I was invited for ceremonies marking India’s 71st Independence in New Delhi and what an experience it was, with a lot of similarities to independence celebrations in Guyana and America (among the Guyanese diaspora in the New York area). There was pomp, glittering shows, and huge fervour and enthusiasm among the people marking the day. And as in Guyana, there was also revelry in the schools, colleges and other educational institutions in the days leading up to the holiday. It was a day of national pride, processions, parades, flag-hoisting, speeches by politicians, greetings, kite flying, and other fun-filled activities at public places. Indians displayed flags in front of their homes and waved flags in their hands.
India’s Independence Day is celebrated every year on 15th of August, the day when India got freedom from British colonial rule in 1947. This freedom paved the way for the independence of colonial territories worldwide, including Guyana in 1966. As in Guyana and the US, Independence Day is a national holiday (almost all businesses completely closed down except for restaurants, late shopping, public transport, and street fast foods). As in the US and Guyana, the state (regional) and local governments independently commemorated the occasion with their own activities following that of the national ceremonies that took place early in the morning. The day is used to pay tribute and remember the many freedom fighters who contributed to the struggle for the independence of India and to laud the country’s achievements.
The President addressed the nation at midnight before independence at a public park, and on Independence Day, it is the custom for the Indian Prime Minister to address the nation from the ramparts of the iconic Red Fort in the early morning. It was a highly patriotic speech, paying tribute to the freedom fighters and leaders of the Indian independence movement who sacrificed their lives. Hundreds of thousands usually gather in front of the fort to listen to the PM who also hoists the national flag. The national anthem was sung followed by a twenty-one gun salute. The prime minister usually highlights all the achievements of the past year, important social issues and solutions, further development in the country, educational matters, etc, during his speech. A grand march past then took place by the armed and paramilitary forces.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his fourth appearance since becoming PM and delivered a well-received speech. He invoked the Quit India Movement (paying tribute to Mahatma Gandhi and others who led the freedom struggle) and urged the nation to use the same spirit as the freedom fighters to eliminate problems like corruption, communalism, terrorism, casteism, poverty, and other evils from the country by 2022. He appealed to Indians “to take a pledge to root out these evils from the country and create a New India”. Modi condemned the use of violence, saying, “India is about shanti (peace), ekta (unity) and sadbhavana (harmony). Casteism and communalism will not help the country. Our cultural heritage cannot be lost. Earlier, it was Quit India now it is Unite India. Everybody should be taken along.”
The celebration of Independence Day continued with diverse cultural traditions where Chief Ministers of individual states hoisted the national flag followed by marches by state troops and local police or militias. The speeches of state Chief Ministers focused on eradicating poverty, illiteracy and unemployment and to help make India a more powerful nation. This was followed by various cultural activities. And later in the afternoon, the President of India hosted a reception at his official home in the rose garden.
Around New Delhi, the capital, people were seen wearing the trademark cap worn by Pandit Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi and others during the struggle. Millions were dressed in colourful garb representing the colours of the national flag. And on the streets, school children marched dressed in the colours of the national flag and the spelling out of Bharat, the ancient Hindi name of India.
Independence Day is also used for family get togethers in the afternoons or evenings, with dinners, picnics, mall shopping, going to the cinema, kite-flying, and other forms of entertainment.