Home >Opinion >Online Views >The essence of independence

The many stranded kites hanging from trees across India remind passers-by of Independence Day celebrations. Yet, while the struggles of freedom fighters are commemorated, the fruit of their work (freedom) may gradually be taken for granted by a younger generation that never knew imperialism. Moreover, with so many pressing problems, concerns and scandals, the importance of what was gained might become blurred. Yet, in the spirit of Independence Day might still lie a gem that is of great value for the country’s future. Perhaps now even more than ever.

Most of the discussions about today’s problems in the media and among politicians and the public blame a system that is called corrupt and dysfunctional. That may all be true. But one deep barrier to solutions seems hardly discussed. And that is that many people still expect the solutions to come exclusively from the top, in an ancient reflex of feudalism and patronage. They discount their own individual power to affect change at the grassroots. Perhaps 66 years after independence, the individual consciousness of the majority of people is not liberated yet. If only the masters have been replaced, independence and liberty get a narrow and superficial meaning.

Europe was liberated from tyranny and ruin around the same time as India gained independence. And some time back, I was reminded of what freedom means to us by a small occurrence. Our young family was travelling from Amsterdam to Paris by car. Among others things, we chatted with our children about what they wanted to become when they would grow up (ballerina, singer, doctor, etc.). In an answer that my wife and I would never forget, our middle one of six said, “I want to become a lady with a dog." We smiled.

But a year later at Corbett National Park, that same daughter found a white, mountain dog puppy and carried it around the entire three days of our stay. By the time we left, she had decided never to part with it again. This meant she ran into opposition with me. I was not at all fond of having a dog.

When all bags were packed, I looked her up to bring the bad news. She sat alone waiting for me in her room, embracing the puppy on her lap, looking at me with big tears in her eyes, and said, “I want this dog and I will take care of it." I felt myself confronted with an intensely determined, sensitive six-year-old. I thought for a moment, negotiated the terms, and then melted. And so, at age seven, through her own will, she indeed became a lady with a dog.

Some in India see such glimpses of self-determination in children as being spoilt. But they can also be seen as the precious first seeds of true freedom in later life. Is that free-spiritedness there in young Indians, too? Not enough, in my view. We meet fabulous young guns in our daily work. But many 20-somethings that we encounter in the workplace wait for directions and operate on orders from others instead of taking individual responsibility and ownership. Some are even truly fatalist.

Despite all the well-known problems, I believe India is the New Land of Opportunity. Especially young Indians, who have the possibility to shape their lives amid almost unprecedented political freedom. It is a blessing denied to those living in many other, supposedly richer, Asian countries.

Perhaps India’s Independence Day could be a day to remind the youth of what dignity and self-belief can lead to, not just for Indians, but for everyone around the world. The lesson of India’s freedom fighters and Mahatma Gandhi in particular may not just be that they freed India from imperialists—let alone that they solved all India’s problems. It is a day to remember that they liberated the country because they had liberated their own consciousness first. A country born from that kind of freedom is deeply blessed, especially if it is one with the size and diversity of India. Independence Day is perhaps a yearly tribute to the universal independent human spirit. It is a remembrance India hosts for itself and the world of what individual liberation can attain, as relevant today as it was 66 years ago.

The widespread belief in the romantic delusion that a strong man at the top could clear today’s problems on behalf of all of us shows just how much remembering is needed. Young Indians should start their own liberation movement, to free their own minds instead of waiting for others to build their country and their futures. They should forge their own individual tryst with destiny. They will then find that together they change India, or perhaps own a dog. Showing discontent with society’s faults is essential in a democracy. But starting change within oneself is perhaps even more crucial. Maybe it is time for young Indians to start honouring the essence of independence and, more importantly, to live it. No force will stop them then.

Tjaco Walvis is the managing director of brand consulting and advertising agency THEY India, and a speaker at the Outstanding Speakers’ Bureau. He writes a fortnightly column on the softer cultural aspects of marketing that often tend to be ignored by marketers.

Subscribe to newsletters
* Enter a valid email
* Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.

Click here to read the Mint ePaperLivemint.com is now on Telegram. Join Livemint channel in your Telegram and stay updated

My Reads Redeem a Gift Card Logout