17th August 1997

Are we still celebrating dependence?

By Rajpal Abeynayake

But what are independence day celebrations, other than an acknowledgment that we were dependent? Need we be reminded constantly that we were a conquered nation, that we now keep time from the time we were emancipated?

For Sri Lanka’s next independence celebrations, the guest of honour will apparently be Prince Charles. We are still not quite independent of the likes of Charles.

Why? Well, because we want him as our guest of honour so that we can hark back to the days when the likes of Charles’ father ruled us.

The Indian independence celebrations have now gripped the attention of the world media, but, is independence necessarily the landmark that counts in measuring India’s progress?

There is no harm in celebrating anything, it can be said. True, but why do we have to be so nostalgic about a day we ostensibly said “good riddance?”

People don’t celebrate divorce anniversaries.

The previous Bandaranaike government got rid of the independence holiday, and ushered in a new holiday which was meant to commemorate the day the current republic was created. Subsequently, the UNP reverted back to independence day, and the current administration had not much of a choice but to retain †he holiday, unless they wanted to look ridiculous.

But what’s wrong with the independence day as historical yardstick is that it is a throwback to a transparent kind of neocolonialism, where smug observers from the former colonial power can make an assessment of how much the “colony has progressed since we removed their shackles.”

The hoopla that is being made about Indian independence gives the British the chance to say, “okay, once we were in charge.”

Well, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, and that particular matter is now all but irrelevant.

India’s present upheavals and concerns have little to do with events that took place during the British Raj. So, why wax eloquent about the India that we know since India was emancipated from British rule, because we know that Indian history was a continuum that spanned the time of the Buddha and before, the British and the present.

If the mask makes the man, the facade must make the nation. The most passionate national celebration of our time is Independence Day. It figures that we may have shaken off British rule, but have we shaken off independence day celebrations?

What have we shaken off? Of course we have shaken off the British yoke, but we haven’t shaken off the British from our subconscious. We still measure time since we got divorced from the British.

What’s this, a lover we can never get over? Isn’t it a nod to servility that we choose to remember a day that has anything to do with the fact that once upon a time we were conquered .

Of course one can understand the British or neo-colonialists wanting to do it, because they probably have very good reason to be nostalgic. But do we have to condone that nostalgia, or do we have every reason to reject that sentiment, instead of making it part of our own celebration?

Or are we still celebrating dependence. I’m not saying we should suffer from an inferiority complex about once being conquered.

But, isn’t it possible to say, look, we were not as aggressive as the British, so we were subject , but we have now shaken off the British, all their trappings and any vestiges. And then be over with.

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