A person at a shop selling flags folds up a national tricolour at Sadar Bazar on July 24, 2020 in New Delhi, India. Sales have been hit by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. Image: Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
There is nothing quite like a pandemic to add a fresh perspective to the very concept of freedom in our lives.
When the earliest news about the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, began to appear late last year, what loomed before us was the prospect of a health scare. What we, as individuals, might have then foreseen was rapidly overshadowed by the reality of chaos that began to unfold in different parts of the world. And then the chaos reached our own shores, our cities and our homes. What followed is something unprecedented in its enormity, and its effects.
Months of lockdowns, and the fear of disease and death have crippled the lives, livelihoods, health and education of many millions across the world. They have laid bare the glaring social and economic inequalities among people, the privileges that a handful of people enjoy, and the stark choices that face the vast majority of have-nots.
As India completes 73 years of Independence, these realities stare us in the face, and raise the inevitable questions about how free Indians really are. Despite the Constitution of India bestowing Fundamental Rights upon its citizens, are the citizens actually free to exercise these Rights? Are they free to be healthy, to be educated, and to earn a livelihood with dignity? Through a handful of essays, we look at the roadblocks on the path to achieving these freedoms, and what can be done to remove them.
We also take a look at the roadblocks that have been removed over the past seven decades of Independence. The many positive milestones that have created the reality in which we live today. We celebrate these through a curated set of photographs that highlight the small and big victories in the fields of health care, education and the generation of livelihoods.
The pandemic, at another level, has imposed restrictions on personal freedoms that few of us have experienced before. Since end-March, we have kept ourselves confined to our homes: Children don’t go to schools or play within housing societies, young adults don’t go to colleges or hang out with friends, senior citizens don’t gather at local parks for early morning walks and laughter clubs. For the first time, perhaps, the restrictions—like the act of wearing a face mask—are not simply for protecting our own selves, but others. The health and safety of the many have taken precedence over the personal choice and freedom of the individual.
Amid this apparent gloom, our Independence Day package also takes a look at the Freedom to Laugh. Cracking a joke is not what it used to be, especially if that joke was at the expense of someone else. But do jokes always have to be at the expense of someone else? Or is that the fundamental nature of jokes—to poke fun at people as a way to nudge them towards correcting some wrong?
For there is also nothing quite like a pandemic to remind us that laughter is capable of being much more than just an expression of emotion. And no face mask can stifle it.