Independence Day is annually observed on 15 August as a National holiday in India commemorating the Nation’s independence from the British Empire on 15 August 1947. India attained independence following an Independence Movement noted for largely non-violent resistance and civil disobedience led by the Indian National Congress (INC). Independence coincided with the Partition of India, in which the British Indian Empire was divided along religious lines into the Dominions of India and Pakistan; the partition was accompanied by violent riots and mass casualties, and the displacement of nearly 15 million people due to sectarian violence. On 15 August 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru, who had become the first Prime Minister of India that day, raised the Indian national flag above the Lahori Gate of the Red Fort in Delhi. On each subsequent Independence Day, the Prime Minister has raised the flag and given a speech.
The holiday is observed throughout India with flag-hoisting ceremonies, parade and cultural events. There is a national holiday, and schools and government offices distribute sweets, but no official work is done.
Partition and independence
Millions of Muslim, Sikh and Hindu refugees trekked the newly drawn borders in the months surrounding independence. In Punjab, where the borders divided the Sikh regions in halves, massive bloodshed followed; in Bengal and Bihar, where Mahatma Gandhi’s presence assuaged communal tempers, the violence was mitigated. In all, between 250,000 and 1,000,000 people on both sides of the new borders died in the violence. While the entire nation was celebrating the Independence Day, Gandhi stayed in Calcutta in an attempt to stem the carnage. On 14 August 1947, the Independence Day of Pakistan, the new Dominion of Pakistan came into being; Muhammad Ali Jinnah was sworn in as its first Governor General in Karachi.
The Constituent Assembly of India met for its fifth session at 11 pm on 14 August in the Constitution Hall in New Delhi. The session was chaired by the president Rajendra Prasad. In this session, Jawaharlal Nehru delivered the Tryst with Destiny speech proclaiming India’s independence.
“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. 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. 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.”
Tryst with Destiny speech, Jawaharlal Nehru, 15 August 1947.
The members of the Assembly formally took the pledge of being in the service of the country. A group of women, representing the women of India, formally presented the national flag to the assembly.
The Dominion of India became an independent country as official ceremonies took place in New Delhi. Nehru assumed office as the first prime minister, and the viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, continued as its first governor general. Gandhi’s name was invoked by crowds celebrating the occasion; Gandhi himself however took no part in the official events. Instead, he marked the day with a 24-hour fast, during which he spoke to a crowd in Calcutta, encouraging peace between Hindu and Muslim.
Independence Day, one of the three national holidays in India (the other two being the Republic Day on 26 January and Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday on 2 October), is observed in all Indian states and union territories. On the eve of Independence Day, the President of India delivers the “Address to the Nation”. On 15 August, the prime minister hoists the Indian flag on the ramparts of the historical site Red Fort in Delhi. Twenty-one gun shots are fired in honour of the solemn occasion. In his speech, the prime minister highlights the past year’s achievements, raises important issues and calls for further development. He pays tribute to the leaders of the Indian independence movement. The Indian national anthem, “Jana Gana Mana”, is sung. The speech is followed by march past of divisions of the Indian Armed Forces and paramilitary forces. Parades and pageants showcase scenes from the independence struggle and India’s diverse cultural traditions. Similar events take place in state capitals where the Chief Ministers of individual states unfurl the national flag, followed by parades and pageants.
Flag hoisting ceremonies and cultural programmes take place in governmental and non-governmental institutions throughout the country. Schools and colleges conduct flag hoisting ceremonies and cultural events. Major government buildings are often adorned with strings of lights. In Delhi and some other cities, kite flying adds to the occasion.National flags of different sizes are used abundantly to symbolise allegiance to the country. Citizens adorn their clothing, wristbands, cars, household accessories with replicas of the tri-colour. Over a period of time, the celebration has changed emphasis from nationalism to a broader celebration of all things India.
The Indian diaspora celebrates Independence Day around the world with parades and pageants, particularly in regions with higher concentrations of Indian immigrants. In some locations, such as New York and other US cities, 15 August has become “India Day” among the diaspora and the local populace. Pageants celebrate “India Day” either on 15 August or an adjoining weekend day.
August 9 is the 71st anniversary of the Quit India Movement, which Mahatma Gandhi called the biggest struggle of his life. On August 8, on the wings of one of the most powerful slogans of the freedom struggle — ‘Do or Die’ — Gandhiji gave the call for a mass movement demanding British withdrawal from India. ‘Leave India to God. If this is too much then leave her to anarchy,’ Gandhi had told Britain in May 1942. While hunting for a slogan for the movement demanding the British to leave India, one suggestion was ‘Get Out’. But Gandhiji thought it was impolite and rejected it.
C Rajagopalachari, whom Gandhi called as his ‘conscience keeper’, suggested ‘Retreat’ or ‘Withdraw’. That too did not make the cut. Finally, Yusuf Meheraly the Socialist and trade unionist who was imprisoned 8 times during the freedom struggle – came up with ‘Quit India’.
The Quit India Movement was India’s final nationwide campaign for independence. It was launched from Mumbai’s Gowalia Tank on the midnight of August 8-9 after a historic session of the Congress that lasted two-and-a-half days.
Gowalia Tank was later renamed August Kranti Maidan. One of the Rajdhani trains linking Mumbai to Delhi is named after the famed August Kranti.
‘There is a mantra, short one, that I give you. You imprint it on your heart and let every breath of yours give an expression to it. The mantra is “do or die”,’ Gandhiji told the people in his speech at Gowalia Tank.
It was a time when Japanese forces were threatening India’s borders and people’s frustration with the British was peaking. Gandhiji seized this opportunity and launched a movement that united the people of India against British imperialism in a last-ditch effort. The next day, on August 9, Gandhiji and other members of the Congress were arrested by the British and all public meetings were prohibited.
Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad, Jawaharlal Nehru, C Rajagopalachari, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Aruna Asaf Ali were some of the many freedom fighters involved in the movement. The arrest of Gandhiji and other leaders led to mass protests throughout India. With no national leaders left to guide the popular agitation, the movement resulted in violence and riots in several places. Strikes were called and many government buildings were set on fire.
The British ruthlessly suppressed the movement by mass detentions; more than 100,000 people were imprisoned. Thousands were killed. Most freedom fighters were kept in prison till 1945. Imprisoned in the Aga Khan Palace in Poona along with his wife Kasturba, Gandhi was only released from prison in 1944. It is here that Kasturba ‘Ba’ Gandhi died in 1944.
The palace was donated to the Indian people by the Aga Khan as a mark of respect to Gandhiji and is now a museum.
As World War II drew towards an end in 1945, Britain’s place in the world had been altered and India’s demand for Independence seemed inevitable.