In the new apartment complex I live, it has been the first Independence Day and the residents organised a flag hoisting ceremony. A nice initiative to remind ourselves that we all belong to a free country, that we have been fortunate to be citizens of India, and not of Syria, Pakistan, or even Bangladesh. But the function also restated that the concept of freedom is not absolute. Although it was a microcosm, I the general pattern was not very different.
First, it began with Ganesha Vandana, and the compere announced that we would begin with this invocation as we do in every auspicious occasion. Which “we”? The 80.5 % Hindus alone? What has independence got to do with religion? Do we realise that the moment we exclude one out of five Indians from our concept of freedom, we turn on its head the idea of a pluralistic India which was at the core of our freedom struggle? In fact, if India is very different from Syria or Pakistan today, it is primarily because it is pluralistic.
A resurgent Hinduism is fine as long as it doesn’t try to encroach upon the social and political space. But this is precisely the new malady of India in the 21st century. And it spreads its pernicious tentacles through benign invocation of a sectarian god.
If this is a new addition to our bag of problems, the old one remains, and we have done practically nothing about it. In the function, there were about 80 residents, but only one domestic help – who happened to be a Muslim – and she was cringing in a corner a little away from the well-dressed people. So as Indians celebrated their independence, while the world slept, a significant number of its population washed pots and mopped floors.
If the lone representative from the “Other India” had got an opportunity to go to school, I am sure she would have recalled this line by Rabindranath Tagore: “Those you are leaving behind are pulling you back.”
Happy Independence Day!
Bengaluru / Monday, 15 August 2016