Did Kamla Bhasin Inspire Gully Boy Song ‘Azaadi’? She Probably Did

A feminist activist, Kamla Bhasin passed away in the wee hours of Saturday, 25 September.

2 min read

(Feminist icon Kamla Bhasin passed away in the wee hours of Saturday, 25 September. This video, which was first published on 10 June 2017, has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark her demise.)

Kamla Bhasin, a feminist who has been fighting for equal rights for over 40 years, is also someone who has given us a chant that defines this generation.

Bhasin travelled to neighbouring countries while working with the UN in the 1980s. She went to Pakistan in 1984, when the country was led by General Zia-ul-Haq.

“35-years-ago, I went to Pakistan. Pakistan at that time was ruled by Zia-ul-Haq. The first group that rose up against Zia-ul-Haq was not a political party, it was a group of Pakistani feminists. I witnessed one such meeting and that’s where the chanted: ‘Women want azaadi children want azaadi, we want our azaadi.’”
Kamla Bhasin, Activist

The azaadi song that especially became popular after JNU students Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid chanted it is actually borrowed from Pakistan.


According to The Nation, Pakistani women realised for the first time in 1983 that they have to struggle against General Zia-ul-Haq’s ‘Islamization’ process. The ‘Islamization’ was not only discriminatory, but also deprived women of their basic rights in a radical society.

It was at this moment that women began chanting the ‘azaadi’ slogan, first in closed doors and then out on the streets, demanding equal rights.

On 12 February 1983, protests in Lahore saw police baton-charging these group of women protesters and using tear gas to disperse them. These protests were a landmark development for the movement in Pakistan as they enabled women’s rights’ organisations to develop a support base and streamline their efforts for gender equality in the country.
A feminist activist, Kamla Bhasin passed away in the wee hours of Saturday, 25 September.

The iconic dupatta-burning protest by Pakistani feminists against the ‘Islamization’ of Zia regime, that became the symbol of resistance for future generations of feminists in Pakistan. Image dated 12 February 1983.

(Photo Courtesy: Rahat Ali Dar)


When Bhasin brought the ‘azaadi’ slogan to India, she moulded it to suit the Indian context, our issues and our problems. She says:

“It is a chant that is alive. It grows every day. It is not set in stone.”

The song has become an intrinsic part of popular culture, especially after the movie Gully Boy adopted it. Bhasin, however, is not sure if the movie-makers adapted it from her or somewhere else.

“If they have learnt it from me, then it is great, I have borrowed it from Pakistan.”
Kamla Bhasin

Editor: Puneet Bhatia
Camera: Shiv Kumar Maurya

(With inputs from The Nation)

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Topics:  Pakistan   Zia ul Haq   Gully Boy 

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