By Shahnaz Bashir
Changing social realities determine changes in their languages of expression. The liberal narrative in India on the practices, properties and definitions of nationalism is direly needed Azadi – from that of the conservatives. For being “controversially” in vogue, the sensitive word Azadi was automatically cherry-picked in JNU to provoke the right-wingers on free debate. Interestingly the word, Azadi, comes into India from the places demanding territorial Azadi from it.
Yet the states, that for decades have sacrificed for Azadi in word and deed, have summarily been ignored and neglected in the free debate, and expediently so. Most of those who joined the Azadi-within chorus at JNU — who belong to the progressive liberal section of Indian society — want to take the level of their freedoms of being, speech and expression at par with that of their counterparts in other liberal societies, for example, in the west, which determines the changes in the social realities in India itself. The only challenge to a progressive, liberal social transformation within a large society like India — towards adopting a new and mutually exclusive individual, cultural, social, political, economic, (ir)religious or any other lifestyle, based on enlightenment and open-mindedness — is the bigoted section of that society which has an arrogant, and many a time, violent conviction against that transformation.
Free speech in such a society becomes the first causality as the actions of the two dichotomous sections need to be concurred in language too. The call of “Azadi-within” doesn’t merely resonate in the Indian leftist quarters (yet the left gets the credit of pioneering the call) but quickly gains momentum outside these quarters too: among them the academia, certain mainstream media, artists, politicians and the ordinary people who always crave for voicing there concerns against the day to day fascism that creeps into their lives through ideology, casteism, classism, regionalism, racism and economic interests of Indian capitalists.
Otherwise, whether left, right or centre — almost everyone among them is politically indifferent to the call of Azadi, or, frankly, to the call of territorial freedom of Kashmir, Punjab and in the North-East, in the states of Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Assam and Nagaland. And, however, humanist or “anti-national” the majority of the progressive liberals in India are, they are yet to acknowledge any possibility of the notion of secession which was at the centre of the debate at JNU that has perhaps been restricted for the moment to what is ‘nationalist’ within the Indian sensitivity.
Now, Kanhaiyas of India might facilitate a possibility of freedom of linguistic resistance for such places but hardly territorial freedom that needs structural changes in the realities of the occupier. These structural changes cannot be determined or influenced by linguistic calls only, for it is the reality that determines the language of resistance slogans, not vice versa. And then there are a number of such realities. The “Azadi-within” call has made the word Azadi so easy to be used unseditiously that the more easily it is chanted, the more complicated its usage will become now.
On the other hand, the fascist right-wing’s call for nationalism seems more and more perilous, and the more vulnerable their concept of nationalism shall become. The silliness of the Hindutva nationalists to provoke the liberal left to carry out an incisively intellectual debate on simple yet hardcore political concepts like nationalism is to invite a destructive assault on their conservative polemics and jingoistic practices. It is simply a Hegelian dialectic at work here.
The fascist right-wingers have provoked the thinking left to intellectualise and synonymise the word and concept Azadi so much that soon the states struggling for territorial freedom from India, genuinely so, will have to find a new word as an alternative for the meaning of their specific struggle. As the always imprudent right is inherently destined to provoke the left on debates on freedom of expression, the liberal academic left has to graduate to an open debate on freedom itself.
In the states primarily demanding territorial and political freedom, social and other freedoms come after they have had the former two. Meanwhile, the latter are drowning the former in India. The multitudinous call for Azadi is trivialising the essence of the specific importance of freedom for the states striving for territorial sovereignty from India.
—Shahnaz Bashir is author of ‘The Half Mother’, and Assistant Professor at the Central University of Kashmir