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Tagore’s Ideals and Our Progress


Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

In light of certain cases which have currently been dominating the news feed in India, let us take some time to compare our visionaries’ inspirational ideals to our current conditions with a line-by-line analysis of this beautiful poem.

Rabindranath Tagore’s “Where the Mind is Without Fear” is a poem that envisages a country where there is no fear of oppression, where discrimination is eradicated, where illogical and superstitions have no place and where the people have dignity and embrace reason and knowledge. In the form of a prayer to the Almighty, Tagore sets the ideals that he believed would make India flourish. Even the Constituent Assembly adapted Tagore’s ideals into the Preamble of the Constitution, where India is declared to be a sovereign republic, free from internal and external coercions. When the Constitution was brought into effect, India became free from external oppression, but internal compulsions have still not vanished. We still cling to some of the worst issues that a society can possibly face.

In the decade of 1940, the world saw two iconic events which continue to be explored today in extensive detail. The pre-independence struggle of India spread a powerful message of rebellion against imperialism, whereas World War II, especially the Holocaust, intended to revive hatred and discriminatory beliefs against certain minorities. At the same time when the horrors inflicted by Adolf Hitler on Jews and other minorities in Europe spread ramifications all over the world, the non-violent Gandhian struggle for India’s independence spread another powerful message; a message that the world respected, a mass freedom movement, Satyagraha, that relied on truth and insistence, ultimately forcing the British to withdraw and transfer power. It later influenced the American civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr., and the anti-Apartheid movement of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. In spite of our glorious freedom struggle, the question is, have we attained the ‘heaven of freedom’ envisioned by so many revolutionaries apart from Rabindranath Tagore?

No country in the world has truly achieved freedom, in terms of mindsets and societal issues. Even the seemingly perfect Western democracies have a long way to go, suffering their own problems of mass-shootings, hostility towards immigrant workers and increasing jingoism. The growing culture of Trumpism is creating intensely nationalistic conditions worldwide. So, in India, is our problem the lack of nationalism? Certainly! Saluting the flag, standing up for the national anthem, beating up anyone who does not do so and spewing hatred towards people online under the garb of anonymity is our brand of nationalism. Adequate attention is not paid to the constructive nation-building programmes. We are a nation which happily discusses the political views of actors and celebrities and maligns them for days, believing ourselves to be nationalists. To achieve Tagore’s ideals, we must be selflessly patriotic, not selfishly patriotic, which is what we are unfortunately heading towards.

Tagore envisioned a country where the mind exists without fear; even today, there are several fears among people. There is fear to speak out against wrongdoing, the consequences being severe backlash and the branding as being ‘politically incorrect’. There is fear to expose corruption of high officials, consequences being harassment and even killing. Money and wealth define status; people in impoverished communities still cannot hold their heads high with dignity. People blame women for the crimes against them and lawyers defend those criminals. Victims of such crimes still have not been empowered enough to hold their heads high with dignity.

Knowledge is still not free; government schools lack the infrastructure to cater to the talents of their students and private education is still the monopoly of the higher income groups. Even reservation systems in schools are exploited by those who do not need it. Economically stable students portray themselves as backward to cash in the benefits of the reservation system, depriving those who truly need it. This is only leading to an increase in the number of sub-par engineers, sub-par doctors graduating. A sizeable population of ‘independent’ India still represents an emaciated nation submerged in poverty and illiteracy.

Tagore idealised a country where narrow domestic walls do not fragment the nation and words emerge from the depth of truth. However, in undeveloped regions, age-old prejudices, the caste system and honour killings still persist. In the name of diversity and adequate representation, the huge body of Parliament exists, but its sessions are washed away with trivial issues, blame games and politicians trying to defend their self-worth. Resolutions do not come out in benefit of the people and the depth of truth, rather the interests of the ruling party. The judiciary hesitates in implementing the Uniform Civil Code across all religions.

The poet prays that the clear stream of reason does not vanish in the dreary desert of age-old customs and superstitions do not override the ability to make right judgements. He wants the mind to be led forward by the Almighty, into open-mindedness and a willingness to embrace change. With growing urbanisation and the rise in a younger, more free-thinking population, people have indeed abandoned their superstitions and are gradually eliminating irrelevant age-old customs. However, due to the restrictive nature of our education systems and mindsets, even with such a talented and young population, India still cannot boast of twenty-year-old billionaires and innovative start-ups. We are a country where the Prime Minister needs to start a cleanliness drive (Swachh Bharat Mission) across the nation to remind us to keep our surroundings clean.

India so far is the most developed of the developing countries and our country’s youth and large working population is our biggest asset. We are growing and becoming self-aware, however, there’s a journey of a thousand miles ahead, which we must begin with a single step. We must focus on helping the underprivileged, cleaning our surroundings and empowering each other and the younger children to become educated. We must actively encourage the feelings of brotherhood in our community to completely dismantle the goals of any politician trying to play by caste or religion and only then can we truly be selfless patriots and say “I love my India”.

Many of these thoughts have been coursing through my head for a considerable period of time now and I must admit, I am also guilty, to a large extent, of not participating in the constructive programmes that I have described. I have written this post, not to criticise anyone, but to put my own guilt into words. I sincerely hope that you enjoyed reading this post!

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