Opinion | Why we are ‘Dreaming India’

Ahead of India's 72nd Independence Day, Lounge asked 25 brilliant minds for an idea to paint a better India

Some dreams are cirrus. Atmospheric and wispy but far out. Others are nimbus, sure to touch your skin very soon.

When we reached out to people to propose an “idea for India" for this Independence Day special, some had an immediate and clear plan. Others had a glimmer of an idea that formed slowly, growing in size and colour over a month of exchanges.

As former Lounge editor Priya Ramani says in her column, in 2018, even love is a revolutionary idea. Tinder India’s business head Taru Kapoor believes empathy should be taught and deliberately practised as a first step in preventing gender-based discrimination. Indeed, in this promising mixed bag of ideas by some of the country’s best minds, things we assume as obvious still need to be outlined as ideas with tangible blueprints for execution: redistributing food from those who will be throwing it away to those who will be going to sleep hungry; speaking to a child in their mother tongue so they can make the most of their school years; letting fisherfolk figure out the best means to maintain their livelihood. The former captain of the Indian hockey team, Arjuna Award-winner Viren Rasquinha, tells us to invest in coaching our coaches. There will only be more P.V. Sindhus if there are more Pullela Gopi Chands. Sounds obvious. But it needed saying.

We set out to gather disruptive ideas—both big and small, theoretical and practical—which can inform a big change. We asked for technical and logistical details to be included. While some run into 2,000 words, it was important for the ideas to be easily communicable as one-liners. Because even stripped of nuance and data, it was important for them to be talked about; to leap off our pages.

I find that whether it’s caste structures or the entrepreneurial mindset, gender or design for persons with disabilities, the one underlining thread for all the ideas in this issue is “breaking free". Break free, the 25 voices in the Dreaming India series are saying, from tradition, from rigid structures and divisions, from your consumer habits and your perceived limitations of the self.

What better way to celebrate India’s 72nd Independence Day?

A dream has its own language. While Google’s Rajan Anandan writes concisely and conversationally on rethinking the Indian start-up space, Rohini Nilekani draws from her own work as the founder-chairperson of the sustainable water foundation Arghyam to present a 360-degree view of India’s groundwater crisis.

The essays on fashion and art call for a more ideological shift. Fashion writer Bandana Tewari doesn’t offer a specific solution but urges us to support clothing brands that design “out" waste at the croquis stage. In their deeply layered essay, the Delhi-based art practitioners, the Raqs Media Collective, call out our historic failure in dealing with toxicity. They mention the gas fumes from the copper smelter in Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu as a case in point. Even as I write this, a colleague is covering the protests by people who have been forcibly relocated to Mahul, a north-east suburb of Mumbai, where they are grappling with the toxic impact of two refineries and over a dozen heavy industry units.

It has been a Lounge habit to look back before we look ahead. For this issue, we singled out Rajarshi Shahu Chhatrapati’s landmark move back in 1902. Forty-eight years before B.R. Ambedkar enshrined affirmative action in the Constitution, a 28-year-old monarch from Kolhapur took the radical decision of reserving 50% of government posts for the backward classes. It was the first manifesto of affirmative action in India.

This leads to the essay that starts off the Dreaming India series. Journalist Sudipto Mondal says the nation of his dreams was born on the midnight of 14 August 1947, and baptized with a radical Constitution on 26 January 1950. The Dalit nation was not imagined as a plot of earth but as an idea that could illuminate the world, he writes. The Dalit Wakanda, he goes on to say, has space for everybody. It is “an alternative system of human existence based not on false binaries but on incredible diversity, respectful love, freedom along with independence and the promotion of merit, not inheritance".

As journalists and editors, we can write about policy and give space to stories covering injustice or deprivation in different forms. The debate on journalism and activism being distinct functions in society is a valid one but ever so often it is heartening to learn that a story in Mumbai Mirror has managed to raise funds for a three-year-old’s bone-marrow transplant. On our part in Lounge, our “idea" going forward, rooted in our journalism, is not just to increase our coverage of the disenfranchised, be it based on religion, sexual orientation, physical disability or caste, but to do it in consultation with writers, academics, entrepreneurs and others who have skin in the game—starting with Mondal. It is one way to achieve the “truer freedom" that Supreme Court lawyer Menaka Guruswamy writes about in her excellent essay in this issue. Here’s to the cirrus and the nimbus dreams. Happy Independence Day!

Read all the 25 ideas here.

Anindita Ghose is editor, Mint Lounge. She tweets at @aninditaghose.

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