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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 August 2007, 08:01 GMT 09:01 UK
Cheering the spirit of India
By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

Indian child with India flag
Many children attended the celebration

"India became free in 1947, but Indians are still not free," fumes Durga Prasad, a printing press worker from a suburb of the Indian capital, Delhi.

On Wednesday morning, he set out for the Red Fort at 3am with a group of friends to take part in the Independence Day celebrations.

Several kilometres from the historic monument, the venue of the Prime Minister's speech, their auto-rickshaw was halted. The friends decided to walk the rest of the distance.

"We were so excited, it's our 60th anniversary. But all roads leading to the Red Fort were closed. We couldn't watch the celebrations from anywhere," said Prasad's friend and colleague Sanjay Gupta.

Gupta and Prasad were not alone in their disappointment.

'Very excited'

Hundreds of people who had tried to reach the venue of the celebrations were turned away by gun-toting soldiers and policemen.

Some went to the Sheeshganj Gurudwara, a neighbourhood Sikh shrine, some just walked around in the nearby lanes and bylanes.

Meanwhile, a colourful ceremony was held on the grounds of the 17-century fort, witnessed by a small group of invited guests, comprising government officials, a few thousand schoolchildren, thousands of security officials and the media.

Nine-year-old Vipashayana Tanwar is among the lucky few invited to watch the celebrations.

Vipashayana (Pic: Geeta Pandey)
The British took away our gold and minerals and everything else
Vipashayana Tanwar

Her cheeks painted in the colours of the Indian flag, she says she is "very excited" that she will be able to see and hear the Prime Minister.

A student of fourth standard, she is yet to learn about the independence movement, but she does have some ideas of her own.

"I know we are celebrating 60 years of our independence. We are free from the British now. The British came here and told the Indians - you cannot manage your country," she says.

"Then, they took away all our gold and minerals and everything else," she adds.

As huge speakers blare patriotic songs, the guard of honour gets ready to greet the prime minister, while some 3,500 school children - dressed in orange, white, and green colours of the Indian flag - wait patiently for the VIP guest to arrive.

'Maximum peace'

This is the first time Anam Parveen, 13, is witnessing the Independence day celebrations and an early start has not dulled her enthusiasm.

"[India's first prime minister Jawaharlal] Nehru and [Mahatma] Gandhi fought for our independence. So independence means a lot to me," she says.

"I want to be a teacher when I grow up. Now I can be whatever I want to. If we weren't free, then I don't think I would have been able to become a teacher. I would have had to do whatever the British rulers would have told me to do," she adds.

As the Prime Minister's convoy arrives, a cheer goes up through the schoolchildren's enclosure. Hundreds of orange, white and green caps are hurled in the air.

Manmohan Singh at Red For on August 15 2007
Mr Singh gave a speech from the historic Red Fort

The Prime Minister inspects the guard of honour, unfurls the flag, showering rose petals on the dais.

Disturbed by the sound of the celebratory canon fire, thousands of pigeons take to the skies.

In his 40-minute-long speech, the prime minister lists the achievements of his government, announces new schemes for the uplift of the poor and the neglected, and promises inclusive growth for all.

The children, prompted by their teachers, clap at regular intervals. Some 900 boy cadets proudly show off gifts from the authorities - raincoats and watches.

Once the Prime Minister's convoy leaves the Red Fort, the security relaxes, and those who had been turned away come running to the Fort, hoping to catch a glimpse of the departing guests.

Some express their annoyance and disappointment at not being allowed to watch the show, others are more understanding.

"Because of the threat of terrorism, the security forces did not allow us to go in," says Ram Sumer Singh, a railway ticket checker.

But, he is not complaining.

"We have the maximum peace in the world. That is why foreigners come here with a two-month visa, but then they stay on for two years. That is what India has become in the last 60 years. And I'm proud of India," he says.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's speech



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