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Questions for freedom

AS the tri-coloured flag floods us in a spectacular celebration of freedom, marked out by a date in history, I wonder about our quotidian experiences of being a free people of a free nation. Beneath the shadow of the flag what networks of community are being forged or broken? At the edges of the full throated singing of the national anthem what conversations of belonging and rejection are being whispered?

A great spectacle of nationhood is precariously held in place and citizens stitch themselves to it through the politicians’ rhetoric on nationalism. Faintly heard behind the rising cadence of that public speech is the steady sound of the bulldozer as it impersonally levels to the ground all those who have been made aberrations to the uniformity of national identity. Behind the glory of that unfurled flag are the shadows of those incarcerated as traitors to that flag. As the full-throated singing of the national anthem rises to the skies the silence of fear and desolation skulks and broods in the routines of daily living.

On the crumbling walls of historic monuments there are the faint fading pictures of an old man, stick in hand, his frail body covered only with an unstitched piece of cloth. As he walked, a road opened up to the most noble possibility of being human and humane, the possibility of ahimsa. And as we walked behind him we became a nation forged through the love that is foundational to that ideal of ahimsa. Like that son of God who came before him, He who forgave those who crucified him, this old man too showed us the miraculous possibilities of love.

But that road on which he walked has been barricaded with spikes of iron and rods of steel. Men in khaki guard that road with arms that can kill with the press of a finger. Farmers with calloused feet and hands and weathered skin, mothers and grandmothers shielding babies born to be denied their right to citizenship, students who have not yet begun to disbelieve in the possibility of radical freedom have tried again and again to push those barriers, to climb over them, only to be viciously pushed back and mauled and hurt by the power of the state. All around those barricades are smudged footprints and puddles of blood.

And as for that frail old man, his face has been spattered with the spittle of those spewing violence and hate. Those glasses through which we saw his smiling eyes which showed us how to look at the world with love, have been broken and crushed. The name of Rama that he uttered with his dying breath, which formed the weave of his life, the weft of his thoughts and the melody of his devotions, has been wrenched and twisted and distorted into a strange new sound forged through the grammar of fear and hate.

Can there be freedom without love? What is that freedom that is empty of the responsibility of mutual care and concern? Only a freedom that is forged with love will have the softness to stand up to the brute authority of the state. Only a freedom that cannot exist without love can forge communities that are bound by neighborliness and friendship. Only a freedom based on love can weep for the deaths of soldiers killed by the meaningless brutality of war. Only a freedom born of love can nurture children without feeding them with the poison of hate and disciplining them through the grim regimes of violence.

“ Into that kingdom of freedom my father let my country awake.”

The Leaflet