Ham kyat chaahate? Azaadi! [What do we want? Freedom!]
What started as just another slogan amidst hundreds that are regularly raised during protests at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University appears to have turned into a rallying cry for the whole nation to fall back upon. The university’s student union president Kanhaiya Kumar and several others were slapped with sedition charges because the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarathi Parishad claimed that “divisive” slogans were raised at the event where protesters called for Kashmir’s azaadi or freedom. While Kanhaiya’s arrest was expected to send a message to the student community that such instances will not be tolerated by the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre, suddenly azaadi seems to be everywhere.
Once out of the jail, even Kanhaiya Kumar fell back upon this most popular slogan, while adding more and more things from which he wanted aazadi – slogans which were played by TV channels on loop even as some of the videos that news outlets spread were allegedly doctored.
Kumar captured the national imagination on the evening he got out of the jail when he said that he was asking for azaadi in India and not from India.
The Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal seemed so impressed with Kanhaiya's speech that he adopted and adapted the slogan to attack the government at the Centre for its interference with Delhi’s administration, receiving more than 2,000 retweets for his own variation on the same theme:
And now, his government has gone one step further. The Delhi government has launched an advertising campaign to highlight its achievements over the last year through azaadi slogans, reported the Press Trust of India on Tuesday. These advertisements highlight the Aam Aadmi Party’s fulfilled promise of providing free 20,000 litres of water to each household and add that the government has given “azaadi from inflation” as well.
This chant that has become the anthem of a section of the youth is presumed by many to have come out of Kashmir where the slogans are regularly raised calling for their right of self-determination.
However, the slogan can be traced back to Indian feminist Kamala Basin who popularised it in her campaign for equal rights for women in south Asia, as a feminist cry against patriarchy, which spread to campuses like Jadavpur University more than two decades ago.
This azaadi fever is now so common that it is not very unusual to find it on phones as a ringtone. There’s also a dubstep mix of Kanhaiya Kumar’s “azaadi” speech from Feburary 10 now doing the rounds on YouTube.
To add more fuel to the azaadi fire, there are songs dedicated to the ongoing agitation at JNU which expectedly take a cue from AR Rahman’s composition called Azaadi.
Newspapers and cartoonists are not far behind either. Here’s a look at some other imprints of azaadi which have surfaced in the last few days.