Even though I was born decades after India realized its sovereignty from British officials, I’ve grown up hearing stories from my grandparents, who still reckon the fateful day like it was yesterday.
From earnest NCC parades to plays reminiscing India’s struggle for freedom to the proactive poem recitations followed by the most-awaited flag hoisting ceremony, we’ve all been a part of the magnificent festivities that were commonly arranged to celebrate independence day all through our schooling years.
15 August 2020 marks 74 years since Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, for the first time in history, esteemed the liberation of India with his treasured speech, “the tryst with destiny.”
“At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history when we step out from the old to the new when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”
Taken from “the Tryst with Destiny,” which the first Prime minister voiced at midnight’s hour of 14th august, 1947.
Nehru had given the clarion call of ‘Poorna Swaraj’ back in 1929 on 26th January before India had even legitimized its independence. Back then, the celebrations were observed in the form of civil disobedience, and meetings wherein the pledges for independence were first taken.
Years later, during the days leading up to 15th august in 1947, people were still anxious about the British government and only spoke of ‘swaraj’ in hushed tones.
On the dawn of independence, Nehru was announced the first Prime minister of “free India”. At the same time, Lord Mountbatten oversaw the transfer of power from British officials to the Indian leaders of the resistance. It was only then that the locals rejoiced while their hearts swelled with the pride and joys of sovereignty. Crowds gathered in thousands outside the Viceroy House to applaud the first native leaders of India since the departure of the East India Company.
Celebrations saw the hues of ecstasy in shades of saffron, white and green. Lights dazzling off of oil lamps and candles outside even the simplest households put the moon to shame.
I’ve been told it seemed as if the newfound leaders of India could not bear to witness a single grim being in the nation that day. Political prisoners, including communists, were freed whereas, the death sentences were tainted with life imprisonment. Orders were given to shut down all slaughterhouses so that even animals could live another day to breathe the air of India’s emancipation.
However, this bliss of independence also came with a bittersweet revelation. On one hand, the nation cheered its freedom from the clutches of colonial diplomats, while the other hand, it mourned the partition of Pakistan. Complete legislative authority was granted to India after the formation of the two independent dominions. At the same time, millions of Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh refugees were butchered along both sides of the newly formed territories.
The midnight rituals of the new-found independence were maintained in daylight on August 15. Nehru joined by Lord, and Lady Mountbatten saluted the parade by the Indian Armed Forces outside the Rajpath Bhavan.
Mountbatten, in his speech, had reminded the elated people of India of all that they owed to Mahatma Gandhi, “At this historic moment let us not forget all that India owes to Mahatma Gandhi — the architect of her freedom through non-violence. We miss his presence here today and would have him know how he is in our thoughts.”
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Gandhi, who was in Kolkata at that time, did not partake in any such celebrations. He had observed a 24-hour fast in an attempt to assuage the communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims. About 250,000 people had lost their lives during partition. Whereas, mosques and temples opened their doors to help people in areas that were influenced by Gandhi’s resolve.
The national flag was hoisted by the Prime Minister outside the Red Fort on August 16th, a symbolic practice still pursued by all succeeding Prime ministers of India.
“The free flag of India is the symbol of freedom and democracy not only for India but for the whole world. India, Asia, and the world must rejoice on this great day,” Nehru had said in his speech after the unfurling of the national flag.
Countries from around the world, including China and Bangkok, had congratulated India for its victory. “Rejoicings from Siamese,” read a report on greetings from china that talked about the three thousand people, including women and children who had stood in attention to salute the national flag while showers poured from the sky.
America, too, had pledged its friendship to India and Pakistan, as informed in a report by The “Times of India”.
Large crowds of proud Indians swarmed all around the parliament while the very last troops of the British government quit the nation via the Bombay docks.
Image – An Indian newspaper celebrating India’s Independence
Critics and citizens of the country today maintain diverse opinions regarding the change India has undergone in terms of growth and advancement within these 74 years. A significant section of the populace might even reckon that “true” Independence can only be realized if all individuals across the nation are liberated from the divides of religion, caste, sex, and race.
Irrespective of where your opinions range on this spectrum of beliefs, one thing that remains absolutely impervious is the commemoration of Independence, which we observe with swelling sentiments of pride in our hearts for our glorious nation.