DELHI (BP)–After more than 200 years of British rule, India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, hoisted the Indian flag at midnight Aug. 15, 1947. The struggle for independence, which had lasted nearly 30 years, was over.
“People fought for freedom; they fought for what we are enjoying today,” Pooja, a high-caste Hindu, said.
Aug. 15, 2007, marks 60 years of India’s independence. Every year, Indians celebrate “Swatantrata Divas,” or Independence Day, for the world’s largest democracy.
“We celebrate our freedom from the British; we celebrate the fathers of our nation -– Gandhi, Nehru,” said Newesterland, a north Indian.
“We are like a free bird,” he said. “We can go anywhere, travel to other states, communicate with different kinds of people.”
In a country where fewer than 3 percent of the people are Christians, most Indians do not grasp how the freedom they celebrate is fulfilled only through the blood of Christ Jesus, said Darryl Pogue*, an international Christian serving in India.
“The word ‘freedom’ draws emotion from most humans,” Pogue said. “In Christ, we have a lasting freedom from sin, evil, disease, pain and death.”
To Indians without Christ, freedom has a different meaning.
It means “I can do what I feel like,” Pooja said. “No one is ruling over our lives. We can be happy with our lives.”
Indians celebrate their independence by hoisting flags, in honor of the first time Nehru raised the flag in Delhi, and by distributing candy.
“We give sweets to everybody to bring happiness,” Newesterland said, expressing a common perception of the meaning of freedom.
“Freedom means happiness,” Srinivas, a clothing store employee, affirmed.
“Most people wear white. Everything is white -– white shoes, white socks, white saris, white blouses,” said Muida*, a Muslim woman from southern India. “White symbolizes happiness and cleanness, or purity. It means our country is clean. We distribute sweets and greet each other. In my neighborhood, there is a main circle where everyone gathers in the morning to fly the flag. Then friends invite each other to their houses.”
From a Christian perspective, Charles Braddix*, another international Christian serving in India, noted that “Christ changes individuals but wants to recreate communities as well.”
Beyond their localities, Indians of all backgrounds are proud of their freedom.
“It doesn’t matter, Muslim, Christian or Hindu. You don’t have to be only Hindu to be free,” Muida said. “Muslims have freedom to build their mosques. Christians have the freedom to pray.”
Braddix said, “It’s hard to look at this [attitude] without being negative, because they are slaves to their past that precedes the British Raj [government] by millennia. Christ came to free us all from that, because without Him, [the Book of] Romans says, we are all depraved.”
Pogue added, “There is not much comparison between earthly freedom and eternal freedom in Christ. With earthly freedom we can only obtain glimpses of eternal freedom.”
Along with the festivities commemorating their independence, Indians acknowledge the dual duty of remembering the struggle of those who fought for their freedom as well as the hope and responsibility for progressing into the future.
“We look forward to the coming year and the development of our country,” said Muzammil, a college student. “As we are free, we can do anything. We can act independently.”
Yet, as Indians look ahead to what their country can accomplish in the coming years, the fragile nature of earthly freedom is never too far from their minds.
“We also think it means we need to be careful that no one comes to take [our freedom] away,” Muida said.
Independence Day traditions especially honor India’s freedom fighters, who are icons to patriotic Indians in representing how valuable their freedom is and how costly it was to attain. As Newesterland put it, Independence Day involves “remembering great leaders and their struggle for freedom. We remember those who have given their lives for freedom.”
Unfortunately, most Indians have never heard about Jesus, whom Braddix described as the ultimate freedom fighter who gave His life so that all people could find true freedom through Him.
They idolize Gandhi, whom they recognize for his contribution to India’s independence as well as dozens of others who made sacrifices for the good of their country, Braddix noted. However, the ultimate sacrifice is unknown to them. Without any knowledge of their need for spiritual freedom through Christ, they must settle for the limited freedoms they know, rather than a freedom that can never be taken away.
It is the job of believers in India to be “salt and light,” Braddix said, “to show that there is more.”
*Name changed for security purposes. Kari Wynn is a Baptist writer based in southern Asia.