The Independence movement is passing out of living memory. Even the youngest people who were politically active freedom fighters back then are now in their 80s and 90s. In a decade or so, the struggle for Independence will exist solely as historical record rather than living recollections of those who took part in it.
It has already become hard to appreciate how extraordinary those times were. We are so saturated with the symbols and myths of the freedom struggle, we are so used to seeing the flag, the anthem, and the pantheon of famous freedom fighters paraded before us, that we’ve lost a deeper emotional connection, lost an understanding of “why” the freedom fighters did what they did.
Sometimes, there are moments which show us how extraordinary those circumstances must have been. H.S. Doreswamy, a freedom fighter born in 1918, continues to fight for social justice and political responsibility today at the age of 100, participating in rallies and taking part in campaigns in spite of health issues. Last year, the People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) ran a series on the independence struggle, recording the accounts of senior citizens from Odisha’s villages who had participated in the Quit India movement. Their participation was thanks to calls from grassroots activists who had moved from village to village, spreading their message as widely as possible. These help us (or at least, they’ve helped me) appreciate the amount of work, effort, and dedication it must have taken to get to August 1947.
Our freedom fighters were not without their faults and it’s important we acknowledge that. Furthermore, achieving independence wasn’t the end of our problems but the beginning of a phase when we tried, sometimes unsuccessfully, to solve them ourselves. Yet, we shouldn’t let these valid points take away from the enormity of what the freedom fighters achieved – a multi-hued, multi-pronged, inter-generational effort to replace an oppressive colonial project with a free nation, that eventually transformed into a sovereign democratic republic.
If you know someone in your family or neighbourhood who took part in the freedom struggle or is old enough to remember August 1947, do take some time off to connect with them and understand that moment. You may not get that chance again.