Every independence day, I take some time to think again about the creation of the country, not whether if it should have been created or not — that’s a rather moot point now — but the reasons behind its creation, and the hopes and aspirations it brought with itself. I remember how the 15th of August, our actual independence day, we, and our neighbouring India, were in effect the first post-colonial states. The ‘Jewel in the Crown’ was again making a deep impact on world history.
Earlier this year on a trip to India, I was asked by an Indian Muslim, as to why Pakistan was created. Obviously, I gave the oft-repeated answer that it was created so that Muslims of India could live their lives in ‘freedom’. “Ah,” said this Indian Muslim, “now tell me when you go to a mosque in Pakistan, are there police checks, fear of being blown up?” I bowed my head in sadness and said, “unfortunately, yes.” With a smile on his face, he said, “I don’t.” And that was the end of the conversation. This Indian Muslim had made his point. Over 60 years later, Muslims in Pakistan are more unsafe and suffering than those in India. The fact that there have been three Muslim presidents of India, four chief justices, numerous chief ministers and cabinet ministers, including the current foreign minister, speaks volumes of how far both Indian Muslims and India itself have come in the way of national integration. The three premier Indian Muslim universities — Aligarh, Jamia Millia and Osmania — are also among the leading universities of India, and, dare I say, much better academically than any university in Pakistan. All this gives us a lot to ponder on.
As independence dawned, people expected great changes. Jinnah noted in his August 11 speech: “This mighty revolution that has taken place is unprecedented” and Nehru echoed the same and said, “A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.” On both sides, people were expecting their lives to be transformed. Years of yearning for independence had created a sense of almost divine purpose and mission.
In his speech of January 9, 1941, Franklin Roosevelt, outlined the “Four Freedoms”. He said: “In the future days … we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression … The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way … The third is freedom from want — which … means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants … The fourth is freedom from fear — which … means a worldwide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbour … ” Judged by these Four Freedoms, Pakistan is still not completely ‘free’. We do not have real freedom of speech; we do not have freedom of religion, for Muslim denominations, let alone non-Muslim religions; a very large number of our people live in poverty, illiteracy and disease; and we live not only under the fear of war and violence without but also within.
Therefore, on this independence day, perhaps, we should simply think about what ‘real freedom’ means. Not in its notional sense, but in its substantial meaning. The country aside, are we even individually ‘free’ in Pakistan, I wonder. These are grave issues, but the current state of the country should make us more aware and reflect on such realities. Let me leave you with the words of the founder of the country from that famous speech: “Now what shall we do? Now, if we want to make this great state of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor. If you will work in co-operation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed. If you change your past and work together in a spirit that every one of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste, or creed, is first, second, and last a citizen of this state with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make.”
Hope we can listen to him.