Independent India completes 63 years today. This is nothing given the fact that most nation states are over 100 years old. Yet, India seems to have reached premature senility as it suffers already from amnesia — or it has not reached the maturity associated with adulthood. There are good reasons for this harsh judgment. Take three instances from very recent history. The prime minister’s office, the home ministry and the National Archives of India have all admitted that they have no records pertaining to the Emergency that lasted for 18 months beginning June 26, 1975. This was in response to an application made under the Right to Information Act. A few months earlier, it was revealed that records pertaining to the 1971 war with Pakistan and the liberation of Bangladesh were destroyed by the Indian army. There was also the case of the defence minister’s refusal to release to the public the Henderson Brooks report relating to the Sino-Indian war of 1962. All these examples show that the Indian establishment, civil and military, is incapable of facing up to its own history. The government of India disregards history and its preservation by not complying with the 30 years rule, which recognizes that official records should be in public archives after the passing of three decades. This attitude can be linked to the deviousness seen in certain adults, but it cannot be seen as a manifestation of maturity. Rather, these are all symptoms of a planned and self-inflicted amnesia.
Of the three examples given above, one is a case of suppression of evidence and the other two of barefaced destruction of documents. The aim in all three instances is to obstruct the writing of history of the three episodes. In other words, the government of India does not want people to know what actually happened during the 1962 war, the 1971 war and the Emergency. The latter, in the process of undermining the democratic structure of the Indian polity, must have produced tons of documents. It now appears that these records were subsequently destroyed. The motives for this removal of historical documents can only be guessed at — to protect individuals who had perpetrated the Emergency or had been complicit with some of the horrors that those 18 months had witnessed.
It would be simpleminded to believe that these acts of suppression and destruction of evidence affect historians alone. On the contrary, they speak to the whole of society about the fragility of democracy in India. The availability of information and its free exchange is at the heart of the democratic process. On Independence Day, when freedom and democracy will be celebrated, the question should be asked: does India truly value these virtues? Or do Indian politicians pay lip service to them as they work to protect their own interests even at the cost of destroying and distorting history?