DEMOCRACY AND FREEDOM

What’s Freedom? Probably not setting up the alarm in the night and not worrying about the clock ticking in the morning; stuffing up your favourite dishes without giving a damn to calories or pounds; spending without having to think twice about the bank balance and so on. But these things are too trivial, in fact, insignificant to define a deep and profound concept of “Freedom”.  My dear friends Chiradeep, Aastha, Prerna Aditi have beautifully given their insights on the same.  To be precise this week is about “Misuse Of Freedom”. Let’s see if I can bring something new to the plate, fingers crossed.

I hail from India, the largest democratic country in the world, where people have a say, rather “The Say”. It’s the public that elects their leaders to lead from the front.  To say the least, everyone knows what democracy means.  Our constitution makers after freedom decided to award a democratic setup to the generations to come because they precisely know what slavery means. And antonym to slavery is free, isn’t it? In my opinion, it won’t be wrong to say that “Freedom” is an unmistakably characteristic trait of democracy.

Freedom to choose and elect, freedom to practice the preferred religion, freedom to speak, freedom to contest (elections), freedom to form associations and so on so forth.  We really are a free nation. Really? That’s worth a point for a good debate.  Well, I am not up for that at this point.  Let’s focus on “Misuse” of freedom in a democracy.

Just as freedom (trust), when breached in a relationship, leads to disturbed bonds and emotional shutdown freedom in democracy when misused gives birth to disharmony in the country.  The bricks of democracy are laid on the foundation of trust – on its public and the government, trust that they will work in tandem with the interests of the country.  But alas there is no dearth of examples where this grant of trust/freedom is not only breached but murdered brutally.

Let me list a few examples:

  • A stand-up comedy show and a certain gentleman cracking up the most distasteful / under the belt jokes about a particular section of people in the society.  And when questioned it was all tucked under the carpet in the name of comedy. And freedom of speech card used effectively.  How appropriate is that?
  • A group of people shouting out anti-national slogans or instigating and poisoning minds  – again freedom of speech is highlighted.  Doesn’t it amount to being a traitor? Questioning the government on its policies is exercising freedom to question but conspiring against the country is treason, case closed!
  • A public servant or a politician misappropriating public funds for their personal purposes, amassing illegal wealth is a classic example of misuse of many things per se power, trust, freedom to build future.
  • Electing an unsuitable candidate as a leader purely based on false propaganda without a fact check is a misuse of freedom to elect which can only result in damaging the future of the country in an irrevocable manner.
  • Freedom to Express themselves is often misused as a right to abuse on social media and people often forget that if they have freedom to express themselves others also have freedom to disagree.

That was a handful and of course a very vague view of how “Freedom” could be and is misused in a democracy.  Freedom is a precious gift that must be cared for because of freedom exercised with responsibility no matter in what capacity paves a way for a better future, period! Freedom doesn’t mean to encroach other rights. And when freedom in a democracy is misused that’s what exactly happens – abuse of others freedom and rights. A small example: you have are free to celebrate your success at your home with your near and dear ones and in that process you break all the rules pertaining to the decibel levels thereby disturbing your neighbour’s sleep. On questioning you say “that’s my choice how to celebrate”.  Fair enough but what about the other party’s right of having a peaceful environment.  This happens.

We must value our democratic set up as much as we do our freedom as it demanded so many sacrifices, remember it.

Have you ever wondered why we need policing, rules and laws? Simple – to instill fear (respect is a minority, unfortunately) of consequences if your rights or freedom as a human or citizen are misappropriated.   They are to give everyone a fair chance of exercising their “freedom” and to curb misuse of it.

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MARITAL RAPE – BREACH OF FREEDOM TO CONSENT

Anita was taking time today to finish her chores before going to bed. She was dead tired, body sored due to menses. But she was also petrified anticipating the horrific sexual intercourse she was forced to go through daily, even during her menstrual cycle. She had sought refuge in her mother few days back, but was shocked when her mother asked her to comply quietly. “It’s the duty of the wife to please her husband, it’s custom dear” – this statement itself defies the so called “sanctity” of marriage.

Marital rape befalls when a husband forces intercourse on wife either by threat or by taking advantage of her inability to consent. Then just like any other domestic violence why is marital rape not punishable by law in our country? Whether a stranger, a known person or a family member commits it, rape is RAPE!

Like Anita, many women go through marital rape naming the social and religious customs or so called obligation towards husband. Marriage has become a leeway to force sex in such cases. The role of wife in India is still perceived as a homemaker and having intercourse a “duty”. Apart from the fact that women in India still strive for self sufficiency that shoves many to live in physical and emotional distress.

Although rape has strict and specific laws enforced, the boundaries are blurred when it comes to marital sex. Despite many law commissions and new legislation such heinous act of coercion is not yet termed as criminal offence in India, the reason why it’s one of the most under reported crime.

Marital relationship’s so called “sacrosanct” status has become a taboo. Our society is unable to concede to grievous criminal offences occurring inside the boundaries of the institution of marriage. Marital rape is no less traumatic for the victim and to make matters worse, she has to cohabit with the abuser. It is a violation of the fundamental right to freedom of a human being. However many women still accept and justify this assault as deference. This ignorance makes it even more imperative to provide legal protection to women against marital rape.

Apart from judicial awakening we primarily need to generate awareness to curtail ignorance regarding this domestic coercion. “Amends begins at home”, we need to change the patriarchal social norms and teach our children to discern and differentiate between adjustment to situations and complying to offences. No one should accede to any form of abuse from anyone.

Most countries like Canada, Australia and South Africa have amended and abolished marital rape exemptions from the legal texts. It’s not only our legal but also social responsibility to come out of embedded cultural and religious stereotypes and bring changes in our social values. The legal system needs to eradicate the myth of “conjugal rights” in its books. Every step we take today towards changing the mindset will definitely diminish nescience and pave the path towards appreciating the fundamental right to freedom.

SPEAK UP FOR CHANGE!

It was a Sunday night when my frazzled house-help called me to tell me that she wouldn’t be coming to work… ever.

I was stunned. For any busy mother with too much on her plate, house-helps are more important than their own husbands. I frantically asked her why she had made this sudden decision because she loved working, I knew. She loved the independence and the money these odd jobs gave her.

She answered between sobs, “Didi, I can’t stay here while my husband is threatening my life. He won’t let me be. He’s lost it. He hits me and does drugs. And he doesn’t even care for the children anymore. What will become of my children if he kills me? I have no one here in the city. At least my people can support me in the gaon (countryside). That’s why I’m leaving.”

I knew what she was saying wasn’t a fabrication. Her husband had been very abusive, both mentally and physically, for over a year, going to the extent of making an attempt on her life last year! Heaven knew why she hadn’t bolted back then itself. I insisted that she see a lawyer for a divorce but she was afraid of her folks; ‘what will people say‘. When she didn’t do that I sent her to a doctor to dress the wound. It was superficial thankfully, but the attempt had shaken her to the core, as it would. The police had refused her help because let’s face it, the Police don’t do much in India unless you have connections (if you know what I mean). Sheer will, her children’s education and a helpful sister were the only reasons why she was staying on in the city even after the attempt, but that sister too had lately moved away, leaving her absolutely alone against the wrath of her terrorizing husband.

There was nothing I could do to help her or to make her stay. I was in no position to offer her a place to stay or another job. Even I felt that she would be safer in her gaon. But I did feel strongly that people like her are always trudged upon by the powers that be just because they don’t raise their voices. They never have. Which is why the oppression never ends.

This whole week on Candles Online we are discussing the topic of Raising Voices. For the remainder of the week, you shall have compelling arguments from contributors who encourage raising a voice against some form of oppression prevalent in our society. In this article, I shall be discussing raising a voice as citizens of a democracy.

I discussed above how people like my house-help suffer in silence because they chose to suffer instead of lashing out at their oppressors. But let me not generalize it for people like her, because it isn’t just ‘people like her’ who suffer in silence, but most of the population. Take for example the recent debacle over the movie Padmaavat, which I have written about here. It was shameful that a section of the Indian population was rioting over a harmless piece of fiction, but what was even more shameful was the way the general public was silent over it, except a few brave voices. Everyone knew that the rioting was unjustified, yet people who Tweet or post statuses about what they eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, or are quick to add hashtags to be a part of the latest fad in the country, wouldn’t raise a voice for fear of incurring the ire of the rioters, while the authorities were, as usual, playing coy of stamping out the riots for ‘political reasons’.

Coming back to the point of the unhelpful Police, have any of you lost a phone, or a vehicle and have been turned out by the Police with the statement, “Lodge an FIR, and then we’ll see”? Or have you heard that a rape or an assault victim, especially a woman, has been taunted by the Police, “If you dress like that, or roam around at that hour, its bound to happen”? Or have you ever faced a wall of stone when you approached the Police about your grievances against a political big-wig? And how many of you have taken action against such latent oppression?

The Police are not the only authority or institution that feeds on the fear or worse still, the apathy of the public to get away with it. Every authority, when it does not have the ‘check’ of a watchful public, becomes a dictatorship, even a democracy like ours that is ostensibly of the people, for the people and by the people.

Forget about the government and other authorities, sections of our population face oppression and maltreatment at the hands of those who wield power over them in some way – like my house-help who couldn’t speak up about her oppression for months because of her husband or her in-laws who forced her into silence in the name of saving the marriage. Or abused children who can’t speak up about the heinous acts done to them because of fear of retaliation and ridicule from their families.

You may say, and your point would be valid, that no good has ever come from raising voices against oppression; you would only be beating yourself down while the powers that be will be quick to dismiss you, maybe even kill you! Some of you may say that ‘the system’ won’t allow any changes. Yes, maybe in the short-term it won’t, but in the long-term, it will. You and I may not be able to see that change, but at least our children will because we dared to do it. 

History has taught us that changes come only when a voice is raised against oppression –

The bans on Sati, child marriage, untouchability, apartheid, and the right of women to vote, to study in general schools and colleges, and to own property, these changes all came about because someone dared to say ‘no’.

Having seen what it is like to be in a Democracy, I think it is time that we stopped relying on the power of our votes alone to bring about changes. All political parties, all elected candidates, all oppressive factions of societies suffer from selective amnesia after they come to power. They may write off their promises to us, giving an excuse of authoritative encumbrances or may just shrug us off like dust on their shoulders after they’ve received our votes. The easiest medium of change is raising a voice because it brings immediate attention to an existing grievance. No one achieved anything by staying silent in the face of oppression. Even Mahatma Gandhi’s Civil Disobedience and Satyagraha movements relied on silent disobedience against the oppression of the British.

We are born free and the same powers that gave the oppressor their voices gave us a voice too. We have the additional right to freedom of thought and expression granted by a Constitution that claims to belong to its people.

Speak up for change!

Let your oppression be known.

Your voice makes this society, this nation.

Make it matter. 

 

Image Source: Ninocare at Pixabay.