President Pranab Mukherjee’s first address to the nation was refreshing and remarkably daring. For a head of a state, it’s quite unusual, if not completely unprecedented, to raise questions about the functioning of the state institutions. Mukherjee, in a subtle but probing manner, has drawn the attention of the thinking minds towards some fundamental problems. The comment that “India did not win freedom from the British in order to deny freedom to Indians”, in my opinion was remarkably the high point of the President’s speech. Indeed in the given scenario, even for a person with average intellectual capability it’s more than an obvious yet confounding thought whether India after wining freedom from foreign rulers has progressed as a truly free nation. For a head of the state to question the very relevance of the freedom is indicative of an extraordinarily grave situation. It also suggests the ever eagerness of the President to, at the very first available opportunity, invite the attention of the citizenry towards the evolving threats.
However, Mukherjee has taken upmost care to explain the progress made by India since independence: “In the last six decades, there is much that we can be proud of. Our economic growth rate has more than tripled... It is true that we have come a long way from 1947, when our first Budget had a revenue of just over Rs 171 crore. The resource base of the Union government today is an ocean compared to that drop.” Furthermore, he rightly argues that the “constitution represented a second liberation, this time from the stranglehold of traditional inequity in gender, caste, community, along with other fetters that had chained us for too long”.
Winning freedom from the foreign occupation, although construed as the climax of a freedom struggle, in reality is merely a beginning of an endeavour that is commonly described as a journey towards the complete freedom. The end of the World War-II eventfully marked the end of colonialism. Yet a majority of these new independent nations have failed to achieve freedom in real sense. However, India’s experience among the very few success stories is perceived to be highly successful. Mercifully, India, as a working democracy, could achieve where other nations have utterly failed. Nevertheless, the ever-increasing disenchantment of its citizens may point to a perilous situation that India may have somewhere failed to keep pace with its highly acclaimed accomplishments.
The President has very rightly asked the most pertinent question, “If today young Indians feel outraged, can we blame our youth?” The brutal rape and murder of a young woman whom, the President described as “symbol of all that new India strives to be”, has outraged the ordinary Indians to such an extent that they have begun to even question the very relevance of the entire governing system. Amidst the calls for system overhaul, Mukherjee seems to earnestly accept the fact that the very trust of a common citizen in the rulers stands completely eroded today: “Does the system offer due reward for merit? Have the powerful lost their dharma in pursuit of greed? Has corruption overtaken morality in public life? Does our legislature reflect the emerging India or does it need radical reforms?” These are enormously powerful words and should invoke an appropriate response from every concerned citizen.
The brutal atrocity against a hapless woman provided a vent to the frustration of the masses with the system. The level of estrangement being experienced by a common citizen who otherwise has every reason to feel proud to be an Indian should act as an eye-opener to the rulers. They must know how deeply alienated people with peripheral claims to be citizens are feeling. A barbaric act has hopefully set into motion many corrective mechanisms. Yet what about the thousands of rapes committed in Kashmir in the name of maintaining the so-called integrity of the country? Justice Verma committee has made a very scathing observation about the draconian law, AFSPA: “At the outset, we notice that impunity for systematic or isolated sexual violence in the process of Internal Security duties is being legitimized by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.” In case immunity by law is available for carrying out “systematic” sexual violence against women to maintain the unity of the country, of what use is that territorial integrity? In a republic is the interest of a state more important than the welfare of the republic itself?