Independence Day. The two words bring to me a mix of emotions. Ideally, it should be just one emotion: that of immense patriotism and pride that on this day in 1947, the world saw the birth of the world’s biggest democracy, the birth of a nation independent of 150 years of British rule. As a child, that was the only emotion I remember I had, when we used to go to our school to sing the National Anthem after the flag hoisting. We used to hoist the National Flag at our home too, on that special day. The only other day in those days one could hoist the Flag was Republic Day. It was not like now, when thanks to a Supreme Court order based on a PIL by Congress politician and industrialist Naveen Jindal, Indians can hoist the Flag every day provided they follow a certain sets of rules that ensure that there is no disrespect to the Flag. We remember going to the local ground where the official Independence Day function would be held. The platitudes spoken by dignitaries on the dais were of no interest to me, the only interest was on the colourful march past.
But as I grew up in an Assam during a period when the anti-foreigners’ agitation was at its peak, the incidents around us slowly made me question the meaning of Independence. Were we really Independent when we had to launch a mass agitation to get what our government should have automatically done – ensure that no illegal foreign nationals make our land their homeland? What use is the Independence when the country’s citizens need to agitate to get illegal foreign nationals identified and deported?
The mindless killings of innocent people by both State and Non-State players, that started in 1979 and continues till date in Assam and the rest of Northeast India (where thousands have been killed or maimed since the 1950s when the Naga insurgency started, followed by various other insurgencies in different parts of the region), was another factor that made me question the meaning of ‘celebrating’ Independence Day. With a corrupt political system all across the country, and a political class that remembers the virtues of clean politics only when they lose the elections and become the ‘Opposition’, I sometimes wonder whether Independence Day really has any meaning for us. Do we really deserve this Independence that we have not learnt to respect? Is there true Independence when many parts of our region still have to be under the clutches of the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, that is supposed to aid the Armed Forces in curbing militancy but in reality has actually been misused grossly over and over again? Is there true Independence when a painter, a writer or a filmmaker cannot practice his or her craft freely, in the fear of getting attacked by some individuals or organizations whose senses get offended at the slightest pretext? Is there true Independence when politicians play with the lives and emotions of the poor to win votes, while the poor remains poor and the illiterate remains illiterate? When environment gets degraded, forests get deforested, and rivers get irreversibly polluted by a continuing collusion among politicians, bureaucracy and the industry, and ironically, the same corrupt classes get richer by accessing the thousands of crores of rupees in the name of controlling all this?
But over and above all this, the saddest Independence Day for me, and I am sure for many others in my region, is sure to be that of 2004, when an ULFA-triggered bomb killed a number of children who were out to take part in the celebrations. That was the day Independence to be innocent, to be happy and to be a human being was killed. But then, one has to live with hope, and each Independence Day, I can only hope that tomorrow will be a better day.
Utpal Borpujari is a journalist and film critic-turned-filmmaker
This essay was first published in Eclectic Northeast August 2015 issue