Here’s what freedom means to Maanayata Dutt with husband Sanjay Dutt behind bars…

The Munna Bhai MBBS fame’s wife and CEO of Sanjay Dutt Productions opens up about the meaning of freedom on Independence Day

There are so many different definitions of freedom. The Webster and Oxford quote several: The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants; The state of not being imprisoned or enslaved; The state of being unrestricted and able to move easily; The absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.

Freedom is too abstract an idea to be defined accurately.

The interesting thing about freedom is that it means different things to different people. But more importantly, different things to the same people depending on where they are in life. If it meant freedom from the British before Independence, it now may mean freedom to live life the way we want. For the poor, it may mean freedom from misery and poverty, or for the First World it may be freedom from the life they are living right now. As we celebrate our Independence Day, we rejoice in our freedom from foreign rule, or living in a free democratic society.

But are we really free as a nation? Are we free as individuals living in a civilised society? As a woman trying to live the life she wants? Are our mindsets really free from prejudices, stereotypes, or racism?

We have may attained freedom from the British, but have we unchained our mindsets from years of dogma, our narrow mindsets on religion, women, and cultural beliefs?

How can we be truly free if our minds are still corrupted with archaic beliefs? Today we still live in a country where khap panchayats flourish, where women are not even free to use toilets due to the fear of being raped, and where there is no freedom to express their opinions.

Never has breathing and being able to walk freely had so much relevance in my life till recently. With my husband incarcerated, I now realise the immense value of being able to walk freely. Freedom has taken a whole new meaning in my life when I watch my husband behind bars, imprisoned, shut out from society, his family and his country. The initial months were spent trying to cope, understand and support him while he goes through his days behind bars. But like they say, everything in life is meant to teach you something, open your heart and mind to something you have never imagined.

It is during these months that I have come across several people imprisoned for years for petty crimes and unable to get out of jail because they don’t enough money for bail. Some have committed simple thefts, some have been languishing for years beyond their actual quantum of punishment. Many are innocent but don’t have either the money, the knowledge or support to fight, hire lawyers or even know the law. So are these people really living in a free country? Do they have the freedom from utter poverty, deep-seated ignorance or complete apathy from society or the government?

Thousands of people who are languishing behind bars are still subjected to archaic British jail manuals and rules. The British wanted its prisoners, especially the freedom fighters, to not be treated as human beings. These manuals were written with the sole aim of breaking any humanity left in people, to torture them and wipe out any will they may have to live.

We still follow those manuals. Prisoners are treated like animals with no basic amenities. Today, every civilised society is looking at reformative jail systems instead of punitive ones. The goal is to ‘repair’ the deficiencies in the individual and return them as productive members of society. The jail manuals are shockingly antiquated. Indian jails still adhere to the Prisons Act of 1894.

Amidst all these realities, it sometimes becomes hard to really believe that we are truly free. For me, freedom is not an absolute term, and I think to believe that we all have complete freedom is a utopian concept. As far as we continue to live, we will have to keep fighting for freedom. Depending on which stage we are in life, we will have to strive for freedom. Freedom from poverty, freedom from prejudices, freedom from hatred, freedom from religious fundamentalism, or freedom to live the life we want. For me, it may mean fighting for freedom for my husband and the hundreds languishing in jails.

Nelson Mandela once said, “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”