"You can't muzzle dissent in a democracy"

As India’s 69th Independence Day approaches, a new fight for freedom is afoot. This time, the struggle is one to define and defend what a real democracy should be.

This time, the power we need to challenge is one of our own making, an all-powerful government we all elected, and in which we invested collective hope. A government that promised good governance and development for all ‒ 'sabka saath sabka vikas'.

This time, just as it was last time, the fight will really only be won when we put aside our differences. When we collectively remind our government of its pride in having secured unprecedented levels of support. And when we hold it to the commitment it signed up to, of truly representing us, all of us, in the world’s largest democracy.

“Where the mind is without fear, and the head is held high.” The words of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore that inspired previous generations to fight for our first taste of freedom still gives voice to our aspirations for our country today.

Today our freedom is under attack like never before: the freedom to speak up without fear, to hold our heads high as we campaign for a more inclusive, more sustainable future.

Women from the Mahan forest region walk through the village towards a local shrine in celebration of the Supreme Court of India's decision to cancel the licenses of 214 coal blocks, including those of Essar and Hindalco’s Mahan. Greenpeace India and Mahan Sangharsh Samiti have been engaged in a long running campaign over proposed open cast coal mining in the area.

The grim reality is that the government has been working steadily to stifle dissent. Voices are being classified along one simple principle: there are those who agree with the government and the ones that don’t. The voices of Greenpeace India, and several others like us on the wrong side of that line, now need to fight to be heard.

Greenpeace India has been the focus of much attention lately, not so much for our ongoing people-powered campaigns for a better, more secure, sustainable future, but for the government’s attempts to shut us down by stealth. It is trying hard to whittle away at our spirit with endless bureaucratic hurdles, from a whole suite of official agencies, being placed in our way.

We continue to engage with this process in good faith ‒ with tens of thousands of Indian citizens supporting our work we have nothing to hide after all. But as we’ve said before, there is so much more we would rather be doing; and do it we shall, with a little help from our many friends.

The fight for real freedom has begun in earnest. Movements are coming together, civil society is beginning to acknowledge that a fairly fundamental struggle lies ahead of us; whether we are opposing deforestationpromoting the use of solar energy, challenging the destruction of farmlands to make space for factories, demanding One Rank One Pension or defending human rights, our ability to do so depends on our right to exist in the first place, and our ability to speak up, and speak to power. Our diverse mandates must necessarily follow our common right to exist.

Farmer using ecological fertilizers in a wheat field with a freshly picked cauliflower. She has benefited from ecological fertilisation over the last couple of years.

This uprising/awareness is apparent across different demographic groups: from disenchanted urban middle-class youth, to disenfranchised tribal elders. From firebrand activists to philanthropic foundations. From petition signers to panchayats to pensioners. We’ve all had our voices ignored, diminished, curtailed or stifled. But not for long.

The good news is that our judiciary is remaining strong and independent, and continuing to hold out hope for us all. The even better news is that more and more people are beginning to question the central government’s singular vision of development. They are beginning to ask questions, voice opinions and speak up in defence of those ‒ like us ‒ who dare to disagree with those in power. People have begun to reclaim the belief that dissent is vital in a democracy.

It won’t be long before this popular government is forced to give in to the popular voices defending dissent. Not long before "the clear stream of reason" starts to flow stronger, unstoppably leading minds into ever-widening thought and action. Before my country ‒ our country ‒ awakens once again into a heaven of real freedom.

Vinuta Gopal is the co-Executive Director of Greenpeace India.

This article first appeared on Scroll.in

This Indian Independence Day, lend your voice and prove that you can’t silence dissent in a democracy. Join the thunderclap now