Celebrating Independence Day
Increasingly, more and more expatriate Pakistanis celebrate the Independence Day twice, once on this side of the Atlantic pond and another on the other side. As their affluence increases it will become a ritualized two-day affair separated by a month or so. Once, it will be on July 4 th with evening fireworks and a big sumptuous barbecue (masaledar - the hostess’ own concoction) located somewhere on the continent; and the other on August 14 th on the other side of the pond complete with lots of patriotic speeches and biryani galore. Many ex-patriots prefer this choice with the fancy poetic Urdu on the other side and the nuanced Early American English on this side.
This spectacle neatly coincides with summer vacation plans for some to introduce their children to Urdu, relatives, songs and village conversational language. While the introduction may have difficulties in communicating the outreach is taken in good humor. After they have listened to entertainment by rock bands here and ghazals over there they are in good mood for anything. The children’s needs for two cultures of the two lands are an immense task to be developed. Rarely is there a group facing such diversity of cultures to minimize the habitual parochialism of the Midwest or Mountain States or the South.
As far as independence is concerned both America and Pakistan used to be colonies of Great Britain, one for a century and a half, and the other for close to two centuries. This bond of commonality is hardly ever brought up and rarely commented on except by knowledgeable individuals. Politicians hardly ever bring it up because they have no knowledge of the history of the two nations though one remained ethnically and culturally the same, while the other came from the another side of the planet with different languages, different religions and different historical experiences.
At some point the Americans, as the people living on the other side of the planet came to be known, got tired of colonial rules and they simply snatched their freedom away from Britain, forcibly by the use of arms. As for Pakistan, it negotiated over a long course of many years, perhaps because of the many differences which stood in the way of the two sides.
In the end both the colonies received their freedom, one through bloodshed and the other by peaceful means. The unexpected happened the ethnic compatriots used forced with generous spilling of blood and the other used reason (a cultural element) to gain their independence. It is ironic that the side with communalities had to wage war upon their own cultural compatriots to achieve independence.
The most important aspect of America was that it expressed its intention to be free. That expression of the desire for freedom is embodied in a document known as the “Declaration of Independence.” It is among the loftiest of the documents in the world, and the American celebration of independence is largely the remembrance of the contents of that document.
Pakistan too has a document of sorts, though hardly remembered, not even on the Independence Day. The noble words were spoken by the founder of the nation, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, in a speech on Radio Pakistan right after the announcement of independence.
It is worthwhile quoting the essence of the speech: “You are free,” said the Quaid-i-Azam, and added, “you are free to go to your temples; you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in the State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or cast or creed; that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
The religious aspect of independence is included in the first article of the Declaration of the Independence and is considered to be the most important element. Since 1776 hardly a day goes by without someone invoking this provision. In the days to come, when Pakistanis become literate, it is quite likely that that they too would invoke this provision.
In America the notion of freedom is communicated all day long on the day of the independence celebration. The message reaches everyone. It is conveyed through parades, concerts, backyard barbecues, fireworks and political speeches.
The American classrooms from grades 1-12 are the ever-present forum for the message. The idea is internalized to such an extent that no one wants to give it up.
Not so in Pakistan. Most people are ignorant, in fact, totally ignorant of the meaning of independence or freedom or equality. Many in the media do not know how to explain these ideas to the listeners or the viewers. About 45 percent of the children do not go to school and will remain ignorant. Twenty years ago the number used to be 60 percent. The country is making progress.
Jinnah’s Independence Day message should have been used as the guiding principle for the drafting of the nation’s constitution. Unfortunately, it was not. In his speech he had argued: “We are all equal citizens of one State…..in the political sense as citizens of the State.” People may be Muslims, Hindus or Christians, that does not matter. All are equal with similar rights.
His idea was to have a secular government but an Islamic society. He wanted Muslims to live by the Islamic values and to observe the tenants of democracy within an Islamic framework. Jinnah’s clothing, “shalwar kamiz or achkan”, and the famous Jinnah cap, reflected his Islamic vision.
Tragically, the meaning of freedom was never clarified. It was to leave the country to become an intolerant nation devoid of equality and freedom for many. Similar developments also took place in America though the leaders of the nation,
from very early on, never succumbed to the extremists’ demands.