Thoughts on Independence Day: Secularism was the patriotic principle I grew up with

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hat Independence Day means to me is first ever question asked to me by The Leaflet.

Yes — it gives a very strong and great feeling, being born into a family of freedom fighters. My grandfather was a government servant during the British rule. Therefore, discipline according to the colonial rulers, had dug its roots deep inside our household. However, patriotism in his blood made my grandfather leave the job and join the freedom struggle. He started joining rallies/protests along-with freedom fighters, while my grandmother starting stitching clothes for the freedom fighters.

One uncle of mine started making explosives and in one such explosion against the British, he lost his right arm and was sent to jail for 14 years. My father, a young boy at that time, was marching in the swadeshi rallies, carrying our freedom flag and chanting with every breath — “Bharat Mata ki Jai!”

In the tradition of that deep love for the motherland, my brothers joined the Indian Army. One of my brothers, Major General Raj Kishan Malhotra, who was rewarded by former President APJ Abdul Kalam, expired while giving a lecture to IAS officers.

Growing up with patriotic blood and painful stories of Partition, secularism always remained a principle adhered to strongly by the family.

After independence and Partition, the “Hum” — meaning the people of India — might have become Hindu and Muslim on paper, but it always remained an inclusive “Hum” for my family and our neighbourhood.

The young boy, who marched in the freedom rallies, now at the age of 85, uses thick glasses to read newspapers only to find acute despair in them, with the news of mob lynching, crimes against women and politicians fuelling the fire of communal violence.

My father sorrowfully contrastshow the leaders of those times fought for the freedom of their motherland and its citizens, their rights and how today, they fan differences among people and precipitate to violence.

How did it come to this? How did the long fight for freedom result into this horrifying present? Something has gone so horribly wrong. We have let down our freedom fighters.

Till date, Independence Day is celebrated as the most important festival in the family, with shared nostalgia for those stories of 1947, each and everyone of us remembering the value of the hard-earned Independence and secularism.