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"Azadi": A Universal Struggle

Writer: Pranay Somayajula

Azadi. Meaning “freedom”, the word originally comes from the Persian language, but is also found in languages spoken across the Indian subcontinent, including Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, and Kashmiri. It was a rallying cry of the Indian struggle for liberation from the British colonizers, and in recent years has resurged in mass protests against the rise of Hindu nationalism and neoliberal exploitation in India. As a first-generation Desi American, the son of Hindu immigrants from India, the word is deeply important to me. It represents not only the liberation of my own people, but the ongoing struggle for liberation of the oppressed around the world. The way I see things, my identity as a member of a formerly colonized people is inextricably intertwined with the liberation of all other peoples who continue to suffer under colonialism and oppression. First and foremost, that means standing in unyielding solidarity with the Palestinian people as they struggle against occupation, coloniziation, and apartheid at the hands of the Israeli state.

A key way in which this connection between my Desi identity and my solidarity with the Palestinians manifests is in my visceral opposition to the idea that a two-state model can provide any sort of “solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While to some liberals, the idea of two states for two peoples to live in “safety and security” may seem appealing on a surface level, my own identity makes it impossible to forget that my homeland saw its own “two-state solution” in 1947—the Partition of India and the creation of Pakistan, which saw one of the largest mass migrations in human history and brought with it unspeakable bloodshed and violence. To me, “two states” means partition—and that is not a good thing.

Perhaps, one might argue, the mere fact that partition failed so spectacularly in South Asia does not necessarily mean that it must also fail so spectacularly in Palestine. After all, the partition of India was carried out by a white man who had never set foot on the Indian subcontinent but was nevertheless tasked with drawing the border, while the proposed partition of Palestine for a “two-state solution” would (at least ostensibly) take place through negotiations and consultation with the affected Israeli and Palestinian populations to a much greater degree than ever occurred in India. Therefore, the objection may be raised that so long as the land is divided in a way that brings the affected populations to the table rather than shutting them out, a two-state solution can still be a viable path forward that respects the rights and dignity of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

But I reject that logic. To argue that there is a “right” way to draw a border is to unduly legitimate the existence of borders in the first place. A border is not something to be proud of, or to aspire to—it is something grotesque, something evil, a jagged scar that represents the worst of humanity scrawled in blood across the map. It is a symbol of depravity, not liberation. The land encompassing Palestine is known as the “cradle of civilization” for a reason. It is the spiritual home to the 55.5 percent of the world’s population, or 3.8 billion people, who practice an Abrahamic religion. To take a land so beautiful, so ancient, so holy to billions of living, breathing, human beings, and defile it by slashing a line across it and aiming guns at the other side of that line is, to me, an unforgivable sin. And as a Desi, I am all too well-acquainted with such sin. Even if Partition had occurred in my homeland without the violence, bloodshed, and mass displacement that did occur, that would not change the fact that an ancient and holy hand was carved up along an arbitrary, intensely militarized line in the sand, the lives of its inhabitants cruelly defined by whatever side of that line they happened to find themselves on. The crime, in other words, is not how the border is drawn—the crime is the border itself. That is as true in Palestine today as it was in India 73 years ago.

But the inextricable link between my Desi identity and my unyielding solidarity with the struggle for Palestinian liberation does not end with the generational trauma of Partition. For years India has been sliding deeper and deeper into the worst excesses of unchecked ethno-religious nationalism, spurred along by the iron-fisted rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose fascistic attempts to turn the nominally secular India into a Hindu state through the imposition of Hindutva ideology mirror the right-wing Zionism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his open declaration that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens”—a proclamation that, if he had his way, Modi would not hesitate to bring to fruition in India overnight.

I’ve seen this firsthand. Just last summer, I visited India with my family for the first time since I was eleven years old. During the three weeks that I spent traveling around the country between Karnal, Delhi, Agra, and Hyderabad, I saw firsthand the various trappings—large and small—of fascism ascendant. It was reflected in the saffron pennant of the far-right Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) paramilitary, which fluttered proudly above buildings and was emblazoned on the backs of cars and rickshaws. It was reflected in the hypernationalist and virulently Islamophobic rhetoric that spewed from the mouths of politicians and pundits every night on television, as well as from the mouths of some of my own family members in casual conversation. In fact, it was during my time in India that Modi announced the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special semi-autonomous status—a move which is little more than annexation under another name, and which, as many have pointed out, comes straight from Israel’s playbook.

It is clear that every day, India is inching closer and closer to becoming a society where Muslims, Kashmiris, Sikhs, Dalits, Adivasis, and members of countless other oppressed, marginalized, and minority groups find themselves living the same morbid reality of occupation and apartheid that the Palestinian people have suffered under for 72 years. Just as I cannot allow the homeland I love so dearly to become an apartheid state where high-caste Hindus are privileged and protected above all others, so too must I stand against such injustice wherever it is to be found—especially in Palestine, where the decades-old model of settler-colonial apartheid that has been employed by the Israeli state against the land’s indigenous inhabitants is now being openly and proudly emulated in my own ancestral homeland. To do otherwise would be to do a grave and unforgivable disservice to the memories of the brave revolutionaries, from Bhagat Singh to Jhansi ki Rani, who devoted—and, in many cases, gave—their lives to the cause of liberating my people from our own colonizers so many decades and centuries ago.

Azadi means azadi everywhere. Those of us whose ancestral histories are tied up with the trauma of colonialism and genocide do not have the luxury of cherry-picking which struggles for liberation to throw our support behind. It is imperative that we stand with the oppressed peoples of the world, lest we dishonor our ancestors who fought and died against our own oppression. Firm and unyielding solidarity with the Palestinian people and the liberatory struggle for a secular, democratic state across all of historic Palestine is a fundamental part of my Desi identity. I wouldn’t have it any other way.


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