The period just after Independence saw the continuation of earlier debates on defining India as a secular, democratic nation with a national identity that included all Indians. We were no longer colonial subjects but were free citizens, and could claim the rights invested in citizenship and in accordance with our constitution.

Our national identity as Indians, included all who lived in India – irrespective of religion, language, caste or ethnicity – and rightfully claimed equal status. Establishing a secular, democratic nation was our aspiration. We faced many problems but we persisted, even though the persistence had glitches.

This may in part explain why today, 75 years later, these rights of citizenship and the concept of identity have yet to be established. Some Indians in authority, seem averse to India being a secular democracy.

Therefore, poverty and unemployment prevail, nationalism is being replaced by religious majoritarianism, freedom of expression is increasingly disallowed, the rights of citizenship have faded, and the security implicit in being a citizen is denied. How do we fulfill the aspirations of the national movement for Independence? That is the question we should be asking.

Romila Thapar has specialised in the study of early Indian history and historiography. She is a Professor Emerita at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Read all the contributions to the PEN project here.