They had to travel to Delhi to ‘celebrate’ the Independence Day

Fear, heightened security, vehicles getting stopped and checked, shops closed and with public transport off the roads, people chose to remain indoors, recall three young adults from Assam

Ankita Rajhkhowa (Left) Shibani Krishnatraya (Right)
Ankita Rajhkhowa (Left) Shibani Krishnatraya (Right)

Garima Sadhwani

Three young women from the North-East admit that they fully realised the meaning of freedom only after coming to Delhi, the national capital.

Back home in Assam the Independence Day saw them locked up in their home, apprehensive of going out. They tell Garima Sadhwani about their fears while growing up and how they spent the Independence Day.

Ankita Rajhkhowa, Postgraduate Literature student and performing artist from Guwahati: My generation grew up hearing and reading about extremist groups like ULFA and other rebel organisations causing havoc in the streets. And that fear got ingrained in our minds and we hardly ever went out to celebrate. I have to mention here that the sfelt cenario has been changing in recent years. People are now coming out to celebrate but at the same time, we're yet to reach that level of fearlessness as in other mainland states of India.

Independence Day in school was celebrated one of two days before August 15. So, the actual Independence Day was more like a holiday. Of course, there were groups of people celebrating in safe spaces like that of closed campuses and apartments, where the residents came together to hoist the flag and pay tribute to freedom fighters. Apart from that, we mostly remained indoors.

I never really knew how the Independence Day was celebrated until I shifted to Delhi and very reluctantly went to the Red Fort to be a part of the celebration. I could sense the stark difference. The enthusiasm of the people who went to the Red Fort, the rallies, school students who waved little flags of India, made me realise that I never really knew how Independence Day was meant to be celebrated.

Shibani Krishnatraya, Literature student and spoken word artist, Tezpur: The Independence Day was indeed celebrated in schools and colleges but on a smaller and more subdued scale. When I came to Delhi, it was an eye-opener. I was surprised to see people go out without any fear and hanging out with their families. My friends ventured out to watch the parade or visit their old schools. In Assam too there would be parades and competitions. But when I was growing up, the attendance was low and there was always this lurking fear of a bomb blast. Would it be safe to go out?

When we participated in the march past or functions in schools and colleges, our parents would come with us to ensure we returned safely. Normally on Independence and Republic Days, we would stay back at home and the morning ritual was to watch the official function in Delhi on TV.

We did not know how Independence Day was celebrated outside Assam. I did not know that the fear we grew up with was non-existent outside the northeast. In my first year in a Delhi college, I was scared of going out to watch a movie with my friend.

Every year we would look up the calendar and see if Republic and Independence Days fell on Sundays, if we had missed out on the extra holiday and if we would have a long weekend. Friends who had to participate in the parade would crib and complain for having to wake up early so that they could report at seven in the morning.

There was always fear that insurgents might attack vehicles. There would be transport strikes. So, if we went out, we would put stickers on the windshield saying we were “On important official duty”. I was once awarded the best prize for recitation in the district. I still remember we just went to receive the prize; we did not sit for the entire event but rushed back home.

My grandfather worked for the British and he’d always call them Sahab. He would tell us about Nehru ji’s speech. And about the evening of August 15, 1947. We’d also watch patriotic films such as Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani and Chak de India.

As a child, I did not understand the value of freedom, in terms of the loss and the abuse our forefathers had to undergo. We could not imagine the magnanimity of the situation.

As a 23-year-old adult today, I feel sad to admit the insecurities and fear we associated with the Independence Day.

Samriddha Goswami, Postgraduate Literature student from Guwahati: For as long as I remember, ULFA (The United Liberation Front of Asom) used to declare bandh on Independence Day and bomb blasts were common around both Independence Day and Republic Day. The police security used to be tight. There used to be a lot of checking if you travelled around 15 August or 26 January.

I grew up in a university campus so we used to have flag hoisting and we’d get samosas. But when I moved to Delhi for college, that was the first time I saw Independence Day being celebrated. I grew up fearing that something might happen. But in Delhi, people near Vijay Nagar would give free food and people would fly kites.

To be honest, I didn't personally feel any sense of patriotism on 15th August until I understood the meaning of the word independence. It was basically just a holiday for us when schools would be closed. Everyone would be home, and we were supposed to stay inside and not go outside even though we lived in a closed campus.

My parents would sometimes not let me go cycling even inside the campus because they felt that something might happen. But we did go to a community gathering inside the campus with our parents and we’d come back with them. The flag would be hoisted by the Vice Chancellor and then he would give a speech that we didn't understand and that was all that Independence Day was about for us. So, I didn't really feel any sense of patriotism or anything.

When I came to Delhi to study, I remember visiting a friend's house on Independence Day. He had this huge balcony and I saw hundreds of kites flying in the sky and lanterns and it was exhilarating. I don’t know what it was but I felt something like I hadn't before. This is how the day should be celebrated, I felt, and not by locking ourselves up inside our houses for fear of something happening.

Looking back, I feel like it was ironic that on Independence Day, we still felt threatened back in Assam. During that entire week before Independence Day or Republic Day, we lived under constant fear of a bomb blast.

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