Fascism in independent India

Faroagh ul Islam

mom kī tarah jalte rahe ham shahīdoñ ke tan

rāt-bhar jhilmilātī rahī sham-e-sub.h-e-vatan

Makhdoom Mohiuddin’s Chaand taaro’n ka bann is a pithy description of our historic struggle against the British Raj.

The battle of Plassey, fought in 1757, set in motion the nascent struggle for freedom and culminated into a fully organised mutiny in 1857 that shocked the colonial powers. At the time, Indian society was free and insulated from any communal grievances and the struggle for freedom took no recourse to religious, ethnic or linguistic particularisms. The only dream was to create an independent country where freedom would be the sole raison d’être of its existence and justice would be the governing principle for its populace. Makhdoom describes this hope in his moving expression:

tishnagī meñ bhī sarshār the

pyāsī āñkhoñ ke ḳhālī kaTore liye

muntazir mard o zan

The mutiny is known to cost Indians the most pugnacious vindictive wrath of the colonial masters, resulting in the death of 10 million people. Writer and historian Amaresh Mishra rightly terms this most heart-breaking episode of Indian struggle as an ‘untold Holocaust’. The crackdown was the most extreme measure taken by the roughshod Raj to quash dissent. It led to years of complete darkness and silence.

The struggle was galvanised again in the year 1860 and the freedom fighters, yet again fuelled by the passion to liberate their land, did not flinch when the fight demanded the sacrifice of their lives. Makhdoom uses the poignant metaphor of a selfless candle that keeps burning in a state of oscillation and uncertainty but never gets snuffed out. The regime was a dark night of slavery in which the freedom fighters burned themselves as a candle to eliminate the darkness. These ‘candles’ went through various vicissitudes throughout this dark ‘night’ to bring back what the poet figuratively calls subh or dawn of freedom. Makhdoom echoed Ghalib when the latter penned the following verses:

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Gham-e-hasti ka asar kisse ho juz marg-e-ilaaj

Shama har rang mein jalti hai sehar hone tak

The freedom fighters paid the price of unbearable sufferings and immolated their youth at the service of their land.

mastiyāñ ḳhatm, mad-hoshiyāñ ḳhatm thīñ, ḳhatm thā bāñkpan

 

When the dawn of freedom finally arrived, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru addressed the free nation in his famous words: “The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye that may be beyond us. But as long as there are tears and sufferings, so long our work will not be over.” Nehru’s prescient words illuminate the most manifest truth about our post-independence reality: the work is not over. While people were jubilant and excited to finally witness the fruits of their struggle that spanned generations, Nehru pointed towards the ground realities that were bespeaking serious and deep contradictions and fault lines.

By the time India gained freedom, its socio-political fabric was already begrimed with communal hatred and Hindu-Muslim dissonance. The seeds of bigotry were sown by the colonisers so deeply that they forestalled the possibility of harmony even in an independent and free India. The Raj packed its bags and departed, but India’s long and troubled experience under its tyrannical rule had polluted the landscape and DNA of Indian politics. Religion for several influential politicians became an effective tool for political ends, setting a wrong trajectory for decades to come.

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Unfortunately, after 73 years of independence and sovereignty, India still finds itself miserably failing at unlearning colonialism as its celebrated secular democracy finally fell prey to majoritarian pride. Makhdoom writes:

kuchh imāmān-e-sad-makr-o-fan

un kī sāñsoñ meñ af.ī kī phunkār thī

un ke siine meñ nafrat kā kaalā dhuāñ

ik kamīñ-gāh se

pheñk kar apnī nok-e-zabāñ

ḳhūn-e-nūr-e-sahar pī ga.e

 

India, like any other country founded on the promise of secular democracy, must take cognizance of the utmost important fact that social justice is a prerequisite for any democratic society.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, one of the fewest foresighted politicians, rightly noted that “so long as you do not achieve social liberty whatever freedom is provided by the law is of no avail to you.” India must also not forget what Nehru emphatically reminded: “freedom is not a mere matter of a political decision or new constitution … It is of the mind and heart and if mind narrows itself and befogged and the heart is full of bitterness and hatred then freedom is absent.”

Today’s BJP-led India stands as an unvarnished insult and injustice to all freedom fighters who laid down their lives.

abhī charāġh-e-sar-e-rah ko kuchh ḳhabar hī nahīñ

abhī girānī-e-shab meñ kamī nahīñ aa.ī

najāt-e-dīda-o-dil kī ghaḌī nahīñ aa.ī

chale-chalo ki vo manzil abhī nahīñ aa.ī

(Faiz Ahmad Faiz)

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Today, youth in India is mired in the deep thicket of contradictions and disenchantment as secular forces capitulate to those championing the Hindutva ideology. In the face of resounding victory of fascist politics, both Indians and Pakistanis are answerable to all freedom fighters.

 

It is now incumbent on the youth to take this onerous mission to materialize the dreams of their forefathers. Khushwant Singh, in his book The end of India, writes, “Fascism has well and truly crossed our threshold and dug its heeling in our courtyard and we have only ourselves to blame for this. We let the fanatics get away with every step they took without raising a howl of protest… to them we are pseudo-secularists. We failed to hit back because we were not a united force and did not realize the parrels of a lion our country to fall into their hands. Now we are paying the price.” Admittedly, It is already late but yet not too late.

Sab utho main bhi uthoon, tum bhi utho, tum bhi utho

Koi khidki isi deewar mein khul jaayegi

(Kaifi Azmi)

Makhdoom asks us to continue our struggle:

raat kī talchhateñ haiñ añdherā bhī hai

sub.h kā kuchh ujālā bhī hai

hamdamo!

haath meñ haath do

sū-e-manzil chalo

manzileñ pyaar kī

manzileñ daar kī

kū-e-dildār kī manzileñ

dosh par apnī apnī salībeñ uThā.e chalo.

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