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Friday, August 14, 2020

Whose Freedom is it Anyway?

 Renu Singh





For about a month during the Covid times, I have started listening to the FM radio in the morning, with my cup of coffee. There are usually lots of advertisements of various businesses, brands and motivational speech by Sadguru (a new segment which was started few days ago and is called an hour of positivity). I either avoid them or laugh about it.  However these seemingly two different things have many similarities. Today morning while listening to the radio two sets of advertisements caught my attention. One of them was about Independence Day sale in a shopping mall in Ghaziabad, and another of a fancy housing complex in National Capital Region (NCR). These sales are called “freedom sale”. The first one’s catch phrase was freedom to shop in a safe environment, and the second’s ones was to live in a luxurious housing environment with freedom. Both of them were based on the idea of free choice, and are using the occasion of Independence Day to sell the idea of “freedom”. These two suddenly reminded me of last three days development in news. One of them was about an Assistant Professor of Assam booked by police over a FB post about Ram, which supposedly is “derogatory”. Keep in mind the recent shilnyas of Ram temple in Ayodhya. Where in the middle class was furious over Tabligi Jamat gathering and held the entire community responsible for the spread of corona, but at the same time did not utter a single word about “Bhoomi Pujan” event at Ayodhya, rather celebrated it with lighting diya’s (candles) followed by victory procession in many localities.  

The another news was about a senior professor of Delhi University who was questioned by police for his involvement in the recent riots in North east Delhi. This is another addition in the series of arrests since the beginning of covid pandemic. All of these arrests were done of the activist’s who were connected with the peaceful anti Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests in Delhi. The act as we all know puts a question mark on the millions of people’s citizenship right. None of the actual culprits who provoked people, threatened the minority were not charged neither questioned in connection to the riots. The government arrested the people, especially young activists who questioned such unconstitutional act which targets only one community, simultaneously making them ‘other’ to Indian Nation state.

 

These two might seem different incidences, but it indicates a singular trend going on in the country since 2014, and intensified in last one year, started with abrogation of article 370 in Kashmir. Being a student of political science, we have been taught the difference between nation and government. However in last six years both of them have been combined in the people’s imagination by a constant propaganda with the help of media. The hegemony of this narrative is so strong that questioning a government policy has been equated to questioning the nation, and people who raise questions against government’s policies are called “anti national”.


Let me come back to the point I started with. These developments and the trend of such above mentioned advertisements indicate towards a phenomenon which started with the economic restructuring in 1990s. The liberalizing India propagated a glossy picture of choice, where you won’t just by coffee, but can choose between multiple brands, that promises to customized to satisfy your taste bud. On one hand we have multiple platforms (TV, Radio, newspaper, internet) constantly building a narrative of “freedom to choose”, and at the same time god man like Sadguru speaking in sophisticated English, attracting the newly emerged middle class working in big multinational.  Both of them are focusing on people to become a ‘enlightened’ individual in free market. One through the various choices of the commodity and increasing the capacity to consume them, and another on the sugar quoted language of spirituality. Both are targeting the same audience, consumer yet spiritual, making best ‘choices’. The neoliberal commodity market is addressing and simultaneously making a ‘ neoliberal individual’ whose ultimate life goal is to fulfil their desire through consumption, so is the market of spirituality.


With its obvious problem of failing to address the unemployment, job crisis, and the structural inequality of caste, class, gender and community, the ongoing hegemonic discourse is creating a consumer. The ‘freedom’ and ‘choice’ only applies to commodity consumption and not of the speech in the world’s largest ‘democracy’ (so is the case in most of the countries globally). The middle class is so engrossed in becoming a consumer that it is slowly and willingly giving up its rights of citizenship. There is no space to raise questions, have an opinion different then majority, and critical thinking. The Independence Day is marking is marking one of the darkest year in the county. Whose independence and freedom we are celebrating anymore?


PS- Renu Singh is a doctoral candidate of women’s and gender studies at Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD).

3 comments:

Arpita said...

बड़ी सहजता से आज के समय और सत्ता के खेल को बयां किया है रेणु
शुक्रिया!

साझा कर रही हूं

Stree Mukti said...

Shukriya Arpita.

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