August 15th is Independence Day. It is also my Pa's birthday. It is also the day my Mama was freed from the pledge she had taken of not getting married before India became independent. All said and done it was probably the day I became a possibility. My parents were insanely and passionately in love with India. My father gave up his Mauritian (British nationality) and elected to come back and serve his motherland. My mama's sacrifices and harsh childhood, the nights when the hunger pangs were so severe that sleep would not come, but these were accepted with dignity as the sole bread earner spent more nights in jail than at home; the welts of the backs of her father and his freedom fighter friends that were tended by a young child, all that was forgotten as the Indian flag was hoisted on the ramparts of the red fort. To our little family August 15th was indeed a very blessed that, as it was the very foundation of my small but wonderful family.
Being an Ambassador's child meant that the tricolour flew every day on our house; it also flew on papa's car when he was in it. Independence Day and Republic Day were celebrated with a formal flag hoisting. As I grew from childhood to my teens, I learnt about the solemnity of these days and also about the price people like my grandfather had to pay to make India a free nation.
After Papa retired, we became simple citizens of a country I had been made to love. I was, and still am, proud to be Indian. How can I forget the dying words of my father: do not lose faith in India
. I guess he needed to give me this legacy as he died a few days before the destruction of the Babri Masjid, when religious extremism was at its worse. The destruction of the Masjid would have broken his heart.
What picture can I paint of my country today that would be worth dying for. The only ray of hope I saw for a fleeting moment was is in the eyes of the children of project why who sang the national anthem and hoisted the flag this morning. I shudder to think when they too will lose faith in this land that does not care for them or for any one. After 66 years of Independence what have do we have to be proud of? Three children dying every minute of malnutrition? Children who have sat religiously on a school benches (or on the floor as we have still not been able to provide a school bench to every school going child even in the capital) and can barely read or write after years? Midday meals that are not fit for consumption but are forced out the throats of kids even if they die (I was told this morning after the I Day celebration at the women centre that teachers told the children to remove the worms from the slush they were served and eat it)? Children who work not only in eateries or mechanic shops but also in educated homes as servants in spite of laws against child labour? Statistics that should make any self respecting human being hang his/her head in shame but leaves us immobile and unconcerned.
How can I explain to those who laid down their lives and suffered humiliation to fight for freedom that in the past 66 years what we have excelled at is dividing the country in every which way possible. That those who were given the sacred task of building a Nation have destroyed it again again. Caste, religion, gender, language and how can I forget riches have all been instruments to create deeper and deeper schisms in our society. Where some live in mansions others live in holes. This again happens in our capital city. Some throw away food with impunity, others follow field rats to their burrows and are skilled in scrapping out the grains stolen and stored underground by the rodents
to calm the hunger of their children. This after 66 years of Independence. And what makes it worse is that every year grains rot as we have not been able to come up with a sound way of keeping surplus grain safe.
Over the years the ones meant to rule us have failed us time and again. Over the years laws meant to deal with all that is stated above have been promulgated to gain votes and then never or poorly implemented. They are simply means to 'look good' at election times and carefully perused to see how they can become new ways of filling pockets. Yes we have mastered the art of corruption better than anyone else. It has become a way of life for everyone from the humblest to the highest and mightiest. In a land where ingenuity and resourcefulness is our biggest asset, the poor that we have let down so badly and in all manner possible, find ways to survive: a tea shop on the street; a cart selling hot food; a tailor or shoemaker around the corner, the sky is the limit but to be able to earn they have to pay blood money. Would you call this corruption. I call it survival.
How would my mother feel, the one who was amongst the millions of free Indians to set the flag being hoisted on August 15th 1947 if I told her that two politicians in a town not far from where she lived, were caught on camera clinging to a flag pole as they push and heckle each other trying to claim the honour of hoisting the Indian Tricolour on Independence Day.
I guess her heart would have simply shattered and all her life's sacrifices brought to nought. My parents belonged to the generation who stood up when the National Anthem was played on the radio or at the end of the TV broadcast. We did it too, albeit grudgingly and perhaps because we had never felt the blows of the lathis of the British.
Mama who was so anti British did however accept to work for the colonisers as there was one cause that was dearer to her: equality and dignity for women. The feisty and diminutive woman who must have been in her late twenties accepted a job that entailed going to remote villages and ensuring that war widows (IInd
World War) got their pensions and that these were not usurped by greedy male relatives. She also spent time with the women of the villages she visited and talked to them about hygiene, nutrition and above all their rights. Believe or not but she drove a 1 ton truck ad was accompanied by a peon.
How do I tell this woman that all her dreams of liberated and educated women in a free India have been usurped. That women and girls today are not respected and esteemed. That 2 month old babies are raped. That rapists get away as all the onus of the rape is shifted by a male led society on the victim: her dress, her habits, her whatever. That we as a society remain numbed and voiceless. That may be things were better off when she trudged from village to village to make a difference.
To a woman who fought to be the first girl in her town to go to school and went on to get a Doctorate, what do I tell about the education we are giving our children today. How do I tell her about classes were 100 children are cramped and teachers disinterested. How do I tell her about the fact that higher education has now become a privilege of the rich as poor children never get enough marks to enter the portals of state run universities and that their parents cannot afford private institutions. How do I tell her that our rulers have privatised and commercialised the only vehicle that could change the destiny of children born on the wrong side of the fence.
The India my parents love with such passion and fervour has lost its way. After 66 years of Independence India is still enslaved to the greed and rapacity of those who rule us and to the indifference of those who can raise their voices.
Happy Independence day!