Today is Independence Day in India, celebrating the anniversary of freedom from the British. So here’s the national anthem, sung by the most famous sisters in the country, superstar playback singers Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle.
The national anthem is quite notable, in that it’s a hymn, rather than jingoistic propaganda about winning wars or oppressing long-time enemies. It was written by Bengali poet and polymath Rabindranath Tagore, and is sung in “heavily Sanskritized” Bengali, which I’m still trying to get my head around as a concept, but it seems it’s understandable by most of India.
As a British person I have mixed feelings about this celebration… obviously I support India’s independence, and I’m very pleased and proud to be living here during such an exciting and significant time for the country.
But I also have to set this against feelings of communal guilt for the atrocious mess that the British made of the transition, which was done in a terrible hurry over only 7 months, and with the benefit of hindsight should have been handled very differently. The botched hand-over led to an unimaginable amount of bloodshed, with estimates ranging from 500,000 to 1 Million lives lost.
The various British-led partitions of the South Asian people have also resulted in a number of wars since 1947, and these are clearly still having a profound effect on world affairs when we look at current events and relations with Pakistan. Meanwhile, more than 60 years later, conflict still continues within India in Jammu and Kashmir and several other regions, due to arguments over the ambiguous drawing of borders, and the insensitive partitioning and relocation of communities.
On topdocumentaryfilms.com you can watch “Partition“, a documentary released in 2007 — the 60th anniversary of Independence — which examines the devastating effect that Britain’s hurried and careless withdrawal (it’s hard to find the right words, really) had on India’s people, and the slaughter — literally — which ensued. It’s a harrowing account, but an important one I think.
And so, on this day, I am happy to salute the people of India, but I must also sadly pause to think of the multitudes who lost their lives, and of my countrymen who have never really been held responsible.