what does independence day mean to you?

As a kid, I always thought this day was just another day in school where they force us to wear our white uniforms and march the field in the sun or rain. A couple of performances by the talented few, and we would get chocolates and the go home earlier than usual. More like a half day with no classes.

As a teenager, once I had my history lessons in place, I understood that this is the day  where people mourned and sang songs in praise of all the martyrs who fought and lost lives while trying  to free our country from the British rule. The songs would be followed by the most awaited distribution of sweet packets, for putting up with all the endless chief guest speeches and bor ing songs.

When I moved to college I would participate actively in various festivities, and I would be the one singing those patriotic songs, while some teenager sitting in the crowd would be thinking – “when will this end?”…..I knew of friends who would call me to save some of the free sweet packets which they aid they would collect later….(since it was a holiday they preferred to sleep as much as they could, rather than coming to join the others at like 7:00am in the morning for flag hoisting etc. )

After a couple of  years later I had to leave the country. I still remember my first Indian Independence Day celebrations here in the US.  I had tears in my eyes as I sang the national anthem. For the first time I realized why hoisting the flag was so important, and how independence day is not just another day in the calendar, where you have no classes, and how independence day is not just another holiday, and how independence day is not just about sweet packets and patriotic songs, and how independence is not another chapter in the history book.  And for the first time I realized what being born in an independent country actually means.

When I reflect about concepts of independence day in people’s mind, I feel this is what most if not all of my friends still think of it is – a National Holiday, when some decades ago, our country was declared independent. But I cannot blame them. How can you value something  that you haven’t been deprived of? How can you value independence if you do not how it feels to be a  slave?

I now understand how lucky I was, to wear what I wanted to wear, eat what I wanted to eat, go where I wanted to go, study what I wanted to study, live where I wanted to live without any restrictions being imposed on my choices. Now that is something, something that we do not think about that often, but aren’t you thankful that no matter where you go, you are treated as a human being and not like an object. Of course I forgot the most important part in the equation – being born in a free country is one thing, but it is important to be born in a well to do family, for where will all the money to do what you like to do come from?

But then there is this other question that pops up immediately in my mind – Are we truly independent?  Now what kind of question is that, of course we are, we are independent as a nation, but I think as citizens as people we are still slaves, slaves to religious beliefs, slaves to the age-old caste system, slaves to money, slaves to those in power, and finally slaves of our desires. For I think to be independent in the real sense of the word means being able to do what you want to do and not what you have to do…..even today a inter-caste marriage is looked down upon, even today those in power exploit the citizens and everyone who has money wants to get richer, and people who do not die in poverty……how can  a nation be independent when its citizens are still discriminated on the basis of caste, religion etc….. sigh

This is what independence day would mean to me : When every citizen in India is just considered a citizen of India, when every profession, caste and religion gets equal respect, that is when I would call us Independent. These sound like ideal dreams, and if you ask me I  can not even suggest a plan of action make this dream a reality, but if anything I believe in it….:)

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