India’s independence from British Raj and my family’s freedom from illiteracy began on same day

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By Zile Singh                                                                  

            More than a year-long campaign for celebration of ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ by the government of India and her Missions Abroad concluded on August 15, 2022. It started on March 12, 2021, as a 75-week countdown to India’s 75th anniversary of Independence. On March 12, 1930, Mahatma Gandhi started Salt Satyagraha famously known as Dandi March.

The Consulate General of India, Vancouver (Canada) also organised several events befitting the occasion throughout the year.   I have been a part of some of these memorable moments.  To Celebrate Constitution Day on November 26, 2021, jointly by the Indian Consulate and the Chetna Association of Canada is noteworthy. 

I was honoured with Dr. Ambedkar’s Lifetime Achievement Award for inspiring marginalized communities, being a role model and advancing values of equality by receiving higher education and entering public service. The reason my story is connected to India’s Independence Day is because I was born the same day India got independence.  Though, as per school records my date of birth is June 14, 1949.  

Mine was a poor sharecropper’s family in a small village, Pinana, district Sonipat in Haryana, a State carved out from Punjab after its division into Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.  Prior to me, nobody in my family had seen the door of a classroom. So much so that I reached the gate of the school on the first Sunday after my admission.  I found the gate closed.

No one knew in the family that school remains closed on Sundays. I came back home after a passerby told me.  Despite my frail physique and weak eyesight ( -5 in both eyes from early childhood), I was good at studies. Once or twice, there were bouts of dizziness in the classroom, perhaps due to malnutrition. 

I joined government service as a Clerk in December 1967 after passing the Matriculation Examination from Punjab University, Chandigarh with flying colours (695/900).  A rare result in 1965. While in service, I earned through distance learning, a Bachelor of Arts degree (English, Ancient Indian History and Political Science), an Advanced Diploma in Spanish and a Post Graduate Diploma in Human Rights.

I also passed four Departmental Exams at different stages for quick promotions.  In addition to my hard work, my seniors, colleagues and juniors also extended their guidance and helping hands whenever needed.  My Ambassador in the Philippines wrote about me, “You stood with me like a rock.  I was proud to have an officer like you.”   Another, in a warlike situation in Herat (Afghanistan) wrote, “I have not seen such a fair and fearless officer.” 

 In public dealings, the High Commissioner in Ottawa wrote, “In the Consular Section, as usual we hear complaints from the public.  On the contrary, there are people who have showered praise on Mr. Singh’s work.”   It will not be out of place to mention that in 1974, my Ambassador in Vientiane (Laos) who was of Indian Foreign Service Batch of 1949 said to me, “Mr. Singh, you will retire as an Ambassador.”  Thank God, this was prophetic. 

            I have an eventful life to look back on.  From a Clerk to an Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the government of India is the result of the affirmative action, a by-product of Indian Independence. After serving in the Indian Foreign Service (Year of Allotment -1984) in nine countries and at the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi in different capacities, I retired in June 2009.

 I served in Laos, Nepal, United Kingdom, Panama, Finland, Philippines, Afghanistan, Canada and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea).  Since June 2014, I have been settled in Vancouver (Canada). I spend my time reading, writing, meeting people and playing golf. I am a Vipassana meditator, married for 53 years, having a son in Vancouver, a daughter in Singapore and another in London.   Diversity, the strength of India, taught me to be an advocate of multicultural, multi-religious and multi-racial values.  

            During the year of celebrations, I have written some short, secular, inspirational, self-help sort and apolitical essays spreading over 150 pages as my dedication to “The 75th Anniversary of India’s  Independence, also coined in Hindi as “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav.” These Essays, in the form of a book, will come into print in the next few months.  

Independence and Freedom are synonyms.  Independence is the most desired instinct of any living being.  Even air and water do not want their free flow to be restricted in any manner.  Man needs freedom the most. Because ‘Freedom is the oxygen of the soul’. – Moshe Dayan. Independence in hell is better than slavery in heaven.