Princep Ghat. Four friends were sitting in a scattered way. It was the late afternoon of 15th August.
Amol (emotionally staring at the tricolor flattering proudly, visible at a little distance in the Maidan) : I still remember the day we went to hoist the Indian flag inside the Police station premises near our village. We were young, motivated and at one point of time were thinking our mission to be successful when we tied the flag with the rope. But immediately after what a thrash we got from the Police, a merciless lathi charge and boot kicks..
Farhad : What was the use?
Amol turned his head quizzically to Farhad.
Farhad : Did you get the freedom you fought for? You laid your life for the cause, for your dream to free your motherland..
Amol : True. You are right. Freedom? It’s been 73 years after the British left India. It’s our country, our people now. But still they have failed, at the least, to even feed all our countrymen. Still farmers are the poorest sect, an easy prey to the greed of the Mahajans, dishonest middlemen, uncontrolled pricing and a poor Public Distribution System. The irony is, during pre-independence, it was the story of underproduction and post that even manifold increases in production have not been able to free people from hunger. Sorry, my family had been farmers over generations so couldn’t help comparing.
Farhad : I know Amol. It really hurts. Farmer suicides account around 7.7% of total numbers of suicides in India mostly owing to poverty and inability to pay huge loans. India ranks 102 out of 117 countries in Global Hunger Index of 2019, lagging behind all the neighbours, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan! You know 1/3rd of malnourished children of the world are from India. They could not protect our little buds also Amol, what will be the future of our country?
Amol (with a faint smile) : The journalist has not lost his touch, it seems.
Karim (nodding in agreement) : Of course, analysis of ‘the’ journalist Farhad Ansari.. who had once taken the British Empire by storm. Amazing Farhad bhai. Do you remember the Bengal famine of 1943? I can still visualize hoards of hungry people, women and children on the roads of Calcutta. Their hunger struck faces haunted me for days. It was during World War II. I myself lost my work, prices of food grains shot up sky high and Government was busy siphoning food to the British Army in India! After all these years, a Government by Indians, for Indians could not give food security to the citizens.
Farhad : Over 3 million people died in Bengal province in that famine. Now, India is building satellites in one hand and on the other, people still go to bed hungry or die of starvation in villages, districts, even on roads of our capital city.
Amol : That was exactly my point. Meera why are you so quiet? And where is our fiery rebel Satish by the way?
Meera : I was listening to you all. Days like this make me emotional. I was a trained midwife then. It was 1899, the epidemic of Plague disrupted Calcutta. I was driven to join the team of Sister Nivedita. At that time things were not all easy for working women. Still, our inner urge pushed us to ignore the taunts, resistances of the society and nursed patients, cleaned localities over days and nights. India is now free politically. But the women of India? Are they fully independent? Yes, women are more educated now, more outgoing, doing all sorts of odd jobs, look after families. Then why the nurses still face the scoffs and racial abuses when they are serving towards saving the lives of patients risking their own? Why there are dowry issues still? There are numerous incidents of domestic violence, sexual abuse, public harassment, female foeticide, trafficking. Standing at this time can you imagine the ruckus over Sabarimala temple entry for a woman? I was shuddered with the incident of the Doctor burnt alive after a gang rape in a metro city a few days back. Is this the societal advancement people boast about?
In the midst of Meera’s talking, Satish stormed in, with a usual expression of dissociation in his face and sat down, a little aloof from the group.
Satish : Meera, (he said once Meera stopped) for once stop grumbling. All of you.. Why are you all sitting here and brooding? I have told you all… Extremism is the only way. Power only understands the language of arms. See our country for instance… Whoever sat in the chair post-independence has donned the British hat of tyranny they left in Delhi. I have always followed paths of Bhagat Singh, Netaji Subhas Chandra, armed revolution and not your Ahimsa (he eyed Amol) that the British were scared of.
Amol : Why do you always have to poke me regarding this issue I don’t understand. Yes, I was involved with the non-violent movement of Gandhiji, his ideals mentored me.. His beliefs, perseverance, non-violent movements have given India her freedom. I used to have goosebumps while shouting ‘Quit India’. You have been an active revolutionary.. but don’t you think arms only bring destruction, only take lives? You have seen armed upheavals, political extremism to fail in independent India also. In independent India, people now need to make the Government listen to them and understand them through the liberty of thoughts, education, constructive participation. The primary drawback that I feel now is the absence of properly educated and selfless people, motivated and idealist youths without any vested interest in present-day politics.
Satish : It’s such a misconception Amol and you will never rectify.. it was only due to Netaji’s strategy, his INA, the INA trial and the related Royal (British) Indian Navy Mutiny of 1946 that forced the British to transfer its most luscious reign leading to the independence of India. And do you really think there is a dearth of educated people in India, even if not directly associated with Politics? Where are their voices now? When India is considered one of the technologically advanced countries in the world nowadays, can you explain why manual scavenging is still practiced in the country? The sewage cleaners, without any protective gear, precautions, clean the dirt of this society and Farhad I am helping with the statistics this time, in 2019, 110 sewage cleaners died choking in poisonous gases and contamination inside the sewers, increasing the number by almost 62% from 2018. What will you tell about this Farhad? Your newspaper, what was its name, ‘Jago Bharat’ had faced a ban in British rule… There are Fundamental Rights now spelt out in the Constitution..
Farhad : Freedom of Expression you mean Satish? (laughs) I don’t know if the right exists at all.. Repeated attacks on intellect, on student protestors, on poets, journalists, activists have been regular incidents. It’s not many days back that a renowned journalist, writer and activist was assassinated openly in front of her house. No criticism or difference in views are accepted, people are killed, jailed in name of governance, sedition, religion, caste, honour. News of torture, extra-judicial killings and mob lynching storm only inside the closed doors of the Human Rights Councils. No news media has been able to survive or are allowed to exist without the concurrence of Power. Incidents of Human Rights violations are of a regular occurrence in Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, Manipur… So how many Constitutional Rights are violated here Satish? And I am not entering the area of economic bondage to the superpowers of the world that India is tied up into..
Meera : I cannot recognize these men now although they are my countrymen. When did they become so impatient? So intolerant, inhuman? No, I am wrong, maybe. Power builds such groups for their own benefit. The problem is, it is slowly percolating in the societal character now. Karim didn’t you once say you have faced such atrocities of Authorities when you were working in a Bombay Cotton Mill?
Karim : It was 1922. For two years I was working at a big textile mill in Bombay. Suddenly the owners announced to withdraw the annual bonus. There was an organized revolt by the Trade Union and we went for a strike. The owners with the help of military and armed police open fired on the underpaid starving workers on streets preventing their gathering. There was no Human Rights body then for them to answer. I stayed there for almost two months and then my health gave away. I was sent back to Kolkata by my coworkers somehow.
(after a little pause) When I was seeing the thousands and lakhs of workers, their families and children, with wages stopped and no social security had taken the roads daring 1000s of km of walk to reach their home, with no food, no water, no money, braving the heat and fear of infected by the deadly virus that has engulfed the world presently, I remembered my days of the strike. They have been termed migrant workers – migrants in their own country? Why were they neglected this badly? At places, disinfectants were sprayed on them. Why the financially marginal people are still treated as sub-humans? Can you imagine the death of 16 workers at one go when a goods train passed over their tired sleeping bodies on railway tracks, where they preferred laying down in exhaustion after a 45 km of walk, near Aurangabad? And Jamlo Makdam? The 12-year-old kid labour walking back to her Chattisgarh home from Telengana chilli factory she worked, died in exhaustion and dehydration just a few kilometers from her home. The entire mankind should remain guilty to her and her parents. Over 100s of workers have lost their lives during this countrywide movement. Isn’t it their country too? Why would they be denied a minimum basic dignity or Right to live?
The friends sat quietly for some time. They have lived their lives, given their lives for their country India. Still, their love for their motherland is such that they could not help worrying when they find generations after generations are at distress being hopeless puppets as was during the British rule. They felt helpless that they could not support their countrymen in any form now. Their spirits just meet together and talk their hearts out..
Meera (softly): Still I don’t think taking up arms against the system is the right solution. Armed borders and regular violence there are enough headaches for the country. The irony is, it’s not all bad, lots of constructive things are also happening around, the voice of India is being heard with importance worldwide, but the negative forces are so ferocious that we undermine the positive ones…
No one spoke. The five friends stared at the river meeting the sky in the distance. The setting Sun slowly dips his head into the river on the horizon, ushering the dusk.
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