As August 15 approaches, many of us still feel a thrilling sensation – a heartbeat stopping moment in our lives as Indians. August 15 is that august day when India gained freedom.
The beginning of the end of colonial empires came in the wake of World War II when the enslavement of masses of people became an anomaly, especially for nations who had fought the war precisely to free nations from their bondage to Nazi and Fascist powers. Forced to wind up the British Raj, Prime Minister Atlee decided to call it a day announcing British intended soon to depart India.
The Indian Independence Act 1947 passed by the British Parliament received Royal Assent on 18 July 1947. Partitioning British India into two independent dominions of India and Pakistan, with Lord Mountbatten serving as India’s First Governor General, the Act enabled Mountbatten and Indian leaders to settle on August 15, 1947 as the effective date for India’s independence.
On the intervening night of August 14 and 15, the Constituent Assembly of India met to proclaim India’s much-awaited independence. The historic session began at 11 p.m. with the freedom fighter Sucheta Kriplani reciting Vande Mataram – a song revered by patriot Indians and memorized by school kids across India. Delivering the presidential address, Dr. Rajendra Prasad while offering “our humble thanks to the Almighty Power that shapes the destinies of men and nations” significantly noted, “let us recall in grateful remembrance the services and sacrifices of all those men and women, known and unknown, who with smiles on their face walked to the gallows or faced bullets on their chests.”
Jawaharlal Nehru followed with his famous ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech which eternalized August 15 not only for India but for the world. His memorable words moved the minds of freedom lovers and fighters everywhere. One by one, other colonies gained their freedom, giving rise to a new world.
Three years later on January 26, 1950, India enacted its Constitution declaring itself a Sovereign, Democratic Republic. Ever since, it has been striving to make those three characteristics come true. Despite failures on many fronts, it is gratifying that even with all its hiccups, contradictions, and failings, India still stands free and democratic – a rare instance of a continuing democracy in the modern world.
A nation’s freedom is meant to be a unifier and uniter of a people, and it is wrong to perceive it as a one-sided caste, race, or color-specific experience and sensation. Undoubtedly, not all periods in human evolution are rosy. Human history is filled with ups and downs – periods of outstanding grace, and ghastly tragic eras when darker forces take over and blemish our lives and legacy. There is nothing wrong with a nation acknowledging its past “sins” but there is something unworthy about damning all its past and, worse, allowing wounds to stay open and continue to bleed, enabling those who feel disenfranchised to cast the nation itself as unworthy and expendable.
The fight for freedom has never been a short haul. Waves upon waves of freedom fighters must rise and fall before eventually alien rule and empires collapse, and a country, newly born, discovers its destiny. Independent India likewise emerged from hundreds of thousands of Indians rising to challenge foreign rule, refusing any longer to endure the dehumanization that accompanied India’s subordination. If we stand free today, it is because we stand on the proud unbending shoulders of those brave warriors – women, men and children – who gave up their lives to light liberty’s torch.
This year’s Independence Day, sadly, comes at a grim moment when life as we knew it has changed globally, not just for India. The world is encountering exceptional challenges linked not only to the devastating Corona pandemic, but also to a growing disenchantment with democracy itself. India’s persistent poverty amidst plenty especially stands in strong contrast to China’s spectacular achievement in uplifting its much larger number of poor out of abysmal poverty. Alas, it is so easy to overlook the enormous cost – of a far more debilitating kind than economic deprivation – to human dignity that accompanies the Chinese way of governance, and its freakish control over its citizenry.
The socioeconomic disparity that continues to plague India and to divide the world is ugly and rampant. But both countries, like societies all over, are making an effort to level the playfield. While there is no such thing as absolute equality, it is equally insane to suggest there is absolute inequality intentionally and maliciously sustained by whites in America or brahmins and upper castes in India. Yet, in these highly charged WOKE times, patience and common sense are hard to come by as political and intellectual class, assisted by the media and corporate entities, are ready to play the race or caste card, and to revisit and rewrite American and Indian history from the lens solely of victims and oppressors.
It is easy to run down America and India as failed democracies and fascist societies by those raised in the lap of freedom with unfettered right to speak their mind, to hate and tar others as oppressors and uphold themselves as oppressed, to enjoy free speech and use it to denigrate all who still believe in the courageous democratic dream that is India or the empowering vision that is America.
Swayed less by the charm and promise of communism but more by mistrust and hatred of America and capitalism, the self-loathing and nation-shaming young Americans or Indians are moving towards a utopian world where there is no individuality, no family, no property, and amazingly no whiteness. Blacks here or the Outcaste and Dalits in India alone matter. Perceived as oppressors, we must all now surrender our will, brain, and ‘being’ to the will of an abstraction called “WOKE”.
Along with zealot Twitter and Facebook users, these “WOKE” entities have morphed into almighty gods who control what we common folk are allowed to think, feel, say or do. Luckily, the angry self-flagellating segment has set itself to fail. The more they deny patriotism, the greater the rise of patriotic fervor.
As August 15 nears, we are more than eager and ready to celebrate it without fear of being called fascists, Saffronites, RSS-ites and Modi-ists. Importantly, we are ready to wholeheartedly honor the cherished memory of those that gave their all to secure our nation’s independence.
(Neera Kuckreja Sohoni is an Indian American published author and opinion writer. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author’s.)