Independence was about a group of people standing up for what they believed in, what they wanted and finally getting it. Yes, there was a lot of pain, very real sacrifice, death at the end of it. It was a mass movement, very large numbers of people, spread across a vast geography and clashing over a concept that had lasting repercussions on all parties involved.
While we celebrate the victory of a freedom struggle from the British,
while we sigh over the scars of partition,
while we try (sometimes hopelessly) to heal our still-festering wounds,
while we honour the martyrs who laid down their lives and remember those that lived and paved the way for the world that we live in today,
let’s take one single moment to think over what the 15th of August is.
Should today remain merely a sentimental celebration, akin to a birthday or an anniversary?
Or shall we also make it a reminder, a clarion call to ideals that were once lived up to, fought for and gained, all in a blaze of glory?
Shall we also remember the lessons learnt, remember the mistakes of those we alternately idolize and desecrate, respecting always the burden of responsibility that weighs on a person who must decide for other people?
And finally shall we hold on to that touch of pride we feel? Remembering all the while that it wasn’t just about people, even great people but their great ideals and very, very powerful will that made those ideals into reality?
I am not going to talk about the national flag and the anthem and our attitude to them today. I am not about to dwell on the problems that plague us as a nation today, some inherited, some created by those who lived 60 years ago and others that were created by circumstances and by us. I will not pay lip service to religion, corruption, poverty, politics and liberalisation. While every single one of these points is deeply important, there is enough being said (and done we hope) about them. All I ask today is that you stop and think for a moment about what it means. To you, to your family, to your work, to your life.
As you permit me to speak, my dear reader, also allow me one single bit of preaching on my personal faith.
I believe in freedom. I believe in respect. They go together. I stand by what I believe and I am defined by it. And that state ceases to exist the minute I deny your right to the same, even if different from mine. And hence, by corollary I stand for, not just tolerance but also the upholding of your rights to the very same freedom and respect that I have. Even if you don’t believe the things I do, share my attitude. Believe in what you will, deeply…that’s the only way for real belief to exist. Let that belief be enough for you to realize that it does not need confirmation from others, does not require the conversion of other minds to exist. And finally, if your belief nourishes you well enough, be charitable to other people’s beliefs as well. Think about what the ‘unity’ in Unity in Diversity means. I’d say it’s the other side of Live and let live. Live AND let live.
The identity of a nation, like every large group of people must evolve and keep re-defining itself. Enough said about diversity but I’ll add my little footnote. Let’s always remember that we are a country of multiple faiths, multiple races and cultures . We are different. Very different, too deeply different and different in many ways. Bringing us together under that one identity would seem impossible, except that is is being done – in whatever way possible – in this country each of us (every single, different one of us) calls our own.
Independence was achieved as a result of many, many people and their many, many ideologies, battles and methods. Bloodshed and ahimsa were both part of the freedom movement. The independence revolution was an angry, raging torrent of patriotic fervour and outraged dignity. It was also silent non co-operation. It was also bargaining and bartering and conducting the business of political hand-overs. It was armies, the Swadeshi movement, guerilla warfare, the Dandi march, mutinies, Satyagrah and fasting. It was always about asserting our right to be who we wanted to be.
Independence was the fruit of all these labours, hard labours and many sacrifices. I ask you to remember all of that.
The pride of a nation comes from it being a nation of proud people. Proud to be themselves, proud to be with each other, proud to be a part of a larger group with others different and sometimes better than them. Every day is a fight for freedom. Freedom to exist, freedom to basic human rights, freedom from temptation, freedom over your choices, freedom of expression, freedom from the shackles of the past. Freedom to be yourself. Nothing else was ever more important.
Happy Independence Day, everyone!