Writing for essay competitions, speaking for elocution, dancing on patriotic songs on the eve of Republic Day celebrations was part and parcel of growing up. It was an exciting moment then, and I am sure it is an exciting moment for kids today.
It has been 71 years now, our beautiful country has always been about unity in diversity or ‘anekta me ekta’; a red-letter day in Indian history as the Constitution came into force, making India an independent republic. While I was growing up, my parents were quite unhappy with the fact that we had not been asked by our school authority to learn the ‘Preamble’ by heart. It was a matter of pride for the people of my parents’ generation to be able to recite the Preamble whenever asked to. Today, I see people and student leaders reciting the Preamble while having it printed on an A4 size paper, or reading it out to a bunch of protestors in India or abroad. While people of my generation have access to much better educational facilities, then how come reciting the Preamble without Googling has become such a difficult task?
I hail from Assam, and having grown up in a fairly cosmopolitan environment, I can say this with conviction that I am proud to have more non-Assamese friends than any of my fellow Assamese friends. It makes things beautiful as to how much of a heterogeneous society one can belong to. It also brings up topics of discrimination, and why it is important for one to be addressed in a manner irrespective of their caste, language, race or religion. Above all, it teaches you empathy and acceptance.
The ritual on every R-day would be to get up and switch on the Doordarshan channel for the live telecast of celebrations from Rajpath. Starting from the Amar Jyoti Jawan, receiving the chief guest for the event, watching the parade, the passing of tableaus of different states and having a discussion on how previous year’s tableaus looked better than the current year, the bike show, and finally the air show, all got me glued to my TV screen.
It was always a dream to watch the parade live in Delhi. I did land an opportunity to watch the 2018 Republic Day celebrations at India Gate from close quarters, despite reaching a few minutes late, to almost not being allowed to go inside because of the huge crowd that was getting impossible to accommodate. It was the year when India had not one, but 10 guests, owing to development in the India-ASEAN relations. For all those who have not witnessed this live from the Capital, trust me, it is an exhilarating experience and will make you proud as an Indian, no matter which farthest corner of the country you come from!
Over the past few years, India’s image has been declining on various indicators, be it on the parameters of freedom of speech and expression, Human Development Index, safety, unemployment, democracy, etc. This is happening despite the fact that our country is aiming high to become a superpower. A country becomes a superpower only if it believes and respects its human resources!
People are now out on the streets for all the right reasons, i.e. defending the democratic and constitutional values, but are getting polarised with varied opinions. Protests are happening in almost every state now since the CAA, despite internet and communication blockades. I was a victim of one of these internet bans for 10 days straight, when protests were at their peak, when it was still CAB and not CAA. Students who are protesting are getting bashed up mercilessly for speaking their minds, and for resisting fee hikes. This not only kills the spirit of the people, but it kills the very soul of the nation. However, these students are adamant about facing draconian regimes, with the very hope that peace will prevail, that the poorest of the poor will have access to education, jobs and healthcare facilities.
Women who have been always within four walls of their house, who have been victims of patriarchy all these years, are today out in the biting cold, sitting for now more than forty days straight, feeding their babies while protesting, and wearing bindi and hijab to protect their idea of India. Will you ever come across such diversity in any other country?
Similarly, in far-flung areas of the Northeast, women have come out in their traditional attires, raising slogans in their mother tongue, and fearlessly leading the protests despite being tagged ‘half-naked’ by some newspapers who want to shove down their linguistic chauvinism into the indigenous tribes. However, these women from the Northeast are not getting covered by national media as much as the women from the Capital.
As the world is changing, and wishing to become less rigid, my idea of India is to be able to speak up for the marginalised communities who are economically and socially backward, and whose numbers are still very large even today, after more than 70 years of standing tall and independent. This India should be able to speak up for the rights of the LGBTQ, who must feel excluded, get greater access to pursue their every dream, and speak their minds against oppression. My idea of India should be able to make citizens more aware of climate change and address it from their home front, as the issue demands a behavioural change. My idea of India should be able to wake people up from their slumber, and resist leaders like Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has a major role to play in the Amazon fire and making absolutely racist remarks on the indigenous tribes of Brazil, from being invited on R-day celebrations in the future!
As we step into the 72nd year, let us pledge to now remember the Preamble of the Constitution, to uphold humanitarian values, and accommodate varied ideas of ‘My idea of India.’