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Citizens Z: What Is Freedom To Me

When India turns 75 next year, these 17-year-olds come of age, as voters, as citizens with questions and some very pointed answers.

By: Express News Service |
Updated: August 16, 2021 1:20:17 pm
These 17-year-old are raring to vote, and to seize their Constitutional rights.

They are raring to vote, and to seize their Constitutional rights: to free speech, to education, to pursue their dreams, to marry a person of their choice. They are glad India has travelled so far, in girl’s rights, technology, economy; but worry over the divides hurting the country’s diversity, the rich-gap poor, the insecurity for women.

When India turns 75 next year, these 17-year-olds come of age, as voters, as citizens with questions and some very pointed answers. Here, they answer 1) What is freedom to them? 2) Which freedom do they value most? 3) Will they vote? 4) What do they want in a govt? 5) What makes them most proud of India, the least proud? Plus 6) How has India changed in 75 years?

Siddhanth Santhosh
Port Blair, Andaman and Nicobar
In Class 12; wants to become an automobile engineer 

Siddhanth Santhosh

1. Freedom is not only physical freedom. Everybody should be free to live their lives as they want, and that should be acceptable to all.

2. Freedom of expression, to express ourselves as per our wish, with others tolerant of one’s views, is what I value the most.

3. Obviously I want to vote, to be part of choosing a leader who truly represents our thoughts and aspirations.

4. From the Centre, I have no expectations. In the pandemic, we should allow them to do what needs to be done, not criticise them at this juncture. As for the Island administration, I am worried about the rise in road accidents. The administration should also think about the environment.

5. I am grateful that I was born in India. I am least proud of the section who, after being educated here, leave the country. I am not proud either that a section is getting richer and others poorer.

6. I actually became aware of my surroundings about 10 to 11 years back. The country has seen all-around growth in the years since. Eight years back there was not a single shopping mall in Port Blair. Now there are supermarkets and malls. The beaches are more clean.

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Visakhapatnam (Andhra)
1st year law student; wants to become a public prosecutor

B Harish Chandra

1. Freedom is the freedom to choose, irrespective of what someone else thinks, the right to justice; and to be able to express oneself freely, including to criticise authorities.

2. The freedom of speech is most important. Without it, no one would be able to question the policies, arbitrary rules and laws that affect the common man.

3. If we want change, our votes should be the change.

4. The government must ensure an efficient administration and provide law-abiding citizens like me an enabling environment to live with security and dignity. I also expect the government to provide job opportunities. Unemployment is our biggest problem.

5. I am proud of the freedoms provided by our Constitution and the technological advancements made by the country. I am least proud of the fact that people don’t have equal access to resources and there is no proper infrastructure in rural areas.

6. In the years since Independence, India has emerged as a robust democracy and a rising economy. But there is a long list of unfinished tasks.

Rehanso Boo
Medo village (Lohit), Arunachal Pradesh
In Class 12; wants to become an engineer

Rehanso Boo

1. Freedom to me is the freedom to do anything we want to do — whether read a book we want to, travel to a place we have dreamt of, even get a driver’s licence.

2. I value the freedom to study and be what I want the most. My parents own a small clothes shop in the village but I want to do something that takes me out of Medo.

3. Yes I want to vote. Most candidates have limitations but at least voting gives me the right to choose someone whose ideals match mine.

4. I don’t expect much from the government but it should at least ensure basic amenities. We have bad roads, poor health services and barely any phone network. This has proved so difficult during the pandemic, when we had online classes.

5. I am from the Northeast, so obviously its diversity makes me proud. Look at Arunachal — we have so many tribes. I am not proud of the enmity between communities, and about India’s dirty towns and cities… they are so crowded and chaotic. They should be more like our villages.

6. A lot has changed in India — literacy rate, women’s empowerment. My grandparents did not get the opportunity to go to school, and neither did my mother. But look at me. I am educated… and no less than kids my age in cities like Delhi and Mumbai.

Ifza Akhtar
Dibrugarh, Assam
In Class 12; undecided about what she wants to do… “maybe a secure job”

Ifza Akhtar

1. Freedom means being able to do what you want, without restrictions and judgment. The freedom to practise your own religion, and be yourself.

2. My mother trusts me and lets me do my own thing — even if it means coming home a bit late. That is the freedom I value, which is close to my heart.

3. When we vote, we vote with expectations, but governments rarely deliver on promises. So I really don’t like participating in anything political.

4. The Constitution says we are a democratic country, but lately India is no longer a true democracy. There is so much strife, hatred, discrimination. I want a government that promotes unity and brotherhood.

5. So many things about India make me proud — recently it was seeing Neeraj Chopra win the gold, and Assam’s Lovlina Borgohain the bronze at the Olympics. Also, whenever the national anthem plays, I get goosebumps. I don’t like the fact that India has become a very corrupt country.

6. India was progressing before, but now it seems we are stagnating… I think as a country, we were more united before.

Chaharika Uppal
Chandigarh
In Class 12; wants to become a journalist

Chaharika Uppal

1. Freedom is not something tangible, which can be limited to the confines of a Constitution; freedom is a feeling, a feeling to act, speak, express one’s identity without any fear or any form of self-censorship. Only when you are free of fear can you act and express as you wish.

2. I value freedom from fear the most, as it is at the heart of all other liberties. Freedom from living in the shadow of someone else’s hate, of being persecuted for saying the truth, of economic distress.

3. I will vote as it makes me feel like my voice matters. For any democracy to survive, all its citizens need to have control over their individual voices and realise they play an important part in the government’s working.

4. I wish for a government that provides an environment of safety and security in all realms of public life, and shows greater appreciation for peoples’ voice.

5. I am most proud of India’s revolutionary spirit. At all times our people have fought for what they believe is true, since Independence. I am least proud of the country being divided over religion and ethnicity.

6. India is slowly making its way towards the level of freedom it aspired for when it was liberated. With each setback, we have learnt and will keep doing so.

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah
Bara Hindu Rao, Old Delhi
In Class 11; wants to become an engineer

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah

1. When I think of freedom, I think of the freedom of speech, to express what we want to without restrictions. Freedom also means we are all equals, and have the right to practise our religion in peace.

2. I value the right to equality the most, that we can all live in harmony. Whether someone is from a high or low caste, rich or poor, there should be no differentiation.

3. I know voting is important but I’m not exactly excited about it. I think I don’t yet know very much about these things and about political parties.

4. A government should works towards providing health, education, food to all. All basic essentials should be available to all.

5. I am proud that people of all religions and speakers of different languages can live in India together. But I think a lot of improvement is needed in basic services like transport and banking, which will also improve our overall economy.

6. Before Independence, Indians were not equal citizens of the country. That has changed since. People can’t just be sent to jail without any reason now. We have a lot of security as citizens.

Aarti Joshi
Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu
In Class 11; wants to join the civil services

Aarti Joshi

1. Freedom to me means the freedom that keeps people together, the freedom to get an education of one’s choice, and to practise the occupation one wants.

2. As a girl, the freedom to education is the most valuable for me. Women till a few generations ago could not exercise this freedom. It is also important to me that discrimination on the basis of the tone of one’s skin, and prejudices attached to one’s religion, gender or caste, end.

3. Voting is the most important cog in a democracy… Development of the country depends on it. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we are fighting Covid-19, Section 370 has been repealed… we have to think of all this while voting.

4. I expect the government to take decisions that will make the country Atmanirbhar. In the current situation, I would be happy if the government does something about price rise. Covid-19 and lockdowns have broken the backs of the people.

5. Almost everything about India makes me proud, at first thought. We got a gold medal at the Olympics, we are a big economy, have one of the world’s largest armies. Lives of people have improved. That said, the confidence of the poor has collapsed.

6. In the past 74 years, the opportunities for education, the way we are able to use social media suggest India has changed. But negatives like regressive societal norms persist.

Nympha Fernandes
Benaulim, Goa
In Class 12; wants to study history, become a singer, teacher

Nympha Fernandes

1. To me freedom is to do what one wants, with reasonable restrictions. Sometimes, there are more restrictions than there are freedoms.

2. I value all freedoms. It should not be that I have the freedom to choose my profession but not to change my religion. For example, I like to sing and I like history too. So I should be able to choose either or choose both.

3. There is no difference really whether I vote or not. Politicians make lofty promises and don’t fulfill any. If you don’t vote, you have no expectations.

4. The government should set aside a section for the visually impaired in movie halls and theatres; there should be audio-described movies. My family or sighted friends have to describe scenes to me and that can be irritating… When a film releases, the government should make it compulsory for producers to also prepare an audio format. (Born pre-mature at 6 months, Nympha was kept in an incubator for a long time, and lost her eyesight after the hospital neglected to keep her eyes covered.)

5. I am most proud of our tradition of generosity. When I have little of something but I see that someone else needs it more, I give it to them. I am least proud of the lack of security in our country.

6. I am sure at the time of Independence the environment was much cleaner… Nobody wants to spend time in nature any more. People are always with their mobiles and computers. This has led to mood swings and attitude problems.

Dip Sosa
Nanavada village (Gir Somnath), Gujarat
Just cleared Class 12; wants to be an IT engineer

Dip Sosa

1. I don’t know what to say about freedom. Currently, I am struggling to get enrolled in a university as my school is not giving me an LC (school leaving certificate) till I clear fees dues of Rs 50,000. I can’t participate in IAF recruitment for the same reason… despite having scored 88% in Class 12.

2. The fact that I am able to go to an educational institute and study is the biggest freedom for me. And we owe it to Babasaheb Ambedkar.

3. I absolutely want to vote. I want to exercise my franchise to elect leaders who would work for the country.

4. I have not thought much about what I want from the government, but corruption must be checked.

5. I am proud that the country has made big strides in education. Thanks to Babasaheb Ambedkar, SC students like me are getting scholarships, helping us pursue our dreams. Of late, recruitment drives by the Army, police have been regular.

But corruption is a big concern. Secondly, as a society, we can be more compassionate. Vivan Vadher (who died recently of a rare spinal muscular atrophy) should have been alive. If only a section of us had contributed even Rs 1 each, he would have been alive.

6. Many things have changed for good in the past 70 years. But for me, the fact remains that my father, a fisherman, is still in a Pakistan jail, and that my mother is struggling to ensure that my two elder sisters and I are not forced to stop studying. Maybe, she will mortgage our land.

Sneha Solanki
Jhajjar, Haryana
In Class 12; wants to be a doctor

Sneha Solanki

1. Freedom means the right to express our views, no restrictions on movement in any part of the country. But there should be checks too to avoid misuse of this freedom.

2. Girls should have the freedom to choose the profession they want, and their own life partners, that’s the most important freedom. The scales are unequal even when it comes to clothes of our choice.

3. Yes, I want to vote so that we can be part of the election process, decide who is wrong and who is right.

4. I hope the government changes the system of reservation in educational institutions; meritorious students sometimes lose out. To help the children of backward communities, there should be scholarships, coaching facilities and monetary benefits in place of reservation. There should be more job opportunities in the public sector.

5. Unity in diversity is the most valuable asset of our country. There are people of different castes, religions and languages but still they live together. I am least proud of the reservation system for admission and government jobs.

6. New technology has come to India since Independence apart from a lot of development in terms of infrastructure, and job opportunities. Earlier, we used to import even foodgrains. Jammu and Kashmir has become an integral part of India after abrogation of Article 370. There is a change in the mindset of people too, like more and more women participating in sports.

Vanshika Ahluwalia
New Shimla, Himachal Pradesh
In Class 12; wants to become an engineer

Vanshika Kanaujia

1. Freedom is the right to function as per one’s will and to exercise one’s rights as well as duties.

2. I value the right to education the most. It can help you shape your destiny and also light someone else’s path.

3. Yes, I will vote. I believe one vote can make a difference.

4. Before expecting anything from the government, I believe it is our duty as citizens to exercise our rights. They say the government makes policies but the implementation is not that good. Why? Because we as citizens have to follow the norms.

5. India is unique. Its diversity is its most beautiful and important part. The thing that makes me least proud is that India is secular only in the pages of the Constitution. Islamophobia is spreading at the speed of light.

6. The way people perceive things has changed since Independence, there is a lot more stress on education, specially of the girl child. The government should provide free education till at least Class 12 to all students, regardless of economic status. That will make a big, big difference.

Kalpana Tamang
Jammu
In Class 12; wants to become an IAS officer

Kalpana Tamang

1. Freedom to me is the ability to do what I want to. There should be no restrictions, as only then is one free.

2. Being a girl, the most important freedom to me is being able to walk alone at night.

3. I will vote, it is my right to choose my government.

4. I am a Taekwondo player. I want the government to support athletes financially, socially and emotionally so that they can bring laurels for the country.

5. Our society is a fine example of unity in diversity. Despite so many religions, cultures, languages and opinions, we live together and stand united. I am least proud about girls being unsafe in the country.

6. There was a time when people used to study under a lamp. Now we are studying on a mobile phone. Technology has changed a lot in 70 years. The spread of education has meant people have a modern outlook towards things like boys and girls studying together, interacting with each other.

Juvairiya T A
Kochi, Kerala
Just finished Class 12; wants to become a schoolteacher

Juvairiya T A

1. The freedom we enjoy today is the result of so many sacrifices, but there are a lot of people who misuse that freedom. Also, women still face difficulties in moving about, especially at night.

2. The freedom of speech and expression, that allows us to express our ideas and opinions, is the most important to me.

3. Yes I will vote. It allows us the right to engage politically and elect the people who we think should govern us.

4. I expect the government to build schools across the country so that more children get access to education and can contribute to the country’s growth.

5. Given that such a large majority derives some form of income from agriculture, I am very proud of the vast strides India has made in the farming sector. I am least proud of the treatment of women in India.

6. India has developed a lot in the past 75 years, there are so many industries where millions have jobs. That’s progress.

Stanzin Yangdol
Leh, Ladakh
Studying commerce; wants to become “a good human being”

Stanzin Yangdol

1. Freedom to me means being true to myself and living by my own principles.

2. Freedom of speech is what I value the most, apart from freedom of choice.

3. Yes I am looking forward to voting because the freedom to choose our leaders reflects the kind of future we want to live in.

4. I want the government to focus on removing poverty and social inequality, as well as taking quick and decisive decisions for the soldiers at the border.

5. I am proud that even though India has a lot of diversity, at the end we all stand together for our country. I feel least proud of the patriarchy that exists and that injustice is done to women every single day.

6. India is still trying to fight things like corruption, poverty and injustice, but compared to 70 years back, it has become independent and self-reliant.

Ishaq bin Shihab
Kavaratti, Lakshadweep
Just cleared Class 12; wants to do diploma in Nautical Science

Ishaq bin Shihab

1. When I hear of freedom, the national anthem and the national flag come to my mind. Freedom for me is the ability to speak and express our minds, practise any religion, talk any language and travel anywhere in the country.

2. The freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to be educated are the most valuable freedoms.

3. Yes I will vote because our vote determines who gets to govern over us. We want people we like to be in power.

4. My biggest expectation from the government is that it ensures that we are able to exercise all the freedoms and rights as per the Constitution.

5. I am most proud of India’s defence services, and the way they protect us from enemies. I am least proud of India’s poverty and unemployment.

6. India has achieved a lot of growth since 1947. Our cities have developed and millions of jobs have been created. More jobs are needed though still.

Naomi Kipgen
Imphal East, Manipur
B.Sc 1st semester student; wants to be a civil servant

1. Freedom to me is being able to speak and act without restrictions, but without hurting others.

2. Freedom of choice is the most important for me. I would rather have this freedom than allowing others to decide for me and force me to do things I don’t want to.

3. Yes I want to vote… I get to choose the leader I want.

4. I have high expectations. I want a government that is supportive of citizens and their needs, be available for them 24/7. Every citizen must be treated equally, irrespective of their caste, creed, or religion. The government has been doing a lot, I am looking forward to more.

5. I’m proud of India’s tradition, heritage, diversity. However, I’m least proud when it comes to women’s education. Despite programmes like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, very few are able to take this opportunity. Crime against women is also worrying. Recently I got to know about a girl who was murdered by her own family members for wearing jeans.

6. Since 1947, India has achieved tremendous progress in growth, income levels, and standard of living. But people still believe in the caste system, which is really distressing.

Sharon Naomi Chyne Kharmalki
Shillong, Meghalaya
In Class 11; wants to be a Physics professor

Sharon Naomi Chyne Kharmalki

1. Freedom is the ability to think and do what you want, without restrictions and without violating other peoples’ freedoms.

2. I value the freedom to speak the most. In India, many girls (and women) are abused and are rarely able to speak up. Personally, I value the fact that I was able to tell my parents what course I wanted to pursue.

3. Yes, I want to vote. It helps us choose the people who represent our wants and needs.

4. Even a degree in India can be bought. I want a government that reduces corruption and gives every child in India a chance at education.

5. Diversity, and respect for tradition and culture make me the most proud of India. In Meghalaya, there is so much culture, so much music. I also like that our country is a democracy and we have the freedom to choose what to wear, what to eat. I am not proud of the discrimination that’s rampant in India.

6. India has changed a lot over the years. We seem to be moving forward… progress may seem a little slow, but it is still happening.

Annemae Laldinkimi
Aizawl, Mizoram
In Class 11; wants to be a lawyer

Annemae Laldinkimi

1. Freedom is the ability to do things a person wants, without being held back.

2. I most value the ability to say how I feel about all kinds of issues, especially as a girl. The fact that I can give my opinion on Facebook on what I feel about the Assam-Mizoram border clash. Or the fact that someone from Assam can do the same.

3. Yes, I want to vote, elections are huge and exciting. I can bring about change because every vote counts.

4. I expect the government to try and be better than what they were yesterday. In Mizoram, I would like better roads, and proper electricity… we have so many power cuts. I also want the government to make an effort to integrate people from the Northeast with the rest of the country. We have been ignored a lot.

5. The fact that so many tribes and communities can live together is the most beautiful part about India. I don’t like that there is an ever-increasing gap between the rich and poor, and the corruption.

6. We have a better standard of living in India today, but there’s a long road ahead of us.

Swaraj Tandel
Navi Mumbai, Mumbai
Preparing for JEE; wants to become an aeronautical engineer, then an IAS officer

Swaraj Tandel

1. Freedom is the autonomy to think, speak and act freely, and to live in a country where there is no form of dictatorship or modern slavery, like human trafficking, forced marriages.

2. The right to speak my mind and express myself without fear, especially in light of growing intolerance towards others over their views, is the most important to me. I think issues should be solved by debates and discussions and no more lives should be lost (over this).

3. I will vote, but I wish we had more educated elected representatives, with cleaner records. We also need more women leaders.

4. In Class 10, we read in textbooks that corruption was a huge problem in India. I think the government needs to make stronger laws to deal with it. The government should also respond to public issues like building of roads and infrastructure on time.

5. I love how people from different religions, regions and castes live together and celebrate together. Our secularism matters the most to me. What I am not proud of is India’s poverty. I am also against reservation for socially backward classes and instead want it for financially backward classes.

6. We have made excellent progress in our space missions, our economy has prospered, and we have the potential to become a superpower. On the flipside, the per capita GDP is terrible, population is a major concern.

Liang Yanna
Kohima, Nagaland
In Class 12; wants to be a doctor

Liang Yanna

1. The choice to say what I want to say, do what I do, without restrictions from higher authorities, while respecting the rights of others, is what freedom is to me.

2. As a girl, to be able to walk alone without any fear is what I value the most. To be equal in all fields as boys.

3. Yes, I hope to vote because as a citizen, we may not always be able to express our own thoughts. It’s important we elect representatives to do it for us, to convey our issues.

4. I expect a transparent, efficient administration, good medical facilities and infrastructure. In Nagaland, I expect create more jobs — the state has probably the highest number of educated unemployed in the country. I also want the government to make the Northeast more peaceful… we have gone through a lot of violence and insurgencies.

5. The fact that we all ultimately manage to live together without differences. That is India. And that makes me proud. I am least proud about the racism we northeasterners face from mainland states. True, I have not experienced it firsthand but one look at social media is enough… There is so much hate out there.

6. In 75 years, we have come very far in the field of science and technology. We have produced personalities in sports, medicine. However, there is a lot left to be done, especially in the Northeast.

Akshita Pattnaik
Bhubaneswar, Odisha
In Class 11; wants to be a ‘change maker’

Akshita Pattnaik

1. Freedom is the right to express my views without hesitation, without being judged, in the process also becoming a facilitator for others to do so.

2. I value being able to express my feelings, thoughts and opinions the most… this directly connects to physical freedom.

3. Voting is my right and the first step towards being recognised as an adult citizen. So I will vote as it will make me feel more connected to the country, more Indian.

4. A government should ensure equal rights and importance for each and every human being irrespective of cast, creed, sex and religion. It should also bring in more stringent laws against harm to environment or animals.

5. I feel proud that India is so rich in ethics and culture… I feel the least proud about the fact that our country focuses more on secularism than on our religion. The world has a Muslim country, a Christian country but it doesn’t have a Hindu country. We should focus on what Hinduism has preached, and while doing so, be accommodative of other religions.

6. I have only seen in pictures how things have changed before I was born, but the change is huge. Change takes time… women now have equal rights, India now recognises the LGBTQ section. Now most children have access to education.

Ekampreet Kaur
Kothaguru village (Bathinda), Punjab
Studying in Class 11; wants to be a doctor

Ekampreet Kaur

1. Freedom to me is equal rights for the rich and poor, and to be able to voice one’s opinions.

2. A freedom where every life matters is what I want, unlike now when the Centre is not even acknowledging the death of over 500 farmers participating against the farm laws (Ekampreet has been part of the protests).

3. By voting, do we get governments that deliver? Why are farmers sitting on protest for more than eight months then? I have lost faith in electoral politics… Sometimes I feel that in many ways, an independent India is still following the rules of slave India.

4. I want a government that makes efforts to increase the happiness index of the country. We will be happy if governments are honest. I want affordable education, health for the masses, a country where no one sleeps hungry at night.

5. Our diversity gives me a sense of pride, people from so many different states living in harmony. However, these days many forces are trying to break this by spreading hate, which makes me the least proud. Also, the pervading corruption is another thing.

6. In the past 75 years, only the faces of leaders have changed. Poverty has increased, population has increased, intolerance has increased, communal harmony has decreased, the gap between rich and poor has increased, pollution has increased… The making of roads, bridges, malls shouldn’t be termed development. India will progress when we stop judging others and value every opinion, irrespective of caste, colour, creed.

Mahi Noor Khan
Udaipur, Rajasthan
In Class 12; wants to be a fashion designer

Mahi Noor Khan

1. Each and every girl has the right to be educated. But Muslims countries and culture doesn’t promote (girl education) and after 18 you get married and your family doesn’t want you to study. One should have the freedom to study whatever they wish to.

2. So I value the freedom to study the most. Because if a person is educated, they can do anything they wish to do. If you suppress a person from childhood, discourage them from studying and eventually marry them off and make them a housewife, then that ‘freedom’ isn’t freedom, it is of no use. If one is independent, one won’t have to depend on anyone. At my home, we have a culture of studies and our father has given us the freedom to study.

3. Of course I’m very excited about voting. Everyone should vote. If someone is comfortable with a party and it promises development, then one should vote for that party.

4. The government should put more emphasis on education for girls. Additionally, it should ensure safety of girls. Women still can’t roam freely at night.

5. I am most proud of India’s brotherhood. There are thousands of cultures, yet we are all Indians. But there is lack of education.

6. There has been immense change in the past 70 years. You spoke of voting, and participation of women in voting has increased. And, although more can be done, the culture of education has changed for the better.

Soyen Dhakal
Gangtok, Sikkim
In Class 11; wants to be a politician

Soyen Dhakal

1. Freedom is when we can express ourselves freely. It means we can exercise our basic fundamental rights, without anyone holding us back.

2. Freedom of speech is the most important. I voice my opinion when I can. Recently my friend put up an inappropriate reel about women on Instagram. I asked him to remove it. When he did not, I used my Instagram to point out it was wrong. So while he may have a view, I can also have a counter-view.

3. Yes, I am looking forward to voting. People my age are not interested in politics usually… many just want to ‘Netflix and chill’. But I think it is necessary to be aware and interested as politics is something that impacts us directly.

4. Present-day politicians speak more and do less. I want politicians who speak less and do more — an efficient government that acts.

5. India’s diversity, of course, makes me proud. But people are increasingly becoming narrow-minded and radical on religious lines. I want everyone to live in harmony.

6. Evil practices like child marriage are declining in the country, and India is developing. Since the 1990s, there has been major growth and development, and I hope we become a superpower soon.

Sukhdev S
Vellore, Tamil Nadu
In Class 12; wants to do research in physics

Sukhdev S

1. I am able to attend school via online classes, but there is a woman working as a help at my neighbour’s house and recently I found her son was not able to go to school as they have more pressing problems. I think freedom to me is all about that; the ability to study irrespective of social status.

2. Freedom to spend time with friends is the most valuable to me right now during the pandemic… Only in the past week weeks have I been able to meet some of my friends thanks to the new tuition class I have joined.

3. Of course I want to vote. I guess we choose parties and leaders to achieve what we deserve as a society.

4. I want a government that provides education that is completely free and of the best standards.

5. India is colourful. The diversity of different cultures, languages, religions… that is where I find the beauty of India.

6. We are good in education, best in sports now. India is one of the best countries.

M Buchhiram
Adilabad, Telangana
In a tribal residential junior college; wants to become a scientist

1. Freedom to me is the freedom to be me, myself. Freedom to choose how and where to live. In a free society, it should not matter if I am an Adivasi or from a marginalised community.

2. Freedom of speech is what is the most valuable, as without it society would become some kind of an invisible jail. The moment freedom of speech and expression is taken away, a regime of fear begins.

3. Yes I will vote. It is true that youths voting in large numbers can bring about change.

4. The government should provide employment opportunities, felicitate an atmosphere of investment, ensure security and dignity.

5. I am proud of India’s multicultural heritage and traditions. But while yoga has gone to the world stage, there are many Indian traditions which need to be recognised.

6. India has become a powerhouse of software development, automobile manufacturing, pharma, health and medical care in the past 70 years. We have earned the respect of the world.

Tanmoy Debnath
Agartala, Tripura
In Class 11; wants to be a doctor

Tanmoy Debnath

1. Freedom is like flying in the open sky without barriers, doing things without restrictions. Women’s education and their progress is an important part of that — a world where no one sets the terms for women anymore. It should be the same for everyone.

2. Education is the most important right. Earlier, only a chosen few were educated, but now everyone can go to schools. However, despite this, the world is divided between the rich and poor. If education were free, the country would be a lot better.

3. Yes, I am looking forward to voting for the first time in 2022. The promise of free or low-cost education will be an important factor for me when I cast my vote.

4. Free education and healthcare, equality, secularism, employment opportunities, greater urbanisation and women’s empowerment are what I look for in a government. It must focus on development instead of war.

5. India’s secularism makes me most proud. Any form of alienation and discrimination is against the idea of India. But corruption is rampant in policing and administration and that makes me sad.

6. India has become a more vibrant economy since Independence. There has been progress on women’s empowerment. But a lot more has to be done.

Mohammad Ayaan
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
In Class 10; wants a steady job

Mohammad Ayaan

1. For me, freedom means happiness. Those who are free are also happy.

2. The freedom to get an education is the most important to me. I have not learnt anything new for the past one year or so since Covid struck and schools shut down. I am falling behind as I don’t have a smartphone to attend online classes.

3. Voting will make me feel like I am all grown-up. However, I am not sure how much I can change with my one vote.

4. It is the government’s job to ensure that people are safe, and get basic things like food, water and shelter. I read that in one of my school books, and I don’t think it is happening. I see so many people struggling to get two meals. My family too. Seven of us, including my parents and siblings, live in one room in Lucknow.

5. What makes me proud about India is that so many people of different religions live together here. Take my locality, we go to each other’s houses for festivals and help each other out during problems. The thing that makes me least proud is how some people have so much, while the poor have so little.

6. I don’t know about the change over 75 years, but since I have started to understand things, I see that more and more people have mobile phones and computers, even though my family still doesn’t have one. I use my neighbour’s phone to watch YouTube sometimes. Dekhte hain mujhe kab mobile milega (Let’s see when I get a mobile phone).

Zeba Akhtar
Lalgola (Murshidabad), West Bengal
In Class 12; wants to become a civil servant

Zeba Akhtar

1. The liberty to live and voice one’s opinions on any matter or topic without fear is what is freedom to me. It is no one poking their nose into what I eat, wear. However, I feel in the name of freedom one should not hurt someone else’s feelings.

2. Freedom of speech is the most important. If we can’t speak freely, any freedom has no meaning.

3. Yes, I will vote. Taking part in choosing a government that will run your country is the most beautiful thing in a democracy.

4. Any government should consistently work for the welfare of the common people. Every citizen should be able to enjoy basic needs. Also, the government should create more job opportunities.

5. India is keeping pace with top countries, and this makes me proud. I am least proud of the communal disharmony we are seeing. India is known for its unity in diversity, and now the hatred against each other disturbs me deep inside.

6. People are free of so many prejudices now. India has also seen development in science, sports, economy, education, self-defence, military power and infrastructure.

Palla Jethin
Vizianagaram (Andhra)
In intermediate second year; wants to become an agriculture scientist

Palla Jethin

1. Freedom to me is the right to choose, live and work as one wants without anyone telling you what to do. The right not to bow to an opinion demanded by the government or someone else.

2. The right to free speech and expression is the most valuable right. You need both to question the government and authorities, it is the only way to raise issues that matter.

3. Yes, I am excited about voting. We get to elect a government once every five years, so why not exercise the right? Students discuss local politics a lot, and so, as soon as they are of voting age, they should participate in the electoral process.

4. First and foremost, we expect a government to create more job opportunities. It is difficult to choose a career when students do not see any jobs in any sector, and the government could provide skill coaching and more scholarships. We also need a government that treats all citizens equally, without any bias.

5. I am very proud of our culture and traditions, the co-existence of people of different faiths.

6. Social and economic inequality has reduced since India won Independence, although a lot more needs to be done. The country is an IT hub now, a manufacturing giant, and self-sufficient in foodgrains. There are lots of advances in health and medical care, including development of vaccines. Women are getting opportunities in almost all the sectors.

Vanshika Kanaujia
South Extension, South Delhi
In Class 12; wants to work in management or finance

Vanshika Kanaujia

1. Freedom is the liberty to be oneself, to express oneself fully whichever way one wants, and to be able to do what one wants.

2. I am a very vocal person who likes articulating herself. I want to be free to do that. So I think the freedom of speech and expression is very important.

3. I feel that it’s very important to vote to be able to be decisive.

4. I don’t have any personal expectations from the government, but for the country, it should work towards making sure that everyone enjoys a basic standard of living. That is the most fundamental thing a human wants.

5. I’m proud of our diverse cultures, that we are able to uphold them. But one thing we have not been able to achieve even after so many years of Independence is a basic standard of education. I live in a privileged area, I have the privilege to study what I want, but a lot of people don’t have that.

6. It’s really difficult to say how things have changed since Independence because so many things have improved. Even five years is too long a period because of how fast things change. The very structure of the economy is different from our early socialist-type economy.

Yuvraj Bandekar
Valpoi, Goa
In Class 12; wants to be an engineer/ pharmacist/ policeman

Yuvraj Bandekar

1. Freedom is not violating anyone’s human rights, where every human is treated equally.

2. Freedom of speech comes first as everyone wants to share their opinions and ideas without fear of legal action.

3. My vote matters. I have to choose a good leader for our country.

4. The government should treat men and women equally. That’s the first thing. It should also provide subsidies to farmers.

5. I feel proud that India is developing, but is still connected to its roots, is culturally very rich and Hindus, Muslims or Christians, they celebrate their festivals with each other. The gap between rich and poor is what makes me feel the least proud.

6. In the past 70 years, there has been development in infrastructure and education.

Aamil Lodhi
Gandhinagar, Gujarat
Just cleared Class 12; wants to do B.Sc, Mechanical Engineering

1. Freedom is a social environment where we agree to disagree.

2. Academic freedom, freedom of dissent and freedom of speech are the most important according to me.

3. Yes, I would like to vote as it makes a difference.

4. Right to quality education for all is the first thing the government should work on. It must ensure that the demands in the education sector meet the supply. It should run the sector entirely.

5. Our freedom struggle and the people of this nation make me the most proud. We come together whenever the nation needs us, whether to guard the Constitution or to uplift the spirit of humanity. I am least proud of the supply chain management in our country, we have sufficient resources but the management is poor.

6. At the time of Independence, we were a starving country. We outlived the worst refugee crisis in history, and a war just after Independence. Today we are climbing the ladder to be the largest economy in the world.

Akshay Dahiya
Kharkhoda town (Sonipat), Haryana
In Class 11; wants to be a businessman

Akshay Dahiya

1. One should have the right to choose one’s career options and life partner. There should be freedom to go to any part of the country, the world, to learn new things.

2. Freedom to choose a career is the most important for me, as being forced into a profession can leave one miserable for life.

3. I am waiting to vote for my favourite party. With the power of vote, we can remove a government, which doesn’t work as per the expectations of the people.

4. My expectation of the government is to develop villages and towns like cities. There should be model schools in villages too, apart from good parks. Uninterrupted electricity supply and clean drinking water should be ensured for all. Corruption should be checked. Parties should fulfil the promises they make before polls.

5. I like the liberal lifestyle of the people of our country. There are no restrictions on dressing as per faith. Kurta-pyjama, shirt-trousers, dhoti-kurta, people can wear what they want. Everybody has the freedom to celebrate their festivals. I am impressed by the might of our military too.
I am least proud of the lack of sanitation facilities. People are not very aware of this.

6. We have more colleges, electric vehicles now, compared to Independence. Apart from material advancement, there is a positive change in the mindset of people too. The problem of dowry and the discrimination between girls and boys is decreasing.

Harsh Duggal
Panchkula, Haryana
Just cleared Class 12; wants to become an Army officer

Harsh Duggal

1. The freedom to choose whom I want to love, to speak freely, and to do what I want to is freedom to me.

2. The freedom that comes first for me is the right to choose my career options and to follow my heart.

3. I can’t wait to vote. It feels great to be part of the voting process of the largest democracy in the world.

4. The government should look for ways to end corruption and poverty, and to improve infrastructure and promote health and education.

5. I’m proud of India’s culture, unity in diversity, and its history in sports. I’m least proud of the number of rape cases in India.

6. India has evolved in the past seven decades, gained recognition in all possible fields. It has a strong Army, Navy, Air Force, which is working towards giving equal rights and opportunities to women.

Kashish Negi
Leo (Kinnaur), Himachal Pradesh
In BA-I; wants to become an IAS officer

Kashish Negi

1. Freedom is the right of individuals to do what they want, as long as it is ethically and morally right.

2. Freedom of speech is the most important freedom.

3. Yes, I will vote. It helps us choose the right person for the right role.

4. I hope the government improves the education system, and the New Education Policy seems a welcome step. As I belong to a rural community, I feel it’s important to bridge the digital divide between cities and villages.

5. I am proud of our unity in diversity, people belonging to different religions and ethnicities, with diverse cultures, eating habits, living together. India is the land of enlightened spiritual leaders like the Buddha. I feel very sad that some anti-social elements are widening the gap between people, they are manipulating us for their political benefits.

6. India has made tremendous progress in raising the standard of living, literacy, life expectancy and other economic indicators.

Akshat Sharma
Gulthani village (Shimla), Himachal
Pursuing BE; wants to become an entrepreneur

Akshat Sharma

1. Freedom to me is the right to live the way I want to without anyone interfering.

2. To choose the most important freedom is like choosing one sensory organ over the other. It’s not possible to choose one type of freedom or right over the other. For instance, the right to live without the freedom of expression will mean nothing.

3. Voting is the easiest way to contribute to nation-building. It is our moral duty.

4. The government should always look for ways to improve the lot of the nation and provide new opportunities to its people.

5. I like our rich culture, but I dislike the divisions in our society, leading to an Apartheid mentality.

6. An independent India has made big strides in every field, our quality of life has improved manifold.

Abhijith Mathikalam
Thrissur, Kerala
In Class 12; wants to be a mechanical engineer

Abhijith Mathikalam

1. For me, freedom is the right to live in the manner that I feel is right. I don’t want to see my food habits banned or my mobility curtailed.

2. I value freedom of expression the most — the freedom and right to air my opinion or views.

3. I am waiting for the earliest opportunity to join the process to elect a government or a people’s representative of my choice. I don’t have a clear political stand or choice yet, but once I get the chance to vote, I will be able to have a clear view of politics.

4. A government should give a sense of security to its people. It should strive for the betterment of ordinary people, without indulging in corruption.

5. I feel proud that India is the largest democratic country in the world. The achievements in science and the existence of cultural diversity also make me proud. But the communalism in the country makes me feel ashamed. Also, the rising sexual violence against women and children are a blot on our country.

6. Our country’s military prowess and great strides in technology are the biggest changes that have taken place in the last 75 years. The changes in technology are most felt in the education sector.

Henna Nasrin K
Mavoor (Kozhikode), Kerala
In Class 12; wants to become a doctor

Henna Nasrin K

1. Freedom to me is the right to live with dignity and pride irrespective of the circumstances in my life.

2. The freedom to demonstrate my own attitude and perspective without fear, before anyone, is the most valuable to me.

3. I am eagerly waiting to take part in voting, though I don’t have any political stand as of now. I have started observing politics in the media.

4. A government should ensure everyone a safe working environment, ensure the protection and welfare of the weaker sections, and ensure better educational facilities for all.

5. I feel proud of the country’s rich tradition and culture. Our country’s democratic system, which has survived 75 years, also makes me proud. I feel ashamed about the continuing atrocities against women and children.

6. The most remarkable change in the last 75 years is in the education sector. Classrooms have played a big role in deciding the destiny of the country.

Krishna Murali
Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala
In Class 12; wants a career in banking

Krishna Murali

1. Freedom is the right to air my opinion before anyone. I should have the freedom to live life the way I have planned. That includes the right to enjoy my food habits, the right to wear clothes of my choice and to move around the world as per my choice.

2. The most precious freedom is the freedom to shape my life as per my dreams and wishes.

3. I am keen to exercise my right to vote. That is an opportunity to air my views on politics and an elected government.

4. I expect the government to treat its people equally. Everyone should get equal justice. Even as a school-going girl, I feel there is disparity in distributing schemes. Both minority and majority communities should get equal justice.

5. I feel proud of the rich and long cultural tradition of India. What makes me ashamed is our continuing poor performance in the sporting arena.

6. The growth in science and technology is the biggest change in the country in the last 75 years.

Stanzin Desal
Leh, Ladakh
Wants to become a chartered accountant

Stanzin Desal

1. Freedom means having full control over my life, without having anyone question it.

2. I value the freedom of speech and expression the most.

3. Yes, I am looking forward to voting.

4. I expect the government to strive to reduce gender gaps and acknowledge and work towards checking climate change.

5. I am proud of the diversity in ethnicities and cultures of our country. I am not proud of the class and gender gaps that I see and experience.

6. India has come a long way. We see a country full of youth who seem to sympathise with modern-day problems and to work towards removing and reducing inequalities.

Princy Das
Pune, Maharashtra
Studying architecture

Princy Das

1. To me, freedom is that Rabindranath Tagore poem, ‘Where the mind is without fear’. It means the ability to be myself in my truest form and act without constraint, pursue choices without negative judgments or meaningless obligations.

2. I value above all the freedom to choose what I want to do and what is right for me without being forced by others.

3. Yes, I hope to vote. We should know the candidate we are voting for and not vote blindly.

4. The government should kill poverty. It should also work towards removing obstacles like casteism and sexism.

5. I am most proud about how India helped its neighbours during the pandemic. I am least proud of how slow things work here in terms of implementation of policies.

6. We have grown a lot in the past 75 years, in technology, health, defence.

Prajwal Shah
Kolhapur, Maharashtra
In Class 12; wants to study artificial intelligence, machine learning

Prajwal Shah

1. Freedom is the right to do anything one wants without causing harm to others.

2. Until recently, I was not allowed to go out at night with friends, even for group studies. I value the freedom that now my parents are comfortable with it.

3. Yes, I am eagerly waiting to vote. I want to be a responsible citizen.

4. A government is expected to be for the people and by the people. What we see today is a government by the people but not so much for the people. There should be focus on reducing corruption, giving basic rights to people.

5. I was in the NCC in school and I am proud of the Army whose jawans stand at the border in extreme conditions. I am not proud of the fact that India has one of the highest rates of corruption in the world.

6. We have seen improvement in exports, and achievements in the field of science in the past 70 years. For instance, we are one of the few nations to reach Mars’s orbit on the first attempt.

Smruti Ranjan Pradhan
Raghurajpur (Puri), Odisha
In Class 12; wants to be a Gotipua dancer

Smruti Ranjan Pradhan

1. The ability to pursue what I want to, without resistance is freedom to me (Gotipua is a traditional dance form of Odisha, performed only by boys who dress up as girls ).

2. I value the freedom of expression, the freedom to express myself through my dance.

3. Voting would empower me as a citizen, give me a voice to raise concerns, to be both critical and appreciative of the government.

4. The government should promote the traditional art forms, develop better schools for such arts. Back in my village, I hope the government can give us a pucca house.

5. I am proud of our cultural diversity and rich heritage, every state has a different language, cuisine, dance form. There is always something new to learn. What makes me sad is that people tend to forget this cultural richness.

6. There is better connectivity, roads, trains, air routes now. Distance has shortened also due to phones and the Internet.

Palak Kumari
Malla Bedina village (Nawanshahr), Punjab
In Class 12; wants to become a judge

Palak Kumari

1. The right to good education for every child at a low cost, and the freedom to not be afraid when stepping out of home… this is freedom to me.

2. I value most the freedom of education for girls, unlike when this was not given much importance.

3. I will vote, this is the right of every adult in this country.

4. The government should provide for a library in every village and locality, so that people of all age groups can access good books. This can inculcate good values among us, even minimise the crime rate against girls. Commercialisation of education must be stopped as it deprives talented students of higher education, and the government should ensure there are jobs in private or public sectors for every one as per their calibre, or help in self-employment.

5. When our players win at international events like the Olympics, or earn a name in any field, it makes me very proud. Incidents like eve-teasing and other serious crimes against girls such as foeticide, or people being discriminated against because of their caste and creed, leading to incidents like the violence at Partition, embarrass me.

6. The biggest change over the years is the coming of the Internet and social media. Now the entire mankind is on one platform. India is more self-dependent, well-connected, forward-looking and doing great research in the field of technology and science. A majority of the girls have equal opportunities as boys.

Bakshvir Kaur
Sadiq (Ferozepur), Punjab
Preparing for IELTS test; wants to go abroad to study

Bakshvir Kaur

1. I want to study abroad for better education. My parents have allowed me to pursue my dream. This is freedom for me.

2. Girls now have more freedom to choose what they want to study. It is very important for us to have the right to study what we want and where.

3. I am not much excited about voting because I feel governments don’t work for the people.

4. I expect many things from the government — free medical treatment for those below poverty line, a good education system, jobs so people can meet their basic needs.

5. There are things that one can be proud of, like sports, so many have performed well in the Olympics. At the same, so many in India are below the poverty line, that is not a thing to be proud of.

6. Now we have the Internet, which helps us connect with the world. Girls have more of a say in society than, say, when my mother was my age. It is a big change.

Ram Somani
Jaipur, Rajasthan
In Class 12; wants to be a Chartered Accountant

Ram Somani

1. There is no freedom for me, I only have to study day in and day out. One has to study very hard for CA. Other than that, freedom is being allowed to go anywhere, whether one is a girl or boy.

2. The freedom of choice and of speech are the most important. Also, the freedom to eat. Because parents keep a check on what I’m eating and don’t want me to become obese.

3. Yes, I will vote. Everyone over 18 should vote.

4. The government should do something to check the petrol prices. Currently, they are at Rs 108 per litre in Jaipur. Second, it should do something about the street dogs. We run a foundation to rescue and feed stray dogs, but…

5. I am most proud of the Indian Army. I am an NCC cadet myself. The military deserves to be honoured and appreciated. The freedom and liberty we enjoy is because of the brave men and women of the military. It is sad though that we don’t have any strict laws about rape. They’re just fined Rs 2,000 and let off. Dubai and North Korea have strict rape laws.

6. Things have changed a lot in India. There is not as much unemployment now, and we are able to help each other more. Like during the Covid lockdown, people helped each other out by giving food, etc.

Afaaf Siddiqui
Varanasi, UP
Just finished Class 12; wants to become an engineer

Afaaf Siddiqui

1. The right to speak my mind and to choose a profession freely without being confined to gender stereotypes is freedom for me.

2. Freedom of expression comes above all. If I can’t speak my mind, I can’t be happy or satisfied with life.

3. I feel it is my duty to vote responsibly because so many people have fought over the years to ensure that women have the right to vote.

4. I expect the government to be fair and impartial and ensure equal opportunities for people from different classes, religions, castes and colour. The richest and the poorest, the most privileged and disadvantaged… should all be the same for the government.

5. I feel proud of India’s diversity, in religions, cultures, languages. No other country has this. I am least proud of the crimes that happen against women in India. I hope we get better at this.

6. India has changed so much, especially in infrastructure. There are more opportunities for people to study, get jobs. But we have a long way to go.

Srinjoy Roy 
Newtown (Kolkata), West Bengal
In Class 11; wants to become a psychologist/psychiatrist

Srinjoy Roy

1. Freedom is the right to be oneself in the truest form, to make own choices.

2. The freedom with which I am sharing my opinions and answers right now — that is, freedom of speech — is the primary pillar of a democracy.

3. It is a voter’s responsibility to vote, to choose the leader of our nation.

4. The government should respect and listen to the ideas and opinions of all the citizens of our country. They must be unbiased and logical while taking decisions, and prioritise and solve major problems first before moving on to minor ones.

5. Indians who bring honour to the country in spheres such as the Olympics, the world of music and so on, make me proud. Unfortunately, a certain chunk of the population follows discriminatory practices.

6. Since Independence, India has emerged as one of the largest economies in the world. The Green Revolution was a game-changer while 1991 saw major economic reforms. People irrespective of caste, race, sex, orientation now enjoy equal rights, and girls are not expected anymore to stay behind the purdah.

Nagaveni
Vijayanagar, Karnataka
Agricultural labourer; wants to be a self-employed tailor

1. Pursue vocational training opportunities of my choice. Freedom is to exercise the right to use my voice to raise issues and seek solutions to them. It means opportunities for children to pursue education without dropping out of school.

2. The freedom I like the most is to exercise my fundamental rights to demand accountability from the government. Having the opportunity to work and earn a livelihood is most important as it enables me to support my family and to make a better life. Adolescents must have access to opportunities to pursue different vocational training and self-employment opportunities.

3. I am looking forward to voting for a candidate who will heed our concerns and from Bhima Sangha (a union of working children in Karnataka that she is part of). I wish to pursue them till our issues are addressed, thereby exercising my right to raise my concerns and those of other children.

4. The government must provide self-employment and training opportunities for working children. Adolescent girls must have access to nutritious dry ration kits and sanitary napkins. Children must be able to continue education till Class 10 and the government must provide a high school in my village (Enagi village, Hagaribommanahalli taluk).

5. I don’t feel proud as I have not been able to continue my education and make a better life for myself and my family. (Nagaveni dropped out after her Class 6.)

6. My village now has transportation facilities enabling people to reach different places. Many now go to different cities and are now able to afford motorbikes and bigger houses. Girls are able to wear clothes of their choice, pursue school education, and select partners of their choice to get married. My parents will at least consider my opinion before while choosing my life partner.

— Inputs from Ravik Bhattacharya, Sreenivas Janyala, Tora Agarwala, Hina Rohatki, Sukrita Baruah, Gopal Kateshiya, Mayura Janwalkar, Sukhbir Siwach, Arun Sharma, Bashaarat Masood, Vishnu Varma, Jimmy Levion, Jayprakash S Naidu, Aishwarya Mohanty, Raakhi Jagga, Hamza Khan, Arun Janardhanan, Debraj Deb, Asad Rehman, Sweety Mishra, Sukrita Baruah, Vaibhav Jha, Pallavi Singhal, Om Prakash Thakur, Shaji Philip, Sadaf Modak, Anju Agnihotri Chaba, Kamaldeep Singh Brar, Ralph Alex Arakal.

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