This is a special day for all of us. This is a special day for my family. This morning, at the
midnight hour, our country completed fifty years of freedom. We, along with our 968 million
fellow Indians woke to our Golden Jubilee of Independence. This morning my family celebrates
fifty years of citizenship in free India. This morning my family also celebrates 26 years of the life
of my brother Stefan.|
Fifty years ago, a generation of Indians saw the fruits of their long struggle crowned with the joy of self-rule. Many of these men and women gave up hopes of education, jobs and advancements for the cause of independence.
Perhaps no one symbol captures the nature of the long and grinding struggle for Independence as much as the chakhra, the humble spinning wheel, that Gandhiji urged people to use in order to bring about self-reliance. I have one of these spinning wheels myself. It was handed down to me by my grandfather and reminds me of the sacrifices that a generation of Indians made so that we can enjoy freedom.
Today my generation of Indians asks, "Where have all our heroes gone?" Permit me to say that despite the many challenges we face, the many systems that seem to fail us, the many injustices that still thrive in our land, I believe that there are still men and women among us who are worthy to be called heroes.
From the perspective of one graduated from this place, in these ten short years I have had the joy of meeting some of these men and women.
I speak not of heroes who are judged by the size of their entourages, or by the wealth of their bank accounts, or by the level of VIP security that they enjoy. I speak of people who, to use the words of a man deeply inspired by Gandhiji, are to be "judged by the content of their character."
I salute heroes like Ganga Devi, woman, mother, farmer, widow. Living in a small Hima- layan hamlet in the Kumoan, she encouraged a group of fellow women to take matters into their own hands and protect an area of oak forest which had been degraded.
I salute heroes like Viju Abraham, my pastor from Bombay, a shepherd of souls and a man of compassion, who spurned the chance to have fame and riches, choosing instead to take the backseat and encourage others in a network of compassionate, contextual ministries in Bombay that reach out to people whom society has rejected.
I salute Jitender Singh, farmer, adivasi, social activist from the Palamu district in Bihar, a man who sacrificed a large part of his adult life, as well as his health, to fight against a dam which would have flooded his and other local villages. The verdict is still out on the dam construction, but I hope that he and his fellow villagers' efforts will be crowned with success.
I salute Rodi Lalhimgmawii, a 21 year old woman from Manipur who is HIV positive. Rodi, after dealing with her dependency on injecting drugs, has courageously come to grips with her situation, and now is able to share her story with others. Rodi works with a community health program, counselling and giving clean syringes to her friends who are still putting themselves at risk of getting HIV by injecting drugs and selling sex.
I salute the many thousands of others such as these, my heroes, my friends. Men and women, whose content of character is far superior to any outward sign of success.
I would like to leave you with the words of the prophet Micah, peace be on him, as written in my holy scripture, the Bible:
On the proud and happy occasion of our 50th anniversary of Independence, this is my hope, this is my prayer for my fellow countrymen and women, and to our friends from all countries. Jai Hind!