India celebrated it's 60th Independence Day on August 15, 2006.
For most people, it was just another holiday, a chance to spend time with friends and family. I guess the only people really busy were those involved in education and politics (including the government agencies). They are the only ones (barring a few NGOs, Corporates and Housing Societies) who unfurl the National Flag.
Which brings up a few questions ...
1. Do we really understand the relevance that Independence Day has today ?
2. Why do we celebrate it the way we do ?
3. Why do we celebrate 2 national days (Republic Day is on January 26th) ?
4. Is it just another holiday ?
Honestly, I don't have any answers to this .. just more questions ... and a few thoughts.
I wasn't around when Independence happened, but yet, when in school, we attended the celebrations (though, reluctantly, I must admit) and sang the usual patriotic songs, heard a variety of patriotic speeches (in English, Hindi and Marathi) .. and generally waited for it to get over !
The sad thing was that while we were in school doing this, we usually missed the fun part - watching the Nation celebrate it on TV. Of course, this is nothing compared to the show we get to see on Republic Day ... and that was always the trade off ... miss school and get to see the Parade. Once college started, it was up to us whether to attend or not, and the choice was pretty clear !
Those of us who read the newspapers and watched TV must've noticed nothing new this year around ... the same "forced" carmaderie .. the forced patriotism .. the forced nationalism ...
Even the PM's address to the nation echoed of the same run-of-the-mill threats to anti-national forces, infrastructural development and the call for upliftment of the poor. Sounded much like Nehru's speech ... and if we haven't got it right for 59 years ... we better start doing this differently or hey, even maybe different things (with apologies to Mr. Shiv Khera).
Coming back .. it makes me wonder why do we even celebrate the two days separately ... in my opinion (and I could be terribly wrong here !) ... I believe that Independence Day has a whole lot more relevance than Republic Day .. and yet we do a much better job on Republic Day - what with the grand parade, show of military strength, etc.
The common man on the street may be able to point out the difference between the two days very easily (for those who are still guessing .. Independence Day is the day the British stopped ruling over India ... and Republic Day is the day India adopted its Constitution). Now do we really need to put the nation through TWO days of Nationalism ? Why don't we celebrate just one day .. and go the whole hog on that day ?
I don't believe that a grand show of (forced?) nationalism twice can get us to be a better nation .. and we can definitely do without the extra holiday. I don't really think we can afford to have even one more holiday !
Our country has, possibly, the highest number of Public Holidays in a calendar year ... The official Central Government list puts it at 13 (Ha !) .. but being the "secular" country that we are ... we are benevolent enough to allow the State Governments to add their own special days ... and then there are the Banks .. who have their own list, which may or may not synchronise with either of the Government lists !!
In addition to this, we celebrate birth anniversaries and death anniversaries of various Gods, Goddesses and National personalities .. and that's not all .. we also have a few "observed" days .. like National Integration Day .. Communal Harmony day ...
For a sample list of festivals, one can visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holidays_in_India
If I'm not mistaken, this year (2006), the banks have a total list of 50 (yup, that's right) Bank Holidays, spread across various States !
One such list is available at http://www.bankofbaroda.com/holidays.asp (no offence intended to the particular Bank).
The actual number of non-working days increases a lot more .. taking into account the various other problems that we face ... Strikes ... Bandhs ... Floods ... Terrorist Attacks ...
Which brings me back to the real relevance of celebrating Independence Day. The common man is happy (and even grateful) to enjoy the Independence he has ... but I don't think that THIS is what our fore-fathers had in mind when they laid down their lives.
We definitely have the independence to rule ourselves ... no outsiders involved now .. right on ! But do we really enjoy the quality of life that we were supposed to get out of this foreign rule oppression ? The way in which the Government functions sometimes makes you feel that we need to have another war of Independence ! We seem to have merely replaced one set of oppressors, with another !
Yesterday, I saw Rajdeep Sardesai say on TV that in a survey taken, a majority of the youth-respondents actually were aspiring to earn just about Rs. 5,000 a month ... while less than a third were aiming for Rs. 20,000 ! Our sights are set so low for the majority, and yet we are unable to fulfill these aspirations .. and we wonder why so many take to unscrupulous activities.
These (misguided ?) youths don't really care for the fight for Independence ... One dialogue in a recent movie, Dus, probably summed it up for these guys ... when asked by the main protagonist as to why a member of the protection squad had betrayed his team members (and country) he said ... something to this effect .... "My father retired at Rs. 18,000 .. I probably will at Rs. 22,000 ... they (meaning the "enemy") named a sum of money that I couldn't even dream of .. and my scruples and principles just crumbled before it."
I think we need to do a lot more ... not by merely increasing awareness of the relevance of the Independence Day, not by having more cultural programs, not by unfurling more flags, not by singing more songs, not by making/delivering more speeches .. but by actually instilling a sense of belonging and ownership in the common man. Yeah, right .. I know .. easier said than done !
Each one of us needs to believe that we have a responsibility towards giving ourselves and our neighbours a better life .. and that we CAN do it.
I believe its this sense of helplessness, this futility of effort, this "chalta hai" attitude, this fatalistic view of life, that really needs to be overcome first, before we can really begin to see some changes ...
Well ... and that's how I feel ...
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