Asad Zaidi Three Essays On Freedom





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In the small Rajput state of Karauli (in eastern Rajasthan), ruled from the Sultanate era by largely non-literate Jadon rulers claiming direct descent from Lord Krishna, freedom and partition both arrived late.

The freedom came as the news of India’s declaration of Independence, causing serious anxiety among the sections of the population associated with or dependent on the durbar. The general populace felt some excitement for a few days and settled back in their old ways, waiting to see how things would pan out.

 The news of the partition, however, had a far more immediate impact.

There were violent attacks on the Muslim populations, rural and urban, in the adjoining Jat state of Bharatpur, clearly initiated by the state forces. Many families came looking for shelter with their relatives living in Karauli.

The events in Bharatpur, that were reaching a level of ethnic cleansing, were strongly disliked by the people in Karauli as well as the Raj durbar. The Karauli durbar strictly forbade any action by word or deed against the Muslims living in the realm.

Many Muslim families from the areas of Bharatpur, who survived the violence, some of them relatives on my father’s side, eventually migrated to Pakistan. Within a few years, they lost touch with us. They all were too preoccupied with survival issues in the small towns and rural locations in the interiors of west Punjab and Sindh.

By the time I was born they were half forgotten. When I grew up a bit, I found that only my grandmother would speak of these forgotten relatives – no one else knew or remembered.

Bharatpur and Karauli, Alwar and Jaipur presented a stark contrast to the rest of India at the critical juncture of 1947-48. The clear lesson that Muslims in these areas learnt was that the personal, political and ideological predilections of a ruler, or ruling group, can determine the fate of large populations in the event of inter-religious strife and contestation.

They reached the firm conclusion – “If the rulers are secular, secularism shall prevail”. Nothing would shake this belief.


As a teenager, I often heard my father, maternal uncle and their friends talk of Nehru, Maulana Azad and Sardar Patel (Jawaharlal, Abulkalam and Patel in their conversation).

They considered Nehru as an icon of secularism, a guarantor of social peace and justice – “Jab tak Nehru hai, Musalman ke sath na-insafi nahin hogi (As long as Nehru is there, there will be no injustice against the Muslims)”. Maulana Azad was seen as a noble scholar but an ineffectual politician, unable to take on his rivals, letting Jinnah take the lead.

Nehru’s performance on national and international stage was favourably commented upon. They saw Nehru as the saviour and the real visionary. They trusted him. They admired Patel as a tough administrator, a great enforcer with a single flaw – that he was rabidly anti-Muslim. My uncle would often say: “Bahut qabil tha, ek hi kami thi ki Musalman ke khoon ka pyasa tha. (He was very capable, but the only shortcoming he had was that he bayed for Muslim blood).”

Life went on. Muslims in my town were not wrong in their belief in the secular guarantee implied in the new constitutional order. They saw themselves roughly at the same location as most other people. They managed as well as anybody from a similar socio-economic profile from other communities.

By 1970s, however, this guarantee was no longer there and the Muslims seemed to sense it. Now there was no distinction between areas where Partition had seen violence and where it hadn’t. This was true across the country. The Nehruvian order had given way.

The competitiveness over resources, over jobs, and political assertiveness of OBCs, Dalits, regional blocks, and the activism around reservation left the Muslims out as bystanders with no claim.

For Muslims to demand or claim anything as a community was simply seen as dangerous communalism, it could remind everybody of Partition and divisiveness. The dramatic decline in their socio-economic profile and systematic discrimination against them in all walks of life did not register with the Indian state or the political parties across the spectrum.

It is another matter that the Hindutva forces had started asserting the religious identity precisely during these decades.


Two kinds of Muslim politicians found acceptance within the system – the ones who would prove their ‘secularism’ by pandering to the existing biases about Muslims and keeping aloof from their plight; and the ones who appear to be rabble rousers and ‘identitarians’ but are primarily middlemen seeking favour with the system.

There has been an unspoken consensus among liberals that Muslims as people do not need politics or political representation. They should be kept out.

Sachar Committee Report did document the state of the Muslims in India. Yet things remained the same – in fact, they even worsened under the new economic dispensation. The systematic communal killings that have dotted the map of post-Independence India, the collusion of the state machinery in the genocidal violence, the comprehensive attack on their culture, food, dress, appearance, small means of livelihood have gradually pushed them to the wall.

The anti-Muslim hate campaigns and the bogey of ‘terrorism’ is a thriving joint enterprise by the state institutions, political groups and media. Hatred and prejudice against them had not triumphed so much in the history of India before this, not even during the worst times of Partition which involved hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced. The complicity of media, liberal intelligentsia and large parts of the populace had never been so enormous.

This is not just a consequence or the legacy of history – Partition and the barbarity that accompanied it, or the after-effects of ‘divide and rule’. It is the rise of the anti-secular state.

All the symptoms of fascism and Nazism are on display, and Muslims are the natural ‘other’ that fascism requires. Our intelligentsia, including some faces on the Parliamentary Left, do recognise the symptoms but deny the disease.

If you talk about the state of terrible siege Muslims face all over northern and western India, they will say it is not just about Muslims. Sure, but they are its worst victims. But what about…Whataboutery is the simplest escape route.

In many areas, it has become impossible for Muslims to venture out without apprehension, free from a sense of danger. Public spaces, avenues of public expression have shrunk like never before. This is where the Muslims stand today, with India at 70, at a very different location from the Hindu majority, and a place very different from the other minorities.

Asad Zaidi, a well-known Hindi poet, runs Three Essays Collective, an independent publishing house.

Courtesy: Catchnews

india, INDIAN HISTORY, Indian Muslims, Secularism

The Citizens Committee for the Defense of Democracy strongly condemns the clampdown in Jawaharlal Nehru University. We deplore the targeting of students and teachers and condemn the culture of authoritarian menace that the Central Government has unleashed. We strongly believe that dissent is not sedition and invoking sedition laws against students, ordering the police to enter the campus and unlawfully arresting a student leader, issuing warrants against many others on charges of inciting violence, attacking students, teachers and arrested student in the court premises, are serious assault on the fundamental rights of the citizens of this country. The right to dissent is fundamental to maintaining democracy and the recent developments have shaken the foundations of democracy. We condemn the indiscriminate use of the colonial law of sedition on dissenting voices.

The attack on JNU is an attack on our diversity, on public funding of universities and access to higher education for the common people. The vicious campaign of 'tax-payers' monies funding the anti-nationals' is highly regressive and malicious. It is only through public funding and reservation policies that access to higher education has been expanded for students from all backgrounds, especially girl students from poorer backgrounds. It is public funding which makes higher education accessible to many. 

We are pained and angry that a public institution of higher learning has been attacked with such viciousness, systematically and calculatedly. JNU offers a vibrant space for learning, questioning, debating and developing a political understanding of structural injustices.

We are extremely concerned that the police is completely turned into a silent spectator as students, teachers and activists are publicly assaulted and abused, and hate and violence is incited against agitating students. The police is openly issuing such loaded statements, which law abiding citizens perceive as threatening. To disagree and question is every citizen's right and the JNU students are only exercising their right, peacefully and with utmost restraint and civility. 

We are particularly concerned about the safety of our young women and men students who are being intimidated by the University administration, police and the marauding mobs which have been unleashed on the students in the vicinity of JNU and in and around the Court where cases against accused student is being heard. 

We deplore the labeling of "anti-national" of those who are exercising their democratic right of challenging the majoritarian orthodoxy. We believe that this will render this country intellectually poorer if critical thinking is pushed to a space which is reserved for the enemy. 
We condemn sections of the visual and print media for their open partisanship, irresponsible coverage, misreporting, and blacking out news and views of the striking students. 

We feel it is time for all thinking people of this city to come together and raise our collective voices in defense of academic freedom, right to dissent and defend the spaces for democratic dissent. 

We unequivocally demand that

  1. All cases and charges should be withdrawn against all JNU students immediately and unconditionally. The matter should have been handled by a responsible committee internal to JNU, with a fair representation of teachers, rather than calling in the police.
  2. The administration of JNU should be held accountable for dereliction of duty, collaborating with the Police in falsely charging the students, enabling the police to search university premises and hostels and arrest students at the expense of internal processes and without consulting the university faculty and office bearers. The University administration's bowing to the government pressure compromised University autonomy with serious implications for the careers of students and prospects of pursuing degrees.
  3. No police should be allowed to enter the campus and all plainclothes police be removed from the campus immediately.
  4. No University premises including the hostels should be checked by anyone other than the university administration and only in the presence of the wardens.
  5. Delhi police should restrain the menacing gangs roaming about in the vicinity of JNU intimidating the students, teachers and solidarity groups. We demand that rather than unleashing these mobs on the University community with a malicious intent, effective steps should be taken to prevent such mobs from indulging in mischief.
  6. Police should act responsibly, performs its duty and ensures safety of the students, teachers and solidarity groups in courts and in public spaces and allow them to exercise their lawful rights of voicing their concerns. 

Romila Thapar, Krishna Sobti, Harbans Mukhia, Harsh Mander, Navsharan Singh, Nalini Taneja, Asad Zaidi, Mangalesh Dabral, Subhash Gatade, Uma Chakravarty, Syeda Hameed; Sukumar Muralidharan, Prabir Purkayastha, Puneet Bedi, Rahul Roy, Saba Dewan, Urvashi Butalia, Tapan Bose, Nandita Narain, Peggy Mohan, Farah Naqvi, Neeraj Malik, Javed Malik, Jawrimal Parakh, Devaki Jain, Dinesh Mohan, Prabhat Patnaik, Bharat Bhushan, Dunu Roy, Jean Dreze, Tanika Sarkar, Sumit Sarkar, Warisha Farasat, Seema Mustafa, Farida Khan, Salil Mishra,

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