This year the 60th anniversary of India’s Independence will be observed. For those born this year, Independence Day will be a distant event since this generation will probably never meet people who participated or witnessed the most important event of India’s history. An event, that ushered in a new form of democracy, not only for India but for the world. This day, was the first of its kind, in that it was shown that without resorting to violence and using purely democratic tools, it is possible to gain independence, control your destiny and create a constitution that is equitable to all.
To understand the struggle that led to India’s independence, we have to travel back to the year 1857, which is called India’s first struggle for independence. Before the arrival of the East India Company, invaders who came to India either made India their home or plundered it and returned to their homeland. Mughals, having invaded India for its riches, settled down and made this land their home and gave India the culture that still defines her and a great number of Indians.
The 1857 struggle was not a traditional fight between two royal powers fighting to control a land and its people. This struggle was not planned by warlords who were set on gaining from the British defeat. This struggle was started by ordinary citizens of India who were serving in British army. They realised that a foreign power will not respect its religion, tradition and culture. Their revolt was against what the East India Company stood for and their campaign. If one is allowed to use a modern term, they were against the ‘corporate interest.’
Revolting Indian soldiers of the British Army marched to Delhi 150 years ago to declare Indian Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar as their leader. Soldiers, who were overwhelmingly
Hindu in their religion, had no problems in announcing an aged Muslim emperor as their leader.
Thus, the first war for independence started with a strong symbolic gesture of communal harmony. This struggle, which ended in 1858 by British victory, had given India many Hindu and Muslim men and women that came to be regarded as our heroes. Some of the names we remember, some are recorded in history, but countless others who remain nameless even after giving the ultimate sacrifice.
The second and final struggle for the independence of India was led by Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi was a leader who was deeply religious and used religious symbols to reform the Indian society, while also leading a political fight for the independence of India. His religious beliefs did not matter to a great many Muslim leaders, some of whom were religious scholars. These scholars did not hesitate to accept him as the leader of the freedom struggle. Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and people from all religious backgrounds came together in strong support for Gandhi and his movement, and together they called him the ‘Mahatma.’
Maulana Mohammad Ali, Maulana Shaukat Ali, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Mazharul Haq and organisations like Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind and Darul Uloom at Deoband were all solidly behind the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. They trusted him to lead all Indians into an independent and equitable India, an India, which will give equal rights to its women, downtrodden and lower castes. India was the one which took the revolutionary step of treating all its citizens as equals by giving them equal voting rights. People who were socially backward were given protection to help them catch up to the mainstream.
Constitutional provisions were put in place to protect languages, culture, and religions so that every Indian would have equal protection and stake in the new India.
It is true, after the gain of independence, there was a gap between provisions and its implementation and sadly this gap has seemed to grow in recent years, but it is not the failure of the constitution or the movement that gave us freedom. In a new modern India, which is brimming with hope and expectations of a brighter future, it is also an India that has to do a lot for health care, education, employment, and better living conditions with respect and dignity for each of its citizens. This can be achieved only when we remind ourselves of the selfless sacrifice our forefathers made so that we the future could live in a better India.
We need to remind ourselves that this freedom was achieved by Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, and atheists and agnostics and people of all different kinds of faiths. All these distinctly different groups of people came together while fully immersed in their separate faiths to reach out to Indians of other faiths and fight for all Indians alike. We may never see this kind of brotherhood and sisterhood that will transcend and rise above different faiths and religious beliefs that history saw during the freedom struggle. But, we need to remind ourselves this so that we don’t get too far from the ideals set by these eminent people who gave us the greatest right a group of people can aspire to have – freedom.
[Kashif-ul-huda is the editor of news website www.TwoCircles.net and manages a resource website for Indian Muslims www.IndianMuslims.info. He can be reached at