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Common Man- Celebrating 50 years of Indian independence.

Pratibha Prahlad - Bharatiyam Dancer

Pratibha Prahlad is a outspoken, restless woman and she is a dancer. Also a very involved and aware citizen , her dark eyes flash angrily as she lambastes our leadership for the mess that has been created in the last 50 years. Her hands are twisted into several mudras ( postures) as she gestures furiously. She is a daylight's daughter, born in free India. For her freedom is an attitude and it shows in ample amounts when you speak to her.

What does freedom mean to you?

Freedom to me means that I am able to express my thoughts, am able to live my life the way I want to live it. Choose a career I wish to choose, and nobody interferes in my life. Further it means that I can voice my thoughts freely on any issue, without fear of being jailed, of my right to life being taken away from me.

How do you feel living in a free country like India.?

I don't know. I am not really sure whether we are really living in a free country. I mean there are so many instances of telephone tapping and things like that. But I am basically a post-independence child, born maybe 15-16 years after independence. I take freedom for granted. I don't know what it is to struggle for freedom. I have always voiced my opinions without fear in this country. I don't really know what it is to have somebody evoking my human rights. I take freedom for granted.

How would you define a nation?

A nation is a place where people live in harmony, peace and co-operation. Where people belonging to different religions, different sections of the society live together amicably. We have mutual respect for each other. Where we learn to live and let live. Just let each other be. A nation is also a place where people have a feeling of oneness, of belonging to a certain nation. By belonging to a nation you are getting something out of it . A nation is a place where mobility and growth for an individual or a community is ensured. In a nation you have a certain bonding irrespective of which state you belong to. This bonding maybe due to a common language , common thought process or common spirituality.

Do you feel India is still a nation?

Yes, despite caste conflicts, and communal conflicts I feel that we are still a nation. Whether we will remain so for a long time is suspect though, particularly if we go the way we are going. I feel very sad for caste politics. I remember when I was in college, nobody spoke of caste. We never asked each other about our castes. Now I am beginning to feel that the moment you say hello to somebody , they want to know about your caste. I think it is due to the politicization of caste. Caste politics has seeped into the system. It is so rampant that people are suspicious of one another. I remember reading in history about the 'Divide and rule' policy practiced by the British, I think our politicians are more adept at that then the British. Now the division is not in terms of areas, it is in terms of people ; you and your neighbor. The division is amongst ourselves. Among our own people! this saddens me. Politicians play this caste card and at the same time claim to unify us. How can we be united if we are so fractured?

Do you feel the 'Hindu' card played by a particular political party is correct ?

I feel that the political party you are talking about is the only hope for this country. I remember a quotation by Mark Twine,' don't part with your illusions, for once they are gone, you may still exist but you cease to live.' I have an illusion that if that political party comes to power ,may change the system. It is sad that the said party is linked with extremists and Hindu fundamentalists. I believe India can never be a theocratic state. It is not possible for India to be a Hindu Rashtra. Hinduism is not a religion in the conventional sense of the term. It incorporated various other religions also. It has a certain looseness about it. It can accommodate other religions. The idea is not to make India a theocratic state. The idea is to give yourself an identity.

Do you feel we Indians are suffering from an identity crisis?

We are suffering from a morality crisis, more than an identity crisis. We like to identify ourselves as Indians, we are very proud of being Indians. I for example am a very proud Indian. But every time I go abroad, I end up defending my country. Then I have to start talking in terms of art and culture, where we have a solid foundation. Nobody can question our arts or our rich cultural heritage. But the rest of it is so sad, we have a serious morality crisis in this country. It is wrong to blame only political leadership for it. Though they are largely responsible. It is there in our people, in us.. We abuse the female child, we force our children to earn for us, we abuse our neighbors, we interfere in other people's lives all the time. We are perverted. We are corrupt, internally corrupt and we have a way of justifying it too. If our neighbors are corrupt, why not us? But that cannot be the solution. The idea is to correct your neighbor, not to corrupt ourselves.

What do you think of our political system as a conscientious voter?

When I voted for the first time, I was 21. My family was not closely involved with politics so we never had politics dominating our day to day life. The only political matter I remember being discussed about is the budget and the price rise that went along with it. I do remember Indira Gandhi as she first became the PM. I was a little girl then and was very proud of her. The emergency didn't have that kind of impact on me because I was in school then. I didn't know what exactly it was to deprive a person of his basic human rights. I kind of admired Indira Gandhi for taking on the world. Much later when I read about the emergency, why was it clamped? What really happened during emergency, the kind of human rights violations that took place, did I realized the full horror of it. Probably it was the worst thing to have happened at that time. Maybe it is the feeling of being all powerful that gives one the feeling of being a dictator. whatever it is it didn't do right for the country.

Do you think we lack leadership?

Of course we lack leader ship. As I told you, the failures of the political leadership are vastly responsible for the chaos we are experiencing today. If we had a good political leadership I am sure the people of India would have moved far ahead. For the people of India have this reliance. We are also extraordinarily hardworking if need be. Today we don't know where to go, where to look. The system has collapsed. You just keep hitting your head against the wall and how long are you going to do it?

What do you feel about the language issue?

First of all I maintain that we should have been an union of states, in a true federal structure like the European union. The worst thing to have happened to India was the concentration of all powers in the hands of the central government. If we were a federation, language would've posed no problem. Karnataka people would have spoken Kannada, Tamil Nadu people would have spoken Tamil and so on. We could have had a common currency, and a common govt. at the center that looked after key issues like economy and defense. Apart from that we should have left it to the people to decide what they wanted, which language they preferred? There would have been no need to impose a language on anybody. This concept of imposing Hindi came because most of the PMs came from U.P. They spoke Hindi, so they wanted the whole nation to speak in Hindi. This is very wrong. People who would have felt the need to learn another language would've learnt it anyhow on their own initiative. This resistance to the national language by the people in south is vastly due to the imposition of the language. There is no need to impose anything. I wish India was a federation of states, with equal respect for each state's culture, language and identity.

Pl. comment on the influence of western culture on the Indian youth.

When you say western influence on the Indian youth, you mean the urban youth naturally. And that urban youth is in a very minuscule %age compared to the total population of the country. We are talking of western influence in terms of TV channels opening up, in terms of MTV, CNN etc. and we want to resist that. That is very wrong. I mean I am a classical dancer and a pretty well known dancer at that, but I enjoy going to discotheques, I enjoy listening to western music and I do it out of choice. Even today the number of children learning Bharata Natyam or Kuchipudi or Indian Classical Music has not reduced. Infact there are more people interested in Indian classical arts today then there were earlier. It is just a matter of choice and is perfectly all right as far as I am concerned.

Comment on the status of women in India today.

I belong to a family where boys and girls were not treated differently, so I don't know in terms of intensity the violation of women's rights. I do read about issues like physical abuse of women, dowry deaths, female infanticide, but they are happening not in my sphere. I don't think Indians respect women. According to me there is something fundamentally wrong with the Indian male psyche. On one hand they deify women by calling them goddesses, on the other hand you find them abusing their wives. I think most Indian men are insecure. They have a distorted view of themselves. They don't know how to deal with women.

Women in this country have no access to education. They are denied equality of opportunities. But even educated women can't come out of this mold so easily. They are getting into the traps of sexual stereotyping because they want to 'confirm', they want to be considered 'respectable'. Women should be provided with compulsory education. In fact India should be termed a matriarchal society by law. May be then it would make some difference to the lot of women in this society.

Do you mean to say that the constitution has done nothing to better the social condition of women?

The constitution has said a lot of things but it hasn't happened. Our politicians speak a lot about education for women, equal rights for women. But that is all humbug. Because our politicians are a set of humbugs. I don't have any faith in them at all. On one hand you speak of 33% reservations for women, and on the other hand you have hardly 2-3 women, in your council of ministers. Male domination cannot be stopped at one go, certainly not in India.

How do you think we should find a solution to the problem of child labor?

So long as we do not have a proper population policy, child labor cannot be eradicated. Most families see children as an investment, as a source of cheap labor. We ought to have a strict population policy. If you restrict each family to one or two children, irrespective of where they stay, which religion they practice; maybe in the next 20-30 years we will be able to get rid of this problem of child labor. Unfortunately no political party dares to come out with a proper population policy, as that will make it unpopular. All parties are catering to the vested interests of different groups. So long as we don't have a national consensus regarding the population policy, problems like child labor will persist.

Are you happy with the progress of the nation?

No! I am not happy at all. In fact I am very very sad. The system just does not work here. There is no rule of law. There are different laws for different people. Everything happens on the basis of whom you know, rather than what you are. There is no scope for merit in this country. And that is the most tragic thing that can happen to a country. If you are driving away the meritorious population by not giving them enough opportunities, you are depriving India of its intellegensia. There should be no political interference in your day to day life. Just now in India there is political interference everywhere, for your driving license you have to know somebody, for your ration card you have to know somebody..... Its ridiculous! I don't know with what conscience these politicians can go to the villages and promise drinking water in return for a vote. Come on water is our birthright. Roads are our right. Goddamit, why should I vote for somebody in order to get all this? All these basic amenities are a part of being a country you know. How can you be a country, a democracy if you can't even provide drinking voter for your people? Things are so bad in this country that there is political interference even in the field of arts. I mean if you want to perform it depends on which MLA you know, rather than how good a dancer you are. There is no scope for merit in the arts and that is the worst thing that can happen to a country.

How can we rebuild this country?

I cannot answer this question on my own, but I wish most of our politicians would commit suicide en masse. Only then there might be some hope for this country. A new leadership might arise which is genuinely concerned for the country.

By Yati Jindal and Shefali Vaidya.