70 Years Later Are We Still Waiting For Independence Day?

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Srinagar:- Every 15th August gives everyone living within the geographical border of India an opportunity to stop and introspect. This year, the Indian flag will unfurl on a land that calls itself independent, for the 70th time. 70 long years later, what kind of ‘Tryst with destiny’ have we made? 

On 15th August 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister said “A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.” 

On 9th August 2017, in an interview with Karan Thapar, the outgoing Vice President of the country, Mohammad Hamid Ansari said “Something is obviously going wrong. What exactly, I am not the final word on it, but I think there are enough people in the country who are worried about it.”

Roshini*, a content writer for a political party which she prefers to keep anonymous said that instead of calling it Independence Day, we should call it ‘The Day the British Left’. The rulers changed, that’s all. The trophy exchanged hands. Who became independent? Around 2 million people died the same month, and around 15 million lost their homes in the partition. How come that bruise never mourned?”

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The ‘Indian’ – ‘Independence’ relationship

At the crack of dawn, on15th August 1947, Nehru declared that India had discovered herself again. Politically, the reins where handed over to India, but does a 70 year old India truly offer independence in different spaces of her land? If the word were taken out of the speeches made by politicians and thrust into the hands of laymen, what meaning would it hold?

Roshini believes that the word independence is a lie, especially when it comes to her workplace, family, identifying herself as woman or Indian. “The only reason my family is completely convinced that I am independent, is because of the job designation that my government order reads. This is a job where I watch MoUs being signed, knowing very well that the reality of the farmers, the subject of these MoUs, is far different. This is a job where I write press releases making false claims about the schemes and benefits provided to them”, she said

On the other hand, Preetham Murthy a student at Indian School of Business, said that he felt independent the day he was able to start his own company. “In any other country, this kind of endeavor would have required visas and numerous administrative processes”, he said.

Sandhya Suresh, a home maker has had a different lived experience. She located the word independence in her inability to claim the same freedom her brothers claimed. “I also felt oppressed when I wasn’t allowed into a temple because I was menstruating, a gift from the same God or when I wasn’t allowed to wear short dresses or sleeveless because the respectability of my family lay on my shoulders to uphold” 

For Ashley Tellis, a researcher and professor, the word independence holds no value. He claims that a country which was once colonized by the British is now put in the same spot by the US and neoliberal Hinduism.He finds his moments of independence when he momentarily imagines the possibility of another world. “The moment reality hits me, and I am reminded that I am homosexual, Dalit, Christian, feminist and Marxist,I longer feel that independence because all of these are a crime in this country”, he said. 

Meenakshi*, a freelance writer, claims that for her, ‘independence’ loses most of its meaning when her family talks to her about marriage. “When my mother tells me love is a choice, she’s actually telling me that I can’t choose to love a woman.This is very similar to the State’s idea of choice. The distinction between ‘private’ and ‘public’ is a blur to me, because the ‘country’ doesn’t stop outside your doorstep”, she says. 

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The ‘India’– ‘Independence’ relationship

Did the India that Nehru described and envisioned get left behind at the podium itself? Every day after that ‘stroke of midnight’, politicians passed through the office of a free and independent India. Or did she actually remain only as a figment of our imagination?

According to Roshini, when art is fearlessly produced in this country, India can claim to be free and independent. “When an M F Hussain or likes of him aren’t forced into exile, this country will be free.” On the other hand, Preetham Murthy choses to differ, “India has the ability to defend and protect its citizens. It is powerful enough not to be influenced by external forces when it comes to taking decisions and implementing policies it deems necessary for its development and progress” he said

While Rohan S*, a student of public policy, also echoes the same, does believe that this doesn’t take away that fact that there are illiberal instances in this country.  “But I also do not think that these instances can be used to denote this country as fully illiberal. History has always shown us that illiberal instances generally have always existed in any country that has liberalism as its primary ideals. The only way to remove freedom and liberalism from a democracy is to stage a coup and tear up the constitution. And I don’t see this happening in the near future”, he says

Prakash R a Tamil, Dalit professor doesn’t believe that India is having any different conversation than she was 70 years ago. “Ambedkar spoke about annihilation caste in 1937, and 70 years later, we are still speaking about annihilation of caste”, he says. 

Independence Day in Kashmir

Far from the mainland, jeweled as the crown of India, is Jammu and Kashmir. Within that state, a Valley called Kashmir stands reluctantly. At the stroke of midnight what kind of independence does Kashmir wake up to?

In Srinagar preparations for 15th August begin a week in advance. Every year a flag hoisting ceremony is held at Bakhshi Stadium, Srinagar. By 13th of August, roads around the ground are closed off, entry is restricted and vehicles are searched. On 14th August, Kashmiris will be out buying groceries for the next day because Independence Day celebrations in Kashmir are restricted to the vicinity of the house. On August 15th 2017, just like every year, Kashmir will wake up to a hartal. Kashmir simply shuts its doors to the Indian Independence day. 

A police officer said, “This is not new. This is what we’ve been doing for years.” When asked what the day means to him as a Kashmiri police officer he says “My allegiance to India is openly declared as soon as I wear my uniform. I took up this post because I needed a government job; I have a family to look after. Many of those who protest are ones who appeared for government examinations and failed”. To him any Kashmiri wearing a uniform has made a very conscious decision. “When I wear the uniform, I wear it with pride. I don’t let my Kashmiri sub-nationalism interfere with it”, he says. 

Raashid Maqboool a Kashmiri media researcher and journalist, said that while on 15th August 1947, India became politically independent, the day of colonization had only began in Kashmir.

“The show that is put up in Srinagar where truckloads of audience is brought in is just that – a show. It doesn’t touch our heart or soul in any way.”

Heeba Din, a research student at Kashmir University, said that she doesn’t know what it independence means and wonders if she’s ever felt it. What really bothers her about the word independence is the relative manner in which it is defined.

“As a Kashmiri woman, I would say that our sense of independence has been carved out of the constraints and structures forced downs upon us; be it in terms of the occupational force or patriarchy. Born in 90s, living in Kashmir and added to that, being a girl, terms like Azadi take shape in the form of small nothings like driving a car and standing up to my small choices”. 

Rayees*, a Kashmiri journalist, goes beyond the common narrative of Azadi from the Indian State to say that independence to him would mean the security of being able to pursue his choices without “flawed moralconnotations” attached to it because of his identity or ideology. “I can’t say that I feel independent. To me, in Kashmir, people who espouse a public anti-state stand, are in fact more free than Kashmiris who would disagree, even if they’re still asking for Azadi, except in a different nature”

*Names changed on request

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