California – On July 2, 1776, the thirteen colonies in America legally separated from Great Britain (though the Congress approved the Declaration of Independence two days later on July 4). Writing to his wife on July 3, John Adams predicted, “The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.” “It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance,” he continued, “by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade….from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
It took 171 more years before another British colony, the crown jewel of the British Empire awakened to its freedom. At midnight on August 14-15 in 1947, as India became sovereign, the moment was indelibly marked in the annals of history when, in a solemn voice, Jawaharlal Nehru, a leader as illustrious as America’s John Adams and Thomas Jefferson said, “Long years ago, “we made a tryst with destiny and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge….At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.”
Capturing the moment’s historic significance, Nehru noted, “A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new — when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.” Recognizing the burden and challenge of freedom, he took pains to remind us that “Freedom and power bring responsibility.” And further, “It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India, and her people, and to the still larger cause of humanity.”
Freedom in any context does not come free. Like everything else – material or spiritual – you have to work for it, first to get it and then to retain it. Like citizenship, it comes with rights and duties. If you are free to speak your mind and the Constitution guarantees you that right, you can hardly justify denying others that same right. It follows that responsibility to sustain a republic is shared. It is at once individual and collective.
If I respect and follow ethical campaigning and voting behavior and you do not, then the election’s integrity erodes and over time, rigged voting and counting make a mockery of democracy. Campaigning laws are as much a lifeline of a democratic people as are respect for rule of law and disciplined public conduct. We abide by publicly enacted laws and regulations and do the time and the penance when we fail to do so or choose to deviate.
But freedom’s demands are more taxing than those of citizenship. Freedom is less quantifiable yet all powerful in how it conveys itself to a people. Operating purely on an emotional plane, it still manages to inspire us to go beyond our entity as a person to connect with a larger entity which is a nation. When you see the flag being hoisted whether on the ramparts of the grand Red Fort in New Delhi or in a humble school compound in rural India, it cannot but cause your insides to soar.
In America or India, when you stand up to salute the flag or sing the national anthem, it is a transcendental experience both for you individually and for the group collectively. For the same reason, when you allow your rage to subvert the emotional tug of those moments, and elevate yourself above all that, you are on the path of self-destruction. Today on the play fields of America, we see players taking the knee, and feckless politicians doing the same in the august halls of Congress and Mayoral offices, one has to wonder what exactly do they feel deep inside them, and how long the personal war they waged within themselves to overcome the innate reflex to respect the flag and the country by being upright.
Human psyche seeks union and communion, not isolation. As a rule, it feels love more than it senses hate, and prefers pain bearing to pain inflicting. True, human history is filled with examples of degenerate people and leaders who twist their own and the group’s psyche to magnify their own power and pelf at the cost of others. When schisms occur between the oppressed and the oppressors, between black and white, brown and yellow, those fissures thrive on poisoning minds and behavior. That is how they risk making both freedom and nation disposable.
In July and August this year and perhaps also in subsequent years, as our two nations celebrate their independence, they appear to face a common lethal challenge of hostility towards not only the revered symbols of nationhood but the very concept of national entity. Nations globally, like humans, leave behind a mixed legacy total cancellation of which is very near impossible. It can only be done at the risk of making a country incapable of retaining freedom with dignity, and rule of law with equality of justice and respect for all.
In the prevailing chaotic climate in America, where violent protest, armed conflict along with wanton destruction of private property and national heritage are being favored by a restless unhinged group of disaffected, and where perceived electoral gains are conditioning elected officials and bureaucracy’s response to snuff out those tactics, one has to be concerned over our own and the nation’s existence. What we cannot allow to be forgotten is the foundational value of mutual respect, non-violence, and equal treatment of all, which requires us to reject retaliation through reverse discrimination of any kind.
In all fairness, we must also concede that if there is no hesitation in accepting that whites primarily have been the oppressors and blacks the oppressed, there should be no hesitation let alone fear in stating that all lives and races matter, not black lives and race alone.