As I leand out of my balcony and gazed at passersby this morning, I saw little girls decked in finery heading to school for their Independence Day programmes. I sniggered silently at the irony, for I had just read an article in the @thetelegraph of a 13 year old who was abducted, defiled and killed in Asansol, only 200 kilometres away from Calcutta two days ago.
Before anyone labels me cynical or anti-national, let me clarify. I love India, I’m proud to belong to a country that is rich in history, culture and heritage. But I’m also worried that while the past is golden, the present and immediate future can sometimes seem bleak.
The headlines are disheartening – an economy in freefall, democracy at a crossroads, continuing atrocities against women, lawmakers accused of murder and young people caught between tradition and modernity in a highly globalized climate. We are clearly a country of contradictions.
I am reminded of when I was teaching “Where the mind is without fear” to a grade 10 class some years ago. The students and I collectively agreed that Tagore’s words, often referred to as a ‘prayer’ are in fact more a call to action; and “…where the mind is led forward by Thee into ever-widening thought and action; into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake” is perhaps more relevant today than ever before.
I love my country and pray for its leaders daily but today, I’m conflicted about how to feel.
Our freedom can sometimes feel like a talisman, honoured more in words than in exercise. Channelled carefully to our children, drip fed through the years till we don’t question its definition. But if we log into ourselves as keenly as we log into our social media we will have to acknowledge that while we have moved so much further than we were in 1947, in 2019 it still feels like the finish line is far away in the distance and we have a very long way to go yet.
I love India but I do think it is paradoxical, to be celebrating our independence with such pride at a time in which the country seems so divided, so fractured, so unsure of where it is heading and so uncertain of how to begin the healing.