As Independence Day draws near and the annual rummage for patriotic costumes to be worn at school takes place, I'm reminded of the famous lines spoken on August 15, 1947 by our first prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru -- "Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, as the world sleeps, India will awake to light and freedom."
Sixty nine years have passed since that momentous day when we, the people of India, gained freedom from our colonizers and oppressors. Sixty nine years in which we've been free to build our nation and fulfill our destiny. And it seems appropriate to ask ourselves how we have fared in this mammoth task of nation building?
The actions and inactions of the government have of course been audited every five years through the election process. Incumbents have been called to account and unceremoniously booted out when they've failed to meet the people's expectations, only to return triumphantly when their successors met a similar fate... the wheels of our democracy in motion for more than half a century.
By the same author: An inconvenient but undeniable truth
But what of us the people... does our contribution to building our nation start and
end at the ballot box? Is exercising our franchise our only duty? Does the sole responsibility for the state of our nation lie with a handful of elected representatives? What of the people's civic responsibilities?
While we remain ever ready to pillory the government of the day for its ineptitude, we the people are loath to shoulder any responsibility for the state of our nation.
Yet, a stroll through our neighborhoods should be sufficient to convince us of our own less than sterling civic qualities.
Barely has the garbage removal truck moved away before we fling a heap of waste onto the pavement yet again. Why bother to buy a small composting bin and efficiently recycle our waste at home when we can dump it in public spaces and leave it to the authorities to clean up the mess?
The neighborhood park and walkway built at great cost is unusable in the evenings as all the light fixtures now grace somebody's home instead of the walkway. And why not, after all is it not the government's duty to provide for us the people?
Street art and large public art works seem to be all the rage at the moment, so why not add our own little twist and deface some of the park seating while we are there?
With the pavements and walkways out of commission, the narrow roads are clogged with pedestrian as well as vehicular traffic. Traffic has been at a standstill for a while but why wait, lets jump the long line of waiting vehicles and make our way to the head of the queue. Never mind if we've made the situation a tenfold worse... it is after all the job of the police to sort out traffic and not ours.
A blatant disregard for the law and scant respect for others seem to be our dominant civic character. If there is a law that we can bend or break we are more than happy to do so for again is it not the responsibility of the government to enforce laws and not our duty to voluntarily abide by them. We demand our rights but we have no desire to fulfill our duties and obligations.
And yet we dream of the day when India takes a seat at the table of global super powers, little realizing that we are our own worst enemy and that our everyday actions impede our country's progress. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that 69 years ago, our tryst with destiny came to pass only because of the massive civil participation in the freedom struggle. It was through the concerted action of the millions of this land, who each believed they had an active role to play, that we won our freedom. And that need for engagement by all remains unchanged. For only when WE THE ONE BILLION PEOPLE of India actively participate in all manner of civic life will our nation overcome its challenges and fulfill its destiny wholly and in full measure.
(The author is a writer based in Kochi. This column will appear every alternate Wednesday)