Have our hard earned independence and democratic vision lost their meaning? Tanya Thomas speaks to a few youngsters to find out what they think.

What's the biggest grouse that I've got about Independence Day? That this year it falls on a Sunday, and that means no extra day off from college. Call me cynical but, if you do, you'll be calling the youth of India the same. The youngsters whom I spoke to about our 63rd Independence Day feel that Indian independence has been reduced to its fancy trappings; National Anthem, flag hoisting and yet another re-run of 'Border' on TV. And although only a few of their views have been given space here, it's representative of the fact that August 15 has become one more national anniversary for us.

Swati Sheshadri, a student of International Studies at the Stella Maris College, describes Independence Day as “just another holiday when we get to stay at home and watch whatever is on TV. The celebrations at colleges and schools are obligatory. People don't know the difference between the national anthem and national song any more; and have forgotten who wrote those! Independence day has definitely lost its charm.”

Real Freedom

This pessimism isn't on the surface alone; there are many who've earnestly tried to create positive change only to find it nearly impossible. For instance, Pundlik Wagh, Director of Vayu and a double-Masters degree holder, just completed a four-month bike tour across India, dedicating his holidays for a patriotic purpose. He visited all the 28 states and met around 6000 people. Many of them are clueless about the freedom struggle, and 1947 was not of any importance. “Understandable”, he explains, “When you're living way below the poverty line.” Pundlik's defining experience was meeting an 83-year-old former freedom fighter from Haryana who summed it up beautifully. “On August 15, 1947, nothing really happened. The white rulers left and the brown ones entered. What we need now is another revolution; for political freedom.”

Subhashree, a student of Chartered Accountancy, feels that we don't even use the freedom we've got. We can vote, but how many of us are registered voters?

“We break rules and get away with bribes, RTI activists are murdered, and the Parliament is all about flinging mikes, chairs and flower pots around. Nobody, of course, justifies these actions, but it's still accepted as a way of life.”

Shradha Palsani, a final year engineering student said, “Everybody faces issues with the system, but all we do is curse it, blame a bunch of people, and finally adjust.”

Know our history

Subhashree criticises the education system, “In schools, history is about ratta maarna (rote learning). There's no inspiration. The political science syllabus ends with memorising the eligibility requirements for the Lok Sabha membership.”

These complaints don't come from ignorant minds. These are young people who are constantly updated of the events in the country; they aren't shooting off criticism without giving any thought. They even offer alternatives. Shradha recommends altering our own indifferent attitudes before overhauling the political system. Subha suggests forming strong youth organisations at the university level, besides learing to appreciate our history better. “Knowing Gandhi's principles is pointless unless we learn from it.”

Strengthen democracy

I'm convinced this outward cynicism is only a cover for the frustration and angst we share about the country we've grown up in; about the country we're an active part of; about the country we want to change, but are afraid we can't.

Shalini, a young Delhi-based journalist, injects optimism to the grim picture. “Despite the Commonwealth Games, corruption and the menace of Khap panchayats, I still have full faith in our democracy.” What she, and others mean, is going back to the basics of democracy. We're part of the system, and we're equally responsible for how it functions. And things won't change until democracy goes back to its original definition of ‘working collectively for the greater common good'.

Tanya is a III Year B.Com. student at Stella Maris College.