Where the Mind Is Without Fear (Gitanjali 35)

by Rabindranath Tagore
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In the poem "Where The Mind Is Without Fear," we find the poet dreaming of India as a country with independence and self-respect. Standing in the twenty-first century, do you think the poet's dreams have been fulfilled?

Standing in the twenty-first century, we can see that India has achieved Tagore's dream of freedom from British rule but has not yet entirely achieved the dream of self-respect. However, the scars of imperialism are deep, and India, though currently experiencing some setbacks, has come a remarkably long way in realizing the poet's dreams.

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Let's begin by examining Rabindranath Tagore's hopes for his country as he expresses them in "Where the Mind Is Without Fear." He begins with the hope articulated in the title and the poem's first line: namely, that people's minds may be without fear and that they may hold their heads up in confidence. He also wishes knowledge to be free—for people to have a chance at education.

Additionally, he longs for a world that is not "broken up into fragments," a world in which people are not divided. He desires a world in which people speak truth and strive toward perfection, where reason reigns rather than mechanical, unthinking habit, and where God leads people's minds into freedom and into a broad spectrum of "thought and action."

Unfortunately, while India has shaken off British rule since Tagore's time, it still does not exhibit the characteristics the poet hopes for in this poem—nor, in fact, does the rest of the world. People are still enslaved to fear: fear of poverty, fear of oppression, fear of disease, fear of death. People still drop their heads in exhaustion and shame. People still lack basic education and the opportunities to reach out toward higher goals.

India—with the rest of the world—still experiences many divisions between races, classes, and religions as well as the conflicts that arise from these divisions. Truth is widely suppressed, and people are persecuted for speaking it. Many people settle for merely getting by without reaching out toward perfection. They trudge along in their daily habits without seeking greater freedom of thought or action, much less God.

Indeed, Tagore's hopes for India and the world have not been fulfilled, but many people continue to strive toward them, still holding them high as an ideal and a goal.

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To the extent that India has become an independent country, the dreams of independence Tagore envisioned in this 1900 poem have been fulfilled. India became independent of Britain in 1947.

As for finding self-respect, India has traveled a long way on that road. However, the legacy of hundreds of years of imperialism does not die easily, and India has struggled to overcome the sense of racial and cultural inferiority impressed on it by its captors, as well as a governmental and economic structure meant to exploit the country for the benefit of England, not help it to prosper.

The Indians have come far, but their struggle shows currently in the form of a right-wing, Hindu-based authoritarian government that has been repressing Islam in the country. To this extent, the country has not achieved Tagore's dream of a place where "the clear stream of reason has not lost its way" or his dream of India no longer being "broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls."

"Narrow domestic walls" still exist as well in the caste system. Though legally abolished, as segregation has been in the United States, old systems die hard, and descendants of the Dalit or Untouchable caste still face widespread prejudice.

While India has not yet achieved Tagore's dreams of it as a place of Westernized freedom, rationality, and equality merged with the autonomy to determine its own destiny, few countries live up to the ideals and dreams of their founding mythology. India should be noted, however, for how far it has come.

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Tagore would feel that modern India has a ways to go in order to achieve the vision outlined in "Where the Mind is Without Fear."

The second line of the poem is one example where Tagore would feel that the dream for modern India is in limbo. "Where knowledge is free" suggests there should be open access to education for all Indians.  This is not the case in India today.  Education access is not open to all people.  Gender, class, and caste restrictions play a role in preventing an educational system "where knowledge is free."  

Another area where Tagore would say that the dream of modern India isn't being fulfilled appears in the very next line.  Tagore writes that he envisions a world
"Where the world has not been broken up into fragments/ By narrow domestic walls."  While India has come very far in its vision of inclusiveness, there are areas where fragmentation prevents Tagore's unified vision.  Even though India is in the midst of 21st century advancement on so many levels, this development is not being experienced everywhere.  Rural India is not growing as fast as its urban counterpart, evidenced by the rising number of farmer suicides and the decrease in agricultural initiatives.  While globalization has improved the lives of many, there is a very large disparity between rich and poor.  In Mumbai, the palatial mansion of the Ambani family resides next to slums.  The wealthiest of people in India live in opulent splendor while millions of children go hungry.  This would be a world of "fragments" marked by "walls."

Tagore's perfect India is a realm "Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way/ Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit."  The wide ranging political corruption in the Indian government could be described as a "dreary desert."  The world's largest democracy has rampant corruption within it.  This state of affairs has been ongoing.  As a result, the Indian public seems to have become accustomed to this state of affairs.  The lack of effective, organized activism against corruption could be seen as a "dead habit" where people just accept that their government will not be fully responsive to their needs.  Tagore would criticize this reality.  In order for India to emerge into the vision Tagore outlines in the poem, this reality must change.

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