The Meaning of Independence Amid Our Collective Decadence

India Gate, New Delhi

Yet, another Independence Day. Yes, with the rituals of official celebration, our stimulant nationalism and television-induced ‘patriotic’ programmes, some of us would dance, distribute sweets, and argue that ours is the emerging superpower.

Well, symbols, memories and rituals play an important role in the the life of a collective. There is no doubt that as the Independence Day approaches, we ought to be inspired to understand the significance of politico-economic and cultural/psychic freedom – say, the way with fearlessness and quest for truth , Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi taught our ancestors to resist the ‘brute force’ of colonialism, and strive for a kind of ‘swaraj’ as a celebration of ‘soul force’; or the way Bhagat Singh demonstrated the ethical power of radical idealism and sacrifice for a larger cause. In other words, we ought to realize the deeper meaning of freedom, or what the great poet Rabindranath Tagore would have regarded as the spirit of living without fear, and with immense gratitude for the creation itself.

But then, the cultural landscape around us is changing rapidly. We seem to have lost the spirit of freedom. We smell  and breathe decadence. See the manifestations of this collective decadence.

First, in the times we are living in, democracy has been degenerated into the might of majoritarianism. The marginalization of all alternative voices, the ethically bankrupt ‘opposition’, the resultant fear, the violence of toxic social media campaign against all  genuine dissenters, and the tendency to stigmatize anyone who thinks differently as potentially ‘anti-national’ or, as the new legistations indicate,’terrorist’ – where is the nuanced culture of debate and dialogue, the empathy needed for the art of listening?

Second, violence is normalized and even sanctified. From the chanting of Jai Shri Ram to lynching to sexist/vulgar words like ‘Kashmiri women are now available for us’ – we no longer feel ashamed of what we are doing. Instead, with some sort of hyper-masculine aggression, we have begun to love this violence. No wonder, today a measured category called the ‘territory’ has replaced the the soul of people living in that land. No love for the Kashmiris; but then, we need the land; we need to invite the the top corporate houses to ‘invest’ ,and enter that extraordinarily beautiful Himalayan domain, without ever bothering  to know what people living there think and feel.  What else could be a moreclassic illustration of instrumental reasoning?

Third, we see the decadence in the cultural sphere. See the way the television channels that reflect on the ‘republic’ in these ‘times’ spread poison – a culture of hatred, aggression, and life-killing noise. There is no nuanced dialogue, no solid ground reporting, no honest quest. Instead, the ‘stardom’ of the celebrity anchors, the interests of the corporate houses and the naked relationship with the ruling regime – the sphere of communication is manipulated and distorted. Likewise, the public universities like JNU and Delhi University are constantly attacked; and creative/critical thinking is always seen with contempt and suspicion.

So what does it mean to celebrate the Independence Day amid this collective decadence? To see a Bollywood blockbuster with popcorn and coffee in the PVR complex? To buy the national flag from a  malnourished street child, and feel good? To see the spectacle at the Red Fort?  To experience the ‘patriotism’ of Virat Kohli and Priyanka Chopra?

Or, should we take a break, remain contemplative, and ask  a penetrating question:  Where did we go wrong?


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