Freedom for sale

By Shiba DesoronAug. 18, 2015in Perspectives

“We’ve become a nation measuring out our lives in shopping bags and nursing our psychic ills through retail therapy.”

These words, issued by the Chicago Tribune on Christmas Eve of 1986 are worth remembering this week, as the Indian newspapers and the web have tried to create a massive awareness drive. With different names such as ‘Freedom Sale’, ‘The Great Indian Freedom Sale’ and ‘Freedom Week’, different airways companies and online shopping sites would like us to celebrate this Independence day (August 15) in a way that shows our support for freedom through shopping.

And in a stampede of millions, we are buying the idea.

Amazon India puts up video advertisements in which parents postpone birthday of their son, and a boyfriend postpones meeting the girl’s parents, just to be able to shop properly for the whole period of the sale. Flipkart (the online shopping site) comes up with a poetic prose. And almost everyone has posters which insert the three colours of the Indian flag somewhere between all the loud messages for people to shop till they drop.

Flipkart’s little verse

It’s all about your freedom and it’s happening right here, on the Flipkart App

 Freedom of mobility: Whether you are travelling, tossing on the bed or on a small office recess- our store is always open for you. Hush them all who can’t think beyond desktop shopping, and let your fingers do all the talking.

Freedom of choice: From cool gadgets to hot styles, we have it all in the kitty. Peek-a-boo at our collection and checkmark the ones you would want to checkout on the sale days.

Freedom of expression: We treasure your individuality and love your expression. So we bring you products and offers to compliment your lifestyle in the best way possible.

Freedom of empowerment: Get power at your finger tips with image search, mobile number login, refer a friend and more. To increase your savings score, just explore!

Freedom of privacy: Browse discreetly or share it on your FB Wall- you choose. Keep those souls at bay who peep into your big screen to judge your picks

It is a consuming frenzy, and everyone is invited. But you will get it even cheaper if you have a mobile App, so download it now if you don’t. Meanwhile, newspapers run articles on the ten or twenty ‘best buys’ and sale websites get flooded to the point of crashing. Even Amazon India’s site reportedly crashed within two hours because of the floods of traffic that it got (again, the sale opened 15 minutes early, if you used the App).

Is it just me, or is this whole notion absurd to the point of being bizarre?

We seem to have internalized frivolous consumerism so much, that it all seems not just very normal, but even like a mark of national growth or progress that people are constantly buying, often things that they don’t really need.

At the same time disparities between the haves and the have-nots continue to increase. Issues of hunger and malnutrition because of lack of access, not lack of availability, persist. And populations (such as forest-dependent communities, fisherfolk, farmers) more directly dependent on their ecosystems for their survival  become exceedingly vulnerable by combined forces of environmental degradation and acquisition of land for various ‘developmental activities’.

The paradoxes do not end. Just like the paradox of these advertisements on independence day set against words of who almost everyone considers to be the nation’s father, M. K. Gandhi:

‘We notice that the mind is a restless bird, the more it gets the more it wants, and still remains unsatisfied.’

‘If [our nation] took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts.’

‘It took Britain half the resources of the planet to achieve its prosperity; how many planets will a country like India require?’

And the most often quoted:

‘The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed’

Do we need the latest cellphone? Or that dress? Or that air-trip? Or are we just trying to fill ourselves with stuff because life is seeming meaningless otherwise. After centuries of a culture that criticized excessive materialism, we suddenly find ourselves headlong thrust into a culture that continuously pushes us towards never-ending wants. Just like in the flipkart ad, we have bought the illusion that buying things is a part of our freedom of expression and empowerment.

Gandhi had also said:

‘I suggest we are thieves in a way. If I take anything I do not need for my own immediate use and keep it I thieve it from somebody else.’

Are we then slowly becoming a nation full of thieves?

First published on Shiba’s blog

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