As India turns 77, voices across the nation say what freedom means to them

As the tricolour soars high on the 77th Independence Day, it is a continuous journey towards realising the full potential of the world’s largest democracy.
The historic clock tower in Srinagar's Lal Chowk is illuminated with the colours of the national flag. (Photo | PTI)
The historic clock tower in Srinagar's Lal Chowk is illuminated with the colours of the national flag. (Photo | PTI)

"The nations that in fettered darkness weep Crave thee to lead them where great mornings break."

These lines aptly, and rightly, capture the spirit of India’s Independence Day. On August 15, 1947, a new era marked the realisation of a long-cherished dream — freedom from colonial rule. Conceived in the hearts of countless fighters, poets, and visionaries, the idea, nurtured through centuries of struggle, culminated in a resounding triumph on this historic day.

The journey from subjugation to sovereignty was arduous. From technological prowess to space exploration to growing bottom lines and rising M&As, from becoming an economic powerhouse to a sporting giant and to a growing stature on the global stage, India has showcased its mettle through remarkable strides. The contemporary challenges on economic, social and geopolitical fronts, however, are testing the country’s resilience in the New World Order. 

Seventy-six years later, the day also reminds us to not only critically look within but also come up with honest answers — is patriotism a pretence for domination over sections of our society, does wealth seek to create islands of luxury within our country, and simply, do we have a fellow feeling? 

As the tricolour soars high on the 77th Independence Day, it is a continuous journey towards realising the full potential of the world’s largest democracy.

Azadi: hopes & aspirations of the common man

Freedom is the free expression of my thoughts and opinions. 
Freedom allows me to speak my mind on all issues, including the clothes I like or the ideals I believe in. As a student, freedom is to be able to have a discourse with my professor over contradictory opinions, says Vaibhavi Bhat from Mount Carmel College, Bengaluru. For Atika Zainab of the same college, freedom means being able to wear whatever I want, go wherever I like, love whoever I want, and think whatever I want to without any fear. Freedom also means equal distribution of wealth, not going to bed hungry, an absence of caste and class, and the absence of misogyny.
— Vaibhavi Bhat, Atika Zainab,  Students of Mount Carmel College

Making a choice for oneself is basic, but it is a luxury for many women in the country. The significance of Independence will actually hold true when every woman gets freedom of speech, the right to make decisions and create opportunities for herself and her children. I strongly feel women will truly be independent when they can express themselves fully, study and work without having to wait for anyone’s approval. For me, freedom is the opportunity to live with dignity and without fear. If we live our life with a sense of purpose, we are free in many ways. I’m happy I am able to do that for myself and my daughter despite the absence of my husband who was my biggest strength.
— Itilata Behera,  Widow of Pulwama martyr Manoj Behera

Independence Day, for this 55-year-old homemaker, literally personifies freedom. Born a Hindu, Usha B got married to a Christian on Independence Day 37 years ago. For her, freedom means the ultimate right to live without fear as a woman, as a religious individual and as an ordinary homemaker toiling to run her family. Usha lives with her three children and grandchildren at Mukkampalamood on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram. “Can’t we see the rising number of atrocities and crimes against women?” As a homemaker, freedom for her also stands for being able to lead a decently comfortable life and she knows the significance of religious freedom. 
— Usha B,  Homemaker, Thiruvananthapuram

Concern, commitment and care with compassion will make our nation greater, says Dr S Gopaul, retired former director of the Institute of Child Health and Government Hospital for Children, Egmore, a Chennai neighbourhood. Born in pre-independent India in 1943, he feels proud and fortunate to see technological developments around him. I wish the services of neonatology (treatment and care of newborns) percolate into remote rural communities on par with urban areas. His Independence Day message: “Doing one’s duty with devotion.” He helped set up a raw human breast milk bank and brought down the mortality rate of the neonates. 
— Dr S Gopaul,  Ex-director of govt hospital, Egmore

His situation brought him to Hyderabad. Sanjay is a labourer from Jharkhand who works at a construction site in Hitech City. Surrounded by tall buildings, his idea of freedom is to be able to work from wherever he wants to. Devlal is from Madhya Pradesh and now lives with his family in Hafeezpet, a rapidly-growing residential area of Hyderabad. “On Independence Day, I spend time with my family,” he says. “I get Rs 500 per day, I am happy,” he says. Aasa and Rakhi, daily wagers from MP, have also come to Hyderabad for work. In Hafeezpet, they carry cement and sand on their heads. Do they feel free? Aasa says, “Of course. We work and earn; nobody controls us.”
— Devlal,  Construction worker, Hyderabad

Shabbir, 56, is a farmer whose entire crop was damaged in this season’s flood in Delhi. He has to look after his 7-member family. The family is currently living under a tent alongside the Yamuna Bridge. “Our kids are hungry; we are being asked to pay the rent of this place,” rues Shabbir. No relief has reached the family. “We don’t have any food,” says Pyarbanu, Shabbir’s wife. The family’s wait for any relief may get longer as revenue minister Atishi has only evaluated preparation for relief and rescue efforts. Over to Delhi’s bureaucracy; and there is no knowing about what Shabbir can think about freedom. “No one is helping.” That’s an SOS from Shabbir’s son Imran. 
— Shabbir,  Displaced by floods in Delhi

Freedom for a small MSME business means doing it without too many restrictions. Sales and profits are just by-products. Limitations not only come from the government but also from the availability of finance to meet expansion programmes. SMEs & MSMEs are the milch cows for the banks. It is true that most revenue (with high margins) comes from big players, and therefore, banks offer better facilities to larger corporates at the cost of smaller businesses. That makes the growth path for small players difficult. So, while the government claims it is providing enough support to the MSME segment, most schemes meant for the sector remain eyewash.
— CA Jai Kabra, Founder of Reshamm Group

Freedom is a universal human right like the air one breathes. But, more than mere enjoyment of rights or the fearless expression and exercise of choices, it implies the conscious, continuing performance of one’s duties as a social being. Freedom and eternal vigilance are complementary, for it is our wakefulness that ensures the continuity and reinforcement of Freedom, which forms the core of our democratic life and principles.
Arif Mohammed Khan, Governor of Kerala

Freedom to acquire knowledge and apply it for societal benefits without the constraints of the government or bureaucrats is the most cherished freedom for me. Freedom to live your lifestyle without harming others is precious. India provides a lot of opportunities for the youngsters. I was educated here and performed my duties without constraints is an invaluable expression of that freedom.
— Madhavan Nair,  Former ISRO Chairman

Independence Day is really important to me because it represents freedom and self-dependence. It’s a time when I feel like I’m not held back by depending on others, both in my personal life and in society as a whole. This freedom gives me the power to chase my dreams with determination and overcome any obstacles in my way. Being independent means I can take care of myself emotionally, physically, and financially.
Nikhat Zareen, Boxer

Freedom is walking happily in neighbourhoods, mine or anyone’s, with dignity, self-assurance, respect and without fear, head held high. Freedom is to read, write, be read, and to speak, hear, and be heard, with dignity, self-assurance, in respect and without fear, head held high. Freedom for me is to be and live, let be and let live, with dignity, self-assurance, in respect and without fear, head held high.
— Geetanjali Shree, Author

Freedom for me means not being controlled or limited by rules, or customs that others have formulated for us. What is important in a good society is self-determination and autonomy under our own authority and responsibility. There should be rules and regulations, but only those that we have formulated. In a free, independent society, in a democracy, there should always be space for agreements as well as disagreements.
Pankaj Tripathi, Actor

On Independence Day, let us remember the sacrifice and contribution of our nation’s freedom fighters who envisioned a sovereign and prosperous India. As one of the leading global economies, we stand on the cusp of transformation, growth and development, echoing the spirit of a resurgent India. We remain focused on being a catalyst for capital market formation and nation–building.
Ashish Kumar Chauhan, CEO & MD, NSE

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