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Chronicling Freedom

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Independence Day, 15th of August, celebrates the struggle and sacrifices of all Indians to become free of colonial rule, irrespective of their chosen political ideology, or even if they didn’t have any and were acting out of simple self-respect. There were many foreigners who took part in the struggle, and many Indians who undertook the fight in foreign lands. It evolved through stages and not always did people realise the direction they were headed in. So, it was that the ‘Mutiny’ of 1857, which Indians of that time looked at as the ‘Gadar’, is today mentioned as the ‘First War of Independence’, acknowledging the role of the known and unknown warriors.

At the time of Independence, India had reached a stage when it had an acknowledged leader whose directions were mostly followed by those struggling for freedom – Mahatma Gandhi. This mirrored India’s unity emerging from the coming together of the various strands. His philosophy of non-violent struggle reverberated with the ancient belief system of the sub-continent, but its success was grounded in the alternate truth none realised more than the British, especially after the two world wars, that, without a civilised resolution, the warriors would keep coming. The Azad Hind Fauj was a stark reminder of that fact. It goes to the credit of all concerned that there was, ultimately, a peaceful transfer of power, which became a model for other anti-colonial movements across the world.

The other task of nation building was the writing of the Constitution, which is celebrated on Republic Day. Even today, light is being shed on the multi-dimensional task it was, with contribution, again, from across the political spectrum. Sadly, once electoral politics took hold, the process began of excluding the contributions of others, despite the fact that the people continued to revere them and what they represented. This was only natural, as the present always prevails over the past.

It was the task of the historians, sociologists, writers, film-makers, poets, etc., to preserve the memory of such people and place it in the right perspective. History writing, of course, is never a complete task – it has to be continuously re-interpreted in the light of fresh information. It has to be just as much about the personalities, as about movements, economics and social processes. This is where Indians have barely got off the ground – first, the ‘liberal socialist’ and communist collaboration worked on exclusion and, then, the ‘right wing’ is painting over it with broad brush strokes. It is a work in progress and will take some time before the truth shines brighter, providing Indians with a more sophisticated sense of identity, suitable to the present times. What is required is greater toleration of the other’s point of view, particularly in the ossified circles of academia.