Terra Nullius | On India’s 67th Independence Day

What does this Independence Day mean?

“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.” These were the words uttered by India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru on India’s first Independence Day on 15th August 1947.

67 years later, what does independence or the Independence Day mean in India? Of late Indians feel as if they have little to be optimistic about. Within the last decade and more, India has seen much progress and simultaneous decay. We have had horrific natural disasters along with grotesque displays of human nature at its worse. We have had economic highs and employment booms and subsequently seen our currency crash. But these days, the state of doom and gloom in the country has reached an abysmal depth. The systemic failures, the crassness that has percolated into our politics, the rot of corruption and scams in every corner (irrespective of party and ideology), the failure to protect citizen rights, the asinine policies and rhetorical debates around them, the unfettered deaths of our citizens in slums, public hospitals, badly constructed roads, at our borders… what is there to feel happy about in our independence? What old did we step out of and where is the new, Nehru so optimistically spoke of 67 years ago?

If you look at the world today, you realise it is equally dreary, with most of it facing a crisis of some sort or the other. While the developed western world grapples with a plummeting economy, unemployment and recession, most of the Middle East, in the era of Twitter, struggles to establish the rudimentary principles of a democracy. In some of our neighborhoods, belonging to a minority group is the most blasphemous offence while in the others, expressing your thoughts on a public forum is punishable by law. In some, there is no hope of socio-economic growth or employment, while in the others, stepping out of your house on a given day can lead to being shredded to pieces by a bomb blast.

However, 67 years after Independence, when I look at India, I feel more disillusioned with it than with the rest of the world. Most of what the other countries (especially the developing ones) grapple with today, is what we established more than half a century ago. From our idealistic Constitution, intricate and complex democratic system, dreams of a pluralistic coexistence, economic year plans and commissions—India had tried to pioneer a Utopic future for itself. Our Independence Day meant something more than just freedom from the British. It meant the establishment of a way of life, carved out by us, keeping the entire country in mind. But today, barely any of the political parties or the leaders within the system can emphatically define it in that way. The meaning of independence has melted and most of us search for it in our day-to-day petulance.

Over the last few years, the frustrated Indian citizens have taken to the streets on various occasions, demanding change, hysterically screaming out of every medium that modern technology can afford them and clinging onto hope. Whether about corruption or communal violence, rapes or murders, Indians have tried to change the system with no immediately tangible or visible impact. What was the point of hundreds of our ancestors dying for this day? Thousands being displaced? Multiple still soothing the fractures of the partition or living with the blemishes of that violence? What was the point when 67 years later, a majority of our urban educated prefer to inhabit the countries we wanted to free ourselves from, instead of our own land?

When I think about it today, on this very day, independence to an Indian does not mean our own national anthem, emblem or tri-colour. It does not mean a burgeoning economy, nourished and healthy citizenry and a high rate of employment. Today, independence means something very different. Independence means the ability to protest and carry this protest forward, irrespective of an immediate outcome, and still hope for a positive change. Independence means frustration with the negative aspects of our system, the luxury of disillusionment and disenchantment, and the right to harbour seething anger towards those who fail the country. Independence means having the ability to voice an opinion for and against the state and every darkened political group or alternative that dreams of running it. Independence means having the fortune to tolerate the ideologically partial clubs and biased media groups because no single state dictator can ever rule over them. Independence means a sliver of hope in all the darkness because of the democratic system of free elections and individual vote. Independence means finding yourself disillusioned a few years after every election, and yet again venturing out to vote for your choice, through a free and fair process in the hope of a positive change. Independence Day, 15th August 2013, means the freedom from apathy, and the luxury to proclaim this freedom.

As Nehru 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”. Decades ago we did indeed step into the new, but today that moment is not repeating itself. Today is the moment when Indians have found and learnt to cultivate their utterance and use it at will, whether free from or under any suppression.

Here is wishing the country a very happy independence day.