You know there is this thing called Azadi. It means ‘Freedom’.
You know about it because you have read about it in your history textbooks in school. This was done when you were asked by your teacher to read about your country’s freedom struggle. You would read it and you would begin to understand that many people struggled mentally, physically and emotionally to rid your country of oppressors and bring freedom to its people, including you.
If you ask everyone’s favourite Baba G, you’ll get two definitions of ‘Freedom’. You don’t know Baba G? Baba Google ji, who else!
The two prominent Freedom definitions according to Baba G are:
* ‘the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants’
* ‘the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved’
Azadi on prime-time
So, why are we talking about Azadi, freedom and its definitions? Well, if you are an Indian, then you know that for the past one month this word ‘Azadi’ has permeated the minds of most media-aware people. Since February, this word ‘Azadi’ has got the kind of prime-time space on TV channels and front page space on newspapers and magazines that no other word or issue seems to have got.
You logical question here would be: Why is most of India talking so much about Azadi or Freedom since February 2016, when all Indians already got their freedom on the midnight of August 15, 1947?
That was the Independence Day of the country and we continue to celebrate it every year. This year too on August 15, you and I will celebrate the 69th anniversary of India being an Independent nation. So, why is this discussion on Azadi happening six months before the ‘August’ month?
Point fingers at JNU
Let’s point fingers at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi for this early discussion on Azadi. Let’s even point one or two accusing fingers at this guy called Kanhaiya Kumar, who is the current President of JNU Students Union. Till January 2016, this Kanhaiya guy was hardly known beyond his immediate friends, relatives, JNU student community and acquaintances in New Delhi.
But something happened in the second week of February 2016 on the JNU campus. That ‘something’ took such centre-stage in Indian mindsets and media channels of information dissemination that this Kanhaiya guy has now come to be known not just in New Delhi, but in cities, countries and continents, beyond India too. And this ‘something’ relates to Azadi. This call for freedom got so many echos that it brought into prominence the social media hashtag #StandWithJNU.
Kanhaiya Kumar brought into the nation’s consciousness certain slogans on Azadi. Encouraged by his own thinking and that of his supporters, he started raising slogans. He started shouting things like:
“Punjivad se lenge Azadi” (Freedom from capitalism)
“Manuvad se lenge Azadi” (Freedom from Manuvad)
“Brahmanwad se lenge Azadi” (Freedom from Brahmanism)
“Sanghwad se lenge Azadi” (Freedom from Sanghism)
“Bhrashtachar se lenge Azadi” (Freedom from Corruption)
“Bhukmari se lenge Azadi” (Freedom from hunger and poverty)
“Hai haq hamara Azadi” (Freedom is our right)
“Hum leke rahenge Azadi” (We will take our freedom)
This constant chant by him surprised many Indians. Things took such a turn in February 2016 for this Kanhaiya guy, that this low-media-decibel-lonesome chant of Azadi soon transformed into a high-media-decibel shout. By March 2016, this nagging sloganeering seeped into so many more Indian and non-Indian minds that today it has become difficult to ignore it. A remixed version of Kanhaiya Kumar’s chant has become popular. Soon enough, poets will add their thoughts to these chants and compose verses on it.
The small Azadi ball that was rolled from atop some symbolic mountain that Kanhaiya Kumar stands on, might just grow into a bigger and bigger ball of Freedom, Liberty and everything else it stands for, as it rolls down the mountain of Indian psyche and consciousness.
But, you seem to be a bit confused now. How do you get Azadi when you are already Azad and free? You are breathing in a free India. The British rulers have long gone. You are free to make your own destiny, your own career and your own chosen life. Aren’t you? I can picture you slightly nodding your head in agreement.
But, here’s the thing. Let’s go back to the real basics and think about foundational issues like unemployment, poverty, casteism and corruption hurting the country today. These issues seem to have imprisoned the joy, enthusiasm, creativity and honesty of all freedom-loving citizens of India. There is still this soul-sucking struggle that most Indians like you and me are grappling with, isn’t it?
You are in a fight to get good jobs or set up good businesses, where merit matters more than caste. Yet, at the same time, you also see corruption taking away your precious, hard-earned tax money that was meant for your welfare. There are other major struggles too that you are fighting mentally and emotionally as you step into society daily, feeling chained and helpless.
Now this begs the question that has been raised in the above chants: How free and happy do you feel in an independent India when you still struggle vehemently with different kinds of issues and forces, not Britishers now, that oppress you so much? When do you get Azadi from such pain?
Of course, you and I celebrate ‘Jashn-e-Azadi’ or Independence Day on August 15. So, again, why this mix and remix of whispers, voices and shouts for Azadi six months before the month of Freedom?
For the answer, let’s turn to this Kanhaiya guy once again, tap him on the shoulder and ask: “क्यों भाई, आखिर प्रोब्लम क्या है तुम्हारी? तुम को भारत में अच्छा नहीं लग रहा? भारत से आज़ादी चाहते हो? (So brother, what’s your problem? You don’t like being in India? You want freedom from India?)
I can sense this Kanhaiya guy smiling now. He puts a hand on my shoulder and says: “हम भारत से आज़ादी नहीं चाहते मेरे भाई, हम भारत में आज़ादी चाहते हैं” (We don’t want freedom from India my brother, we want freedom in India).