Independence Day is a good a day to reflect on the word ‘freedom’. So, how did we do on the freedom index in the week running up to our 69th Independence Day?
1. Last week in a stunning display of defending public morality, the Mumbai police rounded up adult couples from hotels and resorts at Madh Island and Aska beach. According to a report by Mid-day, the couples were taken to the police station under a law that prohibits public indecency.
It’s easy to slam the Mumbai police — and right to do so. But in the noise about nanny states I don’t seem to recollect the voices of parents saying their adult children were free to have responsible, informed, consensual sex. I don’t see any widespread protest against raising the age of consent from 16 to 18. Heck, how many of us even bother with the big sex talk with our kids or ask schools to do it for us?
2. Meanwhile, in our nation’s capital, a spunky woman reacted to a man who tried to forcibly kiss her in broad daylight by nabbing him and calling the cops. Delhi’s finest arrived 40 minutes later, asked the woman to write her complaint, rejected it because it was ‘not clear’, according to a Facebook post written by her friend, asked for more detail and then finally rejected the complaint because, well, “trying to kiss a girl is not molestation”.
Clearly freedom of movement in public spaces is a lovely concept, unless you are a woman.
3. In the course of a public interest litigation asking for a ban on pornographic sites, our attorney general informed the court that while there is an absolute ban on child pornography, the State was not in a position to impose a blanket ban or play moral police. Before you celebrate another hard won victory for the Internet, the Supreme Court also spoke last week about the need for a new law to regulate social media (this comes five months after it scrapped Section 66A). Meanwhile, a Constitution Bench will now determine whether you and I have a fundamental right to privacy or not.
4. But for her skirt and knee-high boots would we have heard of a self-proclaimed godwoman who goes by the name Radhe Maa? Forget the nasty stuff floating about on her: Sex rackets, cheating, dowry and so on — none of it verified but serious enough for the Mumbai High Court to have earlier denied her bail. But in a country with no shortage of godmen and women, hoodwinking gullible followers is fine as long as it’s not done in a mini-skirt.
5. And finally, who can ignore the goings-on (or non goings-on) in that temple of our democracy, Parliament whose steps were so famously kissed just a year ago by debutant Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has now gone silent because, well, he is free to speak or not speak as he chooses?
Without getting into the merits of the ‘they-started-it’ argument or who won the shame stakes, our elected representatives ensured that the monsoon session was, to use a tired cliché, a washout. Certainly as voters, we are free to boot them out in the next general elections four years down the road, as long as we remember that no party now claims to be the ‘party with a difference’ and freedom of choice might be just a nice notion.
Also remember that if you and I as ordinary citizens dare to protest, we will risk arrest, or worse — just ask Teesta Setalvad whose alleged financial misappropriations are of such serious magnitude that they require rejection of bail and make her a threat to the Indian state, a claim rejected by the Mumbai high court. Just ask the students of the Film and Television Institute protesting the appointment of a third-rate chairman. On the other hand, if you’re Swami Aseemanand, charged with murder and sedition in the 2007 Samjhuata blasts, you could get bail because the National Investigation Agency cannot find grounds to oppose it.
But don’t forget, on this Independence Day, enjoy your freedom.
The author tweets by the handle: @namitabhandare. The views expressed are personal.