Thursday May 30, 2024

Freedom for all

By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
February 02, 2018

February 1 is celebrated as the National Freedom Day throughout the US to honour the great contribution of President Abraham Lincoln. It was on this day in 1865 that he passed the 13th Constitutional Amendment, outlawing slavery. Abraham Lincoln was no doubt a great visionary and a reformer who served as the 16th president of America until his assassination in April 1865.

Just five centuries ago, America was an unknown land to the world. Renowned European explorer Christopher Columbus is credited with discovering the Americas; the region later saw the worst kind of exploitation at the hands of colonial powers of the time. The US obtained freedom from the imperialist British. But black people continued to be slaved. It is an historical fact that all societies where division on the basis of ethnicity and race is promoted eventually move towards anarchy and destruction.

The American Civil War, that recorded causalities of more than 600,000 people, was fought from 1861 to 1865. As per the country’s history, the root cause of the conflict was slavery. The country was divided into slave states, where slavery was allowed, and free states, where it was illegal. People, mostly abducted from the African continent, were openly sold as slaves in American markets. Legally, they were denied their basic human rights and had to remain duty-bound to their masters for their entire lifetime. Masters treated their slaves very harshly, so much so that they were even allowed to murder their slaves as punishment.

After the end of the civil war, Abraham Lincoln emerged victorious as a national leader. He played a pivotal role in protecting the slaves and convincing all states to prohibit the practice. The 13th Amendment he had passed through the Congress maintained that, “Neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Later through the the 14th Amendment equal citizenship was granted to, “all persons born or naturalised in the United States”, which included former black slaves who were liberated following the civil war. The National Freedom Day is actually the idea of a former slave named Richard Wright. He founded the National Freedom Day Association to build consensus among all segments of society to observe a national day to celebrate the freedom of all Americans .In this regard, he suggested marking February 1 as the annual day to observe the signing of the 13th Amendment. Just after one year of his demise in 1947, both houses of the US Congress passed a bill to recognise the day as the National Freedom Day. The proclamation was signed into law by US President Harry Truman.

Today, the day is celebrated in the US and foreign missions with a firm commitment that America is the land of the free, and will keep promoting freedom at any cost. Every year, special ceremonies are held to acknowledge the positive role of Abraham Lincoln. I believe the ideology behind celebrating the freedom day played a pivotal role in transforming the US into a superpower. After the end of the colonial era, the US emerged as a ray of hope for all those who believed in liberty, freedom, democracy and human rights. During my various visits to America, I personally observed that today, Americans belonging to diverse backgrounds are allowed to play an active role in every field of life.

Invention of the internet, computer and other scientific research, space missions, enrolment of foreign students in US varsities, granting scholarships and fellowships, development aid, popularity of Hollywood movies and video games and strengthening democracy are some of the things that have won the hearts and minds of the international community. At a time when the Soviet bloc comprised dictator-ruled countries, the US-led Western bloc was promoting positive values. Since its inception, Pakistan has aligned itself with the US on the basis of principles.

There is also a lesson in this for the Pakistani nation: that if it wants to be counted among the Asian Tigers, it will have to root out all kinds of discrimination and biasness in society. On the occasion of this National Freedom Day, I would like to appeal to all peace-loving Americans to join hands with us and promote Abraham Lincoln’s vision of freedom for all human beings.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani