The republic of India has officially turned 69. Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi once said, “India is an old country but a young nation.” During its near seven-decade long journey as a nation state, this young nation has achieved multiple feats to be proud of. Following the brutal origins of the Partition, India was successfully able to lift itself out of the economic mess which the British Raj had resulted into. Today, India is the second-fastest growing economy in the world and is busy keeping the neighbouring “dragon” at its toes.
But India has its own set of Chinese walls to climb. Financially speaking, India is yet to eliminate economic inequality and redistribute wealth which has been pocketed by a few. On the other hand, a billion plus Indians have to remain committed to the mantra of secularism. What makes India unique is its plurality. The notion of our composite culture has often been challenged by fanatical elements who have unleashed a wave of violence on the society.
On India’s 69th Independence Day, let us take a pledge that we will never compromise on the principles of a multi-faith, multi-cultural India. As Indians, let us feel remorseful about the 1984 riots when innocent Sikhs were at the receiving end of a vicious campaign which can be best summarised in the words of Robert F Kennedy as a “mindless menace of violence”. We must reach out to our Sikh brethren who have lent in tremendous capacity to our armed forces and have toiled hard in their fields to grow food for us. Let us demand justice for the victims of 1984 riots and ensure that such a calamity never takes place again.
It’s been more than 25 years since Kashmiri Pandits were driven out of their homes in the valley. Isn’t that a blot on the secular fabric of our nation? Pandits have to be resettled as soon as possible in Muslim-majority Kashmir because without Pandits, “Kashmiriyat” is incomplete and so is India’s commitment to secularism. Let us demand justice for the victims of the exodus and ensure that no Indian is ever forced to leave behind his home and live in exile.
We must also come together to remember the carnage which transpired in Gujarat. The killers of innocent men and women cannot be allowed to roam around freely. Truth has to be firmly established and retribution extracted. Let us demand justice for the victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots. In fact let us demand justice for every untoward incident which has occurred during these seven decades. Be it the Hashimpura massacre or the Babri Masjid demolition, the Dalit killings in Laxmanpur Bathe or the anti-Christian violence in Odisha, all those who take law into their own hands need to be tried.
We must never allow Indian soil to be a place where justice is denied and people are massacred in the name of religion. Thou shall never fall prey to religious fanaticism should be an article of faith for every Indian. The barriers of sex, caste, region, religion and language have to be overcome if India wishes to see itself among the greatest nations of the world where economic progress is complimented by communal amity. We are nowhere close to it on our 69th Independence Day but let’s aim to be an example of toleration and justice by the time we are 75.
(This article was originally published in DailyO.)