Little-Known Celebrations of Democracy
Being born in late January and of Indian descent, I was excited when I was old enough to realize that my birthday week also contains an Indian holiday. This year, as Republic Day, January 26, came and went, I got to thinking about the other holidays that are important in other countries. Many countries have had to overthrow oppressive regimes just like the United States. And, just like the United States, many democratic nations have had to fight to earn the right for democracy, and India is no different.
Sure, we all know about the Fourth of July, our American Independence Day, but not many of us think about the independence days that other countries may celebrate. And no, Cinco De Mayo doesn’t count, because it isn’t Mexican Independence Day, as is commonly — and inaccurately — claimed. In the case of India, the country actually has a couple of different holidays that commemorate different kinds and stages of independence that the country achieved.
Republic Day in India first came about on January 26, 1950. It marks the day that the constitution of India took effect. It replaced the Government of India Act from 1935 as the governing document of the country. This is when India became a newly formed republic, hence the name of the holiday. It marks the transition the country took from being a commonwealth realm, though autonomous, under the British monarchy (the nominal head of the Indian dominion at that time) to its own fully sovereign commonwealth republic, with the president of India replacing the British monarchy as the nominal head of the Indian union.
The constitution of India was actually adopted by the Indian Constituent Assembly earlier on November 26, 1949, but it didn't take effect until two months later on January 26, 1950. Adopting a democratic government system completed India’s transition toward becoming its own independent republic.
"It’s likely you could have walked by one such celebration, wondering what event was being honored. Now, maybe you’ll stop to take in the festivities, or even join in yourself."
January 26 is also significant because in 1929, the Declaration of Indian Independence, Purna Swaraj, was proclaimed by the Indian National Congress. This was in place of the realm status as a dominion that was instated by the British regime as it departed the shores.
The Indian independence movement triumphed years before Republic Day was first celebrated, on August 15, 1947. This was when the country achieved independence from the British Raj, which brings us to another Indian celebration of independence and democracy, India Independence Day, commemorated on August 15. Where Republic Day celebrates India adopting its own constitution and becoming a republic, India Independence Day celebrates the country’s freedom from British rule.
While you may not have heard of these holidays, you may have witnessed their celebrations. Of course, both holidays are met with fanfare in India. Outside of India, the Indian diaspora celebrates them with pomp and circumstance as well. I know I’ve excitedly watched from a New York City street on a balmy August day as the India Independence Day parade has made its way past with floats and music. I’ve followed it to its end, which typically culminates with a stage show and speeches.
It’s likely you could have walked by one such celebration, wondering what event was being honored. Now, maybe you’ll stop to take in the festivities, or even join in yourself. After all, if there’s anything Americans love, it’s a celebration of democracy and independence. It just goes to show, when it comes down to it, even if we are from different countries, we are probably more similar than we think.