Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Happy Independence Day!

At the stroke of midnight today, we turn sixty-five. As our Swamiji once told me - a birthday is not just a reminder of the day you were born, but it is a vardhanti - to celebrate growth, to introspect, to think about what we have achieved so far and try to plan for what lies ahead.
When I was younger, our patriotism was intense. Songs like "bhAratIyaru nAvu endendu onde" and "bhAratAmbeye janisi ninnoLu dhanyanAdenu" moved us to tears accompanied with happiness and excitement and contentment. (The former song still moves me to tears sans all the good feelings). Our patriotism also found expression in the marchpasts, in saluting our tricolor with pride. In fact, it is always a cherished dream of children that they will grow up and achieve things that will make their country proud of them. We were no exception. We read stories of war and Independence with greed and pride. We were proud that we belonged to a country of brave soldiers, valiant and benovelent kings and queens and freedom fighters who cared more for the country than for their families.
It was not long before we started questioning our beliefs. Of late, all I have are questions. True, we are a great country. But is the greatness showing itself? If so, where and how? Various news reports and surveys show us that we rank down there along with Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia in the way we treat fifty percent of our population, that we are only slightly better than Pakistan when it comes to corruption, that we rank lower than tiny countries like Belarus when it comes to winning medals in Olympics, that we are slowly but steadily losing vast tracts of our land to our neighbors.
Coming to the last thing first, the news about Assam was conspicuous by its absence in the newspapers. Assam violence certainly deserved many more pages than it got. Initially I thought that it was just because of the way we thought about the Northeast - news from the Northeast does not jump out of the newspapers like the Bacchan family. But the more I read, the better I realized that Assam is being deliberately kept far from the prying media. Or, may be the media does not venture too close to the weaknesses of the Congress party. Things would have been vastly different if we had exchanged Gogoi with Modi. There are no Sardesais interviewing Gogoi. There are no online petitions this time around (I remember signing one for Irom Sharmila a few years ago).
Our problem has always been that of shortsighted leadership. Chacha cared more for his image on the international political stage than his policies at home, and left us with a legacy far too troublesome to ignore - Kashmir and Tibet (by induction, Arunachal Pradesh). Indira Gandhi was better, but did nothing to check Bangladeshi immigration. And look what it is doing in Assam.
Another recent incident in Assam shook my belief about my country. Unlike the Bangladeshi immigration and associated violence, this news was literally popping out of newspapers. The torture undergone by a young girl oustide a pub at an early enough time were disconcerting. The Mangalore and Jharkhand news came not too later, and both found me asking myself if I would like my daughter to grow up in such an environment. There is a beautiful shloka in the raghuvamsha about Raghu's rule, that says that while Raghu was king, even the wind did not dare to disturb the clothing of an abhisArikA who went in search of her lover at night. That was the kind of freedom and security that an able leader like Raghu gave his subjects. In contrast, we are scared to venture out of the safety of our homes after dark, even for work or buying medicines. IMO, the culprit here is not just patriarchy as some feminists claim, but a sick mentality and confidence that they can get away with anything by paying a good enough bribe. And also that ordinary people would not give a damn, whatever happened.
In our History classes, we often studied about various dynasties. The achievements of these dynasties would be listed in separate categories like Conquests, Literature, Art and Architecture and so on. When I tried to do the same thing now, I could not come up with as many items as I would have liked. The progress we have made is on par with other developing nations of the world, not any better. The technological advancement we seem to have made is less because of indigenous technology and more because of technological advancement happening halfway across the globe. Indeed, our poverty is such that we do not have one good institute other than IISc that encourage the Sciences, but cry ourselves hoarse celebrating the accomplishments of the likes of Sunita Williams and Kalpana Chawla. They are Americans, for crying out loud! And also, there are no signs of any improvement coming the people's way with respect to education either, with Sir Kapil as the incharge of the country's education.
I have never felt this depressed on any Independence day. As a person remarked, we seem to have passed from the hands of the British to the hands of thugs and rowdies and criminals. This sort of makes me agree with what Churchill had said once, that we were still not capable of ruling ourselves. Till date our biggest achievement seems to be that we have remained whole as a political entity, even when we have people in our midst who think they are in their right to vandalize a monument to our soldiers when people elsewhere are killed. Oh, and also that we can talk about gifting phones to families below the poverty line.
There, I did not mean to be so caustic in this post. I would like to think that there are promising things happening around us, that we are still living and thriving, Churchill's words be damned. And sure there are, if we look for them. There are little things happening everyday, that show that though all is not well, somethings at least are going in the right way. We have come far from the days of the license raj. Schools are more accessible than in the past. Sensible laws exist, even if they are mere paper tigers, as do sensible people, even if they are not powerful. All is not lost, yet. It is up to us to make the best of what we are provided with, and also to make the lives of those around us better.
So, folks, wish you a very happy Independence Day! May God give us the ability to live up to the dreams of countless people who died fighting for freedom.

1 comment:

parijata said...

Aram Sir,
Your comment has got lost again.
Thanks for the kind words.