Sixty years of freedom, one hundred fifty years of struggle

By Kaleem Kawaja

India’s Independence Day this year marks full sixty years of freedom from the colonial yoke. Also it marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of India’s first war of independence in 1857. It marks one hundred fifty years of the struggle of the Indian masses to remove the domination of foreign control on their society, their ethos, their educational system, their economy and their place among the comity of nations.


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In 1857 even though there were many princely states in India ruled by Indian rajahs and nawabs, they were subservient to the imperious authority of the East India Company through the control exerted by the British resident regents in those states.

In the years that followed 1857 the foreign yoke became a stranglehold. Thus in 1947 the total number of universities in India was about 25 and the scope of education there was very limited. Today the number of universities and institutions of higher learning in the same land is about 370.

Similarly, the enterprise of Indians to build industrial units from lower level artisan outfits and to industrialize the nation was severely throttled. Close to ninety percent of the industries, banks, commercial enterprises, export-import businesses, transportation/ shipping businesses were owned by the British. For Indians, higher education was available only by going to Britain, and the only means to acquire modern industrial and consumer goods was to import them from the British cartel at exorbitant prices.

From Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s call, “Swaraj is my birth right” (1916) to Mahatma Gandhi’s call, “Hindustan Choro” – Quit India – (1942), a quarter century elapsed before India finally became free in 1947, expressing ninety years of intense struggle of the Indian masses. Sixty years of independence and self-rule have brought the nation phenomenal development in all spheres, and has transformed it as first among equals in the comity of nations on the world stage, especially in higher education and industries.

The freedom from want that the Indian masses dreamt of before 1947 is being gradually achieved by a large segment of the nation starting with the liberalization of economy in 1991. In this short span the nation adjusted quickly from the erstwhile semi-socialist economy to the free enterprise economy. The development of knowledge industry via the substantial expansion of universities of engineering, information technology and various fields of sciences that began in earlier decades, has helped expand the middle class with healthy buying power to about one-third of the population.

However, despite sixty years of a thriving secular democracy and so much progress and all round development, one-third of Indians still live below poverty line and many face unequal treatment and suppression. Until the lives of these suffering Indians are uplifted and they can live happily like their other countrymen, Tilak’s dream, “Swaraj is my birthright” and similar dreams of countless freedom fighters of the nation will remain unfulfilled.

One hundred and fifty years after Indians began their struggle for freedom and their tryst with destiny under the leadership of Bahadur Shah Zafar, Begum Hazrat Mahal, Rani Jhansi, Tatia Tope, Nana Phadnavis, Mangal Pandey, Shahid Bhagat Singh, the brave sepoys of 1857 and many others, India’s struggle for freedom continues. To complete this struggle it is necessary today to give a big push to develop specific social, economic, industrial programs focused especially towards the nation’s have-nots. With motivated and smart planning the key elements of the development that helped expand the middleclass can be made to trickle down to the lower rungs of society.

(The writer is a community activist. He can be reached at [email protected] )

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