This Monday, there was spontaneous and lively celebration of Independence after many years. Over the last two or three decades, people in Assam had been systematically intimidated by one terrorist group or the other from having anything to do with the celebration of Independence Day or Republic Day. This intimidation has not been through empty threats alone. The ULFA did not hesitate to shoot down even women and children participating in Independence Day celebrations. As a consequence, for decades, people in Assam had given up hoisting the tiol tricolour at their homes on Independence Day and Republic Day. Not surprisingly, even the official celebrations of these two historic and cherished days had got confined to government officers who were far better guarded than ordiry citizens from untoward happenings. And people saw what happened to the women and children of Dhemaji who had not heeded the warnings of the ULFA to stay away from the Independence Day celebrations. They were shot down in cold blood merely for celebrating what should have been celebrated with enthusiasm by every Indian every year. The Dhemaji killings were a major turning point in the intimidation of people to stay away from any celebrations on Independence Day and Republic Day. We had appealed to people on several occasions in this column to shed fear and to hoist the tiol flag at each home. We had suggested that if everyone was able to demonstrate that they could not be frightened, the ULFA could not shoot down everyone from every home, and the people would win. But this never happened. Human psychology has generally tended to be on the side of abundant caution. So when it is a matter of evincing courage in the face of intimidation, people have generally tended not to take any chances even though a small act of courage or simple guts would have shown them to be braver people than those who were content to conform, because there was greater safety in such conformism. So, for years, we went without celebrating the two most cherished days in our recent history. And having had nothing to do with their tiol flag, children often forgot which colour of the flag was the top. Many of them also forgot which was Independence Day and which was Republic Day. In a sense, therefore, there were many years during which we were content to be lesser men and women than we needed to be.
We are happy to find that this year people in Assam seem to have celebrated Independence Day with great enthusiasm because they wanted to and not because it was a ritual to be observed somehow. After many years, Independence Day ceased to be a government function that some non-government people also attended at some risk to themselves as the tragic Dhemaji incident keeps reminding us. This year, Independence Day was celebrated in a way as though people wanted to make up for the many years when fear had kept them from doing what they yearned to do. People celebrated their independence from nearly two centuries of slavery under British rule and a few more centuries under Mogul rule before that. Had they evinced the courage to do this a few years earlier, many more children would have grown up with more patriotism and less fear and they would have thought so much better of their parents for not lacking the guts to stand up to terrorist threats. What we would like to celebrate is the return of a trend of celebrations that should never have been neglected even under the gravest of threats.