Sanjay dutt’s wife introspects how her husband’s incarceration has made her aware of the true meaning of freedom.
By Manyata Dutt
Freedom is too abstract an idea to be defined accurately. The interesting thing about freedom is that it means different things to different people. But more importantly, different things to the same people depending on where they are in life. If it meant freedom from the British before Independence, it now may mean freedom to live life the way we want. For the poor, it may mean freedom from misery and poverty, while for the First World it may be freedom from the life they are living right now. On Independence Day, we rejoice in our freedom from foreign rule, or living in a free democratic society.
But are we really free as a nation? Are we free as individuals living in a civilized society? As a woman trying to live the life she wants? Are our mindsets really free from prejudices, stereotypes, or racism?
We may have attained freedom from the British, but have we unchained our mindsets from years of dogma, our narrow views on religion, women, and cultural beliefs?How can we be truly free if our minds are still corrupted by archaic beliefs? Today we still live in a country where khap panchayats flourish, where women are not even free to use toilets due to the fear of being raped, and where there is no freedom to express their opinions.
Never has breathing and being able to walk freely had so much relevance in my life till recently. With my husband incarcerated, I now realize the immense value of being able to walk freely. Freedom has taken a whole new meaning in my life, when I watch my husband behind bars, imprisoned, shut out from society, his family and his country. The initial months were spent trying to cope, understand and support him while he went through his days behind bars. But like they say, everything in life is meant to teach you something, and open your heart and mind to something you have never imagined.
It is during this phase that I have come across several people imprisoned for years for petty crimes and unable to get out of jail because they don’t enough money for bail. Some have committed simple thefts, some have been languishing for years beyond their actual quantum of punishment. Many are innocent but don’t have either money, the knowledge or support to fight, hire lawyers or even know the law. So are these people really living in a free country? Do they have the freedom from utter poverty, deep-seated ignorance or complete apathy of the society or the government?
Thousands of people, languishing behind bars, are still subjected to archaic British jail manuals and rules. The British wanted its prisoners, especially the freedom fighters, to not be treated as human beings. These manuals were written to torture them and wipe out any will they may have had to live. We still follow those manuals. Prisoners are treated like animals and deprived of basic amenities.
Today, every civilized society is looking at reformative jail system instead of punitive ones. The goal is to “repair” the deficiencies in the individuals and return them as productive members of society. But in India, the jail manuals are shockingly antiquated and the jails continue to adhere to the Prisons Act of 1894, whose aim was quite different.
Amid all these realities, it sometimes becomes hard to believe that we are truly free. For me, freedom is not an absolute term, and complete freedom for all is a utopian concept. As long as we continue to live, we will have to keep fighting for freedom. Dep-ending on which stage we are in life, we will have to strive for freedom.
Nelson Mandela once said, “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”