Happy Republic Day

An Indian soldier salutes as he rides a Smerch rocket launcher during India's Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2016. Thousands gathered in New Delhi amid tight security January 26 for India's annual Republic Day parade, a pomp-filled spectacle of military might featuring camels and daredevil stuntwomen, with French President Francois Hollande the chief guest. AFP PHOTO / Roberto SCHMIDT

January 26th provides India an occasion to ‘celebrate’ its national identity and its military might. For citizens republic greetings are an occasion for reaffirming their much valued patriotism. India became an independent nation on the 15th of August of 1947, so that settled the achievement of no longer being a second class colonial subject of the British Empire. But are we conscious about the additional achievement of January 26th, while sending out social media messages, or was it reflex action in our media infused milieu? What does the rumbling of tanks down the Rajpath on January 26th signify- that makes the flag hoisting on this day different from that on the 15th of August? A student of class 6 will probably give the text book answer that India adopted the Constitution on 26th of January, the basic rules of the game of governance which decide public life in India. So while saluting the flag and standing to attention to the national anthem do we reflect whether we have achieved the promises made on 26th of January 1952, both as a state and as citizens?

The preamble promised justice, equality, liberty, dignity for all within a secular democracy in 1952. However even today we are reminded that many among us do not want to give up their upper caste privileges and do not believe in the equal dignity of dalits. Patriarchy rules in almost every family and gender discrimination continues in new forms denying women of physical, economic and sexual autonomy which men take for granted. This denial of equality is more among the social and economic elites. Religious majoritarianism and minority appeasement, both aimed at social polarization and disharmony, receive active encouragement from politicians who swear by the constitutional value of fraternity when they come to power.

Am I happy on this Republic Day? How should I respond to these messages, I wonder. For me this day is a day of reflection. Are we all ‘equal’ citizens of our republic, do we promote equality, non-discrimination, dignity and respect through our own values and behaviours? I am disturbed by what I see.

India has made great progress since our first Republic Day. The GDP has increased from roughly 2.7 lakh crores in 1950-51 to nearly 60 lakh crores now and food grain production has increased from 50 million tonnes to over 250 million tonnes.

Compared with this rapid economic growth, population growth has been relatively low, from about 340 million people to about 1.2 billion and currently our total fertility rate (TFR), or number of children per couple, is 2.3 very close to the goal of 2.1 or the replacement fertility level. Urban TFR is an even lower 1.8 which indicates that our urban population has started collapsing even through rapid urbanization. With such good news it seems that our Constitutional promises are all fulfilled, but a closer look at data brings out a different story. Hunger and poverty are pernicious in our country. We rank 97 out of 118 countries in the global hunger index with 39% of our children below 5 being stunted. While the number of Indian’s continue to rise on the global billionaire’s list we also have nearly 250 million people living on less than USD 1.90 per day, the global poverty line. When we consider the caste wise distribution of poverty ratio of poor increases from 16% for the Other’s Category to over 2.5 times to 37% for the SCcategory. It is not surprising that the Gini Index an economic index on economic equality shows that inequality has risen from 1990 to 2013.

Despite many advances, women in India continue to live as second class citizens. While laws forbid child marriage, nearly half all girls aged 18 are married by that age, and in some states it is as high as two-third. Such girls remain deprived of health and educational benefits. Physical and sexual violence against women is slowly being acknowledged, which is a good thing, but the daily news in the media shows that such news does not affect perpetrators and crimes against women are on rise.

Population based surveys show that nearly 40% of all adult women have faced violence after they became adults, mostly from men at home.

Many fewer girls complete their schooling compared to boys, women receive lesser wages for the work they do, and the glass ceiling exists for the most high achieving women – either in board rooms or in representative assemblies. By law India has reservation for women in the panchayats but the ‘Vidhan Sabha’ or the ‘Lok Sabha’ are considered too important by men to let women in and prove their worth. Misogyny and sexism are common in all platforms that men get together be it the tea time adda, the pub or the Whatsapp group. Nearly all women have had to face harassment either a leer, a taunt or an advance. And this can be in the office, the bus, the streets, any place that is considered a ‘male space’.

But does this disturb us as Indian citizens of the Indian Republic that we all are wishing for. Many of us are disturbed about ‘corruption’, often referring to it as the biggest problem in India. True, corruption is a huge problem in India but the Republic Day promise is not only different but probably much bigger. I was not born in 1952 but I abide by the beautiful promise that ‘We the People of India’ gave ourselves by adopting the Constitution. We all need to contribute to fulfill this promise. Today I strengthen my resolve to achieve the promises of the Republic of India as a citizen.

Profile photo of Dr. Abhijit Das
Abhijit Das is a doctor with training in obstetrics, paediatrics and public health with thirty years’ experience in clinical work, training, research and policy advocacy. He is Director of Centre for Health and Social Justice (www.chsj.org) a health policy research and advocacy organization in India and Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Global Health, University of Washington, Seattle, USA.