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It was the early 1960s. Every time we travelled to the village, we found our grand-uncle (my father’s uncle) in front of his enormous house, always surrounded by people. And we often overheard him say, “You are blessed to be born in independent India."

Our grand-uncle, the late Siddhagopal Chaturvedi, had been convicted in the Mainpuri conspiracy case. He was imprisoned in British India for a long period. He used to tell us tales of Chandrashekhar Azad, Ram Prasad “Bismil", and other such figures. Bismil’s sister Shastri Devi used to visit our house with her kid. When Bismil used to drop her off at her in-laws at Kosma, a village in Mainpuri district of UP, a revolver would be fastened to one of her legs. If caught, he reasoned, the authorities would at least refrain from searching his sister. This repeatedly took place. Who says that the dream of freedom is the preserve of lunatics?

Shastri Devi lived in abject poverty then, and died in penury. Her son ran a tea shop. After Independence, our leadership failed to recognize individuals who were hesitant to boast about their roles in the freedom struggle. On the 25th anniversary of Independence, she was not given any tamrapatra (commemorative copperplate engraving), nor did any of her offspring receive a reservation in government jobs. She began receiving a monthly pension of 40 thanks to the efforts of renowned author Banarasi Das Chaturvedi, which she said was her main source of income.

Thousands of such people worked tirelessly until India gained independence, but how is it doing now? The nation was partitioned. Numerous people became homeless and millions were slain. There are many such reasons to be depressed, but there are also many things that can make us feel proud on the occasion of the “Amrit Mahotsav" of Independence.

Let me introduce you to some statistics.

Our total population was 340 million at the time of Independence; it is currently 1.38 billion. We’ll overtake China as the world’s most populous nation soon. Overpopulation is frequently seen as a bad thing, but India has done great work in transforming its demography into a skilled workforce. This is how, in 75 years, our GDP expanded from 2.7 trillion to 147.36 trillion. India’s contribution to global GDP climbed from 3% to 7.2%. We were originally viewed by the West as a nation of illiterates, tribals, and snake charmers. Literacy is at roughly 78% today, India has the greatest percentage of graduates worldwide. Winston Churchill, erstwhile prime minister of UK, once said during a debate over the Indian Independence Bill: “If Independence is granted to India, power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues, freebooters; all Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight among themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles."

The work India and Indians have done over the past 75 years of Independence is sufficient to hold up a mirror to those former British colonial masters. Rishi Sunak, an individual of Indian descent, is now the front-runner for the position of UK prime minister. Never in the history of Britain has someone with such a background been a strong contender for such high office.

In contrast, headlines are made in the world media when a Hindu woman is appointed deputy superintendent of police in Pakistan, whereas I.K. Gujral,who had come to India as a refugee during partition and had spent his first night in Delhi on a railway platform, was elected PM in India 25 years ago. This group also includes Manmohan Singh, who had the distinction of serving as PM for 10 years, and L.K. Advani, a tall leader of the BJP. A tribal woman currently holds India’s highest office, that of the President. The nation’s PM is Narendra Modi, a former tea vendor. Also, India has had three Presidents from the minority Muslim community, and two Presidents from among dalits. Why is it that members of dalit, adivasi, and other backward communities are able to reach the highest ranks in India if not due to trust in democracy?

That said, the history of India is not without dark corners. In recent years, social gaps have widened. Economic inequality has also grown. 57% of the nation’s overall wealth is in the hands of a mere 10% of the population. Even the official data on those living below the poverty line mocks the impoverished. A person who spends 33 each day is not regarded poor, as per the guidelines. It makes sense when people claim that black sahib has taken the role of the white masters. Finally, in the midst of such ebb and flow, I’d like to congratulate everyone on the Amrit Mahotsav of Independence. I am confident that we will be fully successful in addressing all of these challenges before our centennial year.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. Views are personal.

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