As India gears up to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its freedom from British rule on 15 August, PhD student, Rahul Ranjan reflects on the country’s postcolonial record.
Historically, the fight for independence figures in the world history of colonisation as one of the longstanding struggles. However, the world has changed drastically in the past 70 years. Newer ways of interactions among nation-states have been invented, specifically marked with the globalisation of knowledge such as information from erstwhile colonies about the historical past of colonisation. Now, in the 21st century, we are witnessing debates about reparation.
The Indian experience of colonialism and independence reveals a unique, long and complex process. It reflects on memories of small pockets of resistance to long peaceful marches and anti-colonial demonstrations.
Over the decades since independence, India has been caught up in several issues which are increasingly tied to the global phenomenon of capitalism. On one hand, it is struggling with rising population and limited resources, while on the other, it has not been able to address certain core federal questions. Among them are matters around the autonomy of some of its states and border disputes with neighbouring countries. These contentious issues revive the democratic practices and hold it more or less accountable.
It is extremely difficult for one, as an Indian, to speak the uncomfortable truth of the labyrinth political climate that is constantly in confrontation with the ‘will of the people’. However, as much as we witness the plight of people rendered ‘liminal’ and disavowed of their civil rights in certain states, we are also witnessing a surge of civil societies and individual efforts to speak back to the establishment.
There are two questions that are always at the core democratic debates within Indian constitution. One is about the federal design of the Indian constitution, which was a unique response to the state’s socio-historic formation. It seems to suffer from democratic accountability especially in states such as Kashmir and Chattisgarh where human rights violations are reported quite frequently. The Second, and in continuation with the first, is about the suspension of the rights of the ‘sexual minorities’ who are unable to live their lives in the same way as the nation’s hetero-citizens. This denial is sanctioned under the reprehensible colonial rule called ‘Section 377’. These are just two problems among many other issues that continue to call Indian democracy in question and its discontinuation from the colonial rule.
This is not to suggest India has not progressed at all in other respect. We have witnessed a surge in the infrastructure sector, an expansion of the educational frontiers and the inclusion of regional languages. Such improvements, though, owe a debt to human development. And, 70 years on from independence, they continue to feature in debates about progress. My hope is that some of the debates could be reset so they address and awaken the democratic spirit in a much-qualified sense of the word.
Rahul Ranjan is a PhD student at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS) at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. His research focuses on ‘oral history, Adivasi and the land question in Jharkhand (India)’.