75 years of hope and despair

Vipin Pubby

Vipin Pubby

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Did our freedom fighters dream of a country where caste and creed remains a sensitive issue 75 years after the independence?

IN a couple of days from now, the country would enter the 75th year of its independence. It is a time to introspect. It is time to check how much distance have we covered.

It is also time to appreciate our achievements and to think seriously on what we have failed to achieve. And equally importantly, have we lived up to the expectations of the freedom fighters and framers of the constitution. On whether they had wanted the country to be or what would have they dreamt for the country.

years_independenceIndeed in some sectors we have done well if not very well. In some others we have not reached the satisfactory level and in some other aspects we appear to be going backward.

When the Britishers landed in India, India was indeed “sone ki chhiriya” having a share of 25 per cent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It declined to 16 per cent by 1820 and by 1870 it had fallen to 12 per cent and was recorded at just four per cent when the Britishers left 75 years ago.

It now stands at 3.8 per cent – far from the glorious past and only a slight upward track.

For a country known for ancient universities and learnings, the literacy rate in 1947 was just 12 per cent. The official overall literacy rate now is 72.9 per cent although for women it still remains at 64.64 per cent at the national average.

At the dawn of independence the average life expectancy in India was just 32 years. As per the latest World Health Statistics 2021 report, overall life expectancy in India was 70.8 years, although healthy life expectancy was only at 60.3 years. Health services too have improved considerably but continue to be poor in rural areas.

At the time of independence in 1947, per capita income was only Rs 249 annually. By 2015, this had increased to Rs 88,533 per annum and is now calculated at Rs 1.35 lakh per annum. However given the rate of inflation, it is no indicator of the prosperity of the people and the country.

In the field of agriculture the country has made significant progress. From a country with acute food shortage and people dying of hunger, it has emerged as a food surplus country.

There was a time when we would depend on charity and wait for poor quality grains from America. Thanks to the Green Revolution we are in a strong position now. However the economic status of the farmers has not improved in the same proportion.

From a country which depended on foreign countries even for needles in 1947, we have come a long way and are doing well in producing and exporting goods. There is the slogan to become self sufficient or atmanirbhar and we are producing not just goods for use of citizens but also high grade satellites, aircraft and weapons.

Similarly we have developed infrastructure from the very poor state of infrastructure left by the British. The Railways network has just about 55,000 kilometres which has now grown to over 1,26,000 kilometres.

The highways network has gone up from around 21,000 kilometres to 1,36,000 kilometers. Various governments have contributed to this growth – some more than the others.

Indeed we have come a long way from the time of independence but in some spheres we are still laggards and need much improvement. With the kind of potential we have, there is no reason that we can’t be world beaters, particularly when we are perhaps the youngest countries in the world with half of the population below the age of 25 years.

One of the reasons for our steady progress since the independence has been a generally peaceful environment barring short periods vitiated by communal tensions and clashes. The country has also seen three wars, license raj, economic downslide after demonetisation and impact of Covid pandemic.

However, unfortunately, in some spheres we are actually going backwards and dragging down the nation. Some of the news headlines these days would put to shame our freedom fighters and those who had framed the constitution. Did they dream of a country where caste and creed remains a sensitive issue 75 years after the independence?

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While the world is going ahead with modernisation, except where the Muslim militancy has taken hold, we are getting more worked up about communal politics.

While we need to be very proud of ancient Indian wisdom and our great culture, including tolerance for all communities, these self inflicted wounds in the name of Hindutva do not bode well for the nation’s progress and development.

False narratives about how Muslims, who constitute merely 14.1 per cent of population as per the last census, would become the dominant religion is next few years, are being spread. A section of Muslim leaders too are fuelling the fire.

Effigies of Santa Claus are being burnt on the grounds that Christians are converting Hindus and blatantly communal speeches threatening bloodshed are being allowed. And yet our top leaders are maintaining stoic silence and not condemning such acts which are a blot on humanity.

We need to take all sections of society together irrespective of caste, creed and gender and ensure that we don’t fall into the deep pit like the one set up for themselves by radical Islamist groups elsewhere in the world. For heaven’s sake, let us focus on upliftment, development and progress so that all citizens can enjoy the fruit of freedom.

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Vipin Pubby

Vipin Pubby

The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career.

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