Kanhaiya's Catchy Azadi Chant Is Not From Kashmir, It's From Pakistani Feminists

05/03/2016 7:20 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
Jawaharlal Nehru University student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar makes a speech to fellow students after being released on bail at the university campus, in New Delhi, India, Thursday, March 3, 2016. Kanhaiya was facing sedition charges following protests where anti-India slogans were allegedly shouted. (AP Photo /Tsering Topgyal)

Jawaharlal Nehru University students’ union leader Kanhaiya Kumar’s ‘Azadi’ slogan that has become quite popular across the country is not actually inspired by Kashmiri separatists as is widely believed.

The chant was originally popularised by renowned feminist Kamla Bhasin in the women’s movement across south Asia to oppose patriarchy and injustice against women. She picked up the slogan from Pakistani feminists and improvised it.

The ‘Azadi’ slogan was raised in India in 1991 at a women’s study conference held in Jadavpur University in Kolkata where Bhasin chanted the slogan as a group of women chorused. The chant went like this – “Meri behane maange Azadi, meri bachhi maange Azadi, naari ka naara Azadi... (My sisters want freedom, my daughter wants freedom, every woman’s slogan is freedom)”.

There is a video on youtube in which Bhasin can be seen reciting the Azadi slogan at an event organised to oppose violence against women. She raised the same slogan on February 14 at Connaught Place in New Delhi.

Watch Bhasin reciting the Azadi slogan here:

Bhasin, who was in her forties when she raised the slogan in Jadavpur University, recited parts of it over the phone in an interview to Hindustan Times. Three decades since she raised it in Kolkata, the fire in her voice has not waned a bit when sloganeering to put an end to inequalities and for the need for freedom from evils of the society.

“From patriarchy: Azadi; from all the hierarchy: Azadi; from endless violence: Azadi; from helpless silence: Azadi,” she recited over the phone while talking to Hindustan Times.

“I had learnt the slogan of “Meri behane maange Azadi” from Pakistani feminists. The words would change many times depending on what we were protesting against, such as discrimination on the basis of caste, injustice to tribal communities or violence against women,” she said, recalling the source of the slogan.

The slogan assumed a cult status with the Left parties and other groups fighting against social injustices lapping it up to further their struggle. According to feminist activist Urvanshi Butalia, ‘Azadi’ was one of the most widely used slogan in the feminist movement before it was adopted by other groups.

“In our minds, it is etched as the inspirational feminist chant,” Butalia said.

Bhasin reminds that the scope of the chant is not restricted to freedom from social injustices, but is also an advocacy for freedom of self expression and celebration.

Bhasin continues her journey that was started in 1970, and is active in feminist groups ‘Jagori’and ‘Sangat’. She writes songs for women’s movements in Pubjabi folk tunes like “Todh todh ke bandhano ko dekho behane aati hain (Breaking shackles, see the sisters come out)” and“Dariya ki kasam, maujon ki kasam, yeh taana-baana badlega (I swear by the river, I swear by the waves, things will have to change)”.

She spends her time in Delhi and Sidhbarhi near Dharamshala in Himachal where she works for the betterment of urban and rural women.

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