Independence… and what?

Independence day – as a student in primary school, it meant the ritual of flag hoisting and patriotic songs on DD. As I grew older, it became about the speeches I was asked to give. Once I was back to school – this time, as a teacher, Independence Day took on a new meaning. This year, my definition evolved further. Being a list person, there are three parts to my definition, each one with a story. That is what this post is dedicated to — to finding my idea of independence.

Freedom from Fear

  1. 15th August 2012, Wadgaon Budruk, Pune: My first Independence Day as a teacher. Waiting, along with a 1000 kids, for the local Corporator to come and hoist the flag. The school being in the middle of the community, held little to no space for the flag hoisting, ensuing the entire school and enthusiastic community members to gather on the main road.

As a Shivaji’s bust looked on at the little ones fluttering the flags, it was a heartfelt moment to be on the ‘older’ side. After a good 60 minutes of waiting, Nana, as our Corporator was fondly called, graced the occasion and hoisted the flag. His speech began with his views on why flags should not be given to kids. As per the logic, kids leave the flags lying around, which is disrespect. A certain realisation dawned upon the adults at the gathering and unceremoniously flags were being confiscated. The program quickly finished with the Corporator speaking about his political manifesto about a new e-school, a high school and a playground for the kids, all received with a thunderous applause. We were preparing to leave when little Preeti from grade 2 was seen crying for her flags. As we handed a flag along with free words of pacification, she asked us for the 30 flags her class teacher had confiscated. On being asked why she had bought so many, she replied, “Baba ne dia. Bola ki bech ke aao.” This little girl was planning to sell the flags after the Independence Day ceremony. She was scared to go home because she probably would get beaten by the parents/older brother. Sigh!

True independence, I concluded, is freedom from fear.

Freedom of Choice.

  1. 15th August 2013: we were waiting around the same time as the previous year, in the same place. As Nana unfolded the flag, which for some reason did not hoist, the peon took over and in all glory raised the flag. An intelligent co-fellow was quick to point out how truly the scene represented where power and change lies! Nana repeated the exact same speech as the previous year about an e-private school, a high school and a playground for kids. What did change were the little ones. Over the year, we exposed the kids to many definitions and value systems and our kids chose what they deemed right. And here they were – our 11 and 12 year olds confidently speaking about independence in front of the 1000+ audience. One of our girls claimed, ‘we are all equal and we should make sure everyone in independent India has the same opportunities’. This time, none of the kids had flags in their hands. Preeti was absent from the crowd – I am not too sure if she was selling flags elsewhere; I wish she had a choice.

Everyone must have the freedom to choose.

Freedom from ignorance

  1. This year, while I was creating training plans to help teachers facilitate Independence Day celebrations, I smiled we were discussing putting in a section on flag etiquette. Not confiscating them, teaching kids, instead, how to keep them safe and ensuring they know why it is necessary for us to honor them. (This section, I dedicate to the people who love bans!). Tell them the what. Tell them the why. Tell them the how. I know it sounds like an ideal situation, but as someone put it, “Actualize the ideal, don’t idealize the actual“. As a teacher, as a mentor, as an adult, the most we can do is offer freedom from ignorance.

When I zoom out and reflect, given the bans, insane regulations and the fear of the internet not being free, contextual definitions of independence seem to be getting more dynamic. Freedom from ignorance and fear, and the freedom of choice – that is how I would define independence. Freedom is a process, not an event.

A wise person once asked me, “If I chose to speed at 80kmph on this road or ram into someone right now, wouldn’t I be exercising my independence and freedom?” I realized then that independence is just one side of the coin – responsibility, the other. For getting out in the night, staying alone, choosing the website one wants to visit, deciding how and where one wants to spend money, teaching kids a new curriculum or enforcing a new policy – realize freedom, but understand the responsibility. Independence with Responsibility. Not one without the other.

As beautifully put in this video – “Free will is only as limited as you make it, and as infinite as the confines of your mind. [..] So rise, because if every decade were counted as an hour from the stroke of midnight when we first awoke to life and freedom, we are now embracing the sunrise”

Happy Independence Day. Happy Responsibility day!

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Shruthi Iyer
Shruthi Iyer is an engineer by qualification, but a teacher at heart. After a short stint with Infosys Technologies, she moved on to pursuing the Teach for India Fellowship. As a part of the Fellowship, she taught 30 5th and 6th graders in a public school on the outskirts of Pune. She currently works with Hippocampus Learning Centres, a social enterprise that works in the area of early childhood education in rural Karnataka.
Shruthi Iyer

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