For Indians, what does independence mean?

Al Jazeera speaks with Indian citizens from all walks of life to find out what their 65th Independence Day means to them


    Independence day in India has different meanings for different people.

    Sixty-five years ago, when the British handed over this country to the Indians on August 15, Jawaharlal Nehru, the then-Prime minister,  said: "At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom."

    Today, in 2012,  I wanted to find out what that freedom means to Indians. What I found was that for most urban Indians, what it means is a day off from work, to spend with one's family.

    Some do watch the Indian prime minister unfurl the national flag on state television, while sipping their morning cups of tea.

    And some even listened to PM Manmohan Singh's speech.

    "Today is certainly a day to celebrate the success of our democracy," he said, this year. "However, on this occasion we should also introspect about what remains to be done. We would achieve independence in the true sense only when we are able to banish poverty, illiteracy, hunger and backwardness from our country. This would be possible only when we learn from our failures and build on our successes."

    I decided to follow the prime minister's advice,  and spend some time introsepecting, seeing what remains to be done.

    India, of course, is not just New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru or Chennai. It is the people in far-flung cities and villages who form the real India.

    So I called up friends, colleagues and acquaintances from the non-metropolitan cities, distant villages and some troubled regions in India to find out what Independence Day means for them.

    The dreams of fathers

    My first call was to Rakesh Kurve, 22, from Chattisgarh.

    Kurve was born in the Kota region. While many from his village have joined the Naxal rebellion against the government, Rakesh considers himself fortunate that his father was able to get him a job in the state capital, Raipur.

    He drives a police vehicle as a contract driver, and is often deployed to troubled regions of the state, where regular government drivers will not go.

    I asked him what Independence Day meant to him.

    "It's a very auspicious day, a day of happiness. Our country is free today," he tells me.

    And how does this free country benefit you, I asked.

    "The government doesn't provide us anything,  we risk our life for them. When I go for Naxal operations in places like Bijapur – if something happens to me, what will happen to my family?" he asks.

    "I just hope one day my kids will benefit from our independence.”

    'All politics'

    Recent ethnic clashes have brought the district of Chirang, in the northeastern state of Assam, into the spotlight recently.

    Hemen Sarma is a local journalist there, based out of Bijni village, a community that has seen some of the worst violence. It now hosts many refugee camps.

    "[Its] a very big day no doubt, on this day many martyrs of Indian freedom struggle have given up their lives, it's not just a day, it's our identity," he said. "We should honour this day from our heart not just show symbolic gestures. Only then will the martyrs of Indian independence be remembered."

    And has India achieved what it should have, in the last 65 years?

    "No, not really [...] We really haven't managed much. We should raise our voices, all the countrymen should raise our voices to get true independence."

    I ask him what has the northeastern region has achieved since achieving freedom from the British.

    That's when the truth comes out.

    "For Delhi, the northeast is a distant and disturbed region. Only when there is a problem do they look at us. It doesn’t really want the northeast to prosper and develop, look at all these riots and protests ... these  are just politics. Politics for votes."

    Hailing development in Gujarat

    In his Independence Day address, PM Singh promised Indians that the government would work hard for the country's rapid economic growth, and to shield it from the effects of the global economic slowdown.

    Next on the callsheet is Gujarat: a state which the Indian and international media have pointed to as a symbol of India's much-touted economic development.

    Kaizer Morkas is a Muslim businessman in the city of Surat, and he tells me that Independence Day holds great significance for him.

    "Our country has become so developed - look around us. All the other countries have been left far behind, look at where we have reached. We are really proud to be an Indian. Indians are everywhere today. The foundations the freedom fighters have laid,  successive governments have built on that," he said. 

    Religious tension has always been an issue in Gujarat - I asked him if he was happy being a Muslim in Gujarat.

    "As a Muslim, we do not have any restrictions anywhere, we are a strong business community. Look, here Hindus and Muslims work together and we are free to invest and do business. I am happy here,” he said.

    In a state which saw some incredibly violent communal riots in 2002, the remark may not be representative of the entire Muslim community - but Morka's connection to his country and state are not to be dismissed, either.

    'More jobs'

    In India's north, it's been a good summer, with tour operators doing good business in Indian-administered Kashmir.

    Ghulam Mohammeed Shafi, a hotel owner, had told me earlier this week that the tourists are back, and with no political turmoil in Kashmir, things were looking good.

    Unemployment, however, remains a big problem for Kashmir, with big businesses reluctant to invest. The youth of Kashmir are on the hunt for jobs - but there just aren't that many available.

    Mohammed Iqbal Khan spoke to Al Jazeera about his job prospects.

    "I have done my masters in English but I've worked as a driver and as a salesman. But all these jobs have been irrelevant [to] my qualifications."

    Mohammed hopes that the PM will keep his promise and bring more jobs the state.

    In Delhi, PM Singh finished his speech with these words:

    "I believe that no power in the world can stop our country from achieving new heights of progress and development. What is needed is that we work together as one people for the success of our country. Let us once more resolve that we will continue to work for a progressive, modern and prosperous India."

    Fitting words, I think, to close this blog post on.



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