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Monday June 17, 2024

Awareness and intellect: the basis of revolutionary freedom

March 23, 2023

Dr Rafia Taj

What is freedom, but to be your unapologetic self,

What is freedom, but to practise your beliefs without being scorned,

What is freedom, but the right to hold your perspective against a differing one without fear,

What is freedom, but an act of bravery; to live and let live, to coexist, to thrive.

The need for freedom and the want for revolution often stem from the awareness of being undermined and suppressed. When the sense of self-determination and collective identity of any population is maliciously governed by those in power and is forcefully moulded against their will, subversion begins. The whole process is more psychologically driven than it appears to be. At the crux of it all, it wasn’t the social unrest, mass poverty, or the unfair division of resources that ignited the flames of the Pakistan movement. Rather, it was the slow but certain realisation that the British Raj in India was annihilating the agency and representation of Muslims in the subcontinent.

The Muslims of pre-colonial India were acutely aware of their rich and diverse history. They were multi-lingual and their expansive cultural and literary prowess encompassed multiple geographies and ethnicities such as Urdu, Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, and Turkish. By their very nature, they were progressive and receptive to new ideas and diverse practises which were readily amalgamated into the very fabric of their own cultural identity.

It would therefore not be unreasonable to suggest that the British Rule realised the potential danger of suppressing acutely intelligent and self-aware people and so in 1835, Lord Macaulay enforced educational policies that barred universities from teaching anything other than the curriculum that the British rulers of the time imposed. English was to replace Persian as the official language and traditional Hindu and Islamic education was undermined. As a direct result of this, many Madrassahs lost their sponsorship (waqf or financial endowment). This in turn handicapped the functioning of these institutions and thus began the imminent downfall of a magnanimous, historical praxis.

The suspension of traditional education was closely followed by the failure of the great revolution in 1857, causing the subsequent downfall of the Mughal empire and instilling a sense of looming doom over the Muslims of the subcontinent. Consequently, in a few short years, the Muslim population of the region lost its academic centres and access to the rich cultural heritage of its predecessors. They were stripped of their voice as a foreign language became the official language of their land.

The Muslims of the subcontinent were now in dire need of self-determination. The people needed a torchbearer that would guide them toward self-realisation and a messiah who would resurrect their ailing identity. Indeed, it was the voice of literature and the muscle of the written word that answered this calling. It was ultimately through literature and the spoken word that the Pakistan Movement was born.

Tehreek-e-Pakistan is deeply intertwined with literature. It is believed to have originated from the Aligarh Movement which sought to once again empower a culturally, socially, and economically receding Muslim society. Through the efforts of this movement, the Muslims of the subcontinent developed a secular political identity, and thus the All-India Muslim League (AIML) was born. As the AIML grew in strength, it was joined by Jamiat-e-Ullema Islam and thus the League grew stronger. However, the catalyst that truly spearheaded the Pakistan movement was Urdu poetry, which gave the masses popular slogans and ideologies that reverberated in their souls.

“Le Ke rahain gay Pakistan

Batt Ke rahay ga Hindustan”

(We won’t give up till we get Pakistan, we won’t give up till we divide Hindustan)

An enthralling slogan-cum-war cry that added passion and drive to the strife for freedom.

At the forefront of this literary movement that fuelled the Pakistan movement was Iqbal who awakened the entire nation with his poetry. Alongside him, many contemporaries such as Akbar Illahbadi, Hasrat Mohani, Josh Maleehabadi, Zafar Ali Khan and Sarwar Jahan produced soulful and zealous works that ultimately led to the success of the Pakistan resolution. Progressive thinkers such as Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Hafeez Jahlandari and Ahsan Danish are also among the prominent names to whom the victory of this movement is accredited.

Iqbal was immortalised as the national poet. Undoubtedly it was the poets, journalists, scholars, and educationists who were the leading and driving force behind the Pakistan resolution. It was them who helped the Muslims of India envision and crave a separate nation. And it was also them who showed the way towards the realisation of this collective dream.

Allama Muhammad Iqbal is credited as the spiritual father of the Pakistan movement. He advocated the two-nation theory at a time when others feared even bringing up the idea of dividing India. His poetry awakened a sense of Muslim nationhood throughout India and helped people recognise the propaganda of the British Empire. The two-nation theory inspired a sense of single unity among the diverse Muslims of India and played a paramount role in bonding and strengthening the Muslim population, focusing them on the singular goal of achieving an independent land where they could practise their right of self-determination and gain a national identity.

“Khol Aankh, Zameen Dekh, Falak Dekh, Fiza Dekh,

Mashriq se Nikalte huay Suraj ko Zara Dekh”

(Open your eyes and behold the land, the sky behold, the breeze behold; Behold the rising sun from the East)

- Allama Muhammad Iqbal

Iqbal inspired the dream of a homeland, a place of belonging, and a place of freedom for the Muslims of India through his writings.

“Pakistan ka matlab kya!

La Illaha Il Lalah!”

(What is the meaning of Pakistan!

There is no God but Allah!)

- Asghar Ali Sodai

On the surface, it looks like a simple couplet, but the words of Asghar Ali Sodai carried the weight of the enthusiasm of the Muslims of the subcontinent. The couplet acted as a political slogan, adding fervour and passion into the Pakistan movement which had begun to move spiritually in the direction of attaining an, separate aspirational homeland.

Together all these great literary giants used their most powerful tool: their words, to plant the seed of freedom in the minds of the Muslims. They became immortal through the great literature they produced and the movement behind which their literary works stood as the driving force. It therefore stands to reason that the creation of Pakistan cannot be comprehended without acknowledging the works and ideologies of great Urdu literary scholars and poets like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Allama Muhammad Iqbal. Undeniably, literature and education played a central role in the creation of the thought and actions that led to the Muslims of India winning their unified homeland that we now and will forever know as Pakistan.