Memories of the day: What I felt on August 15, 1947

When Jawaharlal Nehru announced, ‘We will be free’

Begum Hamida Habibullah

Begum Hamida Habibullah  

Centenarian Hamida Habibullah vividly recollects that rainy day when she stood next to the future PM

Begum Hamida Habibullah has seen it all — the British rule, the freedom movement, Partition, the building of a new nation post-Independence, the rise and fall of the Congress, and now, the domination of national politics by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

She turned 100 on November 20, 2016, and is among the declining number of Indians living today who took part in the Independence Day celebrations on August 15, 1947. “It was raining [in Delhi]. When [Jawaharlal] Nehru was announcing that ‘We will be free tonight’, I stood next to him,” says Ms. Hamida, seated in her splendid bungalow on Habibullah Estate in Lucknow.

Later in the day, she went to congratulate Nehru.

“His speech gave us hope that we would live by our own values and understanding — duniya badal gayi hai (The world has changed). I hoped the rain would clear away all the filth of the country, especially that left behind by Partition,” she recounts.

Ms. Hamida, daughter of Nawab Nazir Yar Jung Bahadur, Chief Justice of the Hyderabad High Court, and wife of Major-General Enaith Habibullah, the first Commandant of the National Defence Academy, was 30 when India achieved Independence. Her son, Wajahat Habibullah, was the first Chief Information Commissioner of India and is a former Chairman of the National Minorities Commission.

The exit of the British, whose rule Ms. Hamida remembers as “cruel” and “evil”, brought her a heightened sense of hope.

“We had seen so much evil through the British, such as Kalapani. We were made to sing songs such as God save the King, God save the gracious King... We were happy then [when the British left],” Ms. Hamida says.

Born into privilege and influence, Ms. Hamida was a gold medal recipient from Osmania University before undergoing two years of teacher training in London. After her husband retired from the Army in 1965, she joined politics.

Various vocations

From 1969 to 1982, she held the posts of MLA, Minister and Rajya Sabha member. She was active in social work, especially focussing on health and education of women and children.

With the nation turning 70, however, Ms. Hamida looks back at the period with disappointment. She feels Independence has not changed much for the poor in the country.

“I was expecting wonders (under leaders like Nehru, who she greatly admired). Things went wrong afterwards. Today, I can’t say everything is happening for the good. The poor are still struggling a lot for justice. They are not free, not happy,” Ms. Hamida says.

She is dismayed by the recent incidents of mob violence, saying she never expected that such things would ever happen in India after Partition. “I think people are close. Politics is dividing them. We thought Independence would clean the filth of Partition, but we are still fighting Partition,” she says.

Though she was associated with the Congress, today she feels the party has abandoned its principles. She is shocked by the news of defection of Congress leaders to the BJP. “I didn’t believe it when someone told me that Rita Bahuguna joined the BJP. How can someone join the BJP from the Congress,” she asks.

“I know the Congress is not doing all that it promised or should have. It did more for officers and Ministers … I still don’t believe we have become communal. The younger generation will get a big chance [to change the destiny of the country]. If the country follows the path of Nehru, it will move towards progress.”

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 2:48:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/specials/independence-day-india-at-70/when-jawaharlal-nehru-announced-we-will-be-free/article19492041.ece

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