We’re celebrating Independence Day in India today. Therefore, it’s a given that I need to write about it here. It’s good to show some patriotism. Apart from being the day on which India gained its freedom from the British, it’s the birthday of my house. Our house celebrated its sweet sixteen this year. It’s an interesting day I suppose.
The day began at 5 as we had a small ceremony at home to celebrate our home. We’ve never particularly celebrated Independence Day at home. When I was small we’d attend the flag-hoisting ceremony in my residential area and would come home to eat breakfast, watch the Prime Minister’s address and stand for the national anthem. The rest of the day would go by lazily. Every channel on the TV would play patriotic movies, documentaries and patriotic music.
‘Freedom’ is a word I have grown up taking very lightly. When I turned a teenager I held my on coup at home struggling for independence against my parents. Freedom comes with so many terms and conditions. Our country might be free but the people within its borders are still searching for freedom. Overthrowing the colonial power was the start of a new struggle, a battle against the internal hierarchies and dominance.
India has always boasted of its ‘unity in diversity‘. We’re still struggling to be united as a community, new divides have emerged from old ones. Old enmities have bred new ones. The very essential question of who is an ‘Indian’ still remains open to debate. This freedom comes with a set number of choices. Are we Indian because our passports tell us so? The new question today that’s doing the rounds is, what is Indian and how Indian should an Indian be? It comes down to identity, and who qualifies for freedom.
In today’s world, one word or statement will be enough to brand you as an ‘anti-national’. We celebrate freedom but are not allowed to question that freedom, we aren’t allowed to criticise those who are meant to protect our independence. We’re still fighting for independence from regressive laws, discrimination and lack of economic resources. Today we celebrate the independence of some.
I remember when I used to hear the national anthem I used to feel pride and my heart would swell with emotions. Now, when I hear it, the pride comes with a question mark. When freedom is a contract that is signed for you at birth in a democracy, you grow up learning that your freedom depends on your status, class, gender, race, religion and ideology. You may be free in your country but not from it.
I have travelled abroad and yes I carried with me my nationality. I represented it and that’s when you realise what freedom means, access to resources, surveillance and constantly having to assert your identity as something more than your nationality. You defend your country like you would your family. Independence isn’t so important to you when you already have it.
Independence Day will always be a holiday when the milkman decides to do his rounds a little late, stores and brands will organise a freedom sale, and we’ll see the tri-colour everywhere. The Prime Minister will use the opportunity to campaign for himself, talking about how great the country is and how much progress we’ve made. Yesterday the value of the rupee fell, reaching a new low, but who am I to comment?
My generation will never truly appreciate independence, 1947 for us will be a page from our history textbooks or a school holiday. As a student of history, 1947 to me was a watershed moment for India, a question to analyse and dissect, a year that was a result of much strife and complex politics which could be interpreted in many different ways. Perhaps we’d see it differently if we belonged to that time. The way my grandfather described 1947 will always be different from the tone of history books and professors. Independence to him means something different altogether. I can never relate, I’ll never know.
Independence is an endless pursuit, at least people like me can claim it in some form and that would mean that the project of independence while being incomplete wasn’t entirely futile. Independence day in India is the one day in the year, Indians devote at least a couple of minutes to thinking about their country as something more than a means of identifying themselves. ‘India’ suddenly becomes a memory, a triumph, it becomes important to our Indianness. It’s one day where being an Indian is the same as being independent.
After how far we’ve come, the onus now rests on those who have the independence to use it not to become the oppressor but to help the oppressed. We can’t subscribe to the traditional meaning of freedom, just like us the nature of freedom needs to change. Freedom is our birthright but do we deserve to have it? If freedom is our birthright, then why do some have to earn it?