Home >Politics >Policy >Independence Day special: What does it mean to be free for India’s Gen Z
An Indian student wearing his national flag and themed wristband participates in Independence Day celebrations in Secunderabad. Photo: AFP
An Indian student wearing his national flag and themed wristband participates in Independence Day celebrations in Secunderabad. Photo: AFP

Independence Day special: What does it mean to be free for India’s Gen Z

'Mint' asked 20 Indians under the age of 20 what personal freedom means to them. Here's what they said

In the 1967 Films Division short I Am 20, twenty-year-old Indians are asked what they feel about their nation. More than 50 years after those midnight’s children, Mint asked another group of young respondents to lay out their idea of freedom for us.

More than two-thirds of the country’s population was born in an independent India. While most of their battles transcend basic civilian rights, the current socio-politico-cultural landscape of the country presents a new set of challenges. Each generation has its own villains to fight. So, what does it mean to be free?

Freedom for me is unschooling: Qudrat Sumichandresh (18) from Ahmedabad

Freedom for me is learning freely what I want to learn. It is travelling and meeting new people, learning new skills. It is when no one questions my education or what I do; it is doing what I love to do and not getting judged. Freedom for me is choosing my own path. Freedom for me is unschooling

Qudrat Sumichandresh is an “unschooler", filmmaker and photographer.

The preservation of my autonomy: Priyanka Paul (19), Mumbai

Being able to make choices for myself without interference or imposition of authority. It saddens me that every step of life, women have to work hard to be “worthy" of this freedom. We only love women who are achieving great things, women don’t have the freedom to just merely exist, to just be. As an artist, I’m asked to keep a check on “how much" I express. What kind of freedom is that? To tell artists and storytellers to not tell their stories in the truest way possible is the destruction of freedom. As a woman, as an artist, as a queer person, as a person from a minority religion, from a lower caste background, we’ve been told, only this much amount of your existence is justifiable.... My idea of utopian freedom is a privilege I can only enjoy within the glass walls of my home.

Priyanka Paul is an illustrator, a poet and a student of mass media at St Xavier’s College, Mumbai.

To be accepted as Indian: Jonah Meiphok (20) from New Delhi

To have the power to do, speak, think and live a without being criticized or attacked because of my religion, looks or where I come from. Yet we are discriminated against... I am scared of going around Delhi late at night for fear of being attacked because of how I look and dress; I am scared of practising Christianity...and I am tired of being assumed to be Chinese.... We...must learn to appreciate the diversity of our country.

Jonah Meiphok is from Manipur and is a student at the Dyal Singh Evening College in New Delhi.

To express thoughts without fear: Zayaan Rouf (18) from Srinagar

It means having complete liberty to think independently, and to express those thoughts without any fear. Growing in a conflict-ridden state isn’t easy. The conflict gets to you, in the strangest of ways.... Our freedom of expression is always curtailed...; be it by our parents, the media or government. Whenever a Kashmiri goes to other parts of India, the first thing his parents advise him is to not speak about the conflict and, in some cases, they tell them to refrain from referring to themselves as Kashmiris. They tell us to be extra careful about what we share...on social networking sites, because sharing anything that doesn’t fit the narrative of the government might have “dangerous" consequences for us.... Freedom to me means eradication of this fear.

Zayaan Rouf is a class XII student at DPS, Srinagar.

To make choices without hesitation: Adnan Hassan (18) from Kolkata

I have the freedom to make my own choices, to pursue my ambitions without any hesitation. I can freely voice my opinion and question my teachers and parents.... I want to help change the education system. I want to help build a system where we study to learn and not to get a degree, where art and literature get as much importance as math and science.

Adnan Hassan is studying computer science at the Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology in Bhubaneswar, Odisha.

To be able to choose my own timeline: Kaavya Rajesh (16) from Gurugram

A freedom that I enjoy is that of choice. Unlike our parents’ generation, we’re no longer limited by the career confines of “doctor, lawyer, engineer". Instead, I am free to choose what I aspire to be. We also experience the freedom of choice in how we live our lives. Societal norms of having a family, home, and a defined career path by a certain age are slowly fading away. Rather, we are free to choose to follow our own timeline based on our preferences.

Kaavya Rajesh is a class XII student at the American Embassy School, New Delhi, a writer, and founder of My Daughter Is Precious, a fund-raising initiative for women empowerment.

To have others around me free, too: Nidhi Krishna (18) from New Delhi

To quote Audre Lorde, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own." For me, freedom is a concept intertwined with the lives of many others. We cannot be truly free until others around us are free too. For me freedom is about the ability to exist without fear. Freedom is the ability to assert identity without the anticipation of constant resistance. Freedom is a reclamation of space, identity and language.

Nidhi Krishna is studying English at St Stephen’s College in New Delhi and is interested in politics, memes, poetry and animal babies.

Being entitled to private space: Raj Ayyappa (20) from Chennai

Freedom for me is to be able to own my decisions and learn from the consequences. This can play out in many ways. In terms of education, freedom means being able to choose what I want to study and what career I want to pursue. It’s very important to be passionate about what you do but often parents push children towards popular and more lucrative career choices. Fortunately for me, my parents are very supportive. My ultimate dream is to be a film director and it’s very comforting to have parents who support you. Being a college kid I understand I am dependent on my family, but that shouldn’t mean others get to take a call about my future. I feel everyone should be entitled to his or her own private space.

Raj Ayyappa is a third-year student, studying visual communication at Loyola College, Chennai, and wants to be a film director.

Take decisions for myself with a free will: Tania Bhatia (20) from Chandigarh

Freedom is a blessing and a responsibility. As a girl, if I can take decisions for myself with a free will, that is freedom for me. I could follow my dream to be a cricketer, because I was given that freedom by my parents. Our society needs to accept that freedom for girls to pursue their dreams is important... It’s only when girls are given the responsibility to take our decisions, that we have the freedom to become what we want to be.

Tania Bhatia is a cricketer and the first to win a place in the women’s T20 cricket team from Chandigarh.

To have equal access to education as my brothers: Sakshi Gaur (19) from Jaipur

Today, after 71 years of independence I would like to go back to the time when my grandmother found it difficult to live in her patriarchal society. (Back then) women fought for issues that we now take for granted. To receive education itself was a big deal (for women) in those times, but now things have changed. I’m privileged to be born in a family where my parents have given me equal opportunities as my brothers. My father wants me to become a pilot. When I joined the pilot training programme, my uncle told my father that, “Instead of spending so much money on her education, you should spend the same money on her marriage and make it wonderful." My father replied, “I don’t want to make her marriage wonderful, instead, I want to make her life wonderful."

Sakshi Gaur is an aviation student at Banasthali Vidyapith, Jaipur.

To choose what I want to study: Neel Mulay (15) from Bengaluru

Being free means the freedom of choice. For a student like me, freedom of choice can mean being able to choose any subject that I want to study…Our educational system works in such a way that we have to make very specific choices if we want a certain career. I want to be an aeronautical engineer but I also love biology. I may want to study both after finishing high school. But I have to do engineering, which means I’ll have to drop biology.

Neel Mulay is a class XI student at Greenwood High International School.

Not being judged by my mark sheet: Vidhur Ghosh (16) from New Delhi

It means being able to choose what you want to be. Marks shouldn’t determine what a student can become. For instance, if I want to become an engineer, but I don’t have the right marks, I wouldn’t be able to attend a good engineering college. And that obstruction could shape my entire future. For every college, therefore, there should be an open interview and an entrance exam.

Vidhur Ghosh is a class XI student at Ryan International school (Mayur Vihar), Delhi.

To redefine what is normal: Manasvi Khanna (17) from Amritsar

Freedom for me is having freedom of expression and thought... Being free means the freedom to pursue choices you want without other people reprimanding you about them or judging you for them. In the country right now we don’t have freedom of expression, especially when it comes to sexuality and religious freedom. We need to empower people so that there is freedom to initiate change.... In our school, we are organizing a safety board where people can freely talk and are also organizing a pride week.

Manasvi Khanna is a student at Woodstock School in Mussoorie and an aspiring data scientist.

To grow at one’s own pace: Yashkeerat Kaur Hayer (17) from Chandigarh

Real freedom comes from being aware of what truly makes you happy and stating it as it is without any inhibitions. Being a sportsperson, or a teacher, or anything that makes one happy, one should be free to pursue. Freedom is allowing one to think freely, grow at one’s pace and express those thoughts without any fear. But, I think, even after over 71 years of independence, somehow, we are not free to fully express what we think and be heard. Freedom is the space, where we hear each other out and be heard. That’s the whole idea of being free and this is what lies at the core of our democracy and it should not be forgotten.

Yashkeerat Kaur Hayer is a fencer and recently won a bronze at the junior Commonwealth Championship.

To rap about what’s on my mind without constraints: Altaf Shaikh (18) from Mumbai

As an independent artist, freedom for me means the freedom to write about what’s on my mind without any constraints. That’s the first and most important thing. Other than that, my parents allow me to write rap and make music. They let me go to the studio, make whatever songs I want, and they trust me to do the right thing. The fact that I’m a Muslim and my parents let me rap, that is also freedom for me. My crew, my hood, they all support what I’m doing. That support and the happiness that comes with being able to express myself through music, that’s what freedom means for me

Altaf Shaikh, a Hindi rapper from Dharavi in Mumbai, is part of the Enimiez crew.

To go out freely without being harassed… to wear clothes that I like: Shah Sana Deed (19) from Drugmulla village, Kupwara, J&K

Growing up as a woman in the village, my mobility depended on the approval of others…. I couldn’t go whenever or wherever I wanted to…. I couldn’t wear what I wanted to. I couldn’t even choose friends of my own. But ever since I have moved to Delhi, I can freely do what I want, wear what I want, think the way I want. It really doesn’t matter to me whether I have political freedom or not, whether I can vote or not. Those things are immaterial to me. My definition of freedom simply means social freedom, it means being able to go out freely without being harassed…being able to wear clothes that I like. I want to do what I want to do, not what the society approves or expects of me.

Shah Sana Deed is an undergraduate student, studying English at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi.

The freedom to fail: Zuni Chopra (17) from Mumbai

Freedom is an intoxicating word. For a young woman, it can mean a multitude of things. Freedom to be who she is rather than the role society has assigned to her. Freedom to chose what she wants to do with her life rather than gratefully accepting the first offer a college counsellor doles out to her. Freedom to walk the streets as an independent adult without feeling the fear that roving eyes install in her trembling heart. For me, freedom is all these things; and another: the freedom to make the mistakes I want to make, and learn from them myself. Today, we’re asked to grow up a little too quickly. There’s no room for failure in the world of a 21st century success story. And yet the freedom to fail is what makes us who we are, and what gives us the joy of striving with determination and confidence.

Zuni Chopra is a student and writer whose fourth book, The Island Of The Day Before, was recently published by HarperCollins.

The ability to conceive one’s own path: Sukhnidh Kaur (19) from Mumbai

We are told that where there is a will, there is a way. This is a harmful misconception rooted in privilege—the way is barricaded with obstacles for many. It is only when there is capability, opportunity and equal access to resources for everybody that we may consider the existence of our freedom to choose, to create.... So for me, freedom is the ability to conceive one’s own path, and unless everybody is granted such ability and access, we cannot consider ourselves as free

Sukhnidh Kaur is an economics-psychology major at St Xavier’s, Mumbai.

The freedom to study science: Harsha Hd (20) from Bengaluru

In India, there is no freedom to study science-related subjects for the visually challenged. Almost all colleges discourage this when we express interest. They say how will you cope, you won’t be able to manage being visually impaired. I also forcefully chose science for myself. Many of us are excited to study science and we should have the freedom to study subjects we like. (College authorities) must have awareness that blind people can do anything.

Harsha Hd is a BCA graduate from Bangalore University and a skill employability candidate at Enable India.

‘Being given the power to make decisions: Abner Manzar (20) from Puducherry

To be free means to have the power to make decisions. In the broad sense freedom is what our forefathers fought for with the British. But at a more basic level freedom to me meant being allowed to go to cycling to the market at the age of 8, it meant having choices and being given the power to make decisions from a very young age. My parents treated me like an adult from a very young age by asking for my opinion on things and rather than telling me what to do, helping me understand what is right.

Abner Manzar is from Delhi and is in the second year of college at Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. He is also a documentary film-maker.

Compiled by Ashwaq Masoodi, Bhanuj Kappal, Deepti Bhaskaran, Pretika Khanna, Shrabonti Bagchi, Somak Ghoshal, Srishti Choudhary, Uday Bhatia, Vatsala Chhibber.

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