End Of A Half Century
by Elizabeth Menon

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A well earned half century and more than 600 million people to celebrate the event. Was it all worthwhile? If the celebrations helped the nation to be stronger, one must come to the conclusion that it was! Freedom is a privilege, a state of being free that gives one the right to do anything; but it comes with great burden and responsibility - have we proved to be strong enough to bear the burden and worthy of shouldering the responsibility? When India became free half a century ago, we had a strong mission that was echoed in our Prime Minister’s famous speech: “Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future……?” Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru along with many people in the country believed that India had begun a journey set on high ideals. India had great assets giving it a sense of power and potential; the building blocks were there and the people were willing to make sacrifices for their country.

Have we achieved our goals? When we look back, one third of our population is below the poverty line, inequality and high illiteracy rate still dominate our society. How does one assess progress and achievements? Any progress or achievement must be measured against the nation’s needs, for it to be meaningful. Human sacrifices, ‘sati’ and female infanticide are still practised by the illiterates of India. We have corrupt politicians who have double standards and not willing to make sacrifices for fellow citizens. There are villages in India with no facilities for electricity, safe drinking water or sanitation. Women are still not given equal opportunity in many states in India. Kerala, perhaps is the only state where women have achieved equal status that is reflected in the 100% literacy rate and the low infant mortality rate that prevail in this small state.

One must not forget that India is a vast country with its many races, religion and languages, resulting in rich diversity, tolerance and cultures. The achievements in intellectual, spiritual and scientific fields have been phenomenal; perhaps one could argue that we were blessed with very impressive assets, to get started! Music and dance have become part of our life and the musicians and the artists have reached celestial status in some parts. Though literacy rate is still below the international standard in most states, great effort is being made to improve the situation.

The half century celebrations started at the stroke of midnight on 14 August 1997. What have we achieved since then? We acquired a new President, a new government and a new Parliament, Kalpana Chawla made history becoming the first Indian woman astronaut, Arundhati Roy won the Booker Prize and global acceptance of Indian writing in English. ‘ The jewel in the crown’ was of course, ‘Budha, smiling in Pokhran’ and India joining the exclusive club! India became a nuclear power, proving our capability and nuclear know how, to the rest of the world. Computer software is part of life even in villages but progress is as varied as the customs and languages that prevail.

Now that we have survived the half century, one should find a way to mobilise the resources to achieve the potential that we are capable of as a nation. What we need is faith in our capability and the realisation that ours is a nation that has great ideals and a destiny to fulfil.

© E Menon



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