The Republic Day on Friday saw the heads of the 10 ASEAN member nations, for the first time, attending the mega celebration which also had India’s achievements in missile technology and enchanting replicas in its cultural diversity on display.
The perception gaining ground in the light of over 50 percent Indian households enjoying access to television and internet in the era of “Communication Revolution” is the people are getting more aware about the spirit and message in India’s journey in freedom and liberty.
But a close and critical look down our memory lane suggests that the Indian political class has increasingly couched the solemn Republic Day event into the razzmatazz of colours, cacophony and show off to augment its “brand” of politics rather than promoting it as an occasion to convey the spirit of equality, liberty, fraternity and justice that our Constitution envisages and also the spirit of sacrifice that our forefathers made to get us freedom.
I vividly remember how as village school students in early 1970’s most of us were very much part of the Independence Day and Republic Day celebrations despite we had neither access to internet nor TV at that stage of our history.
I remember how I got up early in the morning on the Republic Day/ Independent Day and joined the Prabhat Phery (morning parade) with fellow students. With Tricolour fluttering atop a bamboo stick in the hands of each and every one of us, we would move out in disciplined array from our school to different tolas—Mathia, Daraily, Bhotiya, Pakripar etc—of our Daraily Mathia village. Our teachers—wearing the traditional dhoti-kurta –led us.
When we were over with the celebration, we had many elders telling us about their stories of heroics and struggle to free India from the British yoke. I had my Bade Papa (elder brother of my father), Dinesh Chandra Verma who had fluttered the Indian flag at the sub-divisional office at Siwan during the Quit India movement in 1942. Though our Bade Papa was a trade union leader and lived at Chiria—an iron ore mining centre—in West Singhbhoom district now in Jharkhand, my father, several other family members and villagers would tell us about how the British rulers had put him in jail for years and how they had ransacked our home in 1942 after he fluttered the flag on the SDO office.
Then we had Madhumangal Bhagat—a villager of nearby Belaon village who was among several others led by Dinesh Chandra Verma who had fluttered national flag at the Siwan SDO office in 1942 and had been dragged by the horses to jail. We also had a Rahman chacha who had joined the group of villagers who had burnt the post office during the 1942 Quit India movement. He would tell us how he and some of his friends fled to Nepal to escape the arrest of police after burning the post office in 1942.
The village had many elders who would tell us stories about the British rule and we, greatly, enjoyed listening to those stories. We had not seen Mahatma Gandhi who had set up his ashram in Champran district—barely 70 kilometres from Daraily Mathia—but our elders who had met the Mahatma and worked with him would tell us several stories about the Mahatma in their own way.
It is a fact that the Independence Day or Republic Day was only 20 or 25 year old when I lived in my village and studied in its basic school. But our teachers and elders made us participate in the events to celebrate the Independence or Republic Day. They would tell us to live in friendship, harmony and counsel us to uphold the moral values. We did not have access to TV and internet then but we very much felt the spirit of the Republic/ Independence Day with everyone talking about the same on January 26 and August 15.
If technology, access to information, roads and electricity are indicators of developments, my village is far more developed than what it was in 1970’s. Many people have mobile phones and TVs now. The basic school too has got an improved building. But the students no longer participate in the “Prabhat Phery” and there is no one to tell them about the spirit of friendship, harmony, pluralism, equality, liberty and fraternity.
How did it happen? The youths over the years left the village and the elders died. Be it by a design or by coincidence or by the change in the mode of production and livelihood, my village increasingly got reduced to a “refuge” of backward people who were “incapable” of moving to the urban areas. The 1980’s and 90’s witnessed exodus of youths from the village in search of education and livelihood with successive governments neglecting the health, education, agriculture and overall atmosphere required to breed genuinely healthy life.
I see my village youths, talking more about the leaders, political parties and even missiles, terrorism and almost everything that the TVs show them. They don’t know that they were their ancestors and elders who had played a pivotal role in making India independent. They have simply forgotten about their own heroes– Dinesh Chandra Verma, Madhumangal Bhagat, Rahman Chacha et al who had earned them Independence or Republic.
The soul of India lies in its villages. Seventy five percent of the Indian people still live in the village. But the villagers are rootless in their own villages. They have lost their sense of history. They have lost connect to what they were and where they came from. They simply don’t know that they were their forefathers—Hindus, Muslims and Christians—who fought collectively and sacrificed collectively to earn independence. Cut off from their roots, they are trying to find their “heroes” among the vested interests masquerading as leaders and preachers on the TV channels.
It is high time to get back to the roots and values that have earned us independence and that have shown us the way to live in the spirit of harmony and grow respecting our enchanting diversity.