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Sixty Years Of Fake Freedom:
The South Asian Story

By Partha Banerjee

09 August, 2007

As an Indian-American who's been involved with political movements in both countries, I'm deeply disturbed.

There's now a lot of government-sponsored patriotism, hype and euphoria to celebrate the 60th anniversary of independence both in India and Pakistan. At midnight of August 14, 1947, then British rulers finally gave up on their two centuries of unconstitutional, immoral and brutally repressive colonization, and transferred power after partitioning India in three pieces, causing massive bloodshed and human misery. Today in India and Pakistan, the ruling-class politicians and corporate media including the Bollywood film and entertainment industry are busy singing praises for the "prosperity" of these two "mighty" nations. Military dictator Musharraf of Pakistan and the Indira Gandhi-Sonia Gandhi dynasty in India are making wise moves to exploit the time's sentiments. Still, there's perceptible lack of enthusiasm among the common "Desi" folks, who unlike the golden jubilee celebration in 1997, are not coming out in full force to observe this "historic" occasion.

We shall however pay attention to the Indian and Pakistani governments' hollow prosperity drumbeats, and take a hard, "unpopular" look at the grim reality.

If the 1947 British-penned independence and blood-soaked partition have created any prosperity, it's been for the region's rich and powerful elite who inherited and perpetuated a feudal, pyramidal and colonial status quo where in half a century, a political colonization has given way to a social, economic and intellectual subjugation. The new "free" system makes the subcontinent's younger generation blindly follow a U.S.-style, market capitalist model, where equal rights, education, employment and healthcare for all, and other such egalitarian concepts have been pushed into near-oblivion, or else, ignominy. Rampant privatization without any attention to human values and safeguard for the havenots has taken over the subcontinent's body and soul. Of course, mega-rich business magnets, big land owners, cricket players, movie stars, and yes, corrupt politicians and their pet mafia have prospered.

Reality is, the entire South Asia is reeling under massive corruption, explosive population growth, out-of-control environmental pollution and recurring natural calamities, and a gingoist-chauvinist war climate is in vogue. Hindu and Muslim middle class do not trust each other, a fact unthinkable even during the British Raj. Nuclear proliferation has brought South Asians on the brink of mass extinction a number of times, and the threat is ever-present. Indian, Pakistani and the relatively new Bangladeshi governments have all thrived on mass-production of lies about the state of the state, and their mouthpiece media have stirred up ultrapatriotic fervors and a semi-fascistic leader-cult-worshipping, especially at the times of war. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have all seen scores of savage wars, resulting thousands of innocent being killed, and millions permanently displaced and impoverished. Refugees and war-traumatized families have lived for generations in makeshift, filthy "shelters" and "jhopris" along the railway tracks and highways.

In South Asia, demands for rights and justice for women, religious minorities and the massive underclass tribals and lower castes have actively been rejected as concepts of “yesterday's failed communist doctrines.” Communal riots have surged and claimed numerous lives and women's honor. Prisoners and protesters, including women and children, have been brutalized by the Indian military, paramilitary and police; due process and other basic legalities have almost always failed for the poor. Political dissent in particular has been silenced by the ruling-party mafia. The so-called democratic elections have seen the worst forms of money- and muscle-power, with help from officials and bureaucrats. Many key elections have proved to be pure travesty. People in power endorsed massive booth-capturing, false voting, media muzzling, thuggery and religion-or caste-based divisive politics. The ruling Congress Party and former ruler Hindu fundamentalist BJP have proved equally efficient at this power-grabbing game. India's regional parties in particular and establishment left to a lesser degree have not been far behind.

In Pakistan, for most of the time since 1947, coup-generated military regimes have ruled with support from the U.S., and an elected prime minister (one of the very few elected leaders) has been hanged. Bangladesh, in its post-1971 history as a sovereign nation, has gone through a number of dictatorships and martial laws; military and police tortured and killed some of its best-known intellectuals and noble men, the slaughters allegedly sponsored by the U.S. and CIA.

South Asia now has more than one-fifth of the world's population. Eighty percent of the one-billion-plus mass still live in places where there's little or no electricity, drinkable water, paved roads or public schools. In many places, farmers and day laborers die of starvation; many farmers have killed themselves out of despair. The disparity between the rich and poor in South Asia is one of the extremes in the world. Basic literacy and primary education are still out of reach for most poor. Brutality against women and children is sky-high in numerous places. A conservative, superstitious patriarchal society has re-emerged where families are encouraging female infanticide, with help from corrupt doctors and medical practitioners. India now is one of the top AIDS-affected nations.

The 1947 partition was cooked up by the British and Western powerbrokers, at the behest of Gandhi and Jinnah's feudal policy followers who overnight became the new rulers. Most of these new kings (and queens) neither made any personal sacrifices during the 100-year-long, glorious independence struggle nor did they have any knowledge, connection or compassion for the reality on ground. The hundreds of thousands of young men and women who gave their lives to bring about the "azadi" were excluded from the post-partition power structure, and later the struggle itself was undermined. The new feudal rulers were chosen by the British after their two hundred years of repression and pauperization of a truly prosperous India, to retain a class-divided system where the real power would never transfer to the masses, and the "free" nations would forever remain subservient to the West. They've succeeded in their mission.

Moreover, in sixty years of a fake freedom, we South Asians ourselves have been successful to raise an apolitical, apathetic generation wilfully ignorant of our own history and way of life -- political, economic and cultural.

Thanks to the freedom 60 years ago, we are now completely colonized.

Partha Banerjee is a human rights activist, writer and teacher based in New York City. He can be reached at [email protected]


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