It was almost two-and-one-half centuries ago — July 2, 1776 to be exact — when the American colonies voted for independence; two days later, on July 4, they ratified the draft of the declaration. It includes the famous words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness …”
True today as they were then, these words remain a dream for ordinary people and a nightmare for dictators, factual and putative. One only has to cast a glance at the two most populous countries in the world. But then continuing on to the rest of it and the picture is no different in most. Look to the east and west of India and keep going. You end up in the Pacific or Atlantic oceans with nary a thought of Jefferson’s famous words.
It is the Pacific where Hong Kong demonstrations have been protecting the erosion of freedoms promised when sovereignty was returned to China in 1997. Now President Xi Jinping has signed into effect a new draconian law aimed directly at protesters. It threatens prison for life and protesters have chosen quiet. Demosisto, the pro-democracy organization behind the protests, has announced it will cease all operations and has disbanded.
Perhaps Mr. Xi can keep a tight lid on the simmering anger in Hong Kong, although even a pressure cooker has a safety valve, without which the tighter the lid the larger the explosion. There is also the thought that Hong Kong itself has been an outlet for those in mainland China seeking release from Mr. Xi’s ever tightening embrace.
Then there are the Uyghurs of Xinjiang autonomous region in northwest China. Their restlessness under a relentless Sinicization regime has them interned in re-education camps. What is required of them is to become culturally Chinese, giving their own way of life to adapt to Han customs and traditions. It is a tall order and the question is, why? Different peoples with different customs have lived together in the past, making the world richer in its diversity. A narrow-minded focus on uniformity destroys languages and cultures; and our world is poorer for it.
Further south to India and to Mr. Narindra Modi’s Hindutva movement which believes in the country’s adoption of a solely Hindu culture. A lockdown and communications blackout in Muslim Kashmir, the Sikhs in the Punjab demanding Khalistan; Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and other tribes in the northeast also still yearning cultural freedom. If thousands of young men have been detained in Kashmir to curb protests, their detention is even less likely to befriend them to Mr. Modi whose iron fist relies on the tens of thousands of security forces in their homeland — even if they want to, who can shake hands with a fist?
The story of a dominant group suppressing the weaker does not end there, and if one were to look at economic dominance over the centuries, one would notice the comfortable west trading higher priced manufactured goods for artificially low-priced raw materials. It is how the Indian subcontinent became a pauper when once it generated a fifth of world GDP.
So as the US celebrates Independence Day, let us remember what it stands for, that ‘all men are created equal’; that they are endowed with the right to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. And then let us remind ourselves of all the peoples still yearning for that simple yet eloquent dream.