India – or Bharat – turns 70 today. We are a nation that was carved out not based on a common ethnicity or language but based on our common suffering and struggle. We are a nation of diverse ethnicities, languages and faiths, held together by an idea. The mighty idea that there can be unity in diversity, that people with fundamentally different values can coexist peacefully and flourish. The mighty idea of India, rooted in her history of tolerance and acceptance, for which thousands of great men and women made the ultimate sacrifice.
Today as a nation we are facing formidable challenges both, from within and without. Amidst these hurdles and changing times, it’s imperative to reconcile ourselves with this idea of India while we take the plunge towards this aspirational New India.
Our freedom fighters not only fought for the freedom of our nation but also defined it during the struggle. The brutally repressive British Raj came down with all its force on these brave men and women. On many occasions, the most patriotic act left at the disposal of the fighters was to wave our flag, raise slogans for freedom, and sing what would soon become the national anthem and national song, thereby registering their protest against the Raj and seeding the idea of our nation amongst the masses. We must cherish and respect these symbols that encapsulate our struggle for independence along with the values of our founding fathers and mothers. Now that we celebrate 70 years of freedom, in New India let our patriotism be defined by our intentions and actions to contribute towards nation-building rather than just by our enthusiastic rendering of the national anthem and the national song, or by hoisting giant flags.
India is one of the very few countries that accommodated universal adult franchise in the constitution, right from the first moments of their existence. Our founding fathers and mothers ensured that women of our country get equal rights in the democracy. Given the social mores of those times, this was a progressive step. Compared to this, New India has a long way to go, both politically and socially. The State must see to it that in New India women do not have to compromise on their career aspirations due to a lack of safety and accessibility. Society must see to it that we do not hold women back so they fit into the patriarchally defined roles. The change will be catalysed by having women in important positions in public and private organisations; society and the State have to work together to attain this. New India wouldn’t be able to reap the benefits of the demographic dividend if half of our population is held back by these barriers.
The leaders of free India recognised and owned up to the historical injustices that were done to the repressed classes. A constitutional remedy in the form of reservations was envisaged to level the playing field in independent India. While the policy of reservation has not been entirely successful, it has certainly helped the depressed classes. In today’s India, we see regionally dominant communities like Jats, Marathas and Patidars vying for reservation benefits. While it is for another time to argue the righteousness of these claims, we have to work for New India to be different. New India shouldn’t have communities protesting to prove their backwardness – rather, it should have adequate opportunities so as to cater to their needs. This can be done by bridging the gap between educational courses, vocational courses and job opportunities. It is a Herculean task to achieve this, given the needed overhaul in education and job generation scenarios. But so was getting freedom from the Raj.
We should collectively strive for a New India that is free from the malice of divisive caste-based politics. The secular ethos of free India has been muddied time and again in history, to gain political advantage. New India, essentially young India, must change this. Young citizens of the country must be educated about the harm that such communal politics has done to the social fabric of India. We should embrace our diversity, as the founding fathers intended.
We must also ensure that dissent is not discouraged in New India. A liberal democracy sees to it that citizens have equal rights to voice different opinions. With our pluralism, tolerance should come effortlessly. The Supreme Court judgement in Bijoe Emmanuel vs. State of Kerala stated,”Our tradition teaches tolerance; our philosophy preaches tolerance; our Constitution practices tolerance. Let none dilute it.” President Kovind, in his speech on the eve of the 71st Independence Day, also said that New India must be tolerant and progressive.
As citizens, let us strive to engage more with others having differing opinions. We can draw a lot of examples from pre-independent India, wherein groups with different ideals and ideas coexisted within a unit, to achieve the common goal. Let us take a page from it and not stoop to name-calling, using terms like AAPtards, Bhakts, etc, simply because of their different political preferences, it does not serve any purpose for a productive interaction. In order to celebrate our diversity, we must first understand and accept it. Regional and linguistic chauvinism should find no place in New India.
Let New India focus more on the grass-root issues of ensuring a basic standard of life for her citizenry rather than debating icons and ideologies. The latter is not any less important for a nation but former has to be a priority. We’re a young nation with a predominantly young generation, our challenges aren’t bigger than our collective potential. As J.F. Kennedy said – “The efforts of the government alone will never be enough. In the end, the people must choose and the people must help themselves.” Let’s collectively toil to achieve the lofty ideals that are being muzzled by our current difficulties.
I am reminded of the hackneyed dialogue from Rang De Basanti -“Koi bhi desh perfect nahi hota, use perfect banana padta hai (No country is perfect, it has to be made perfect).” Our freedom fighters bled and made the ultimate sacrifice for India to be free. It is only fair that we sweat and hustle to achieve the India that they envisioned. New India owes it to them.