India enjoys 73 years of political freedom this Independence Day, but the shackles of social injustice, economic inequality and educational disparities at home have kept us from realising our full potential. It is an established fact that Indians fare better abroad; they trump in skills and employment, and are among the wealthiest in their adopted nations. In the United Kingdom, for instance, Indian students perform better than the national average (Department for Education, UK); Indians are employed in the highest skilled jobs with 35% of Indian households earning over £1000 each week compared to 24% of White British households falling in the same bracket (Race Disparity Audit 2017); and Indians were rated as the highest contributors to British life among the immigrants from Asia (YouGov Survey 2018). Despite their tremendous success, the Indian diaspora is a very unequal ethnic minority abroad. The story isn’t any different in other parts of the world.
This inequality, at home and overseas, largely stems from political apathy and general ignorance of our variegate past. For nearly two millennia, the Indian subcontinent withstood one gory invasion after the other, leaving behind a holocaust of millions of lives. But the spirit of the natives was invincible; they fought back and thrived, giving the world some of the greatest innovators, scholars, architects and political leaders. Their culture propagated equality and victory of the righteous. Today, we speak of ‘tolerance’ but our ancestors were pioneers of ‘acceptance’. They embraced everything that came their way while keeping their own traditions and culture intact. A landmark historical moment that stands testimony to this fact is when India gave the world its first Muslim woman ruler in Razia Sultana during the rule of the Delhi Sultanate, a dynasty whose patrons were die-hard patriarchs. From Kashmir to Kerala, numerous inspirational women have served as heads of their states but today we need a Women’s Reservation Bill to promote the rights of half the population. Inadequate surveys irresponsibly names India as ‘the most dangerous country for women’. A quick glance at the UN Crime Trend Statistics will dispel this claim. Another classic misinformation that is spread about India is the ‘caste’ system. While traditionally the caste or varna system was a practice of fluidly grouping people based on their vocation, over the years for the sake of electoral politics, the system has been reduced to the worst form of social discrimination. Instead of challenging false narratives and introspecting on our own practices, we, Indians tend to ignore the elephant in the room or passively submit to these imprudent accusations.
Not accounting for geographical accuracies, India’s evolution can in essence be earmarked as the rich, progressive Ancient India, the tumultuous India of the Middle Ages that constantly evolved to embrace varied cultures and the post-Independence Modern India as we know it today. Each of these India provide us equally important life lessons but we tend to selectively remember our history and much less learn from those lessons. However, a collapse of our resilience is being increasing witnessed in Modern India. We have conditioned ourselves to become mute spectators of unjust social and political events that occur on our soil and abroad. The Iron Man of India, Sardar Patel is famously known to have said, “Every citizen of India must remember that he is an Indian and he has every right in this country but with certain duties.” These are duties to uphold the Indian values of democracy and participate socially, economically and politically in building and protecting the integrity of our nation. We, the young Indians, as a generation have taken peace for granted. The majority of us complain, but do little to improve the situation. More worryingly, we do not possess a sound knowledge of our history, and consequently have failed to think historically. Unleashing a flood of emotions kindled by false narratives and baseless fear, a handful of politically active younger generation of India are adopting more regressive politics, thereby drowning the sane voice of the non-participant majority.An unwitting act on the Indian soil can easily be misused by professional war mongers, especially overseas. The wild call for a separate state of Khalistan that has gained momentum in Canada and the UK, and Pakistan’s constant mischief over the Kashmir issues are case in point.
This Independence Day let each one of us resolve to be more vigilant and politically active, no matter which part of the world we live in. We owe it to our motherland and the many lives sacrificed in the freedom struggle to gain our independence.Our activism need not always go down the route of participating in electoral politics. There are numerous opportunities in any chosen field to contribute to building the nation, be it in India or abroad. The most important form of activism is being vocal about the truth in this era of chaos and misinformation. Let us resolve to acquaint ourselves with history, not repeat the same mistakes and learn from the more successful instances of our rich heritage. Next time you hear a false narrative against India or a malicious propaganda to divide Indians, Stop, Think and Speak Up before it misleads the masses, divides our people or creates irreversible animosity between communities. Unity and multiculturalism have been our core strength, and must remain so. Jai Hind!
Dr Swetavalli Raghavan is a scientist, social entrepreneur and a strong advocate of fair access to education for all.