Today is Independence Day in India; I celebrated by driving through relatively traffic free streets in Kolkata, but not before I had to pass through enhanced security measures at the airport. The country was on alert because there were fears of terror attacks and hijack attempts to mark the 65th anniversary of Indian independence.All over the world people celebrate the day when the British finally left or were told in unmistakable tones that the time for departure had come; only Christmas and the Eids may be more widely celebrated around the world than the British Begone festivals so many of us enjoy. But Independence Day in India isn’t quite the simple and happy event it is in the United States.As a friend told me this morning when I wished him happy Independence Day in Chennai, “You have to understand, for many of us it is more a solemn occasion and a day of remembrance than a day for celebration.”For both India and Pakistan, the day of independence also marked great national tragedies. As Hindus and Muslims fled or were chased from one country to the other, anywhere between 100,000 and 1,000,000 people were killed and somewhere between 10 million and 12 million became refugees.The Great British Scuttle of 1947-48, when the British abandoned some of the more difficult and expensive items in the imperial portfolio, left the world two of its most intractable problems: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the India-Pakistan one. Bad British policy and overhasty bug-outs weren’t the only factors responsible for the mess. Those problems would likely have been intractable in any case. But overall, the way the British left and the speed with which they left — and above all, their failure to work out either on their own or with the UN some kind of security umbrella for the peoples they were turning loose — contributed significantly to the six decades of suffering and bitterness that followed.For both India and Pakistan, then, Independence Day is bittersweet. Freedom came, but it brought suffering, death and a lasting enmity in its wake. These days, as Muslims were killed in a riot in Mumbai protesting other religious violence in Assam, and as dazed Hindu refugees are stumbling across the border from Pakistan where, they say, they are under continual persecution and pressure to convert, the problems within and between the two countries look as insoluble as ever.Those shadows are real, but so is the miracle of India. As I’ve been saying to some of the student groups I’ve spoken with during the last ten days in this country, India and the United States share one great blessing that marks us off from most of the world: both societies have a national identity that isn’t linked to a particular ethnicity or religion. In India’s case, they go the US one better: Indians don’t even have to speak the same language to feel like part of the same country.In so much of Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa, wars of nationality and ethnicity have killed and continue to kill millions of people. Much of the world today doesn’t really believe in the separation of ethnicity and state — any more than people in 16th century Europe could accept the idea that Catholics and Protestants could freely practice their religions in the same country.The idea of India — a country that contains more ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity than the continent of Europe, but whose citizens feel a common loyalty to their national home — is a precious one in our world today. I am happy to salute a great country on Independence Day, and am grateful to all who have made me so welcome here.