Reflections on Indian Independence Day

It’s Indian Independence day today. All day, I’ve been thinking about the difference between how August 15th is celebrated in India and how July 4th is celebrated here.

My usual Independence Day routine while in India consisted of my mom waking us up extra early, even though it was a holiday, so that we could show up on time to a flag hoisting ceremony either at our local elementary school or the grounds of our residential complex.  A significant crowd always gathered for these ceremonies.

Somehow every person ended up with a miniature Indian flag – although I don’t remember my parents ever buying one. The little kids would run around waving the flag until someone with a very stern voice called everyone’s attention.  The flag would be hoisted as the national anthem was sung; everyone stood pin straight at military attention (the proper way to show respect for your country).

When I was younger someone who had participated in the Freedom Struggle against the British, would then give a speech about the glory of India and it’s hard won freedom from the British Empire.

Our resident Freedom Fighter, Mr. S, was widely known as not actually having ever been involved in the freedom struggle at all.  As the story goes, he was out to get milk when the British were doing rounds and arrested him with a pail of milk.  After serving time in a British jail he was hailed by friends and family as a de facto freedom fighter…after all he had been to jail!

Since few Freedom Fighters are still living, today’s speakers are usually local politicians. During and after the speech there is usually a lot of flag waving and emotional patriotic cries of “Jai Hind!” (Long Live India).

Then we would go home and my mom would get very concerned about the little flags we had on us.  She wouldn’t let us throw them away – that would be too disrespectful – we had to save them so they could be burned (the proper way of disposing of a flag) later.

For the rest of the day, it was a regular day off, spent watching TV (usually patriotic programming of Nationalistic movies and songs) or visiting friends.

In contrast, celebrating 4th of July is much more fun and festive with food and alcohol.  It is much less structured and formal.  I usually enjoy 4th of July much more but often wonder if anyone is reflecting on the hard won freedom achieved from the same British Empire.

On this Independence Day, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a grand announcement that India will launch an unmanned satellite to orbit Mars in 2013.

In the 65 years since independence, India has come a long way especially in the technology sphere. Yet basic infrastructure like running water, sewage and electricity is hit or miss even in large metropolitan cities like Mumbai and Delhi.

While a huge portion of the country goes hungry and lives in poverty, how can this be the best way to spend tax payer money?

A friend of mine, Veeral, said it well on a Facebook post today.  He wrote, “Take pride in [India’s] growing economic prowess yet remember that there are very many who have not yet benefited from this progress. Not simply partake in flag waving and chanting of national anthem, but take some time to understand what the colors in the flag stand for, what is the meaning of words in the national anthem. Awaken to somber realities and challenges the nation still faces and rise from apathy to action.”

I completely agree!

 

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