Bhavya traversed down the memory lane as the classic patriotic numbers played out one after the other in her locality. The reminiscences of her humming these songs along with her friends in their school bus brought the rare authentic curve on her lips. She recollected how she used to wait ardently to gorge on the delectable laddoos offered by her school on the occasion of Independence Day post the flag hoisting event. Her heart yearned for those idyllic days. Lost in her own thoughts of her erstwhile life, she was blissfully unaware that her next client for the day had stepped into the room and was calling out for her. Her reverie was broken by the blaring honking of a vehicle in close vicinity and she realized that the musical extravaganza had concluded as well. On a reflex, she turned around and fear gripped her. Had she frittered her client’s valuable time away? Before Bhavya could apologize, she had been stripped off her garments and her façade had been put on. Bhavya had become Rosy. Rosy was aware that there was no way to escape from the besmirched, dingy brothel. She wondered if she would ever be able to breathe freedom again. The 17 year old was awaiting her Independence Day.
Raghu was an optimistic and affable soul. To the world, he was blind but he could see through the darkness he was born with and at times, could probably even observe what the people with the finest eyesight missed. He often thought that maybe, God had compensated him with this innate knack of sensing people’s emotions and mind-sets. He earned a meagre income, just enough to survive, by performing his daily job as the milk delivery boy in a particular neighbourhood. He had completed his basic education and could also type well on a computer. Those who knew him were often amazed by his independence and self-sufficiency. One day, a lady walked up to him to seek permission to cover a story about him. She clicked his pictures as he posed with a beaming smile and gave him hope when she mentioned about how the story would undeniably go viral and make him instantly famous. Though recognition was nowhere on his priority list, he presumed it would make it easier for him to get another job, a more respectable one, which could help him improve his living conditions and support his debt-ridden family. He was confident about his capabilities but unfortunately, most people did not even give him the benefit of doubt and assumed that his visual impairment would be a deterrent to his dedication and effort. So, as expected, his story did go viral but nothing altered for Raghu. A few did mention to him that they were proud to share his story as they “knew” him. Life was still the same for him – the same old routine, the same old “isolation” and the same old “pitiful stares”. At times, he speculated about the reason why no one out of the many who read his story felt that he was worthy enough. Perhaps, they were now engaged in making another story go viral.
Ragini was a social activist – the lady with panache and credence. Her salt and peppered look added elegance and a sublime aura to her personality which always exuded poise. She was admired for her bold and forthright nature, as well as for her “no nonsense” demeanour. Her posts on social media related to women empowerment were appreciated time and again, and she was hailed by her friends as a crusader in the fight for gender equality. She had been invited to impart a speech and state her opinion about menstrual leave policy for women and she was engrossed in a discussion over the phone with the event co-ordinator. She was interrupted by the chiming sound of her door bell. It was her domestic help who wanted to take a day off from work due to intense period pain, something that the housemaid had started experiencing after childbirth a few months back. Ragini instructed her help to at least wrap up the basic tasks of cleaning the utensils and mopping the floor. Her husband intervened and asked her to just let it be for a day. Ragini shot a fractious glance at him and whispered – “Please don’t talk when you don’t know anything. These people spell a lot of lies. And what do we pay her so much for? Don’t spoil her by fulfilling her random requests.”
A year had passed but Ujjwala’s wounds were still as sore. She had a heard a lot about the excruciating labour pains but was unfazed. Maybe, it is true that one pain takes away our attention from another one. She delivered a healthy baby boy. Destiny’s games were strange. The day she lost her husband was the day her son was born. The words uttered by her father on that fateful day continued to haunt her – “I cannot tolerate having a grandchild from a Muslim.” In a split second, her world had collapsed. She couldn’t believe that a father could do this to his own daughter. She had eloped with Asif because their relationship did not find approval from the families involved. But, was it so easy to take the life out of someone? Asif was a sperm donor and after his demise, Ujjwala had decided to bear his child defying all odds. But, suddenly the mother within her was petrified. Would her son meet with the same fate? Would her love be able to win over hatred? Would her family ever realize that there is nothing honourable in smearing their hands with someone’s blood just because of deep-rooted prejudices?
It’s been 70 years since our independence. Over the years, India has witnessed immense growth and has shined in many areas. But how many of us are truly free – free from the clutches of biases and the shackles of patriarchy? Have we been able to free our minds of the prejudices based on gender, ethnicity, occupation and disability? Have we become arm-chair activists? Do we follow what we preach? Time to introspect, time to ponder and high time we act. I am not even talking about going out of our way to make a difference. That we can and we should in our capacities. But before that we need to work on ourselves. We need to learn to love, to accept, to be inclusive and to not let our entrenched biases come in the way of righteousness. Freedom was expensive – we lost a lot in the process. Are we worth it?