This guest post on our blog is by Dranwell Barishisha "Barri" Mukhim. Barri is a member of the Unitarian Union of North East India; here, she writes about what Indian Independence Day (August 15) means to her as a Khasi Unitarian.
India was freed from about 300 years of British Rule on the 15th August 1947. It is marked each year with a national festival celebrated with great splendour and joy in every nook and corner of India. On this day, we have different cultural programmes dedicated to all those freedom fighters who gave us this auspicious golden day: a free India. This tradition is patriotically celebrated all over the country regardless of religions, tribes, classes, cultures or geographical distinction. Together, we all love to show our respect to the great Indian nation.
Indian Independence Day is coming. My heart longs to be there at the ground watching the parade mostly by the armed and paramilitary forces with music of various kinds to wake us all from our slumbering daily chores to the beating of the patriotic songs and drums. As we watch, the various performances from different government departments showcase their achievements and successes. It is a heart-warming sight.
As a child growing up in a village, we used to participate in the Independence Day celebrations in our respective schools where the Indian flag was hoisted. We took part in the parade among the students within the school followed by our solemn singing of the national anthem. We also sang and danced and sometimes we even enjoyed watching a movie about the independence struggle.
Many citizens are passionate about Mother India, but there are some who have secessionist tendency. Some of us, as tribal people in Northeast India, are struggling with the idea of being neglected by the mainland in many ways. Patriotism is dying gradually from our hearts, especially with the rise of insurgency militants claiming that they fight for our rights and also trying to spread the ideology that we are not Indian by blood. For the last many years we were not allowed to participate in the Independence Day parade because certain insurgent groups imposed a Bandh (public curfew) on the people. Many years have passed with people staying indoors for fear of being targeted. This gradually has become a habit so that people do not have the same kind of enthusiasm anymore. But life has started to rejuvenate again after the Court banned the Bandhs and no newspapers are allowed to publish or write on Bandhs. So, Meghalaya is now officially a Bandh-free state. Patriotic people are seen again at the parade ground.
Unitarians do not celebrate Independence Day separately as a religious community, but the holiday means a lot to us as citizens. We know that we are all Indians in an Indian soil, irrespective of regions or religions. India is a secular country; we celebrate Independence Day as one people. No rituals but only festivities are to be seen on this national day.
Politically, Indian Independence Day means a lot to Khasi Unitarians. Khasis are a microscopic tribe in the great Indian sea of over 1.3 billion people. Moreover, Khasi Unitarians are still a tiny minority among the whole Khasi tribe (of about two million people in the whole world). Under current circumstances, I think as a tribe we cannot survive politically if we stand alone when we are sandwiched between the growing Indian and Bangladeshi populations. Our niche is much better with the Indian side than with any other country. Genetic studies have shown that we migrated in pre-historic times to these hills from mainland India, carrying with us many traits typical of Indians. Moreover, Hinduism is a major religion in India and I consider Khasi Unitarianism as an offshoot of Hinduism. Hindus are generally religious and tolerant people that inherently allow a tribal culture to grow. Hence, I am proud to be Indian and willingly honour and celebrate the Indian Independence Day.
I was in the US on July 4th recently. It was overwhelming for me to be part of the American Independence Day celebration along with Unitarian friends in and around Seattle. I joined the parade with the East Shore Unitarian group; it was a joy to be there. For the first time in my life, I read the American Declaration of Independence which part of it I would like to quote here:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
I have a reason to borrow these lines. Being a Khasi Unitarian, I can see the spirit of the people all over the world is still overflowing with passion and love endowed by the Creator. Our inner self (conscience) is full of that love that can be shown in many different ways, such as being patriotic, even if our religion does not specifically teach us to be patriotic. On this Independence Day, I will be running with my children and the people of Shillong for peace and goodwill not only as a Unitarian but as a faithful citizen of India. We will be there at the parade ground to celebrate our Indian Independence Day and to instill in my young children, how to be passionate and patriotic about their country; this too means a lot to them. Jai Hind! (Long Live India!)