Independent and Free

Congratulations to the people of Pakistan and India on the occasion of their Independence-day celebrations; August 14 for Pakistan and August 15 for India.  It was in August 1947 that a truncated India attained freedom, after some 200 years of British rule. 

The partition of India and Pakistan resulted in the death of nearly two million people and another fourteen million or more were uprooted from their native lands.  Disappointed, famous philosopher-poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz penned his legendary nazm (verse) “Subh-e-Azadi” (Dawn of Freedom) in August 1947 that reflects his pain at the turn of events.  I reproduce an excerpt below with my feeble attempt at translation:

Ye daagh daagh ujala, ye shab-gazeeda seherThis stained, pitted first-light, a morning injured/oppressed by the night
Wo intezaar tha jiska ye wo seher tau nahiThis is not the dawn that we had long awaited
Ye wo seher tau nahin, jis ki arzoo le karThis is not the dawn, yearning for which
Chaley thay yaar ke mil jaayegi kahiin na kahiinwe had set out friends, believing that somewhere we would find
Falak ke dasht mein taaron ki aakhri manzil …in heaven’s wide void, the stars’ final resting place …
… Abhi giraani-e shab mein kamii nahin aaii… (the) night’s heaviness has not yet lessened

Nijaat deedaa-o-dil ki ghadi nahin aai

(that) hour of deliverance for the heart and soul has not yet arrived
Chaley chalo ke wo manzil abhi nahin aailet us go on (for) that goal has not yet been attained

A friend called me on August 15.  We talked about “Independence” and “Freedom” and the relevance of these expressions today, agreeing that it has become increasingly difficult to speak “freely” and communicate “honestly” with most people.  Not just social media platforms, but even the more “professional” channels like LinkedIn are now flooded with invectives and intemperate language, denigrating posts that one might not like or disagree with.  It is ironic that while we staunchly defend the right and freedom to express our own opinion, a dissenting view is not tolerated and treated as “antinational”, “unpatriotic” or even “secessionist”. 

There is an expression (misattributed to Voltaire) that “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it!” Surely, a civil society can only function if we allow the free expression of opinions, including the right to question, challenge and dissent.

However, there is another dimension to the Freedom of Expression.  In the midst of the recent BLM protests, I came across a post by a young Black lady on a social media platform inviting people to join a new professional group she was starting.  The invitation read “I don’t know who needs to hear this but if you’re not a person of colour, you can NOT join the POCAM (Persons of Colour in Canadian A&M) on here (sic).  Your request will be denied.”

In response, while lauding her effort I wondered if we could ever become inclusive by trying to remain exclusive.  I was forcefully reminded that “It’s not exclusion for the sake of exclusion.  This community is for those who face a certain set of problems that the non-POC don’t, and the inclusion of non-POC will take away the license to share solutions and the safety of empathy that the group shares”.

I am unable to understand this logic.  Does the originator of the post intend to promote the very model she wishes to replace with a different set of players?  The problem persists but is given a different colour (pun intended). Albert Einstein had famously said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”.

Engagement, rather than exclusion had worked for some luminaries (Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mandela and the Dalai Lama readily come to mind).  Perhaps times were different and leaders then had a broader vision, empathy and compassion for all.  I welcome readers’ comments on how we might move forward to better understand others and work towards equality for all, without antagonizing people.

Prominent Indian journalist Saeed Naqvi had very kindly shared this sher by Mirza Ghalib, which offers an antidote to those who remain stuck in constricting cocoons they weave around themselves:

Hasad se dil agar afsurdaa hai, garm-e-tamaashaa hoIf meanness and malice oppress the heart, step out and travel (expand your horizon)
Ki chashm-e-tung shaayad kasrat-e-Nazzara se waa ho(Perhaps) the narrow outlook may open up with the abundance of the spectacle (broadening of the vision)

2 Replies to “Independent and Free”

  1. Thank you for sharing these beautiful lines by both Faiz and Ghalib. They are as pertinent today as the day they were written. I look around and am reminded of a child’s plaintive cry, ‘Are we there yet?’ No, is the short answer.

    As for the lady who wanted only people of colour to join the group – I want to ask, respectfully, did she then go on to define “colour”. How coloured was enough colour? Aren’t restrictions like these tantamount to saying a man can’t be a feminist? That only women know what they undergo and therefore only a women can empathise? Doesn’t that go against the very vision of the ideal world we hold dear, one in which we would see each other for who we are rather than be blinded by the colour of our skin?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. On the 15th of August, every year, Indians celebrate the independence that another generation earned through sweat, satyagraha and a steely will for self-determination.

    On other days, they are happy to celebrate their utter dependence on even basic goods made in China.

    Jai Hind!


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