As the country waves flags and celebrates the 75th anniversary of India’s independence, it’s also time to take stock. What did the founders and citizens of India dream of, how did India cope, what were our challenges and successes?
ThreadThe reporters and contributors of tell the time, the traumas but also the hopes of the Indians, through the testimonies, the culture, the economy and the sciences. How was the modern state of India born, what does the flag represent? How have literature and cinema approached the trauma of Partition?
Follow us over the next few days to get an overview of India@75.
New Delhi: To mark 75 years of Indian independence, PEN America contacted more than 100 authors from India and the Indian diaspora to write short texts expressing their feelings. This exercise, writes the organization, was aimed at recognizing that “what should be a time of celebration and joy has become a time of deep despair and reflection”.
“But the 2014 elections transformed India into a country where hate speech is spoken and broadcast loudly; where Muslims are discriminated against and lynched, their homes and mosques bulldozed, their livelihoods destroyed; where Christians are beaten and churches attacked; where political prisoners are held in jail without trial. Dissident journalists and authors are denied permission to leave the country. The institutions that can uphold India’s freedoms – its courts, parliament and civil service, and much of the media – have been co-opted or weakened. In the latest issue of PEN America Write freedom index, India is the only theoretically democratic country included in our tally of the top 10 jailers of writers and public intellectuals in the world. In recent years, India has seen an acceleration of threats to freedom of expression, academic freedom and digital rights, as well as an increase in trolling and online harassment,” the introduction states. of PEN America compiling entries.
Here, Thread reproduces what three of the writers – Geetanjali Shree, Yashica Dutt and Amitava Kumar – said in their submissions, covering their perspectives on the past 75 years and their hopes for the future.
Geetanjali Shree: Earthworms in masks
The time was my childhood. Until recently, that didn’t feel that long, but, suddenly, now it does. Not because I’ve come a long way, but because I feel like I might be near the end!
In this childhood would come a rare sound, a roar, in the sky, at that time still all blue. We rushed outside and looked up. A machine with wings, flying high above, flying high, high. To distant lands. Towards coveted lands. Towards lands never reached.
hawaijahaz hawaijahazwe would shout, children.
It wasn’t a roar. It was moving with our dreams and desires.
Today. A whirlwind in the sky. The hum as rare as in my childhood. The sky also blue. I do not rush but go with a certain weariness to the window, or to the balcony, my access to the outside during confinement. I look up, a little sadly, with a little nostalgia, but my dreams are a little shattered. It’s the same machine with wings, flying far above, flying far away, to places that had all come within my reach, but may have been out of my reach forever and ever.
There was magic when the horizon was far away. Possibilities were the stuff of dreams.
But the man was fast, confident and motivated. He went ahead. Become too fast, too confident, ruthlessly ambitious.
The side effects were for my pleasure. I boarded planes and crossed the horizon. I have wandered into unknown lands. Dreams have come true.
Everything became possible. Everything opened up. Everything rested under me. The trees of my childhood that gave shade to my house were now trees that my multi-story house towered over.
The man, master of everything, friend of no one.
On the market. In the global competition. Crossing the barrier. In the countryside, in the countryside, in the center, on the margins, in the sky and the waters and ready to be in Space too.
We turned everything upside down and we felt good. I did it too because I am the collateral beneficiary of this spangled, overmediatised and hyperactive world. Always picking up our pace.
But shaking everything meant everything was moving.
Everything was alive. We weren’t moving an inanimate world. We were shaking the Animate. Earth. Air. Water. Planets. Mountains. Towards.
The warnings came. Everything is shaking and so are we and it will accelerate. Speed thrills but also kills. But we believed in our immortality.
It hit. The virus.
During a flood, a scorpion climbed onto a swimmer’s shoulder and was carried to safety. Halfway through, he stung his savior, the very being who saved him. But the scorpion was innocent. To prick was his Dharma.
The virus too. It was simply accomplishing his Dharma to cross borders and infect bodies.
But man? His Dharma?
And me, willy-nilly being part of this wandering man?
How now and how much to slow down after getting addicted to speed? After having flown galore, torn the atmosphere, how, and how much, to fold my wings?
The world had to run at our request. We were not going to be dictated by a virus. We planned to gag others, not ourselves.
So are we the aliens and robots we thought we were making you and controlling? Hey you, in front of me, behind this mask and in this three-piece protective suit, are you human? Am I? No smile. No hug, kiss, touch, love!
Move over humans, because aliens and robots are over us and we are them!
I was sure that I would escape even if you can’t!
There was this earthworm sticking its head out of the mud and looking at the disaster all around. He saw another worm do the same. And said to the other — you get stuck here, I’m off to happier pastures.
To which the second earthworm replied: idiot, we are linked, I am your other end! Where I stay there you also do, where you go there I go. But where is there to go?
Here, he said, as if to solve anything, take this mask!
So no place to go and anyway planes don’t fly and when they do it’s not safe and we a bunch of worms heads tails all in the same mess of hype and overtaking. In the masks.
That was then. Indeed the planes are flying again and we are flying there with as much jubilation as before. No slowing down, no thinking about lessons to be learned, improving the world, we believe in it again with confidence.
Gandhi wasn’t so mad after all!
Geetanjali Shree lives in Delhi and writes in Hindi. She wrote this play in Hindi and translated it. She is the author of five novels, including Ret Samadhi (Tomb of Sand, translated by Daisy Rockwell)) which won the International Booker Prize in 2022. She has also written five collections of short stories. She is one of the founding members of a theater troupe, Vivadi.
What does freedom look like? To a people whose sovereignty lives on borrowed time, when anyone walking past can rattle our metal cages they’ve named caste, shake our very belonging to this country they declared free long ago.
In 1947 we heard that freedom had been fought, hard won, won. Ours was still negotiating with a republic whose zeal to be “the greatest, brightest, and newest in the world” could not hide the caste chains it had never considered breaking.
Freeing us too would set us all free, with no one left to look down, up at the slippery ladder of caste on which they sit, defining their world and ours. Redefining their existence, redeveloping the illusion of “superiority” that gives meaning to their lives, would be excessive. We must wait our turn for freedom. Asking for it too soon makes us greedy. Always asking, always demanding, to break the only order that ever made sense to them.
They say things are worse now. They are right. Illusory, ghostly or obvious, all freedoms are now at stake. The freedoms fought, won and negotiated evaporate before our eyes. Like a copper faucet running in the night, and then, all of a sudden. We have been here before. WE have always been here. It’s worse for some, not for all. This is never the case.
“Is she going to lose him again?” Ambedkar had asked about India, months before declaring it, and its Dalit children truly free, with democracy. She loses him now. But freedom, even at a bargain price, is priceless and worth seeking. As people waiting 75 years to be free, we agree.
Yashica Dutt is a journalist and award-winning author of the best-selling caste memoir, Go out as a Dalit. She is a leading anti-caste expert and lives in New York.
On February 23, 2020, riots broke out in Delhi. Muslim-owned homes and shops in northeast Delhi caught fire after a ruling party politician angered by those protesting discriminatory citizenship laws sparked fanatical fury among his supporters . There is a story I jotted down in my notebook from one of the reports I had read: “A Muslim resident of Shiv Vihar kept pet pigeons. The mob set fire to their house and then killed the pigeons by wringing their necks. Were they Muslim pigeons? There is another brief and heartbreaking detail that I jotted down in my notebook: “A man returned to a street corner to sift with his hands a pile of black and gray ashes in search of the bones of his brother. He had seen his brother on fire as he tried to flee the crowd. He found charred pieces that he was going to bury in a cemetery when peace returned.
I believe we should remember what has been done by our fellow human beings. We must fight for justice on behalf of those who have been so grievously wronged. What is the central vanity of art? That someone reading you will be moved, that your work will leave someone altered or changed. I can’t say that I completely bought into this worldview. But I want to remember, and my words or my art to keep a memory alive. Many Urdu poetry lovers remember Bashir Badr’s verses: “Log toot jaate hain ek ghar banana mein / Tum taras nahin khaate bastiyan jalaane mein”. (People go bankrupt building a house / And you stand still as you burn down whole neighborhoods.) The poet spoke from experience. His own house in Meerut was gutted and reduced to rubble during the riots between Hindus and Muslims in 1987. Like Bashir Badr, I say I remember, I remember.
Amitava Kumar is a writer and journalist. He is the author of several works of fiction and non-fiction and, more recently, a book of drawings. Kumar was born in Ara, Bihar, and teaches at Vassar College in the United States.