of technology. Having grown up in an atmosphere that never made me feel out of place, it was a rather big shock for me to encounter the skewed sex ratios in the field of science. It was then that I thought about the idea of freedom. My idea of freedom, given the circumstances of engineering colleges and corporate technology in India, would be to have more women in these fields. I am not talking about reservations. I am talking about creating an environment in which women can proliferate and grow. I love science and why should I be the only girl on a project as a trophy of an egalitarian work culture?
Another aspect that defines freedom for me is the quality of education. As a scientist, I would say there is abysmally limited freedom in terms of studying what you are really interested in. The education system in India doesn’t usually let you take aptitude tests to assess which field you are best suited for. Instead, they categorise your inclinations on the basis of your board results. The top five per cent get science, the next five are allowed to take commerce and so on. Even though this has changed recently, we still need to overhaul our idea of an education. For example: even at college levels, where we have a strict syllabus, access to laboratories is limited mostly to that of experiments in your course until you are in the final year. That is when you can choose to write a thesis on a particular project, if you might still be interested. All these predefined rules and textbook expectations from scholars not only curb their creativity but also don’t give one a lot of room to explore new interests.
Most importantly, to me, freedom means the ability to able to learn from my mistakes. If I wasn’t free, I wouldn’t be able to learn about life because I’d be constantly trying to toe the line and see what others expect of me. Freedom is my personal expression and it is an extension of my personality. It may sometimes mean not having the time to do all the normally expected right things, but that is okay. The word 'freedom' means to me the ability to decide how and in which direction I want to lead my life. It entails elimination of all societal and cultural constraints over our thought processes over the years. Freedom begins with having a choice to take a chance and we should all have our go at it.
Politically, the idea of Independence and Freedom in terms of India means liberty, self-reliance, autonomy and self- government. This is the crux of a free national identity and although we might all have degrees of variance when it comes to the idea, I am of the belief that we are one of the freest countries in the world. As we celebrate our 67th Independence Day, we ought to realise that, as a nation, we have come a long way. We have rid ourselves of dynastic politics, live in a secular environment and have a somewhat stable economy. Compared to the rest of the world, we are in good shape. Yes, we have issues, but we are not the only ones. Seeing the world and then examining where we stand will help put things in perspective for us Indians.
Being free doesn’t mean we do the impossible. It most importantly means that we enable ourselves to thrive in an environment that we are in. No matter what the societal limitations are, the idea is to push ahead and fix it. To get one’s hands dirty, to work towards improving things you are uncomfortable with and to end apathy. To realise that there is a bigger picture out there that needs to be worked on.
As a young woman in this country, I am not only willing but also able to be more than the sum of what we are right now, and I feel that will be our only redemption. People like me are unafraid to explore the world. We are rooted as well as global. After all, the idea of freedom is only valid so long as you have the will to be responsible to yourself. We owe that much to both— the self and the home.
(Isha Trakru is a software engineer with HCL Technologies)