Independence Day, August 15, commemorates the day in 1947 when India achieved freedom from British rule. It is celebrated with flag hoisting ceremonies and cultural programs in the state capitals. The Prime Minister’s speech at the Red Fort in Delhi is the major highlight. All Government Organisations have a holiday as 15th August is a National holiday . In the capital New Delhi most of the Government Offices are lit up. In all the cities around the country the Flag Hoisting Ceremony is done by politicians belonging to that constituency. In various private organisations the Flag Hoisting Ceremony is carried out by a Senior officer of that organisation. On Television, various Independence related programs are telecasted, reminding us of the hard times faced by the freedom fighters. In almost all the schools and colleges around the country, no academic work in done on this day, but all the students and staff members are present on this day and there is a sort of gathering of the entire school/college within their respective premises and the flag hoisting ceremony takes place,(usually in the presence of the principal)and singing of the National Anthem. After this there are various cultural activities held in the school / college and the celebration continues till late evening.
At the stroke of midnight, as India moved into August 15, 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, read out the famous speech proclaiming India’s independence.
The moment ended three centuries of British colonial rule. The land was no longer the summer retreat of British sahibs who fancied spices, shikar, elephants and snake-charmers.
Independence was also the end of nearly a century of struggle for freedom, battles, betrayals and sacrifices. It also created a situation where we were responsible for ourselves.
But it wasn’t a period of unqualified joy. For a lot of people, in spite of a new era promised by independence, partition was a painful reality and so was the bloodshed that accompanied it. That was 53 years ago. Much has changed; the struggle for freedom lives on in history books and memoirs, and on the tombstones of valiant martyrs. Politics has undergone a personality change from fiery idealism to a pragmatic cynicism. Karma drives the nation on its way forward, and population has crossed the billion mark.
But, come August 15, and the people put their troubles behind them for a while, as they stand up as a nation for the National Anthem. Along with the soaring cadences of the anthem, the hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow are renewed in political speeches and replays of the deeds of those who earned us our freedom.
Independence Day is an occasion to rejoice in our freedom and to pay collective homage to all those people who sacrificed their lives to the cause. But it is more than that. It also marks the coming together of more than 400 princely states into one nation – India. This was probably our biggest diplomatic success.
Each year, August 15 gives us the reason to celebrate all this, and do much more – it is a time to contemplate what we have and how we achieved it.
Though India had no dearth of religious and community festivals, there was, till Independence, no true national festival that the whole country could partake of. Independence Day, beginning as a day to commemorate the greatest moment in Indian history, has now come to signify a feeling of nationalism, solidarity and celebration.
Independence Day remained the sole national festival till India declared itself a republic in 1950. On January 26, 1950, Republic Day became the second Indian national holiday.
Background to the freedom struggle
Before the 18th century, India’s relationship with the West had been predominantly trade-related. All this changed when the forces of the East India Company defeated Siraj-ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Calcutta.
That signalled the arrival of the British as rulers. Till the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the East India Company, with the Governor General as its head, ruled the subcontinent. After that, the Crown took over the administration, with the Viceroy as its representative.
In the 20th century, the country witnessed the rise of many leaders such as Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Banded under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and his doctrine of non-violence, the freedom struggle moved ahead with new vigour. Milestones like the Quit India Movement, Non-Cooperation Movement, Khilafat Movement and Gandhi’s Dandi March brought the inevitable freedom closer.
August 15, Independence Day, is celebrated in a mood of abandon and joy – no rituals, just festivities. It is also a national holiday, with educational institutions, private and government organisations remaining closed, but for official celebrations in the morning.
Schools and colleges mark the day with cultural activities, drills, flag hoisting and distribution of sweets. Government as well as private organisations celebrate it similarly.
Families and friends get together for lunch or dinner, or for an outing. Housing colonies, cultural centres, clubs and societies hold entertainment programmes and competitions, usually based on the freedom theme.
The Prime Minister sets the mood by hoisting the national flag and addressing the nation from the Red Fort, the historical monument in Delhi. This is accompanied by a march-past of the armed and police forces. Similar ceremonies are held in all the state capitals. The Prime Minister’s address and the march-past are relayed live on national television.
In cities, one sees a sudden burst of saffron, green and white, the Indian tri-colour. The media goes to town with a variety of contests, promotions and programmes related to Indian independence. Television channels show patriotic movies and relentlessly play patriotic songs from old and new Hindi movies. Billboards on roadsides for different brands pay their tribute to the nation.
Everyone seems to have something going for them. Shops and petty tradesmen sell a range of Independence Day merchandise such as flags, stickers, tee-shirts and greeting cards. Street urchins hawk paper and plastic flags and tri-coloured balloons to motorists at traffic signals.
Though a trifle commercial and jingoistic, what lies beneath the celebrations is the national spirit of gaiety, pride and hope for a better future. A spirit and hope that is renewed each year.
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