Contributed by Sungeeta Jain
On August 15, 1947, the saffron, green and white flag with the dharma chakra, in the center, was raised high above the Indian capital of New Delhi, as a symbol of freedom, democracy and independence. But, the proud flag represented so much more to those who helped hoist it to its gallant position overlooking the now free nation. The deep saffron stood for the spirit of reunification. It stood for the courage and sacrifice of those who fought for India's freedom. The spotless white stood for truth and the nation's purity. The green, for the fertility of the earth and the unwavering faith of the people. And the deep blue chakra, the Wheel of Law, symbolized motion, progress, advancement and continuity. The chakra was adapted from the charkha, which represented the common man, the people of India, you and I. As Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru presented the flag to the Constituent Assembly of India, he said "This flag I present to you is not, I hope and trust, a flag of empire, a flag of imperialism, a flag of domination over anybody, but a flag of freedom, not only for ourselves, but a symbol of freedom to all people who may see it."
The following quote from a Hindi song, faithfully summarizes the love India's freedom fighters had for their mother land:
"Mera desh, mera mulk, mera yeh vatan, Shanti ka, unity ka, pyar ka chaman, Iss ke vaaste nisar hai, mera tan, mera man, Aay vatan, aay vatan, aay vatan, Jaaneman, jaaneman, jaaneman."
August 15, 1997 marks the 50th anniversary of India's independence from England. Independence Day is supposed to be a time of celebration. A time for singing and dancing, fireworks and parades. A time for family and togetherness, kites and good food. Independence Day is also supposed to be a time for remembering those who fought to attain the very independence we are celebrating. Those who were martyred and those who were left behind to continue the struggle. It should be a time for remembering those who unified the people of India. Those who lead the way and those who bravely followed. Independence Day should be a time for reflection. A time to look back at our own lives, our struggles and victories. What we have done right, and what we have done wrong. Independence Day should be a time for resolution. Resolving to celebrate through our lives the freedom our nation's forefathers lost their lives to give us.
But, unfortunately, for many of us Independence Day is just another day in our busy lives. Many of us don't really take the time to reflect on the true meaning of India's independence and the effects it has on our own lives. Sure, we might attend the community talent show celebrating the event, but even when we are there, we really don't think about independence, and those who fought to make it ours. We are too busy worrying about our clothes, the performer's clothes, even the clothes of the woman sitting across the auditorium.
This year, as India celebrates 50 years of independence, I decided to sit down and really think about what independence means to me. It wasn't as easy as I had thought it would be.
50 years...more than twice my lifetime...yet, it really hasn't been that long. My dad actually lived in British India. I wonder what life would have been like had India never achieved independence, if Gandhiji and all of the other freedom fighters had never spoken out against British rule. If through ahimsa, the people of India hadn't achieved what years of violence couldn't. Would there even be civil rights anywhere in the world? Would there be civil rights here, in America? I mean, didn't Martin Luther King Jr. use Mahatma Gandhi's example of non-violence as he lead the fight for civil rights in America? And then didn't so many other nations follow America's lead in civil rights reform? Would the world still be backwards in so many respects? I can't even imagine what life would be like. It would be different... definitely different.
To me, independence means life as I know it. Too often, I take it for granted. If India wasn't independent, definitely many of the opportunities I have had wouldn't have been there. I most likely wouldn't have just graduated form Electrical Engineering and be going on to Law School. I may never have even gone to college. Almost certainly, I wouldn't even be in the US today. I wouldn't be an American citizen...I'd be more like an second class citizen. I would be living in British India.
British India...there probably wouldn't be cows roaming the streets, instead, there would be signs reading "No Dogs and Indians allowed!" Indians would be foreigners in their own land. British India would possibly have more monetary wealth than today's India...but the true riches of India, the treasures I hold so dear to my heart, would be missing. There wouldn't be that feeling of belonging, that sense of unity that floods your sense the moment you step off the plane. There wouldn't be the pride, the self-respect for which Indians are willing to give their lives. There wouldn't be the culture, the tradition, the respect and oneness that I am so accustomed to...I am so proud of. In British India there would be oppression and inequality. There would be discontent and strife. In British India there would be fear and hatred...persecution and turmoil. British India wouldn't be my India. It wouldn't be the India that even so many of us non-residents proudly call home.
I thank God that he sent men and women like Mahatma Gandhi, Kasturbai Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose, Sarojini Naidu, Lala Lajpat Rai, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Sri Aurobindo, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal and the countless other freedom fighters whose names we may not know, but without whose sacrifice and dedication not only India, but the entire world would not be the same.
The Father of India, Mahatma Gandhi eloquently summarized the ideals our forefathers struggled to attain. Ideals that we should continue to strive to achieve even today. "I shall work for an India in which the poorest shall feel that it is their country, in whose making they have an effective voice, an India in which there shall be no high class and low class of people, an India in which all communities shall live in perfect harmony.... There can be no room in such an India for the curse of untouchability, for the curse of intoxicating drinks and drugs...women will enjoy the same rights as men... that is the India of my dreams."
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