Rethinking Independence Day: Ritual or Re-imagination in 2020

Photo by Anand Thakur on Unsplash

We have moved quite far away from the impulse and exuberance of post-colonial national building as India is pushing towards its 75th milestone. For an ancient civilisation and near mature democratic nation state, Independence Day has been reduced to a ritual, a tick on the calendar. We look forward to Independence Day for the fanfare at Rajpath, and the address of the Prime Minister from the ramps of the Red Fort. The projection of power through military hardware might evoke cold war, however at a time where we are staring at a conflict on our borders, it never really goes out of fashion.

The nation state as an imagination is a perennial work in progress. For the country the size of a sub-continent, the national imaginary is contested terrain. With the recent Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which lent persecuted refugees a shot at a safer life, the conversation was indeed polarised. Persecuted Sikhs from Afghanistan were airlifted to safety in the light of constant violence by the Taliban. The CAA was meant for the persecuted rather than a supposed minority, as the status quo were not being altered at all.

The Anti CAA protests at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, had the feel of a college fest but became a symbol of resistance for specific vision of India, which is Nehruvian secularism. This school of thought is quickly eroding its support base as a counter cultural nationalist imagination of the nation is dominant at this moment in history. The Ram Mandir in Ayodhya is a symbol of faith for millions as well as an inflection point in our political discourse where the aspirations of the Hindu community are centred instead of being sacrificed at the brittle alter of Indian secularism, which was already on life support.

Alternative futures must be reimagined for the country every few years for infusing a fresh lease of life, a new energy for building better lives for our people.  All perspectives have equal weight as each region of India perceives the body politic of the nation. The smallest of states in our North East, bare the undue load of national security as they share borders with the middle kingdom. The chasm between the national core and the periphery is significant from an economic standpoint. This delta creates flows of migrants from Nagaland to Bangalore to work in the BPO sector. 

The migration crisis this year, as a result of the national lockdown triggered by the pandemic has revealed structural weaknesses of the society as an X-Ray.

It was also a window into the best nature of us as many came out to serve. India is a common economic market where millions of circular migrants, work in one corner although work in the other. Think of a Bengali Muslim working in the paddy fields in Kerala. Bengali is a commonly heard language in the Malabar region, as their own have been doing similar manual work in the deserts of the Gulf. 

A good case study regarding exploring alternatives envisioned for our national commons is in the discursive realm of education. The recent National Education Policy 2020, is aspirational and revolutionary in many aspects, although the emphasis on Hindi as link language has been a festering wound for Tamil Nadu, which did not vote for the BJP, as one of the rare islands for the opposition in the 2019 polls. The opposition on Tamil social media has been aggressive. As a nation this Independence Day we need to attentively listen to voices who are out of phase with us. This pandemic has created a forcible pause button on the choices as a nation we ought to operationalise. The global pause is an opening into the thought options we need to evaluate to build an equitable future.

How do we reimagine work, or the future of work in India?

In India, work is not merely a job. It is a social elevator, a source of living and value. The post pandemic economic environment will be fundamentally different. The job market has contracted and will evolve rapidly. The archaic education system, which creates no skills for the English major from a small town who cannot even speak or understand the language. College often is the waiting room for the youth between adolescence and a job. What is needed for business is to create alternative learning channels to co-create applicable resources for the job at hand via service learning rather than waiting for the education sector to respond. We need to give up the stereotype, that the state can and will deliver everything from education to health to jobs. The government sector is a part and parcel of society as well. Educators in colleges in India are disconnected to the skills needed to impart to the market. 

This illustration is a symptom of the dysfunctionality that the country needs to remedy. The ‘Chalta Hain’ mentality makes for poor framing towards building effective policy capacity.  Policy capacity is not merely the remit of the state, the Sarkar. What can we do as individuals to work in areas which have an alignment and overlap towards our work, passion and the country’s need? The sentiment of despair this year due to the pandemic makes this August 15th a node for reflection to rethink the national operating system for success. Let’s remember our precious martyrs of the independence struggle and make this a teachable moment for the young generation for the best virtues of the freedom struggle. Freedom is political, but freedom is also the ability to realise our dreams for our people. 

Manishankar Prasad

Manishankar Prasad is an environmental engineer, sociologist, researcher and writer. He has studied at the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He has published across numerous national and international platforms such as the New Indian Express and the Huffington Post, been a panellist on Al Jazeera International and BBC World, and has been interviewed by Forbes and The Guardian.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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