“At the stroke of midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom”
- Jawaharlal Nehru
In 2022, the same aspirations for freedom seem to be a far-fetched dream. The idealised utopia of a ‘sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic’ slips farther away each year. Instead, reality stares us in the face, with homes of minorities being trampled in massive numbers, women denied the basic right to adorn their chosen religious attire and the majority of the population getting more radically saffronised with each passing day.
As I sit across the window witnessing the preachy display of Tiranga’s (Indian Flag) outside multiple homes (a practice adopted by Indians from many generations but has been heavily politicised this year), the very idea of celebrating ‘independence’ feels misplaced. Every year on 15th August while the entire country hails slogans on azadi (freedom), I struggle to get on board with the heightened display of nationalistic fervour. Possibly because the day is marred by memories of unimaginable loss more than any achievement.
I grew up hearing stories of pre-partition India. It was a form of refuge for my grandparents to go back in time and reconnect with their previous life. Especially for Beeji (grandmother) who shared the forgotten tales of Sialkot (city in Pakistan), rekindling the pain to find some comfort. In the same vein, they often spoke of the tumultuous separation of 1947. The traumatic migration accounted for loss on multiple levels. They sustained losses of family members, of material ownership, of land, of their homes and most tragically loss of identity due to separation from all that was familiar.
Recalling the train from Pakistan, they shared memories of witnessing bloodshed between communities that once harboured a sense of familial bonding. Beyond the tragedy of an unplanned separation (that was itself based on an arbitrary line drawn across the map of undivided India) the refugee camps further extended the trauma as survivors lived in squalor, spending months or even years in dilapidated homes. Why then do we look back at the day of ‘independence’ and see joy instead of pain, freedom instead of partition, and pride instead of trauma?
The gory details and spine-chilling incidents hold an impending power over you and stay with you for a very long time. While the survivors try to exhale the heavy baggage in each breath, they somehow cannot seem to get rid of it. The legacy of partition sustains through their trauma. Never in history had so many people migrated without any sense of security and yet still managed to rebuild their entire lives from scratch.
Pakistan observes independence day on the 14th of August and Indians the day after. Yet many families on both sides of the border still lament the journey and recognise it as a day of mourning. I inherited the partition from my grandparents through stories and material memories. As the last generation to hear first-hand testimonies the responsibility to carry their legacy feels heavy, especially around this holiday. The entire country tends to forget their trauma amidst the hypnotising jargon of nationalism and political slogans.
The history of the events that occurred around 1947 centres on violence and clashes with the ‘spectacle’ of celebrations around the country. Places like the Wagah Border commemorate the day with song and music played on the very soil where the blood of partition survivors remains imprinted.
Instead of celebration, the day calls for honouring the many faces of the freedom struggle who lost their lives in the hopes of achieving independence. As a country, we should be looking back and learning from the mistakes of the past. The day should be a period of remembrance and reflection in observance of human resilience, not a sham of a celebration, blinded by blind patriotism.
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