My mother Rafia Kidwai (later Mustafa) was named Azaadi when she was born. That was the name everyone in her large family of Avadh addressed her. As in her birth she symbolises freedom from the British colonial yoke that the family was aspiring and struggling for. So Azaadi grew with the genes of the freedom struggle, and was fortunate enough to see Independence, to meet and hear Gandhi and Nehru at close quarters, and to live long enough to impart the pride and the values to the younger generations. Azaadi was a beautiful word not just for the family because of her, but for the generations who lived and fought for freedom.
It ran in the veins of the Indian Muslims who decided to stay back in India, and ignore the false lure of the two nation theory and Jinnah’s oratory. It manifested itself in the disinterest and disconnect that the Indian Muslim ---as diverse and pluralistic as India herself---had in Pakistan, that carried relevance to some extent only because families had separated, and many had gone to the new country that Jinnah and the British connived to create. The Indian Muslim, like others, was part of the struggle for independence, wept when at the stroke of midnight Jawaharlal Nehru ushered in independent India, and contributed to the development of the country as much (or little) as any other.
The spirit of Azaadi consumed all. It was evident when my young pregnant mother accompanied her army officer husband to a frontline post in Jammu even as the world seemed to have gone mad and all were killing the other. They were in a couple of rooms with the landlord being a Sikh. My father had to rush to the border, and he approached the old man and said he was leaving his wife in his care, please do look after all. A night later my mother heard screams, shouts, and sounds of wailing. She was terrified as the sounds were from their compound. She heard heavy steps climb up to her room, a pounding on the door that she opened expecting the worst. The old landlord was there to tell her that the wailing was because they had got news that their relatives had been killed while on their way from what had then become Pakistan, to India. But that she should not worry, he would not let any harm come to her.
A few weeks before my mother had lost her father, a government servant who had been supervising refugee relief work in Dehradun-Mussoorie. He had been stabbed to death by a young, crazed man who had crossed the border. The family never spoke of the identity of the assailant, mourning only my grandfathers death without pointing any finger at the individual. As Azaadi would say, the murder was a manifestation of an ugly, hideous, hate filled environment with the killer probably a victim himself.
So for every assailant at the time there were more who kept themselves free, azaad, from the hate and the prejudice that had been unleashed on them for political benefit. And did so by embracing the good from the freedom struggle, the values that Gandhi kept repeating, the movement that asserted unity and love, and aspirations to be free of all that was base and divisive.
Today the people are marching for freedom again ---refusing to be drawn into the spiral of hate and anger. Azaadi has become the dominant slogan of the resistance to the Citizenship Amendment Act as students and the young men and women of all religions, all castes and communities gather to assert their citizenship, and their refusal to allow this freedom to be taken away. Azaadi from poverty, ignorance, bias, hate; freedom from hunger, exploitation, victimisation; azaadi from inequality,violence, war; freedom from prejudice, inequality, communalism, authoritarianism.
The Muslims are part of this protest. For once they are not watching from a distance, or protesting in small groups for a cause that arises from regressive interpretation of the scriptures. Their is a huge democratic assertion today along with the rest of India, and it took a Kashmiri to point out, a first for Indian Muslims after independence. A first is also the huge participation of women -- young Muslim women--- who have taken the lead as in a sleepy suburb of South Delhi.
Carrying national flags, singing the national anthem, masses of Muslims have been walking with all others in an assertion of democracy. There is not a slogan, despite the fake news that was used to justify violence by cops, that is out of the constitutional ambit, as thousands march in remote towns as well as the bigger cities, managed by volunteers who form cordons and ensure that no one strays out of line. These are peaceful processions with the national anthem resonating, and any other government would have listened to the people of India with awe and admiration.
But the sleeping fence sitters have woken up, as they did during the struggle for independence. A ‘enough’ that is resounding through the streets of India, with non violence as the theme and Gandhi and Ambedkar as the mascots. “We are Indians” is the assertion as Muslims not just join but lead the calls for unity as they carry the Indian national flag like a cover for protection, and with pride as an assertion of freedom and citizenship. The youth of India have wiped off the ‘otherness’ tag that was being tied to the Muslims; and the Muslims themselves have ripped it off with new assertiveness that they had not shown before.
Perhaps the government should learn from this, or at least the opposition should. As it is unprecedented. And carries many a message. Muslim masses who have been tolerating slurs on their patriotrism and love for India silently for decades now ---with bushy moustache generals joining anchors on television to demand the Muslims chant Vande Mataram--- are out on the roads singing Jana Gana Mana as one. First to make it clear that they are Indians, two, they will remain Indians and three, they will not leave the country for anyone, or anything.
Violence as is being reported from Uttar Pradesh ---heinous to say the very least---has not deterred the minorities who are coming out, demonstration after demonstration not just to oppose CAA but to claim India.