Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Happy Independence Day

“The government has invited you to London to discuss your little idea of freedom” thus spoke the then Viceroy to the Mahatma, the disdain and ridicule in his voice barely concealed by the stiff British upper lip. As I watched Gandhi for the nth time I was overwhelmed as I recalled my conversation with the clerk at the VFS office who asked for irrelevant documents “in original” ranging from the marriage certificate to letter of leave and even NSCs in “original”. Also it is important to note that none of these documents were mentioned on the official website as a prerequisite to granting a visa to the UK. But before we could even get to the point of presenting our “incomplete documents” at “our own risk” we were kept waiting for 2 hours twice even after an appointment and were told that we had to wait if we wanted the much revered stamp on our Indian passports. I snapped at that point and gave an earful to the clerk as I reminded him I was not interested in driving a cab illegally in his country but wanted to go there as a tourist, spend money and probably even contribute to propping up their declining economy. I realize now that I have taken that freedom of speech for granted. I took the right to point out the small injustices for granted. But yesterday as I saw Gandhi, I was reminded who I need to thank for my fundamental right, the freedom I have. It was a goose bump moment, I know it sounds inane but I have always thought what I make out of my life, how I live it is the series of choices I make from the point I started out from, but I think I have taken the starting point as a given, never gave the starting point much thought. But yesterday I stepped back and thanked the men who fought for me to have that right, who knew I could make something of my life if I was given that starting point, the men who hoped we would make something of this country after reaching that starting point. Thank You. I am more aware of my responsibilities too.
As the film progressed, I was reminded of a conversation I was having the other day about prejudices and we observed that it was difficult for people who have survived the partition to let go off their hatred and prejudices that have had its roots in the madness of those barbaric days. As I saw Gandhi I realized that I have never heard any person who lived in the pre independence era declare that letting go off the pain and humiliation that was meted out by the Britishers is difficult to do. I have never heard any one discriminate against or just plainly hate the Britishers for what happened for more than 200 years. In fact come to think of it the world does not discriminate, incriminate, stereotype people who belong to the colonizing nations who well in a nutshell enslaved people, plundered nations and sometimes even wiped out civilizations. No, as mature, sane and rational cultures and nations we accept that these are different times, different people and most importantly not everyone who belonged to the imperialistic nations even in the times bygone, endorsed or participated in the atrocities. Isn’t it shocking that all of us without exception have been mature, adult and decent about dealing with the past? The pain is remembered but the hatred has been confined to the perpetrators of that violence. The hatred has not been extended to the entire community, the nation and its future generations. Peace did get a chance.
I said it is shocking because today the world that we live in does stereotype, discriminate and envelope an entire culture/community with the hatred and prejudice that at best should be directed to the misguided members and their heinous terrorist acts. We should not beat around the bush; it is a fact that the Islamic community today is living in a world that has declared them guilty till proven otherwise. I cannot bring myself to imagine living my life where everyday people make me feel unworthy of simple things like renting an apartment, applying for a job, boarding a plane and sometimes even making a friend because a moron with a similar last name decided to go berserk. If that does not alienate people further what else will? Why hold a community at ransom for what a few delinquents do? Maybe on this Independence day we should pray for freedom from these stereotypes and these prejudices, maybe on this independence day we should hope that our minds and hearts open up just a little more.