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Freedom regardless of Electricity: Independence Day at Milaan School

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Milaan staff and Milaan School teachers hoist the flag.

The following is an opinion piece written by Akshay Shetty of the Milaan School Leadership Team. As part of the Leadership Team, Akshay lives and works at the Milaan School in the village of Kantain, UP. Coming to Milaan from Mumbai, Akshay was an important part of the Independence Day celebrations at the school this year.

15th August has always been a special day. The flag hoisting at school, the inspiring speeches, the patriotic songs, the sweets that followed – there was euphoria all around. Over the years, the childhood idealism wore off and disillusionment set in. Is independence a luxury only for those who can afford it? For those who can wave those tiny tricolours from their door entrances and car dashboards.

These questions never seemed more pertinent to me than last week when we celebrated Independence Day at the Milaan School. Like every year, there was excitement in the air. At 7.30 am, the kids started trickling in. All happy faces.  Most were happy because they were told today something important had happened years ago.

The tricolour was duly hoisted which was followed by a rousing recital of Jana Gana Mana by all the students. The older students sang ‘Mera Rang De Basanti Chola’ while the young ones went all ‘Nanna Munna Raahi Hoon’. ‘Suno Gaur Se Duniya Waalon’ and ‘Baadal Pe Paav Hai’ got everyone grooving.

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Students sing, put on a play, and read poems at the event.

One of the Milaan Program Managers, Mrs. Veena Rana gave a wonderful speech, where she stressed on upholding the values of equality and liberty enshrined in the Constitution. Until we get rid of the barriers of caste, religion and gender, we will never truly gain independence, she argued.

As Veena ji was speaking, the reality struck home. We had been living without electricity for the past three days and at its’ best, the village gets power for eight hours every day. Our students have to spend excruciating hours in the school without fans and lights. Most villagers here continue to live in abysmal poverty and struggle to make ends meet. Giving their kids a quality education is a luxury that is way beyond their means.

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Veena Ji speaks on what ‘Independence’ means.

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Akshay pays respect to champions of freedom.

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The Milaan School students rally for the celebration.

Does independence just mean freedom from a foreign power? If it was just that, then it is a grave injustice to the brave women and men who fought with their lives for it. Independence is the freedom to voice your opinions fearlessly, the freedom to challenge authority and the freedom to make your own choices, no matter how constrained they are. It is the freedom for a woman to walk in a lonely street at night, freedom for a Dalit to drink water from the village’s well, freedom for a poor farmer to contest elections, freedom for a girl to get an education.

We definitely have a long way to go before we fulfill our ‘tryst with destiny’ then. One of our greatest writers, Mahasweta Devi said that the right to dream should be a fundamental right. I think it’ll be great to start with that. Until then, Inquilab Zindabad!

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