The essence of words like ‘freedom’ and ‘independence’ can be tricky and largely subjective. India gained independence from the British colonial rule a good 72 years back and went on to build a strong and democratic country thereon.
Albeit the great victory after over 90 years of struggle, today, India still has to contend with a few challenges from the bottom all the way to the top. When addressed collectively as a society, the resulting scenario can give the citizens both happiness and a better quality of life.
On this Independence Day, let’s reflect on some social barriers that we need to break as a nation in order to obtain the real taste of independence.
Freedom from Agricultural Problems
For over 70 years, Indian farmers have been toiling hard to produce bumper harvests. However, the sector has seen slow progress in recent years, and farmers have hardly got any freedom from the distress. Low farm incomes, crop failures, poor employment rates, and increased incidences of farmer suicides point to a multidimensional problem.
For instance, the Deshpande Foundation launched the Neer Sinchina program in the same year with support from the Tata Trusts to help facilitate irrigation in drought-prone areas across Northern Karnataka.
Mumbai-based startup FreshVnF has been using machine learning (ML) to optimise a farm-to-fork supply chain by connecting farmers with hotels, restaurants, and cafes across India.
The government, too, has been actively contributing to the welfare of farmers. Kisan Mitra, an intermediary between the farmers and the government, was set up to ensure farmers receive their entitlement according to the monetary schemes enlisted to them. The setup also protects farmers from moneylenders who charge exorbitant interest rates.
To add to this, schemes like Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana and Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana are attempting to deliver a new lease of freedom to the farmers.
Freedom from Illiteracy
India has come a long way in terms of educating its citizens and ensuring access to education with a mere 18.32 percent in 1951 to 74.04 percent in 2011.
The 2011 census reveals that Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) for females at the primary level stood at 100.6 against 98.1 for males in 2013-14. On the contrary, dropout rates were 18.30 and 21.20 percent in the Classes I to V, 32.90 and 39.20 percent in Classes I to VIII, for females and males, respectively.
The Government of India, along with educational institutes and other organizations, has been trying to bridge this gap in inequity, and educate more and more people.
One such non-profit organization (NGO) is Maatram, which is working tirelessly to make education more accessible. Founded in 2013 by Sujith Kumar and Punitha Anthony, it has helped around 677 underprivileged children get access to higher education for free.
Though there is still a lot to be done in India’s educational space, the efforts put in by various parties contributed to the total enrolment of female students increasing by five percent on an annual basis with an estimate that by 2030, women pursuing higher studies might turn out to be more than men.
After all, empowering citizens is one of the most valuable assets and what better way to do this than give away educational opportunities!
Freedom from Pollution
According to a report released by the Indian Council of Medical Research, around 77% of India’s population is exposed to outdoor pollution levels above the National Ambient Air Quality Standards safe limit, making it one of the biggest health hazards.
Many entrepreneurs and citizens have been devising innovations and kickstarting initiatives to combat it.
Nanoclean, a startup incubated at IIT Delhi, has developed a nasofilter that sticks to the user’s nasal orifice and restricts foreign particulate matter. The team has ensured it is an environment-friendly product and gives negligible breathing resistance.
Bengaluru-based social enterprise rePurpose is attempting to reduce plastic pollution by helping people keep a tab on their consumption and also negate the ill-effects attached to it. The organisation has developed an algorithm to help people calculate their plastic footprint at an individual level.
The Indian government also joined hands to beat plastic pollution in 2018 by banning all ‘single-use’ plastic materials across the nation. Alongside this, initiatives like upcycling plastic and organising clean-up drives across public spaces, national reserves, historical sites, lakes, and forests were launched both at the government and the citizen level across various cities.
Freedom from Bad Healthcare
The healthcare space in India has wide disparities and gaps due to improper healthcare facilities and inaccessibility to basic medical needs. The country’s healthcare spending remains low at 1.2 percent of the GDP. This is dismal when compared with the US’ 17 percent or China’s 5.5 percent. Presently, India has just 0.7 doctors and 1.1 beds for every 1,000 of its citizens.
Freedom from this skewed setup is of utmost necessity to protect the health and well-being of the citizens.
While the government is aiming to increase the healthcare spending to three percent of the GDP by 2022, the startup ecosystem is using technology to increase the reach, and NGOs are working towards providing free healthcare services to people.
Delhi-based Smile Foundation has been putting in efforts to take healthcare to the poorest of the poor over the last few years. And, to achieve this, it initiated a unique delivery model, called ‘Smile on Wheels’, which seeks to assist problems of mobility, accessibility, and availability of primary healthcare to rural folk.
As Toni Morrison wrote in Beloved, “Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” Here’s hoping this Independence Day brings freedom to every citizen of India.