India at 75 with painting by Amitava Kumar

Amitava Kumar, Delhi February, 2021.


Introduction to India at 75 »

Contributors A – G »

Contributors H – M »

Contributors N – R: Nabaneeta Dev SenNamita DevidayalNandita DasNatwar GandhiNavina HaidarNayantara SahgalNilanjana S. RoyNilita VachaniPanna NaikPerumal MuruganPratap Bhanu MehtaPratishtha PandyaPreti TanejaPriyamvada GopalPriyanka DubeyRaghu KarnadRajesh ParameswaraRajmohan GandhiM V RamanaRitu MenonRomila ThaparRuchir JoshiRuchira Gupta

Contributors S – Z »


Nabaneeta Dev Sen

Translated from Bengali by Nandana Dev Sen

There was a time

There was a time I loved you so, black cloud,
that’s hard now to forget.
And yet
I can let no one know, for, cloud,
now you have turned blood-red.


Nabaneeta Dev Sen (1938-2019) remains one of the most beloved Bengali writers of all time. Equally expressive in poetry and prose, she won multiple awards and published over 100 books. Her daughter Nandana is a writer, actor, and child-rights activist. She has authored six children’s books, starred in twenty films, and translated two collections of Nabaneeta’s poetry.

Namita Devidayal

There are two powerful laws in Hindu philosophy that the soldiers need to remember as they go to war. The first is the irrefutable law of interconnectedness and the second is the law of consequence. You plant a seed, it grows into a tree; you slay the tree, you lose oxygen. Every time you inflict harm—on a tree or a human being or a river—you are hurting yourself. The impact could be instant, or much later, for your grandchildren to forbear. That’s all everyone needs to know.

If the red slayer think he slays
Or if the slain think he is slain
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again.
— RW Emerson

Namita Devidayal is the author of three books and a journalist with The Times of India in Bombay.

Nandita Das

India at 75 is a momentous anniversary. After 200 years of colonial rule, the chaos we were left with, few thought we would survive. But the country emerged as a democracy, thanks to the vision of our founding fathers—Nehru, Gandhi, Ambedkar, Patel, and others. The long non-violent struggle for freedom and the commitment to equality and justice, regardless of caste, class, gender and religion, gave us the identity of a progressive nation.

But today we are engulfed in the undoing of that hard earned freedom. The sliding democracy is stifling free speech, the judiciary is often unable to protect even our constitutional rights, many are being incarcerated for simply speaking up, violence and prejudice has been unleashed, unemployment is at its highest ever…the list is long and depressing. It is easy to mourn. But is it fair to those, who despite all odds, are fighting the good fight? Would it not dishearten them and undermine their struggles? Isn’t this the time and occasion to recognize, support, and celebrate the big and small voices of reason and dissent? Each of us can be an ally. And what better day than 15th August 2022 to pledge that?


Nandita Das has acted in 40 films in 10 languages. She has directed Firaaq (2008) and Manto (2018). She has served as a jury member at the Cannes Film Festival and is a strong advocate for issues of social justice. Her third film explores the life of a food-delivery rider.

Natwar Gandhi

India at 75: No longer the heaven of freedom where the mind would be without fear

When Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, gave his famous “Tryst with Destiny” speech on India’s Independence Day, August 15, 1947, he said, “at the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.” Though he was aware of all the pains that were endured to secure India’s freedom, he was hopeful that “the past is over, and it is the future that beckons to us now.” Since that fateful day, India has changed remarkably. From a timid, diffident, and hesitant nation, it has morphed into an assertive, even aggressive, behemoth. Indian corporations stride triumphantly abroad and smart Indians abroad dazzle their host communities. Despite all this, the country has always lagged behind China in economic progress, but we had the trump card—a multi-party democracy and freedom of press and individual liberty, particularly the freedom to dissent and, above all, the freedom from fear. No more. Presently the freedom that Nehru had bequeathed is squandered. Sadly, India is no longer the country that the Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore had once envisioned as “the heaven of freedom…. where the mind is without fear.”


Natwar Gandhi was born in Bombay and lives in Washington and Philadelphia. He was the Chief Financial Officer of Washington, DC, 2000-13. He is the author of three books of poetry and an autobiography in Gujarati. He is also the author of Still the Promised Land.

Navina Haidar

I know at least 75 Indias: Boarding school was a touch of Kipling’s India; Kim and the Jungle Book. I knew Muslim India in education-minded Aligarh, and Hindu India in everyday life. I knew Christian India through my convent-educated family, and met Jewish India in Bombay’s dazzling synagogue. Poor India is always knocking at the car window for coins, and rich India emerged on the Delhi streets in the ’80s with its five-star hotel scene. Sikh India saved my uncle with oxygen-langar during Covid. I know at least 75 Indias. But we are being told there is just one…


Navina Haidar was born in London to Indian parents and is curator-in-charge of Islamic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She has written or co-authored six books.

Nayantara Sahgal

Since 2014 when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power for the first time since independence, India has been under fascist rule. Indians are deprived of their Constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression and the right to live and worship as they choose. After independence from British rule in 1947, a multi-religious multi-cultural India, in its regard for all religions, emphatically rejected a religious identity. The ruling regime now defines the country as Hindu (in a distorted form known as Hindutva) and makes outsiders of all non-Hindus. The persecution or killing of ‘outsiders’ is now rife, as is of those who oppose this fanaticism. I have called this development the Unmaking of India and have seen fit to describe it in political articles, in my correspondence with the writer Kiran Nagarkar (published as a book, Encounters with Kiran) and in my new fiction, When the Moon Shines by the Day and The Fate of Butterflies, now published in a joint edition called The Unmaking of India Chronicles.

Can the spirit of 1947 complete with its individual rights and freedoms be recaptured? The battle is on. Civil servants, lawyers, writers, artists, farmers, students, teachers, and women in great numbers and organized groups, are joined in the fight which is desperate because at present there is no sign of hope or light in this darkness.


Nayantara Sahgal was born in Allahabad and lives in Dehra Dun. She is the author of 13 novels and seven works of non-fiction. She is a vice-president of PEN International and has been engaged in the demand for freedom of speech which is now under increasing pressure.

Nilanjana S. Roy

Interrogation Poem

Do you belong here?
Do you have the right ancestors?
Are you pure like us?
Or are you one of them?
Have you insulted the country? The Leader?

Are your thoughts seditious?
Have you read the wrong history?
Are you an anti-national?

Who said you could demand freedom?
Who taught you that you were equal?

Have you saluted our flag?
Do you refuse to salute our flag?
Will you kiss The Leader’s ring?

Have you resisted arrest?
Were you jailed anyway?
Did you show the world your bruises?

Do you dream of freedom?
Will you keep dreaming?


Nilanjana S. Roy was born in Kolkata and lives in Delhi. A writer and critic, she is the author of three novels (including The Wildings fantasy duology, and Black River, coming out in late 2022), has edited three books, most recently Our Freedoms: Essays and Stories, and written The Girl Who Ate Books, a memoir about reading.

Nilita Vachani

We were the inheritors. Born a decade or two too late to breathe the air of jubilation. We held the history in our hands, though, in books, and in our ears and tongues from the stories of elders. My heroes were equally Nehru and Gandhi, Azad and Ghaffar Khan, Naidu and Asaf Ali.

My first love was a Muslim, he remained a secret from my parents. The fissures of partition coursed through our community’s veins: wrenching stories of loss, families separated, the horrors of crossings. My paternal grand-mother’s brother, Gopal, was killed during the Calcutta riots. He was mistaken for a Muslim, taken too late to the hospital after someone noticed the Krishna tattoo on his arm. Beneath the cosmopolitan veneer of the Sindhis of Calcutta with whom my parents mingled lay bigotry and fear, the excoriations of partition, the scabs barely formed. Thank god, I would think, that my grand-uncle and Gandhiji were killed by Hindus, not Muslims. A decade later when I brought home a white foreigner as my future husband, I knew in my heart that he was accepted in a way an Indian Muslim would never have been.

A gift from my first boyfriend was Azad’s India Wins Freedom. The proceeds of its sales went to support two annual essay writing competitions, the best essay on Hinduism written by a Muslim and the best essay on Islam written by a non-Muslim. Today, I long for such simple tokenisms. As a filmmaker who prided herself in producing subtle and sophisticated works dealing with racism, casteism, patriarchy, I’d inwardly scoff at the facile constructs of Hindu-Muslim unity that played endlessly on television in national integration campaigns. Today, I long for that wholesome propaganda. It placed a lid on simmering tensions. It demarcated lines that couldn’t be crossed. It kept alive the idea of an India for which we had fought.

Today, in India’s darkest hours, it is enslavement and not freedom that greets us, enslavement not to a foreign power, but to the worst instincts within us. I cannot get the words “Jai Hind” out of my mouth. Instead I modify two historic lines and offer them as a rallying cry. I wish we would hear this through the length and breadth of India.

Iss desh ke hain anek sipahi,
Hindu Muslim Sikh Isahi
Na bhed-bhav, na unch-neech
Apas mein sab bahen bhai

This country’s many soldiers
Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian
Living without discrimination or inequity
In harmony, as brothers and sisters.


Nilita Vachani is a filmmaker, writer, and educator who divides her time between India and New York.

Panna Naik

India at 75: A Climate of Fear Pervades in Literary India

Presently in India, a climate of fear pervades everywhere, even in poetry. As an American poet writing in Gujarati, Mahatma Gandhi’s language, I am deeply distressed and saddened. On June 25, 1975 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, fearful of political reversal, threw away her legendary father Jawaharlal Nehru’s legacy—popular democracy and individual freedom—by a stroke of the pen. She then established the Emergency. At the time, one of the strongest voices of dissent against her fiat was that of a great Gujarati poet Umashankar Joshi. As a nominated member of Rajya Sabha, India’s Upper House of Parliament, Joshi thundered that this untoward action would destroy the very truth of life as envisioned in the Mahabharata, an ancient Sanskrit epic. Even during that 21-month long Emergency when press freedom and individual liberty were suppressed, poets like Joshi and other dissenters took great risks to speak freely. Today, it is different. Today, my poet friends in India tell me they are cautious in what they write and say. When I hear this, a part of my being as a poet dies.


Panna Naik was born in Bombay and lives in Philadelphia. She has published 11 books of poetry and one collection of short stories in Gujarati. She has also published a book of poems in English, The Astrologer’s Sparrow.

Perumal Murugan

Thousands of Hands

Unlike monarchy, democracy is not about the centralization of power. Devolution and decentralization of power are symbols of democracy. As far as India is concerned, the devolution and decentralization of power did not happen at a fast pace, because of Sanatana Dharma1Eternal duties or practices incumbent upon all Hindus. which protects the caste structure. The caste structure forms the basis of Hinduism. Taking advantage of the psychological beliefs built by caste structure over centuries, Sanatana Dharma attempts to thwart any change. When a change becomes inevitable, it attempts to slow it down besides finding alternatives to make it smoother. The Sanatana Dharma constantly appropriates any uprising in the society as its own. When necessary, it creates clashes. It unleashes violence. Sanatana Dharma constantly struggles to retain power by hook or by crook.

Freedom of expression is fundamental to the devolution of power in a democracy. In a functioning democracy, a multitude of voices are raised, each given its due recognition and societal norms are set taking into account all the voices. But freedom of expression is against Sanatana Dharma. The policy of Sanatana Dharma makes it a duty of those in the lower hierarchy to unquestioningly accept the rules set by those on the higher level of the hierarchy. Not everyone can talk. There are clear demarcations on who could speak and who could listen. There could be only one voice anywhere.

Sanatana Dharma doesn’t aid the growth of freedom of expression. It is intolerant to a variety of voices. By putting forth the norms established in the caste structure, it seeks to arrest freedom of expression. When it fails, it uses the law. There are no laws to expand the borders of freedom of expression. The law’s fundamental idea is to ensure law and order maintenance. Behind every right, the baton of law and order stands erect. The baton is taller for freedom of expression. The hand of Sanatana Dharma is ready to land a blow at any moment. The Sanatana Dharma which has grown over centuries occupying almost all the social spaces has thousands of hands.


Perumal Murugan writes in Tamil. He is vice-president of PEN International. He is the author of more than 20 books, including novels, collections of short fiction, poetry and non-fiction. He lives in Namakkal, Tamil Nadu.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta

The passage of time in nations is not marked by dates. It is marked by moods. India at 75 is youthful, energetic, innovative, politically engaged, with a stronger state. It has, persisting poverty notwithstanding, traveled a considerable distance from the abject material dependence of 1947. But instead of writing its will across the stars in the glorious language of freedom, India has a strange haunted feeling, as if it is possessed by too many inner demons. It fears individual freedom. It valorizes ethnic majoritarianism. It is impatient of its own plurality. Its growth in power has denuded its spiritual confidence. Its constitution is being reduced to mere form. Its politics is a throwback to the 1940’s: Blasphemy, Identity and Revenge are its watchwords rather than Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. India is, as Raja Rao once said, is a darsana2A philosophical term meaning to discern or to behold., one that seems to overcome time. But it will be dishonest to not admit to a sense of foreboding. There is one “patriotic” song that has been impossible to get out my head “Hum laye hain toofan as kishti nikal ke, is desh ko rakhna mere bacho samabhal ke” (We rescued this fragile boat from the storm/ my children take care of this country). We did not need heed the fragility of this experiment. And as parents often do, we now hope our children will do a better job than we did. The good news is that they probably will. The bad news is: if only we let them. This is not India at 75, as much as a time for refounding.


Pratap Bhanu Mehta is Senior Fellow, Center for Policy Research Delhi, and Laurence S. Rockefeller Visiting Professor at Princeton University. He has written widely on democracy and constitutionalism.

Pratishtha Pandya


Wild smelling flowers

Heavy, ruthless blades
haul and push debris away,
excavate ghosts of history,
demolish mosques, minarets.
They can even uproot an old banyan,
nests and aerial roots and all.
Make way for bullet trains,
remove stumps and boulders,
clear battlefield obstacles,
prepare firing positions.
Iron claws of sharp rippers
break down dense, resistant grounds.
They know how to crush, clear, and level things up.
But when you are done with all of it
You still have to deal with these pollinators
fiery, potent, soft, love-filled
falling out of books
sliding off tongues.
You don’t need bulldozers
to tear those defiant books
or to rip the loose tongues off.
But what to do with them,
escaping on the back of chance winds,
riding on the wings of birds and bees,
sliding on river waters,
diving underneath the lines of a poem
pollinating without restraint
here, there, everywhere?
Light, yellow, dry, obstinate dust
encroaches on fields, plants, petals,
minds, and slippery tongues.
See, how they burst out!
Colonies of bright flowers
Wild smelling,
holding onto this earth.
Growing like hope
from between the blades
of your rippers
from under the tracks
of your bulldozers.
See, how they burst out!



The lions and the wheel3One of the biggest national emblem with four bronze lions on a pedestal, 6.5 meters high and weighing 9,500 kg was unveiled on the new Parliament building in July 2022.

No, no, these are not the same lions,
not the ones Bharat was playing with.
The jaws wide open, the teeth,
perhaps, you can count them,
but no!
Weren’t they little cubs?
Not with sharp metal teeth
tearing through the hide of the night.

I do not know which Prahalad
held the pillar at Sarnath
in one tight embrace and said what
that released these ‘narsimhas’ —
teeth glistening in the dark
in moist reddish brown and speckled white.
The feel and taste of the blood
from the last meal still fresh and warm

The forests are stunned.
They have not seen anything like this before.
Trees stand terror-stricken
mute witnesses shrouded in moonlight,
bearing the roaring winds
without a whisper or a whine.

But after the wild massacre,
when all things fall dead and quiet
in their veins
they dream of another forest wide,
stretching all the way
from the forgotten past
into a future unknown.

Inside their veins they hear
the sound of wheels
moving beneath the earth,
beneath the lions’ feet.
Inside those frozen veins
they feel a throb
of something marching up
like spring sap from the roots,
like the churning of the oceans.
Elephants, lions, horses, bulls
laborers, farmers, sufferers, women
homeless, landless, faceless, voiceless
horses, bulls, elephants, lions….
Who are these nameless creatures
turning the wheel around?


Pratishtha Pandya is a bilingual poet working across Gujarati and English. Born and brought up in Ahmedabad she currently resides in Bangalore. She works as an editor and writer at People’s Archives of Rural India. Her first collection of poems in Gujarati has been published by Navjeevan Samprat in December 2019.

Preti Taneja

Meera, 7, finds a sixth edition of The Fascist Playbook on her Nanaji’s bookshelf. She turns to page 2022:

‘Dress the part. Play the long game. Opinionate, legislate, incarcerate: always point a finger to the sky. Stack the court. Rewrite the law. Buy the press. Shut the libraries. Police the universities. Education is your weapon. Teach a history for as long as forgetting takes. If the people exist, or write, or speak, or march together: kill. If you cannot yet kill, eradicate. Genocidally, via policy, for progress, for power, your religion.

This will require finances. Feed on otherness. Harness the expatriate’s insecurity of being outsider where they are. Blessings will pour forth.

Provenance, above all else, is important. Demand that proof of authenticity be carried at all times. For this you require surveillance technology. Incentivise your backers with promises of purity. Stoke rage, stoke fear. Turn against any water that flows away from you. Insist that the flow is controllable, that you will dry it out.’

In the future, Meera runs the bath. Naked, she gets into it. She holds a book of songs. Smiling, she drowns. Her body’s mound sprouts green shoots. The vines climb up the walls, they break the roof. They reach us, sitting here.

You cannot control the water. It seeps into earth’s strata. No matter who you kill or how: we will always remember. The body turns to mulch or ash, as fertilizer. Stronger vines will always grow.


Preti Taneja is a writer and activist, who has published two critically acclaimed books. She is Co-Chair of English PEN’s Translation Advisory Group, and Professor of World Literature and Creative Writing, Newcastle University, UK.

Priyamvada Gopal

Seventy-five should be a time to take stock of a life richly lived, a sanguinary birth receding into the past, turbulence replaced by leavened wisdom and expansiveness. Actuality could not be further from this clement vision. The pitiless venom of majoritarianism, never absent, now routine in hate speech and sanctioned harm. Democratic institutions desecrated openly, dissent rendered criminal. For the minoritized who dare speak at all, home demolitions if you’re lucky, lynching if you are not.

This may not have been inevitable, but it was foreseen. Not least by Babasaheb Ambedkar, ‘Father of the Constitution’, erased through canonization, piously invoked by the political classes but largely unheeded. Not for him today’s glib liberal distinction between once ‘tolerant secular India’ and now ‘Hindu Raj.’ As the new nation emerged, Babasaheb warned that a mere ‘transfer of power’ to nationalist leaders would not be enough. Unbreachable structural safeguards were needed if white rule was not merely replaced by ‘the tyranny of a Hindu Communal Majority.’

We still shy away from a grim truth: the radically egalitarian anti-caste democracy Ambedkar envisaged never emerged, was hamstrung from the start. Out of this arrested decolonization, the warped malignity of the present. Hope persists only as a figment of desperate will.


Priyamvada Gopal is a professor at Cambridge University who has written about decolonization and the empire. Her most recent book is Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent.

Priyanka Dubey

I am the ‘carrying a fistful of its soil in my jeans’ kind of lover of India.

As a reporter and writer, I have traveled across the country since my teens and more than often, returned with a fistful of soil wrapped in paper, thrusted inside the upper pocket of my pants.

Hanging by the doors of sleeper class train coaches or riding pillion on a local bike across the countryside, I often cry, just by looking at the vast fields, mountains, deserts, forests and rivers of my country. Perhaps that is why, as a ‘homeless person’ in traditional ways of the world, the field has always felt like home to me. I go to the ground and I am instantly at home among the common people of India. During my travels, whenever I look at the children of my country, I suddenly feel a pining surge in the innate sense of responsibility that I have always, almost constantly, felt about India.

I feel for India so strongly that I have spent a large part of my life reporting and writing about what’s going wrong with it.

Each time when I reported a caste or gender crime—or the numerous times I wrote about our collapsing health infrastructure or police excesses or citizenship issues or hate crimes, I thought of the people who spent years making our constitution with an overwhelming sense of sorrow. For years, this sorrow has been like a dark unending tunnel.

As a young person trying to make sense of India, I sometimes dream of my haunting visit to the partition museum in Amritsar. And I dream of Bhagat Singh4A freedom fighter who was executed by the British in 1931.. Often, I slip into my personal brooding mode while reflecting on the lives of Mahatma Gandhi and Babasaheb Ambedkar5Known as the architect of the Indian constitution, Ambedkar was India’s law minister in the first cabinet of Jawaharlal Nehru. He was a Dalit and educated at Columbia University and the London School of Economics.. So many great people sacrificed their lives to make our constitution a reality.

Today, as India comes to its 75th Year of Independence, my biggest worry is that we are taking our constitution for granted. WE MUST NOT. In the current political and social climate, the Indian Constitution is our last refuge.

The constitution is not a slave of power or politics, it belongs to the common people of India. More than ever, now is our collective duty to defend the democratic and secular values enshrined in our constitution. To never let the dream of the inclusive egalitarian equal society, which forms the soul of our constitution, fade away.

That is why, the role of writers and journalists is more crucial today than ever. As my beloved Hindi Poet Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh wrote ‘ab abhivyakti ke saare khatre uthaane hi honge’ (We must face the dangers of speaking up now).


Priyanka Dubey was born in Bhopal and lives in the Himalayas. Her awards include the Kurt Schork Award and the Knight Journalism Award and several honors in India. She writes in Hindi and English and is the author of No Nation for Women: Reportage on Rape from India, the World’s Largest Democracy. She is currently writing a novel.

Raghu Karnad

I met Mahesh Raut in 2018 at the top of Niyam Dongar, the ‘Mountain of Law,’ according to the Dongria Kondh tribe to whom those hills in Odisha belong. That night I had to sleep out in the open, and I hadn’t come prepared. He sheltered me by his fire, behind a windbreak of bark and branches. He told me about his work, helping ‘forest dwellers’ form elected councils, to defend their interests and lands. Four months later, Mahesh was in prison. He still is.

I met Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra in 2019 in Kashmir. He spoke about the frenzied campaign to kill off young militants, who were also local boys, in time for the national election. His words were the clearest I had heard in a week of interviews. Three months later, Waheed was in prison.

In 2020, I met Umar Khalid in Delhi. His soft, sure voice had given inspiration to the largest protest movement I’d ever seen; a movement for a just, inclusive country. Six months later, Umar was in prison.

To move through India now, looking in on struggles for peace and justice, is to travel with the sound of iron bars closing behind you. I feel like a traitor—not to country, but to friendship—because each time I leave, I say “we’ll meet again soon,” and each time it feels more like a lie.


Raghu Karnad is a fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. He is from Bangalore, and is the author of Farthest Field: An Indian Story of the Second World War, for which he received the Windham Campbell Prize in 2019.

Rajesh Parameswara

Father Stan Swamy, the Jesuit priest and activist who died in state custody in 2021, was, at 84, a few years older than India herself. Arrested under anti-terror laws, Swamy had devoted his life to advocating for the rights of Adivasi peoples and Dalits, fighting alongside them against the dispossession of their land and resources. In doing this work, he seemed to stand for many of India’s most praiseworthy qualities: her rich religious and ethnic pluralism; the commitment of so many of her citizens to achieving justice and equality for the marginalized.

When his arrest was nearing, Swamy said he was in a sense happy in his predicament, because it meant he was engaged, part of the process, and not a silent spectator.

The spirit of Father Swamy and others like him offers a light of hope for India’s next 75 years.


Rajesh Parameswaran was born in Chennai and lives in New York City. He is the author of I am an Executioner: Love Stories.

Rajmohan Gandhi

Ground one for future hope is the eagerness in Indians to belong to the world and live everywhere in the world. The assumption that recently arrived Indians should have every opportunity in their new country, including to occupy the White House in the U.S. or 10 Downing Street in the U.K., torpedoes the Hindu right’s core argument, which is that Muslims and Christians within India can only be second-class citizens, and must never dare, for example, to think of renting a home in a desirable Indian neighborhood, since many centuries ago their forebears, allegedly, were “outsiders.”

Ground two for long-term hope is the age-old Hindu awareness that all of humanity is one, and each human has equal value. In practice, Indians may have successfully denied this truth, but it remains part of their being.

Ground three is the certainty of Indian resistance to supremacy and its twin, authoritarian rule. Indians do not like being told what to do or think. If this resistance takes the form of satyagraha, i.e. nonviolent direct action, it could again hearten the world, as India’s distinctive struggle against imperial rule did in the first half of the 20th century.


Rajmohan Gandhi is a historian and biographer who has taught at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and has been scholar in residence at the Indian Institute of Technology in Gandhinagar. His latest book is India After 1947: Reflections and Reflections.

M V Ramana

In his famed 1947 poem Subh-e-Azadi (Freedom’s Dawn), Faiz Ahmed Faiz had bemoaned the fact that the end of British colonialism had turned out not to be “that clear dawn in quest of which those comrades set out” (translation by Victor Kiernan). Those were the terrible days of partition, with millions of people being displaced from the homes they had grown up at, perhaps over a million killed, and thousands of women abducted and raped. And yet Faiz was hopeful enough to end that poem with “Let us go on, our goal is not reached yet.” Seventy-five years after that, it is hard to find such hope in today’s subcontinent. In so many ways, the situation seems more dire. Except for a small set of ultra-rich that have made out like bandits, few are optimistic about the future. But that is not all. The greater threat is the growing power of the religious right, and the goals they strive for will eventually destroy even the very possibility of shared existence.


M V Ramana is the Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, and the author of The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India (2012) and co-editor of Prisoners of the Nuclear Dream (2003).


Ritu Menon

India on my Mind

In six months I will be as old as India on August 15. The country I was born in was a country torn asunder, it’s true, but growing up in it, I felt—even very young, very immature—a sense of its difference from other countries. It was a bold experiment, an exercise in democracy and nation-building that was grounded in principles that, politically speaking, were certainly quite new: non-violent co-existence; non-alignment; non-communal; egalitarian; plural in a still semi-feudal society.

In hindsight, it strikes me that perhaps that was a “womanist” way of defining oneself and one’s place in the world. Accommodative, not maximalist.

What worries me about the hyper-masculinism that now holds sway, is that it conceals a deep insecurity. My country now has such a diminished sense of itself that it is ill at ease with a capacious and confident embracing of difference. Fueled by testosterone it demands compliance with cast-iron definitions of self and other, flexing its muscles against anyone who deplores and decries this puny redefinition of itself.

I had thought we would grow old gracefully together, my country and I. Instead I worry that the India I will die in might become the kind of country I may not want to be born in.


Ritu Menon is a feminist publisher and writer, based in Delhi. She has written and edited several critically acclaimed books and anthologies. Her books include Borders & Boundaries: Women in India’s Partition, Out of Line: a literary and political biography of Nayantara Sahgal, and ZOHRA! A Biography in Four Acts.

Romila Thapar

15 AUGUST 2022

The period just after Independence saw the continuation of earlier debates on defining India as a secular, democratic nation with a national identity that included all Indians. We were no longer colonial subjects but were free citizens, and could claim the rights invested in citizenship and in accordance with our constitution. Our national identity as Indians, included all who lived in India—irrespective of religion, language, caste, or ethnicity—and rightfully claimed equal status. Establishing a secular, democratic nation was our aspiration. We faced many problems but we persisted, even though the persistence had glitches. This may in part explain why today, seventy-five years later, these rights of citizenship and the concept of identity have yet to be established. Some Indians in authority, seem averse to India being a secular democracy. Therefore, poverty and unemployment prevail, nationalism is being replaced by religious majoritarianism, freedom of expression is increasingly disallowed, the rights of citizenship have faded, and the security implicit in being a citizen is denied. How do we fulfill the aspirations of the national movement for Independence? That is the question we should be asking.


Romila Thapar has specialized in the study of early Indian history and historiography. She is a Professor Emerita in the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Ruchir Joshi

After seventy-five years it should be clear that there are not just one or two ‘ideas of India’ but multiple competing ideas of what our country should be. We need to interrogate each of these with cold-eyed urgency. Within a few years roughly 20% of all the humans on this small, troubled planet will be looking to shelter under the tent we call India. As ethnicities and genetic groups increasingly mix with one another our species is moving towards multiplying micro-diversities rather than any overarching homogeneity. The people we call Indians are centrally a part of this—in a hundred years people will hopefully shun any ideas of purity, whether of regional or religious or caste identities; there may not be any Bengalis or Gujaratis, any Hindus or Muslims, any upper or lower castes as we understand these categories today. Climate change, global warming, ecological crises, whatever your preferred codification, will need large masses of people living adjacently to work with rather than against each other. Therefore we must ask: which idea of India provides succor and safety to the widest variety of people? Which idea is most accommodating of difference, whether ethnic, racial, religious, of sexual orientation, of differing practices of living? Which idea will ensure the fairest distribution of increasingly scarce resources? Which processes of completing, repairing and shoring up the loose tent that was begun to be erected 75 years ago will provide the best quality of life to the largest number of people?


Ruchir Joshi is a writer and film-maker who lives between Calcutta and Delhi. Besides his regular opinion columns and essays in newspapers and magazines, he is the author of two novels, The Last Jet-Engine Laugh and the forthcoming Great Eastern Hotel, and one work of non-fiction.

Ruchira Gupta

Dear India,

I have looked into the future with you to solidarity in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, and in hope.

You taught me that there is unity in diversity. That a South Indian Brahmin might speak a different language, eat different food, wear different clothes than a North Indian Muslim, but since all had suffered collectively under British rule, there was at least a striving for a shared identity.

You represented living examples of cultures of balance and peace—in the marketplace, in temples and shrines, in universities, in trade routes. We encountered each other’s differences at every turn, exchanged thoughts, ideas and goods, traded and did business, made alliances and unions, found common aims and values.

The teachings of Buddha and Gandhi were ever present in our lives.

Today their philosophy of non-violence isn’t always guiding the most public events. As you turn seventy-five, there are so many stories of atrocities and vengeance, so much anger and fear that it is hard to imagine how it will end. The deafening silence about it breaks my heart-from the attacks on Muslims to the arrests of journalists.

Remember you are not alone; you have sisters and brothers who are listening and standing by you in your struggle for equality and peace in every corner of the world. I was never able to fully match or make use of many of the lessons I learned from you and now I am trying to catch what is slipping away.

What we want, once was here, on this land. I hope with all my heart that we find it together.


Ruchira Gupta is an author, artist and activist who dreams of a world in which no human being is bought or sold. She has won an Emmy for outstanding investigative journalism and a Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite for confronting sex-trafficking. She has edited two anthologies: As if Women Matter: The Essential Gloria Steinem Reader and River of Flesh: The Prostituted Woman in Indian Short Fiction.


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