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Kamla Bhasin on the Origin of the Slogan ‘Azaadi!’

Kamla Bhasin on the origin of the ‘Azaadi’ slogan.

Published
India
3 min read
The ‘Azaadi’ chant has unified various anti-CAA, NRC protestors across India.
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Does the slogan of ‘Azaadi’ that’s reverberating at protest marches across the country have its origins in the brutalisation of Kashmiri Pandits in Jammu and Kashmir or does it predate it?

The use of the infectious chant of ‘Azaadi’ which has been the defining slogan of the anti-CAA NRC protests and is also the cry to show solidarity with the students of Jamia Millia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has been questioned for being associated with the violence perpetrated by Islamist separatists in the valley that led to the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in the 1990s.

In a series of tweets in December, journalist and author Rahul Pandita described how for a Kashmiri Pandit in 1990, the ‘Azaadi’ slogan “became a weapon for the brutalisation of minority Hindus”. In one of his tweets he also brings up a vividly written paragraph from his book Our Moon has Blood Clots, where he writes,“It is then that the voices come back to me. The loud clapping. The jeering. The chants reaching a crescendo. The hiss of the loudspeaker. The noise beats hard on my chest, like a drumbeat gone berserk. My head feels like an inferno, and a cold sweat traverses down my back. Hum kya chaaaahte - Azadiiii!”

In another post, Pandita talks about what a Kashmiri mother went through recently when she heard the ‘Azaadi’ slogan being shouted outside her room not knowing that it was for a film shoot. “One evening last year, while in Lalit, my kids and I heard sloganeering just outside the room, I skipped a beat. On calling the front desk, came to know that it was a shoot...”

There is no doubt that for anyone who has survived the systematic violence against Kashmiri Pandits in the 1990s, the cries of ‘Azaadi’ will have terrible memories attached to it.

The recently released trailer of Shikara, directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra and co-written by Chopra, Pandita and Abhijat Joshi, which tells the story of the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits after being persecuted by Islamist terrorists, too references the cries of ‘Azaadi’ which rang through the valley during the 90s.

The discussion around the origin of the ‘Azaadi’ chant resurfaced on Thursday when filmmaker Anubhav Sinha posted a video of author, poet and activist Kamla Bhasin using the slogan and stated that the ‘Azaadi’ chant was a feminist voice against patriarchy and was not imported from Kashmir.

An article in Hindustan Times shared during this discussion points out that an early memory of Kamla Bhasin dancing and chanting the beat of the ‘Azaadi’ goes back to 1991, at the Women’s Studies Conference in Kolkata’s Jadavpur University. “A vibrant and charismatic Bhasin, in her early forties, chanted it with a little drum in hand and women surrounded her, throwing their fists in the air” states the piece.

Pandita responded to Sinha’s post by saying that Kamla Bhasin has herself said that the ‘Azaadi’ slogan was “first sung in Delhi in 1992, three years after it came to fore in Kashmir”. He was also open to knowing that if it was indeed used by the Pakistani feminist movement earlier, what the exact tone of the slogan was then.

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Speaking to The Quint in February 2019, Bhasin told us that she had first heard the chant for ‘azaadi’ in 1984 among feminists in Pakistan, who were vocal against the regime of 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 they chanted it. The chant went:
Aurat ka naara - azaadi,
Bachchon ka naara - azaadi,
Hum leke rahenge - azaadi,
Hai pyara naara - azaadi

Watch the entire video of Kamla Bhasin’s interview on the slogan ‘Azaadi’ here:

Bhasin’s comment at the end of the video perhaps best enumerates the vibrancy and versatility of the ‘Azaadi’ chant. She says the magic of the ‘Azaadi’ slogan lies in the fact that it’s alive, it grows and changes every day and that it is not set in stone.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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