Is Afzal independent … An old article

Today while searching for something else, I found this article of mine from 2008. Sadly, it’s so relevant even now .. I had written this for a magazine called Mind Positive that’s printed for a forum I was part of long back.


Is Afzal Independent ????

On August 15, 2008 the 17th Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh will address the nation from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort on the occasion of our 61 Independence day. He will talk of eradicating poverty, Gandhiji’s vision, the nuclear deal, he will talk of secularism, he will talk of the rising inflation ……..

In the crowd would be hundreds who had been brought there by promising a hundred bucks, there would be hundreds who came because they thought there would be free food, hundreds who stand every day and night in the scorching sun and the bone chilling cold to keep our roads/homes safe (I mean the police) and several hundreds in black and green to protect the speaker. The money that you and I pay through taxes would be spent to ensure our Prime Minister lives and gives a speech that many have before him and just like that day 61 years back – many are dying of hunger, many are dying of disease and many remain uneducated all around !!

Afzal begs at the traffic signal of Sheikh Sarai. He has no family, atleast none that he knows of and he banks his money with the Butterflies (NGO working with street and working children) bank – some days Rs. 1 and somedays Rs. 30. If it rains too much, he goes to the shelter or else finds a park bench to sleep. He loves to draw – and is very good but not very interested to go to school. He will lose money if he spends time in a school. He gets rounded up with other street children every time there is some trouble and then let off when someone from Butterflies goes over and identifies him. I am wondering how is the Prime Minister’s speech making a difference in his life?

After 61 years of being our own country –

We have a billion plus population, yes – our independence to procreate has been well established !
We have gone through economic liberalization – so much so that our share of world trade moved up to 2% (by the way, our share of the world trade was 15% … 300 years back)
We are part of globalization – they found Indian pottery shards in Egypt dating back several thousand years

No am not berating what we have achieved in these years, am merely trying to provide a perspective of where we should be focused and are not.

Imagine Afzal in the times of the Mughal empire – chances are he would have known his family, he would be well fed and playing with his friends, he certainly was not begging at the Sheikh Sarai flyover since it wasn’t there … it was a Sarai, remember. He would have gone to the Madrasa and learnt to read and write in Urdu, would have heard stories of our history and would have gone to the Diwan-e-aam to hear Shah Jahan speak and probably solve a problem of his !! If he was a painter, he would have been admired and inducted into Shah Jahan’s court as an artisan, independent to do what he loved without worrying about his next meal.

Not all was rosy and right in the bygone era – but there is much to learn from the past….

Lets get back to the Prime Minister’s speech and the Red Fort. This year like in all the preceding 60 years the Prime Minister would stand on the ramparts of a fort that actually housed a whole city and was built in nine years – we are still trying to build a metro in Bangalore and have raised a couple of pillars in the last two years. Perspective – that’s all. He would stand behind a bullet proof glass cage – our PM is not safe in his own country. He would read a speech that was written by somebody else, he will not hear a single complaint from the “aam janta” because he has other things to do, there would be a plethora of cameras trying to catch every grimace, smile of his but none focused on Afzal …. What would you and I be doing ? Reading the newspaper, having tea and rushing to our independent jobs after we have securely locked our houses several times over. Earn money so we can pay taxes and those taxes would help fund the Prime Minister’s speech next year.

I am trying to think of stories that I can tell my nephew about the Prime Minister – I find several of Akbar, of Shivaji and of Alexander but none from any of our Prime Ministers that is worthy of repeating. Maybe some of Dr. Rajendra Prasad, some of Pandit Nehru and certainly some of Dr. Abdul Kalam – but 61 years of Independence have not given me heroes and role models that I can cherish and look upto ! That is our true poverty not the economic poverty.

The world today needs Interdependence – Independence is an old concept and dated. But we need to be independent first to be Interdependent. We as a nation first need to become truly independent before we can play our part in an Interdependent world. It is foolish to take pride in what our forefathers did – what are we doing? The cellular jail in Andaman is a reminder of the price some of our forefathers paid to free us from the British – but who will free us from the current cellular jail ?

Cells of prejudice (how many of you thought Afzal was muslim? Why do you care?)
Cells of illiteracy
Cells of moral poverty
Cells of ill-health

…. And I can go on. Our true freedom will come when we remove the lenses that cover our eyes and break out of the cellular jails like Savarkar and swim across the ocean of illusions.

Can we look into the mirror everyday and ask what have WE changed for the better ? Have we helped one person today to become better – not paid him money to get something done !! Can we stop being wallflowers and get into the muck of politics to clean it? Someone has to – why not you? Can we stop putting our children in schools that demand interviews with 5 year olds and put children in schools where they will truly learn about people and life? And also can we spare a couple of hours to teach and share our experiences with the next generation? And demand that we pay our teachers well enough so they really want to teach?

As we pay taxes can we also ask the Government what they do with our money? I don’t want the Prime Minister’s speech from the Red Fort – I would be happy if those crores are given away as salary increases to the Police force. I don’t want the Republic day parade till we have every child getting free education with no interviews – who are we to decide a child can get educated ? Can every school who does an interview be forced to sign a contract that my child would grow up with the right values and become an Einstein in the process – who are we to judge the potential of a child in a 30 minute interview ?

As we lean out to refuse Afzal a rupee and rightfully so – can we also stop thinking of him as Muslim? Minority? The true minority that we have is the minority of good people. I want to have reservation for that group – but I am scared to ask for it because I don’t think even I can nominate myself !! Can we delete the word “Secular” – it presupposes that religions are important and need to be separate and that we need to respect the other religion. Any religion that perpetuates differentiation is dead – so all religions are dead. It’s a shame that the collective intelligence of humanity is unable to let go of the dead and move on.

As we watch the crores of rupees being thrown in the well of the Lok Sabha – can we ensure that health facilities (mental and physical) are rendered free ? Our current politicians need both and the pride that we take on our growing youth will be of no consequence since the youth of today is largely fat, drugged, drunk and just plain unhealthy !

Our true freedom will come when we have a Prime Minister who walks out in front of his troops like Alexander and the multitude comes across to greet him/her with genuine affection and with complete understanding of what he/she is. Our true freedom will come when we stop reading headlines that talk of bribery and Aarushi but of the railroad in Kashmir and the orphan who became a nurse ! Our true freedom will come when we change and look at new solutions that are our own and not borrowed… lets not reinvent the charka but redefine the internet, lets not go back to baolis but redefine rainwater harvesting, lets not interpret the stars and their positions but find new ones.

For me – I will feel free when I have a role model to give to my nephew and say “become like him/her” without fear that tomorrow’s headline will have this same person embroiled in a scandal. Well, am waiting and hoping there are others that are waiting along with me for this role model. But in the meanwhile am also trying hard to be the role model…. And hoping others are too.

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