It was a cold January morning' a clear blue sky with clouds strewn here and there. And to top it all, it was a holiday' a perfect day for a picnic. It was the 26th of January the day our country became a Republic. After finally getting independence from foreign rule, of almost 1000 years of slavery, dominance and suppression and yet we were doomed to stay back home' we were doomed not to celebrate. Locked up within the walls of our own fear we have thrown the keys to the secessionist forces who have held us at ransom, manipulated our psyche and our apprehensions to their own pecuniary advantage. It was a Bandh !! The grand oldBandh. We have had umpteenth number of it in the last 10 years. So tuned, we are to the bandh of 26th of Jan and the 15th of August that even if a Bandh is not declared on those particular days we would still stay back home mechanically and automatically.
The mood was somber with the news of the devastating earthquake which rocked Gujarat state, and the enormity of which had still not driven home till then. It was really an unusually quiet morning with everyone preferring to stay back by the force of their own fear. Glued to the TV screens as the news of the earthquake filtered in, I wondered how will the generation of today living in the North-east would remember their Republic or Independence day. Say my nephew who is just 10 years old, will never know what 26th January or 15th August meant for us when we were children. He had spent both of these occasions indoors with a bandhdeclared. And a fear lingering somewhere in the backdrop of his mind' that he is not supposed to venture out, even to play or else'!
Memories of childhood - memories of those days when there was no fear'when 26th 0f Jan and the 15th of August were celebrated with much revelry, gaiety and patriotism. When we felt proud of being Indians and of downing the mighty British. When Gandhiji, Pundit Nehru and the others were remembered with much reverence and when we always went on a picnic. Giggles of children reverberated from the distant past, juxtaposed with the laughter of the elders. We as children, frolicked somewhere in the background with our childish games of the outdoors while the elders played badminton each time missing a shot as the breeze took the scuttle away. Some would be busy cooking and rubbing their eyes when the same breeze would brush the smoke into them. Few lazed around lying backside up, enjoying the sun. While my grandmother would sit in the middle of all the commotion and activity, on a 'moda' brought specially for her. Supervising and reprimanding she would say "don't go too near the water, don't go into the forest" and scare us with stories of drowning and getting eaten by a tiger. Others would join in as the concentration would shift from us children to the stories which would then culminate into a lazy afternoon gossip'catching up with the latest and co-relating it with the previous. She was the Queen Bee and the center of everybody's gravity. The day would go by in merriment and enjoyment and brushing up of the memories of the Independence Struggle. They would recall how old they were then and what they saw and heard. While some would recall lucidly, the others would remember only hazily, trying to confirm with the older members what they remembered and then everyone would listen to the oldest as he would remember more vividly.
My father would narrate to me the stories of our Independence Struggle. As a child I would look at him with rapt attention and gobble up whatever he said. Stories about Gandhiji, father of our nation and my limited mind would wonder if I had two fathers' stories of our handsome and loving Chacha Nehru and I could never comprehend why this Chacha never came home to meet us'. and many, many more'. Their bravery, sacrifice and martyrdom intrigued me. They were exalted and august personalities who were always there somewhere in the background in the period of our growing up stage, serving as a guiding force and an example for us the forthcoming generation to live life by. Theirs was a life dedicated completely for a cause, a selfless and a humane cause. They spent half their lives in and out of jails, were humiliated and endured countless sufferings and misfortunes, but they never took up the gun to kill, no not even to kill the British.
We have a lesson to learn from our Independence Struggle. If we could drive the mighty British away by non-violence or Ahimsa and non-co-operation, from the entire country, then what are these secessionist elements in the North-east trying to prove by killing and extorting innocent people so rampantly? What freedom are they talking about and from whom, there is self rule in all the states or north-east, the people elect their own governments and apart from that they also have the District Council looking after their interest. Out of the sixty seats in the state of Meghalaya assembly there are 58 candidates representing the locals while there are only two representing the non-tribals. And I do not understand how seceding from the Indian nation would solve their problems. Literally living on grants and aids from the center, the indigenous people of the state are in-fact the most privileged of the communities of the country, there is an exemption from paying income tax, the students get scholarship without needing to excel, they get admissions in the most prestigious of schools, colleges and institutions under the reservation policy. While Jobs also awaits them under the same policy. The entire North-East region has a 10 years Tax Holiday scheme for the development and growth of the Industries. And even after so many privileges if the States cannot progress then it has no one to blame except themselves and the Center cannot be blamed if the policies are not exploited to their advantage.
The country which gave the message of non-violence to the whole world, today is one of the most violent country in the world. And the incidence of attacks on minorities and other communal atrocities in most part of the country proves another point, that all is not well and that we do not deserve the political legacy left to us by our predecessors in the form of our Constitution. Perhaps freedom and democracy is something, we are not used to and a totalitarian government will be able to control us better. Then, we might understand what exactly was freedom all about and learn to cherish and realize the meaning of Democracy. Gandhiji gave us our India, while Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel the international boundary that we have today and Nehru, looked after it. I felt proud to walk the same soil as Gandhiji walked in and live in the same century. I felt proud to belong to the country where men like them lived. As I grew up and entered my adulthood I learned to take pride in them. I learned to feel proud as an Indian. But then looking at today's scenario' of rampant corruption, deceitful politicians and their divisive policies- dividing the people on religion and caste lines, disgruntled and direction-less youth, secessionist forces killing innocent people, chaos, turmoil and unrest in the country, and the recurring Bandhs'I can't help but wonder, where that pride has gone' !
We have lost some very good human beings to extreme thinking, Mahatma Gandhi to start and Rajiv Gandhi to end with. Extremism and forceful restrictions are not the solutions to anybody's problems. What really happened when they were assassinated? Nothing except that the country was plunged into a state of shock and gloom for a few days, and a few more lives were lost in retaliation. Nothing was learnt nor anything was achieved and life' just went on. While Bandhsreally serves no purpose except, that it is bad for the economy of our state and the mental health of the citizens. The service class enjoys a good laid-back and paid holiday, the businessmen crib for the lost business, but all is forgotten the day after the bandh. Who called the bandh? Why the bandh was called? Nobody cares or bothers people just stay back home and enjoy a good game of cards.
And as the enormity of the devastation of the quake dawned in' The truth just sunk in that how fragile we are in front of the forces of the nature. And isn't that enough? Then why are we so hell bent to create man made predicaments that can be avoided? We cannot control nature but certainly we can control ourselves and built a better world for us. May be things would change one day. One day we the citizens of Meghalaya would live in a more congenial milieu where Laws will rule the land and not the Guns and as Capt. Nongrum killed in action in Kargil has done us proud with the sacrifice of his life for the nation, there would be many more occasions in the near future when the youths of this state would return it's share of debt to the motherland. The huge turn out at Capt. Nongrum's funeral only proves that the streak of nationalism is alive among the citizens and the people of the state are not anti-nationals, but due to forces beyond their control they are handicapped to react. But everything in life is governed by the cycles of nature. There is always a fall after a peak and as for now, perhaps we may have reached the peak of terrorism and extremism in this part of the country. And a fall in its cycle is near. I hope that realizations dawns as early as possible, so that we, the citizens of Meghalaya and the entire North-East are able to celebrate Independence day and the Republic day with much fanfare, revelry and patriotism as our brethren in other parts of our country are doing.