The Year We Moved Towards Unfreedom

Every year comes with its share of celebrations and disasters, but 2012 was touted as being ‘special’. Some thought the world would end, others said humans would move into a more ‘enlightened’ plane of existence. While people don’t seem any more enlightened now than before – unless you count three-year-olds with iPads as evolution – there have been plenty of alarm bells this year to force us to introspect.

Natural disasters had a free run around the world, and there’s grim news from environmental agencies. Even as scientists landed a rover on Mars and discovered the ‘God’ particle, tornadoes and forest fires hit several parts of the US, earthquakes rocked Indonesia and Italy, floods inundated parts of Russia and Manila, cyclone Nilam wreaked havoc in southern India, and Hurricane Sandy brought the infallible New York to its knees. Oil has become a cauldron of conflict. The hunger for fossil fuels has redrawn the geopolitical boundaries of the world and instigated wars with the menacing backdrop of energy control.

Politics was as disturbing as the effects of global war and warming; there wasn’t a single dull month in Indian corridors of power – we had scams, scandals and seedy disclosures all through 2012. What connected most of them was the disturbing link between private industry and public governance. Corruption is no longer about a few notes under the table to get your files to move in a government office. It’s about crores of digital money, property and shares being transferred through innocuous routes and ending up as policy changes in legislature that affects everyone.

But an even more chilling trend for India is an increasing intolerance against freedom of speech. In April, Ambikesh Mahapatra, a professor at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, and his neighbour were arrested for allegedly forwarding cartoons of Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on the Internet. In September, 25-year-old Mumbai cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was jailed for satirical drawings of corrupt netas on his blog Cartoons Against Corruption. Last month, 21-year-old Palghar resident Shaheen Dhada was arrested for ‘promoting enmity between classes’ due to her Facebook status that questioned the need for a bandh on Bal Thackeray’s death. Her 20-year old friend, who ‘liked’ the post, was arrested as well, based on a complaint by Shiv Sena’s president in Palghar.

The world may not have ended this 2012, but it is certainly time to evaluate the direction we are heading with rapacious capitalism and this ridiculous politics of fear. Thousands laid down their lives 70 years ago to ensure a free India today. What causes are we laying today to ensure a safe, equal, free tomorrow?

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