I don’t quite remember when was the first time I was told about why we celebrate independence day, but it looks like I always knew why we celebrate it until…
On India’s 66th Independence Day I visited a small cluster called ‘ Thakarwadi’. Thakarwadi is one of the four clusters in a village called Kunegaon. The best way to introduce Kunegaon would be to say that it’s next to India’s largest adventure club which is at Lonavla. I have never been to a more personified example of inequality. Within 100 meters from the place where there is no safe, clean drinking water, where no one has ever studied beyond 7th std, where there are electricity polls but no light, where the sunshine never reaches the house as there are no windows, where the state transport refuses to provide services since there is only one village on the hill, where children on an average walk 5-7kms a day, is this big adventure park where what people spend on a weekend is more than the annual income of some of the thakars!!
Our agenda for the visit was to attend a gram sabha meeting happening of a gram panchayat. Post the meeting we came back to the cluster to speak to the villagers and that’s when we met a group of 20-25 children who were playing, chasing a butterfly, making Ganesh Idols from the clay. After playing few games with them we gave them sheets of paper and colors to draw and paint. Suddenly during the painting session the number of kids increased. As always, I saw how children enjoyed creating their own colorful world. Although it was an Independence Day, I was a little surprised to see how no one painted a National Flag. (As oppose to this, during one of the painting session at a Govt run children’s home in Mumbai last week, I saw quite a few kids drawing a National Flag).
We were sitting in a classroom of the primary school which is smaller than a 3BHK Flat. It has two classrooms, one of which was closed as it’s turned into a mini storage room. So, all the children from 1st to 4th sit in one classroom.
As the children were busy drawing, I looked at the National Flag hoisted outside the School. When I asked the children why we celebrate Independence Day, no one could answer. Their faces went blank. The average age of children there must have been 12yrs and most of them were going to school. For a minute or so I was totally blank. I was hoping that at least one of them would say something related to our Independence Day, but everyone was looking at me with a puzzled look.
I couldn’t believe I was experiencing it. I knew that this probably happens in many villages but experiencing it was a different feeling!!
I somehow managed to explain them why we celebrate our Independence Day but it left me with so many unanswered questions…
- What is Independence?
- Is it different for me, you, those children, those people coming to spend their weekend at the Adventure Park?
- Is the inequality the effect of Independence or an inherited element?
- Is Independence something that one can teach another? Through textbooks or a video?
- Do I feel Independent because I am educated? Because I earn decent amount of Money? Because I can talk a language which most part of the developed world speaks? OR because I understand the responsibility that it brings along with it?
- Have we lost the essence of being Independent in the race of becoming someone else, something else?
- Are we too ahead of time to think of Alternative Education when there are millions of children who do not even get basic Education?
Visiting one cluster of around 50 houses with not more than 150 children led to so many questions. Questions which have no ONE or RIGHT answer. But all these questions lead me to two things – Inequality and Development!! Rather than having an inverse relation, these two seems to be going hand in hand.
- How do we break this cycle of Inequality and yet fulfill the desire of development?
- How do we shift the paradigm of development from raising inequality to increase in access to equal opportunity?