I can’t be the only one in this country who thinks we Indians are a little too rigid when it comes to moving ahead with the times. In an age when there are bigger problems like pollution, population, inflation, etc. to deal with, we are still stuck on issues that prevent us from being a truly free society.
There are many things we Indians need to be more liberal about and no, this is not some Utopian dream; it’s actually possible if we just make the effort. We are still hung up on many things and we need to change that. They are things like (not in any particular order) –
1. How to Dress
Haven’t we already had enough people telling us what to wear and what to avoid under the guise of culture and tradition? In India we seem to be under the notion that the amount of clothes on a person’s body (more so in case of women) is directly proportional to his or her character. What’s worse is, these patriarchal thoughts get indoctrinated from a relatively early age. A person has the right to wear what he or she wants – is it really that difficult an idea to grasp?
2. Artistic Expression
Yes, not everything that everyone writes, says, sings about or shows in a film is always popular or well-received but that does not mean they don’t have the right to say it. If someone doesn’t like a book, he shouldn’t read it; you don’t like a film, don’t watch it. But in a free society you can’t go around calling for bans or burning books. That’s not a free society but a fascist one. I mean, we have a censor board that blurs out a bra from a film. We have “student groups” running around calling for bans on essays. Every time Farah Khan releases a film, it offends me but I can’t go around asking for it to be banned, can I?
“Oh no, how can you say that word?” “Sorry, you can’t say ‘sex’ in the subtitle.” Yes, these things happen in India. But for how long? Sex is a natural thing. Will our delicate cocoon of a world explode if people start talking about sex? While on one hand we’re celebrating the success of Mangalayan , on the other we have a few “experts” lobbying against sex education in schools. If two lovers are “caught” in a hotel, the cops inform their families or worse, force them to get married. Is that really okay?
There’s a natural tendency for most people to feel some sort of attachment to their homeland – it’s called patriotism. But at the end of the day it’s still love, something that cannot be enforced. Also, there’s a huge difference between ‘the State’ and ‘the Country’. You can love your country and still be critical of the state. That’s just another way of showing that love. But we can’t have people beating up those who do not stand in the theatre during the national anthem (as long as they aren’t disrupting it) or someone who cheers for another country’s team. If we do that we cannot call this a free society, no matter how “free” it is compared to some other regressive nation.
5. Rights of the Individual
In a free society, every person, irrespective of his or her argument, has the right to criticize something he or she believes is problematic. But in India that’s not the case. We still have Blasphemy Laws. We still cannot criticize religious thoughts and beliefs because it might “offend” some community or fundamentalist lobby. Yes, it’s worse in some other countries but we need to aim higher. Why is Sanal Edamaruku living in exile in Finland? Because he tried to examine what some Catholics said was a “miracle”. Why is there an uproar every time Salman Rushdie tries to attend a public event in India? Because some Muslims got “offended” by The Satanic Verses . Why did some people feel the need to assassinate Narendra Dabholkar while he was out on his morning walk? Because he fought superstitions. If critical thinkers have to live in fear of violence, arrest or even death, we Indians cannot hijack the tag of a ‘free society’.
Owing to a mix of patriarchy and colonial hangover, nudity is often seen as something negative. I still remember the time when an entire generation in the 90s went to watch Titanic in the movie halls expecting it to be a family movie and being “shocked” (read: pleasantly surprised) to see a naked Kate Winslet on the big screen. Awkward with parents around? Yes. Does that make it wrong ? Absolutely not. Even now, when an Aamir Khan shows up on a poster for PK, people make moral judgements. It’s basic human form, people. Get over it.
7. Food Habits
Some Indians are vegetarians while most others are not. Yet, when it comes to food habits, there is this apartheid-like atmosphere out there. Landlords not renting out to non-vegetarians , RSS volunteers writing letters to HRD ministry to stop giving out tamsic food in IITs, local Muslims in Kerala raging over a school that served pork , saffron activists calling for bans on cow slaughter (it’s not about animal welfare though; they don’t ask for ban of chicken or lamb slaughter), these are signs of a society where some people believe they are better than others just because of what they eat or don’t eat. Everyone needs to calm down and eat whatever they want to without trying to force their culinary habits on others. Yes, this also goes out to meat-eaters who snigger every time a vegetarian person dines with them.
8. Career Choices
Raise your hand if you’ve given an engineering or medical entrance exam just because some cousin of yours made it to some good college in those fields. We really need to start encouraging our kids to start chasing their dreams, not settle for something safe. Believe me, with the number of kids whose dream it is to be a doctor or engineer, we’ll still be sorted for the next few generations. Instead of opening more IITs in the country, why can’t the HRD ministry get central universities to start long-term courses in vocational fields. If my dream is to become a carpenter (if you’re laughing at this example, you’re part of the bias I’m talking about), why can’t I find colleges in India that offer the best training in such a field? While students all over the world get to choose which subjects they want to pursue, we’re still bound by science, arts and commerce streams.
9. Live-In Relationships
We are a society obsessed with marriage. In fact, it’s the one thing that unites all the religions in India. But seriously, is it really something we ‘have to’ do? If you and your partner want to get married – great! But if you don’t, this country’s laws are heavily biased against you. Recently, an unwed mother, while applying for her child’s passport, was told that she needs to declare whether she was raped or not . Seriously, WTF?! And then try finding accommodation if you’re open about your live-in relationship. Indians, we need to grow up and start respecting the choice of couples not wanting to get married.
10. Gender Identity
Yes, most people you come across may be heterosexual. But that does not mean that anyone who isn’t is not ‘normal.’ We really need to start addressing some core problem areas in our society. We tell our kids that ” hijras are annoying” because they “exhort money” but we don’t tell them how schools and offices in India shun the trans community. We tell them to be wary about “gay people” because we are shamelessly ignorant about the difference between a homosexual person and a pedophile. We even have regressive laws like Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalizes consensual sex between two consenting adults of the same sex. It’s time to change this.
It’s sad how virginity has come to be associated with so many needless insinuations. A woman who has lost her virginity is seen as someone who is promiscuous. It’s not the same for the men though, for whom, losing their virginity is like a rite of passage to manhood. The number of men and their families in India looking for virgin brides is not funny. The two-finger test is another effed up procedure. Pre-marital sex (hate that word. Is the sex two people have still pre-marital if they don’t intend to marry anyone) is “frowned upon”. Let’s just accept that most young people have sex and it’s absolutely normal.
Ah yes, culture, one word that old people use to tell young people how to lead their lives so that one day these young people turn into similar old people so that the loop continues. Like I said earlier, celebrating your culture is fine as long as you’re not using it to a) display dominance against someone who is different, b) blame a victim of gender violence, c) justify criminal acts like rape and honour killing. These are things that turn “culture” into a negative word. Well, on the bright side, the more negative it gets, it easier it will get to motivate people to fight its regressive side.
13. Religious Beliefs
We call ourselves a secular country but we’re not one in the truest sense. The ideal definition of a secular society is one where there is separation of religion and state but in India we seem to practice a system where we respect all religions equally without defining the separation between religion and state. We chant the mantra of ‘freedom of religion’ and yet we fail to understand the need for ‘freedom from religion’. The sooner we realize how practicing or not practicing a religion is a personal choice the better it is for us, members of a society which has more than its fair share of communal strife.
14. Who to Love
Aren’t we, as a generation, already tired of things like ‘love jihad’, ‘ Operation Majnu ‘, police arresting couples seen hugging or kissing in public, politically backed hooligans disrupting Valentine’s Day or trashing a cafe in some city because couples go there to spend time together? Makes me wonder whether these people actually have an agenda or are just a bunch of frustrated people high on stored up testosterone. Love is too beautiful a thing to be curbed. People who are not capable of understanding it, please leave us alone.
15. The Other Truth
Every story has two or more sides. We shed tears for the jawaans we lost in Dantewada to Maoist violence, but how often do we complain about the state’s Land Acquisition Act that throws Dalits and Adivaasis from their own land? We support our Armed Forces but we turn a blind eye to actual events like the “Malom massacre” (which prompted Irom Sharmila to protest). Even with festivals, we celebrate Durga Puja and Dussehra but there are some people for whom Mahishasura and Raavan are heroes while Durga and Ram are villains. When they try to celebrate their festivals , we call it an attack on our religion. Can we all just keep an open mind and acknowledge that there’s always more than one truth? We don’t always have to actively support the other side but the least we can do is not reject it absolutely.
India is a land of many cultures and also a nation where modernity co-exists with tradition. We see attempts by many groups to try and homogenize our identities under one absolute; but the new identity only turns out to be what the majority decides.