By: Akhil Kapur
August 15, 1947- Indian independence day
“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny,and now that time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom”
These were the famous first lines of a speech titled “A Tryst With Destiny‘” by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India. According to official records, India was a British colony from 1858 to 1947. Before that, the country was unofficially under the power of the East India Company, a British trading corporation that exerted its control on the subcontinent. Hence, many historians date British rule to over 300 years. The British ruled the subcontinent for centuries through an infamous strategy known as ‘divide and rule’ to exert influence on local Indian rulers, pressuring them through Britain's superior military capabilities.They also supported local feuds among these rulers. As long as the different rulers remained antagonistic towards one another and did not unify against the British, the empire would remain strong.The Indians were rulers only in name, figureheads who did the bidding of the British empire.
After World War 2, the British empire was considerably weakened. Combined with the freedom struggle that had begun over a century before the war, Gandhi’s non-violent independence movement led to the Quit India movement. This was the final nail in the coffin, after which the British agreed to leave India.
This prolonged rule left a permanent mark on the Indian subcontinent— from contributing to its economic drain, unifying a number of smaller kingdoms ruled by different ethnic groups into one Country, developing a vast railroad system to weaving in western culture and influence into the fabric of the subcontinent for eternity. The debate on whether or not colonization of South Asia was ultimately better for the region is one that remains today.
Another important matter to consider is the partition of India. At the time of their departure, the British assisted in what is now known as ‘The Partition’; a seismic move that led to the creation of Pakistan. In a matter of days after independence in 1947, the subcontinent was split into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. It displaced 15 million people and killed more than a million, and often referred to as one of the greatest bloodbaths and refugee migrations in human history.
The Indian independence struggle went on for over a century and succeeded because of the bravemen and women who dedicated and lost their lives to the notion of an independent, democratic and secular India.
A young country of 70 years this week, India is not without faults. It is a country with abject poverty and tremendous amounts of corruption. Recent cases of military attacking civilians in Kashmir or freedom of speech suppression in college campuses has caused many in India to look at their government with cynicism. However, the people of India can look to their past as a reminder of how sheer determination drove their country to freedom and how the same sentiment can move forward.
To quote Gandhi “you must be the change you wish to see in the world” .