Hamza Wyne

Re-Defining Azaadi

Hamza Wyne

Decked out in the streets with hues of green and white are the frolicking people of Pakistan celebrating the day of independence when the new territory of Pakistan was chalked out on the world map. Traditionally, the day dawns with a roar of 31 gun salutes followed by official ceremonies of commemorations held across the country, mega speakers harmonising national anthem and patriotic art exhibitions springing up and ending with the promises made for the flourishing future of the country. But, what this demonstration of festive remembrance fails to take into account is that these pretences of national solidarity are mere facades that veil the dark reality. That the afore-mentioned pretensions, which are so characteristic of the freedom day, are just the manifestation of a militaristic and security state not a welfare state — where the state ensures the social, economic and political  security for its people. By contemplating on what Aazaadi(freedom)  means for a humongous fraction of the society—including minorities, women, underprivileged ethnicities, and dissenting voices—one painfully asks the question: Are we really free?

An appropriate example would be the difference between the status of women before and after independence. In her book, Self and Sovereignty, Ayesha Jalal elucidates that, before independence Muslim women were considered ornament to be kept within the four walls of the house divesting them of their right to modern education. Even during the partition, it was the women who had borne the brunt of the carnage, in which Muslim, Hindu and Sikh men fell upon them with staggering brutality and aversion. Jalal further explains that stumbling fearfully across the newly demarcated frontiers of Pakistan and India, hundreds of thousands of hapless women who had yet to make an entry into the nationalist discourse were given their first taste of citizenship rights in the form of gang rapes, physical mutilation, abduction and death. Today, in Pakistan, a rampant wave of femicide is unfolding with spiking gender-based violence, moreover, the country ranks as the sixth-worst country for women, second-last in terms of gender disparity only followed by Afghanistan, thus painting a dismal picture of stagnant progress in terms of the position of women since independence.

On the front of dealing with minority members, the situation is not much different . While we rightfully denounce the rough treatment that Muslim minorities in many other parts of the world are subjected to, we turn a blind eye to the abuse taking place under our watch or go into denial mode about our miserable track record. Minorities in Pakistan live under a cloud of fear and unpredictability. They are often discriminated against because of their religion and are associated with every absurd conspiracy theory. Blasphemy accusations against them abound and in many instances, their worship places are desecrated. Recently, an eight-year-old Hindu boy was indicted for blasphemy after he urinated in the seminary hall, making him the youngest person charged with blasphemy in Pakistan. Following his bail by the court, a charged mob ransacked a Hindu temple, showing their rage at the verdict.

A deep dive into the past gives a clear outlook on the values of the newly-made state of Pakistan and how far we have perverted. When the objective resolution was introduced in the first constituent assembly many minority members resisted and considered it an onslaught on basic human rights on account of its religious contours. In March 1949, many eloquent speeches were given by minority leaders, one of which was given by Bhupendra Kumar Datta, in which he said, “ Politics, as I have said, Sir belongs to the domain of reason. But as you intermingle it with religion, as this Preamble to this nobly conceived Resolution does, you pass into the other sphere of faith. Political institutions-particularly modern democratic institutions- as we all know, Sir, grow and progress by criticism from broader to still broader basis. As long as you remain strictly within the region or politics, criticism may be free and frank, even severe and bitter’’ Unlike, 72 years after his speech, those were the times when criticism was perceived as the essence of democracy while religion and politics belonged to two different spheres of the society.

The raucous celebration does not exhibit that we have broken the shackles. We need to be defining Azaadi through the prism of the above-mentioned segments of the society, who fight for their freedom every single day, as real national solidarity of our country lies in inclusivity, security and diversity. Therefore, as a symbol of true democracy, the independence day should be spared for musing as to those particular actions, which reveals where we stand as a society relative to the true ideals on which this country was founded upon.

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