These days, a world-weary cynicism seems to have us all in its punishing grip. And indeed, why not? There is enough around us to be cynical about. The mind numbing violence that seems to have become endemic in this region gives rise to the question, ‘What is there to celebrate?’ The spirits of those children who died in the Dhemaji Bomb blast on 15th August, 2004 will no doubt haunt us forever, making us ask, ‘Is this what Independence means?’
The amoral corruption that has eaten into the very vitals of society makes thinking people ask, ‘Whose Independence are we supposed to celebrate? The independence of those who grow fat as they pocket money meant for the poor? The independence of the haves, those who rise at the cost of the teeming millions, the have-nots?’
True, ours is a country which is unequal. There are those at the bottom of the economic and caste rungs, for whom Independence is almost meaningless. For them, it is the exchange of one set of colonial masters for another. There is exploitation, abuse, mistreatment everywhere.
And yet, I believe that we should, we must, celebrate Independence Day. Even as diktats and death threats swirl around us, we must tie that tri-colour to the flagstaff, and salute it as we watch it flutter above our heads. Saffron, white and green, with the Ashoka Chakra in the centre.The colours standing for courage and sacrifice, purity and peace, faith and abundance. And the wheel of Dharma, righteousness, to remind us all of the path that we should follow.
My reasons are several.
I grew up listening to my parents talk of their participation in the Independence struggle. My father was briefly jailed for taking part in the Quit India movement. They were young. But they always remembered, later, the country as it was in the days of colonial rule. They talked of how the very air they breathed changed, when the country became independent. To live free of the yoke of colonialism was something they were very happy to bequeath to their children. Many a time, when cynically, we would question, ‘What kind of freedom is this?’ they would answer, ‘You would not ask that if you knew what it was like before Independence’.
A nation is a work in progress. This is especially true of countries like ours. As a single nation, our history is not long. Princely states, tribal communities, caste divisions, religious faultlines …the country as we know it was hardly the entity that it is today, at the time of Independence.
I believe that we do need to express our patriotism, with words, song and gesture, in order to affirm the idea of nationality, of nationhood. One of the most moving sights in the United States of America is the way the Stars and Stripes flutters proudly in front of houses. On the 4th of July, people celebrate with barbecues, parades, picnics, and then gather together as a community to watch the fireworks. It is even more moving to see the way Americans sing their National Anthem, with their hands over their hearts, and the fervour of patriotism in their eyes.
We, too, have a beautiful national anthem. It is not really necessary, is it, to be sarcastic, and quibble that the song was meant for this or that, that it leaves out this region or that. That way, every song, every interpretation would be fraught with discord.
My belief that our Independence Day should be an occasion for pride is strengthened when I see frail, elderly people carefully unfurling the national flag, defying the dictates of organizations which threaten them with dire consequences, if they do. This is courage, this is love for the motherland. Let us not be cynical about this love.
I believe that the day should be celebrated because this is an important occasion for children to learn about the significance of the country. IT is through these annual celebrations that the love for the country is reinforced, and a sense of community is developed in impressionable minds.
Yes of course we have a long way to go. But looking back on these years, we have also achieved a lot. Despite all odds, despite dire predictions of imminent destruction, despite a horrific, bloody beginning to the dawn of freedom, we have survived. Democracy has taken deep roots. Along with the despair, there is hope.
And it is for this reason that this affirmation is necessary.
That is why I shall listen, once more to Lata Mangeshkar singing ‘Aey Mere Watan Ke Logon’. That is why I shall watch, once more, ‘Gandhi’. And that is why I shall hoist the tri colour, once more, over my house. With pride, joy, and gratitude to those freedom fighters who gave us the gift of being able to live in Free India.
Mitra Phukan is a prominent writer, translator and columnist
This essay was first published in Eclectic Northeast August 2015 issue