At a recent discussion, some speakers leaning to the ‘left’, talked about the need to establish a system where there would be no inequality – or at least would not be too stark, the common man would also lead a life of dignity, where no one would be persecuted because of one’s faith or belief; where there would be no control on the pursuit of knowledge.
The opponents held that equality, an exploitation-free society, everyone living a life of dignity, etc., were unachievable and mere utopia. They refused to agree that the idea of India as dreamt by our forefathers was receding farther and farther and that we were actually heading in the opposite direction.
While listening to the debate the following thought came to my mind,.
Once upon a time, a poet had a dream, a vision, about how his country should be. And he wrote, nearly a century and a quarter ago:
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free; Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls; Where words come out from the depth of truth; Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection; Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit; Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”
And now, after reading this short poem let us assess for ourselves the achievements against our aspirations. Let us assume for our discussion that out of the 73 years since we became free, 67 have been a waste; actual progress has been happening only since 2014, as the ‘right’ would have us believe.
The first sentence of the poem talks about a mind without fear. With the muzzling of dissent (all in the name of protecting the “nation”), bringing about more and more legislations, rules and regulations to regulate the media and critics, charging them with sedition, undermining democratic institutions, and with one citizen snooping on another, the mind can hardly be without fear.
The second sentence is about freedom of knowledge. Where the academics have to first obtain ‘permission’ before they can discuss subjects related to India’s politics, internal situation, state of the society, etc., or in other words the government deciding what can and cannot be discussed, knowledge can’t be said to be free.
The third and fourth sentences talk about the “world” (that is the society we are part of) not being fragmented by “narrow domestic walls” and where Truth prevails. Divided by casteism, religion, sectarianism, the disparity in wealth, etc., there are narrow domestic walls all around us, and their number is only increasing. In such a situation, words cannot come out of the “depth of Truth”.
The fifth sentence may be left out for the purpose of the present discussion. The sixth sentence wishes that in the India of the Poet’s dream (utopian belief, some would say) the clear stream of ‘reason’ won’t lose its way in the desert sand of dead habit. As against this, what do we see in today’s India? “Rationality”, “Rationalism” and “Rationalists” are being criticised and abused in filthy terms. It is dead habits, superstitions and rotten traditions that are being actively promoted, and not the opposite.
In the penultimate sentence, the Poet wishes our mind to be led “forward” by the Supreme Being into ever-widening thought and action. Widening thought and action, by definition, is inclusive, all-embracing, hating none and working for all, not only in words but in deeds. And, in the last sentence, the utopian Poet wishes his country to be that “heaven of freedom”. Today’s India is definitely not that heaven, and there is no sign that we are even moving in that direction.
Now, let us talk a bit about “utopia”. It seems that to expect the citizens to enjoy freedom guaranteed to them by the Constitution is a ‘utopia’. For women, marginal and small farmers, workers and other downtrodden people to hope for equitable treatment and a dignified existence is also a ‘utopia’.
What is practical is trampling the freedom of the people. It is highly practical to remain silent while the migrant labourers perished. It is also practical to help the rich become richer and tell the common man that some oil would also “trickle down” to them, like sops thrown at strays. If that’s the idea of being practical, is it something worth aspiring for?
One last thing about being a dreamer and a realist. Whatever man has achieved or created has been possible because some men dreamt of and pursued ideas, termed as ‘utopia’ by their contemporaries. All inventions and discoveries (including in outer space) followed such dreams. For example, the realist sceptics never thought that the utopian idea of a man-made spaceship going on interplanetary missions would ever come true!
Therefore, while a practical approach may bring immediate appreciation, it would only be short-lived. For any long-term and robust achievement, one must be a dreamer, or an idealist, even if the idea is called ‘utopian’ by the opponents. After all, if we aim high only then we can at least go some distance in achieving it. If the aim itself is low, so will the achievement.
We must have a strong belief that the poet’s dream can and surely be achieved, today or tomorrow, and our country will awake “into that heaven of freedom”.