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Where the mind is without fear

Hiyaneijemmy Das, Class VII, Loreto
Convent School, Shillong

A fancy dress competititon was organised on he occassion of Independence Day celebrations at Khyndaild on Saturday. (Photo by Sanjib Bhattacharjee).

Seventy years ago, on the eve of Augist 15, 1947, India gained independence from the British Raj. This was possible by the determination of the non-violence movement spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi and supported by millions of Indians all over the country, including Meghalaya. The state stood by the rest of the country in its fight for independence led by patriots like U Kiang Nangbah and U Tirot Sing, among others, who laid down their lives for their motherland. Eventually, the unity of millions of Indians conquered the British, paving the way for India to become the world’s largest democracy.
Since 1947, August 15 is remembered annually as a day of celebration in our country, a day of remembrance for the courage of valiant martyrs and a day of commitment to work for the betterment of our country. The northeastern region of India is a unique place with an equally unique history. The natives, proud Indians, jubilantly took part in the celebrations. However, unrest began in the area during the 1980s with the formation of various militant organisations. A sense of identity that came before that of being an Indian, gripped the area. Soon, organisations began to boycott the celebrations, dampening the spirit of patriotism and nationalism among many. August 15 was a day of indifference in the North East.
As a child growing up in Shillong, I never experienced the enthusiasm that I had come to associate with this day. The sense of nationalistic pride seemed amiss in Shillong.
Recently, however, things took a turn for the better. Last year, no bandh was declared in the state on Independence Day. It was a welcoming change for all. Newspapers bore numerous invitations from various organisations and groups to join them in the celebrations.
August 15 was, for a change, noisy and happy. The roads were not empty but on the contrary were jam-packed with cars all making their way to their individual celebrations. Police Bazar, or Khyndailad, was a scene of vibrant crowd like the rest of the city. There were flag hoisting, free movie screenings, rallies, cultural programmes and countless activities to promote a sense of Indian nationalism. Shillong finally looked like the quintessential hotspot of celebrations I always saw on television. Schools too, including my own, Loreto Convent Shillong, held their own programmes with pride and joy. It was apparent from the smile on everyone’s face that the absence of the bandh was greatly appreciated.
India is an amazing land with a legacy of struggle for freedom and its attainment, seventy years old, and growing. Though the bandh and unrest prevailed for many years, the sense of nationalism among the people of Shillong led to a call for action. The people wanted to freely express their patriotism and pride in their motherland. Since last year, there is much more hope that the fifteenth of August will be the day of celebration that it deserves to be.

Markynti Wahlang, Class X, KJP Girls’ Higher Secondary School, Shillong

Shillong is a melting pot of cultures and ethnic groups settled happily. Though it is a Christian-majority

Security personnals at the ceremonial parade during the 70th Independence Day Celebration at Polo Ground, Shillong on Monday. (Photo by sanjib Bhattacharjee).

town, Durga Puja, Holi, Id and Diwali are celebrated with equal fervour.
Being the Rock music capital of the nation, the city also has music concerts in dozens and boast of competitive national-level football teams. However, amidst all these, Shillong also has deep scars from the past.
What started as an issue of division between tribal and non-tribal settlers, identity and growing corruption went on to take a dangerous shape. By mid-nineties, insurgency crept into the State and with a sudden flourish in terror activities, the state’s calm seems to quickly fade away. The city was controlled by the sudden fear of terror. Customary bandhs, shootouts and curfews marked Independence Day and Republic Day and people were not allowed to leave their homes. Schools and colleges remained closed for days. Education was affected and the worst-hit were the daily wage earners.
As this time of the year approaches, each year a sense of dread fills people. The corporatisation of Independence Day probably is slowly turning into e-commerce discounts where buying and selling of goods are done by using the Internet.
Maybe after all these years of being an independent nation, the meaning of freedom has changed. But even as people nonchalantly say freedom doesn’t mean anything or this freedom is not real freedom, parts of India still struggle to celebrate the day.
Today a ban on a movie or a ban on adult sites seems to be the best or the greatest examples of curbing the freedom. But more unfortunate are those for whom even visiting relatives on August 15 was a daunting task because it made them worried.
The turn of the millennium brought along with it bloodshed and Independence Day was as much only in name. Since then, even as the entire nation celebrated the 50th year of Independence in 1997, the people in Shillong sat at home under the order of the 24-hour bandh.
While for some, celebrating Independence Day would have become a ritual without meaning, there are others for whom, until recently, it was an act of sheer defiance.
Today’s younger generation has missed out the fun of celebrating the Independence Day as it has become a usual practice at home rather than joining the celebrations.
But Shillong today is a winner. Insurgency could not defeat the spirit of the town. The government has made efforts to encourage people to come forward and enjoy the celebration in their own way and make the day memorable. They have made it clear that all the events are free of cost where people do not need to spend a single penny for entry. The Police Department has already sought additional forces which are in place. So people can enjoy the day without any fear and even the townsmen had already filled up social media with tricolours.

Devraj Mohapatra, Class-IV,
Kendriya Vidyalaya, NEHU

August 15, 1947, this was the day that our motherland broke the shackles of British rule to become an independent nation. For each and every Indian, this day has never been just a mere date or a national holiday but a day for national pride.
This was the day that provided us the right to be a free citizen and to live our lives as we wanted to. It not only freed us from slavery but also gave us the chance to unite and bond with each other as a country. Thus we celebrate and commemorate this day every succeeding year to remember that no matter how difficult may be the path, if you have the determination and courage to continue, you will certainly reach your destination.
All our freedom fighters have become immortals for it is the pain that they took to give us this freedom and joy.
But in all the years that have passed, where was the freedom for the North East to get out of their homes and enjoy this day? Outside, the streets were deserted — bandh that it was. Holiday was declared in schools and colleges, and shops and markets were all closed. Just like any other public holiday, people retired to the cosy comfort of their homes without any trace of celebration outside.
Though the sense of patriotism still prevailed in our hearts, everyone was scared to step out and express it. The fear and silence that captured the streets had also diminished the spirit of August 15. Despite all these, we still dreamt of an Independence Day when all places decorated with the sense of patriotism would welcome people, institutes and organisations would distribute sweets, everyone would sing the national anthem and the whole country would be a living picture of the Indian tricolour.
And now, this dream of ours is becoming a reality with all the happy feelings and small joys. At places, when people gather around the flag and unfurl it releasing a shower of flowers all around, they know this occasion is like none other. Everyone around looks at it with an undiluted awe.The Independence Day celebration is loaded with an indefinable heaviness. Somehow the occasion makes us feel proud. Our chests swell up with pride as we sing the national anthem and the nation without being split into North, South, West and East, fuses into one to experience the prestige and glory of its independence.
Nowadays, the Government and many other organisations enhance these feelings by conducting many competitions like marathons, quizzes, essay-writing etc. And due to these ventures, hordes of people enthusiastically participate in and become parts of the celebration. When teachers tell us about the freedom struggle and show us pictures of national leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, U Tirot Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru, U Kiang Nangbah, Bhagat Singh, Pa Togan Sangma, Subhas Chandra Bose, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, among others, we think they are deities of some kind but unlike the regular gods one worships. All people look alike to us. We do not separate them as Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian. We think all Indians are the same, a beard here or a turban there doesn’t change this reality.
It does not matter where in India they come from and whether they fight among themselves over ideology. The simple trust of brotherhood does not allow any scope for questions and suspicions. Hence,
“With Freedom in Mind, Faith in Words, Pride in our Hearts, Memories in our Souls, Let’s salute the nation on Independence Day.”

(Photographs by Sanjib Bhattacharjee)

First day of freedom

By Uma Purkayastha

School students presents colourful programmes during the Independence day celebration at Polo on Saturday. (Photo by Sanjib Bhattacharjee).

It was August 15, 1947, the first Independence Day of India after centuries of humiliation of the British bondage. It was a great thrill, a tremendous unprecedented feeling of joy and fulfilment of the long-cherished desire of the Indians.
“Today, we have in front of us the refreshing brightness of a noble dawn! Everywhere in the nation, there is the advent of the freshness of the morning mist. The country reborn has risen from a deep slumber of foreign dominion. We have triumphed after a long penance. We have left behind and era of darkness and aching pain; with thousands of our comrades fearlessly sacrificing their lives. At this moment of success of our penance, we respectfully remember the contribution of the freedom fighters and martyrs. As long as the National Soul is alive, the contribution made by the great patriots will glitter in golden colours,” was the expression of Kalpana Gupta, the first lady journalist of Assam on August 15, 1947.
But a good percentage of people were deeply shocked and hurt to see their motherland partitioned and fractured, though free from foreign bondage. It was a great calamity in the national life of India, the evil effect of which is still burning the country.
Hemanta Kumar Gupta, a freedom fighter (Secretary, Khasi Hills District Congress Committee, and later a renowned journalist of Assam), said, ‘‘My soul was with innumerable freedom fighters, who bore the brutal torture of the British Raj, who sacrificed everything for our dear motherland, who tolerated infinite distress, only to see our motherland free from foreign bondage; but this freedom, fractured and imperfect! Our dreams of Independence were shattered with the physical amputations of our Mother India, and the untold misery of her children… What a cruelty of destiny! The freedom fighters are compelled to put up the Pakistani flag on the sacred soil of their homes — on the holy lands of our ancestors. The dream of ceremoniously unfurling our National Tri-colour flag on the soils of our sacred homes was mercilessly shattered”. (Ref: Ajo Nityah by Kaverri)
During 1947, Shillong was the capital of undivided Province of Assam with Gopinath Bordoloi its Prime Minister. (During the British Rule, Chief Ministers of Provinces like Assam were designated as ‘Prime Ministers’). The First Independence Day was celebrated in Shillong in 1947 with unprecedented pomp and gaiety.
Gupta and E.H Pakyntein, senior assistant commissioner were selected as the secretaries of the First Independence Celebration Committee, Shillong, 1947. A special meeting was convened to chalk out the programme of the celebration with representatives from recognised organisations and institutions. In the meeting it was decided to have a two day programme starting with hoisting of the national flag.
“It was decided that the Union Jack, wherever it normally flies will be taken down as usual at sunset of August 14, 1947, and will not be hoisted ever again in Indian soil. At sunrise on August 15, the national flag will be hoisted on all public buildings. The hoisting of the flag by the public will be permitted and all will be requested to participate. No other flag, other than the tricolour shall be displayed on or near any public building or in any public procession or meeting on the 15th and 16th August 1947.”
Regarding distribution of sweets, there were 9,265 children in the 51 schools of Shillong; 418 patients in the TB Hospital, Civil Hospital, Ganesh Das Hospital, Welsh Mission Hospital and Police Hospital; 47 inmates in the prison. Order was placed in 11 dairies in Shilling for supply of sweet packets containing one rasagolla, one sandesh, one nimki and one samosa, at a cost of seven annas per packet. The school authorities were requested to collect the packets for students from the designated dairies near the school on the August 16, 1947. G.A Small, Rev. Bro. J.I. Oleary, Rev. T.B. Phillips and Miss D. Franklin were to distribute the food packets to the hospitals and jail.
Shillong wore a festive look at the advent of a new dawn on August 15, 1947. The entire locality rose to action and life.
Kalpana Gupta wrote, “I stitched the three coloured pieces of saffron, white and green clothes that I had woven at home to make our national tricolour. It had taken me some time to plan the design and weave the “Ashok Chakra” at the middle of the white band in navy blue. Though the design of the “National Flag” was adopted on July 22, 1947 — I managed to get it only on the first week of August. It was a rush situation but I was determined that the national tricolour to be hoisted at our house, must be the one that I have woven’. (Ajo Nityah by Kaverri)
On August 15, at 10 am, as soon as Hydari arrived, the Pipe Band played “The Royal Salute”. Bordoloi went up to the flag stand — The “Union Jack “was fluttering in the morning sun. As he gently hoisted the national tricolour, the Union Jack came from the other end of the rope. The people sprang to jubilation. Thundering applause roared from every nook and corner of the Polo Ground. The slogans used were, ‘Vande Matram’, ‘Jai Hind’, ‘Swadhin Bharat Amar Rahye’.
‘‘The Independence Day celebration was the talk of the town. All the programmes went off in total perfection. Our hearts were filled with peace, blessedness and fulfillment. We prayed to God to show us the way, give us the strength to make our dear Motherland the most prosperous country. Let non-violence, tolerance, peace and love be the guiding principle of our people. Let there be no hunger, no illiteracy, no ill-health, no injustice in any corner of our Sacred Land. Let the great culture and heritage of our Motherland lead the world to blessedness and fulfillment”. (Ref: Kalpana Gupta, as referred above)

(Memoirs of the first Independence Day in Shillong, collected from the diary of Kalpana Gupta, Ajo Nityah by Kaverri)

(The author is retired
principal, Government Girls’ High School)

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