Independence: What it Means to Me

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There was a documentary film that used to be shown on Doordarshan in my school days. It was about unity in diversity, and had a catchy song “Ek, anek…Hind desh ke niwasi sabhi jane k hai. That was the time when this sentiment was entrenched in all our hearts.

Our country has for ages, had a rich history and tradition of assimilation and synthesis of cultures, and religious tolerance. And though there have been sporadic riots and targeted violence now and then, we can proudly say that very few cultures have had such a glorious background of peaceful co-existence of multiple religious, cultural and linguistic groups.

Things have changed over the past years, however. The word “Secular” is being bandied about as an offensive term. You have to take sides, to prove your nationalism and love for your country with frantic chest thumping. If you don’t flaunt your nationalistic pride, you are prone to being name-called, either “sickular”, a “libtard” or “urban naxal” or part of the “tukde tukde gang”.

What a change from the free atmosphere of post-independent India, when our diversity was something to be cherished! Independence to me means reviving the spirit of inclusiveness, and marching hand in hand towards progress.

My India didn’t Discriminate

The rampant incidents of lynching, rape and victimization of minority groups or weaker sections of society are, I believe, a by-product of the current hyper- nationalistic fervour in vogue. Quite opposed to our centuries-old traditions of “live and let live”.

This isn’t what our founders fought for. They had dreamt about an inclusive society, a firmly socialistic, welfare state, a thriving democracy. Our constitution upholds these socialistic and secular values very firmly. Then what happened along the way?

Some say, it is the fallout of decades of minority appeasement politics played by the Congress and Communist parties. It seems a section of the majority community have long felt side-lined, ignored, and are now revelling in the exclusive attention the present government is showering on them. 

Is the oldest religion of the living world so fragile, that it needs politicians and pop-religious entities to defend it and propagate it aggressively? 

Our temples have, for ages, been places of public discourse and philanthropy, not jingoistic tirades. Festivals like Holi and Diwali are less religious, more of community-binding, inclusive, social festivals. Id and Christmas are as much our own, as Janmasthami, Buddha Jayanti and Guru Nanak Jayanti.

The Terrifying Silence of the Elite

Then why is the educated Indian silent? Is she silently revelling in minority bashing? Or does he support thrashing people for alleged forced conversions and “love jihad”? Is caste and creed so deeply entrenched, that the misery of the so-called “others” – farmers, migrant labourers, Dalits, tribals, refugees, beggars do not matter to us?

Are we okay with jailing teenagers who protest injustice? And can we turn a blind eye to the plight of an 84-year-old man gradually dying after rotting in prison ? 

People sliding down the poverty line and losing livelihoods, orphaned children, the “new impoverished” begging for sustenance, all these don’t raise our hackles? 

Perhaps, no. As we are too busy celebrating cricketing glories, celebrity marriages, airport acquisitions by millionaire businessmen, and space tours by celebrity tycoons?

Are we even one country then? One India is gasping for breath, under the increasing prices, lost jobs and burgeoning debts. The Other India (the privileged lot) think about where to party next, and are planning mid-pandemic vacations.

What Independence in My Country Means to Me:

Independence for my country means our diversity. Diversity in all spheres – religious, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, educational, physical, sexual, and mental, must not only be accepted, but celebrated. We need to take pride in a truly inclusive, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, secular society. 

My wish list for India goes something like this:

  • My India is united in soul and spirit, with all its citizens being proud of our nationality and identity.
  • Anyone can follow any religious faith without the disapproval of frowning, sanctimonious moral police. If someone wants to be an atheist, no judgement against him/her/them.
  • Nobody is denied educational and career opportunities on the basis of anything except lack of merit.
  • Children are not stigmatized for failing exams or preferring other pursuits to studying. 
  • Anyone can marry/love/live with anybody, provided both are willing.
  • Citizens keep an eye on law enforcing authorities so that excesses do not happen.
  • Press is independent and responsible.
  • People have the decency to maintain public property, especially heritage structures of India, like they do their own property.
  • The voices of the smallest minority groups are heard and responded to.
  • Leaders solve contentious issues with dialogue, instead of with might and suppression.

I know this is a rather tall order, a fancy wish-list. Still, I hope and pray that my country really wakes up to this independence one day.

Into that dawn, my Lord, may my country awake!

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