What independence are we celebrating?

Published: August 14, 2018
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How do we truly liberate ourselves from these labels of bigotry and hatred?

Some 71 years ago, people from all over subcontinent left their homes and took roads laced with perils to reach the ‘land of pure’. What made them leave their lives behind to move to an unknown land where all that awaited them was a promise? No tangible shelter but only a promise; the promise of freedom.

What is meant by this ‘freedom’ that caused the greatest migration of the century? Freedom or independence means the availability of the opportunity to exercise one’s rights, powers, desires and even faith. Yes, I put emphasis on faith because any country where any group of people, no matter how great or less in number, do not feel safe while performing their religious duties, is not a free country.

On this 72nd  Independence Day of Pakistan, this is a question we must ask amongst ourselves.

Is Pakistan a free country? Have we truly gained independence?

Well, if this is about overthrowing the yoke of the British rule like we were taught in our Pakistan Studies curriculum, then technically yes. Yes, we live in a country which is no longer a British colony. However, in terms of mindsets, we are still colonised; hypnotised by the language of our colonisers.

If you don’t agree with me, do this social experiment yourself. Go to the Emergency Room (ER) of Islamabad’s biggest government hospital, Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), and try talking to any doctor about your ailment in your national language. The nonchalance of the staff will sting but don’t take it to heart, just switch to English and watch them crumble under its pressure. Still think we are free?

Let us try to approach this another way now. Do our systems ensure freedom and liberty for our own people? Do our institutions follow a rule of law capable of protecting the rights of our citizens? Well for starters, we still follow the laws of our colonisers, who were occupiers and formulated their laws in order to subjugate.

In our criminal investigation and trial proceedings, in customs, in income tax and in countless other domains, we live under their rule of law (with slight modifications of course). This is exactly what former  customs officer and reformist actor Ashir Azeem was talking about in his YouTube videos, that we follow a Customs Act so ancient that it ties our hands, preventing us from innovating or improving upon it in any suitable way.

These laws also conveniently assist the black sheep within the system to carry out petty theft and corruption. Edmund Burke was wise to say,

“Among a people generally corrupt, liberty cannot long exist.”

So, if we have not even bothered to re-write our laws to suit our indigenous needs in these past 71 years, can we call ourselves liberated?

Now let us come to the citizens of this independent country, not only the thriving majority but also the meagre 4% minorities. The state of their ‘independent lives’ in this democratic republic is abysmal. On August 11th, we celebrated the World Minorities Day in Pakistan. We held rallies and meetings with banners quoting Quaid-e-Azam’s famous words about religious minority populations in Pakistan:

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples; free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in the State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or cast or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

However, if those poor 4% could speak to the Quaid today, they would lay bare their bleeding wounds inflicted upon them by the other 96% that feels threatened by their thin numbers. Where will this humungous majority hide its bigotry, its prejudice? The observance of a day associated with minorities in Pakistan seems utterly baseless, when they continue to suffer everyday. It casts yet another shadow on the claim of independence that is being made today.

We forcibly convert adolescent Hindu girls and marry them to men older than their fathers. We form a mob to attack an 11-year-old autistic Christian girl falsely accused of blasphemous acts by the so-called ‘guardians of faith’. We burn homes of Ahmadis and paint Shia Kaafir (Shia disbeliever) on our walls. While we do all this, the few voices of change and reform that exist within us are also constantly bullied and threatened. The recent elections were boycotted by many of the aforementioned communities, especially by the Ahmadis. When our collective mindset reeks of biases and bigotry, how can we claim that the elections we just held were that of a free country?

Moreover, can a country be called ‘free’ if almost half of its female population is not given free choice? In the recently held General Elections, there were countrywide reports of remote areas where women were stopped from voting because of intimidation by their husbands and village elders. However, unfortunately, this intimidation is one of the milder examples of discrimination against women in our country. Acid attacks, sexual assault cases, domestic violence and honour killings are all brutal instances that refute the claim that ours is a truly free society. When these women belong to the poor strata of the society, then their dignity, choices and even life is not their own. They are given away in marriage to men older than their grandfathers or in many cases they are given away in compensation for the crimes committed by their male relatives. So is it really true that our women and our underprivileged class is part of a society that has gained freedom?

I strongly disagree.

What should we do then? How do we wash away this stain of prejudice? How do we truly liberate ourselves from these labels of bigotry and hatred? The only way to do this is to start understanding, including and accepting. We need to recognise the true face of Pakistan which is made up of so many contrasting features that beautify its various contours. We need to formulate frameworks that suit us, facilitate us and most importantly, belong to us.

I would like to quote the example from the happiest nations of the world, the Scandinavian states where the Jante Law or Jantelagen is followed. It is a set of 10 rules that sum up to mean “We’re all the same!”

These laws are the underlying principles of these societies where individual success, displays of wealth or too much ambition are frowned upon. Some might say these cultural norms discourage great success or fulfilment of one’s potential but then their happiness indexes must also be reviewed. They are happy, prosperous and above all, they are equal. Hence, they are also truly ‘free’. Their motto is something that we most definitely need to understand,

 “Don’t think you’re better than anyone, ever!”

It is a quite demanding undertaking from a society like ours where chains of ethnicity, sects, wealth and religion have us in a vice like grip. Unless we start developing a Jantelagen of our own, we must accept that we are not free on any level of our society. We may celebrate the Independence Day every year and we may go out and vote every five years, thinking we live in a free society, but is that true?

Karl Marx answered this question hundreds of years ago and it still holds true:

“The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.”

If these words hold even an atom of truth, then ponder over this while you celebrate independence this year.

Fatima Raza

Fatima Raza

The author is a Biosciences graduate and a student of MPhil International Relations. She aspires to be an accomplished writer someday.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Rohit

    Very well written Mam from India!!!Recommend

  • Leonard Harrison

    Miss Fatima, you have raised some really valid points and highlighted some genuine problems but do you think that these problems are not known to the general public, to those who face them? A more prudent use of these words would have been suggesting solutions. Lots of writers criticize but precious few present solutions. If you have no insight as to what can make the lives of women and minorities better, then why waste your time and energy writing about something that a lot of people have already written. You and I are part of the 50% population of Pakistan(YOUTH), and all we do is criticize and be bitter. When are we actually going to do something? Does sending Whats App pictures on Independence day solve problems? Does one wheeling, cutting cakes, singing, dancing and all the other rubbish we get up to solve anything? When are we going to talk about Health, Food, Agriculture, Energy, Education? NEVER!!! Because we are busy listening to songs, watching movies, taking selfies, having parties and basically being the worst human beings this planet has ever seen.
    “If these words hold even an atom of truth, then ponder over this while you celebrate independence this year.”Recommend

  • Sajid

    Liars!Recommend

  • Shah (Berlin)

    This article shows how limited knowledge is dangerous for the society….According to your theory almost no country in the world is free…this idea of having a perfect country is insane…yes there are many challenges but yes we are free…free to go to mosque, we are free to go to Churches. The law of Pakistan is pretty strong but yes the implementation is missing.Recommend

  • Qurtain Masaud

    Even more resentment(narazi) is treated as perfidiousness(gadari).Recommend

  • sterry

    Despite challenges, freedom and independence is priceless. We are all responsible for not making the ideal society we should be. It’s not enough to rely on the government or others but everyone needs to know their own responsibilities as well as privileges. Incidentally people who go for treatment in Sindi, Pashtu or Punjabi won’t get the same treatment as people who speak in English or even Hindu / Urdu – agreed. That’s because native Pakistani people need to speak up and push for language rights.Recommend

  • Humair Ali

    Only thing i can say about this crap of a article is it is freedom that the writer of this article is writing it and it is getting published as well it is very easy to point out wrong in society as it is our national habit.Recommend

  • Riz Ahmed

    We are celebrating 71st independence day and Alhamdolillah we are proud of it.Recommend

  • Patwari

    YOU are a prime example of the kind of people the blogger is writing about.
    Racists, bigots, no tolerance, slaves to imported Wahhabism, with a stunted
    mentality, that cannot grasp a simple concept; let alone conceptualize it.
    Plus YOU have a long list of very negative attributes….must be karma.
    Your thinking belongs in the Stone Age, but as they say, it takes all kind to make
    a nation.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Try reading the article again. Slowly. Then the truth might dawn on you.
    She did suggest solutions. She is not criticising. She is building awareness.
    Which you fail to see in your rant, which is gibberish.
    Did you read ‘…Jantelagen…’ that word alone is a solution among numerous
    others she wrote. But you missed it in your diatribe.
    She has the nerve and the courage to write about these horrendous issues
    facing Pakland’s mullah dominated society. Not many MEN can do that.
    She wrote ‘…we need to recognize the true face of Pakistan…’ does that ring
    a bell with you? Of course not. Because you are on an entirely different tangent.
    How dare YOU criticise her when all you are doing is unloading your personal
    failures, your perceptions, and years of baggage on her.Recommend

  • Parvez

    That was a strongly worded article …… and much of what you have said will not be appreciated by many who find comfort in living in denial.Recommend

  • dv1936

    Partition produced the biggest loss of life ( 2 to 4 million ) and biggest migration ( 12 to 17 millions). There were three main players in this game, Mountbatten Gandhi and Jinnah. What role they played in this. Was the massacre avoidable?.Recommend

  • dv1936

    Good bye foreverRecommend

  • sterry

    You really need to calm down and control yourself. Everyone has a right to agree or disagree with anyone. That is the hallmark of an enlightened society. In repeated posts you put down Pakistanis and speak with glowing praise for India. In India, you would not be allowed to voice any complaints against the Hindu dharma or eat beef publicly but or celebrate the 1000 year Muslim civilisation in the region. People in Pakistan are free to do as we wish as per the constitution and we can make our own future. Whatever hasn’t been achieved is due to our shortcomings but I think the blame we put on others for our own lack of work is the root cause. And while a confused sub segment of people always complain they we will never do anything to make things better because they do not identify with the soil. The majority of people here in Pakistan did not move from all over the subcontinent, we are at home in our own land which is why we wanted our own country and the soil of which we are proud – a soil with thousands of years of history and that matters. Just like our contemporaries in the Nile or Babylon, our ancient civilisation was ahead of most of the world.Recommend

  • sterry

    The person who needs to read the comment slowly is you. What is there not to understand about valuing the good in our society – of which there is plenty or celebrating the nation of which we are proud. If we need to be ashamed of anything, let us be ashamed of ourselves and not working more to make a better society. If she wants to make a difference, let’s hear her say one thing about she plans to do as a civic responsibility either alone or with her friends, not tell us what she thinks she is entitled to receive and get.Recommend

  • Patwari

    This is a strange, bizarre, comment. It starts out normal then degenerates into a
    Son of the Soil racist bigoted soliloquy, a rant, no other way to describe it.
    The commenter writes ‘…when they go for treatment…’ what kind of treatment? Get
    a hair cut? get your nails done? a facial? Medical? Typical and confusing. Proves just
    because you learned English your ideology and mindset is still pre 1947. Oh well.
    Punjabi, Sindhis, Pathans would seek treatment in their own provinces. Where they live. So they will not get equal treatment from their fellow Punjabis/Pathans unless they speak Urdu? Huh? What? From Makran to Gilgit they speak urdu.
    [by the way Urdu is the national language of Pakland. Spoken from Afghanistan to Myanmar down to Sri Lanka. All the way to Maldives and up to Nepal]
    “Pakistani native people”, wow! That is racism! How many types of Pakistanis are there? Besides native Pakistanis? Super Pakistani? Medium Pakistanis? Low Pakistanis?
    Muhajjirs Pakistani? Half Pakistanis?…as usual, no head or tail to this spewing.
    Better you preach this in Jati Umra, or Raiwind among your kind. And spare the rest of us.
    As they say ‘ we ain’t buying this ‘.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Thanks so much for the honor.That would say it hit the mark squarely.
    Did exactly what it was intended to do. Appreciated.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Good, great, fine, looks like you are regressing to near juvenile
    status. Got you cornered.Recommend

  • Patwari

    By the way that’s Humza, writing under sterry.
    And, you using foul language only proves your
    origins. Desperation.Recommend

  • Patwari

    You should have apologized to Fatima Raza, the blogger.
    You brought her down. Without even thinking or giving it
    a second thought.
    You bet this dude is on her side.
    You are nothing to me. But since you apologized, let’s
    leave it at that.Recommend