I was fortunate to be born in the year when this great nation became a republic. Every year at the helm of Independence Day my mind wanders into the struggles that our forefathers must have gone through to bestow upon us this great nation and nationhood.
But whereas we were blessed with freedom as a nation, individual liberation is ours to achieve. And that liberation will truly realise the idea of the nation as conceived by our great leaders.
Noble peace laureate Desmond Tutu had once famously remarked “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together”. This assumes unprecedented significance in the context of today’s India where we must channelize the volume and diversity of our population to our advantage instead of letting it become a burden.
And we can only leverage those strengths and work towards individual liberation if we work towards the two goals – of ending discrimination and encouraging empowerment.
After years of freedom, we are still slaves to discrimination based on caste, region, religion and economic status. A substantial percentage of our social discourse is subject to this discrimination. Caste based crimes and exploitation routinely find themselves on front pages of national newspapers. The aggression and insensitivity towards the existence of the underprivileged people not only has criminal undertones but also holds mirror to a society which has not liberated itself from the baggage of archaic predicaments.
Similarly the images of communal violence and discord which are routinely flashed across news channels are visual blots in memory of a person like me who has always envisaged India as an epitome of religious tolerance. These incidents violate harmonious co-existence, the fundamental tenet of any society.
Disrespect and discrimination on basis of economic status is perhaps the most serious reflection of the social challenge that we face as a nation. In my journeys across the European nations, one thing that stands out is the respect for labour. Unfortunately, in India it has become intrinsic to our nature to respect people on basis of their economic standing and not their skill set. The need for empathy towards fellow human beings is the only way to break the shackles of this regressive conduct.
Empathy brings me to another key transformational agenda which is encouraging empowerment. It almost seems that a vast majority of those who have been blessed with more material comforts than others somehow find it empowering to think of others as “lesser” beings. But to be liberated one must graduate from feeling “The Power” to empathising with the lesser privileged and “Empowering Them”.
It also seems that a large majority of people have come to believe that empowerment is only state’s responsibility. And therefore the Government must empower- through reservation, subsidies, sops and reform measures in key areas like education and healthcare.
But in a truly liberated society, each citizen must empathize with the need for empowerment for those who are less privileged and work towards it. As Mother Teresa had once observed “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”
And therefore education, healthcare, finding livelihood opportunities and inclusive growth will have to become central to the existence of each citizen of this country and not merely be seen as the prerogative of the government. Self-awareness and empathy which leads to constructive actions to make a difference in this direction is the most urgent need of the hour.
There are several citizen action groups that are already working in this direction. When I was travelling through rural India, I was inspired by the efforts being made by some of the individuals and local groups for social reforms. There were those who had left their plush careers and were running schools under the village trees. Others had left their hospital jobs to set up make-shift medical assistance centres in the remotest parts of the country. Still others were reaching out to victims of natural calamities and were helping them rebuild physical infrastructure as well as means to livelihood.
We at Believers Church also run several social reform programs where we routinely engage and empower those who find themselves at the wrong end of fate.
Our Bridge of Hope program engages more than 74,000 underprivileged children across south-east Asia and caters to their needs of food, education and healthcare. Similarly, our program for healthcare is working towards empowering and rehabilitating leprosy patients across various parts of India.
We run several programs for the widowed and marginalised women. These programs not only ensure food, shelter and physical safety for these women but also work towards making them self-sufficient through skill development.
And therefore, as we stand at the cusp of another Independence Day, as much as I cherish this independence, I dream of my India as a nation whose citizens are liberated from the shackles of poverty, hunger, religious intolerance, social discrimination and diseases. I foster dreams of the day when each and every citizen of this nation would overcome the inhibitions of class, caste, creed and religion and work towards empowering those who are less privileged than us in any way.
And the day we realize this dream we will achieve the India that the father of our nation dreamt of when he remarked “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.”