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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Independence for whom?

Every year we celebrate Independence Day with fervour and official ceremonies including military parade and state banquet. Titles and awards are bestowed upon military and civilian persons for their meritorious services and performances. Generally, it is believed that we got independence from colonialism after the British departed. We became free in our homeland from slavery and subordination by foreign powers.

There is no doubt that the country became independent and the era of colonialism ended. But the question remains — who really got freedom? The common people, feudal lords, tribal leaders, bureaucrats, military officers or political leaders and the business community? The reality is that the common people still suffer as slaves and are not free. Those who got freedom are the privileged and ruling classes.

During the British period, the feudal lords were supervised and controlled by the British officers. They acted as the most loyal group who supported the colonial government with money and manpower.

However, the British government evolved a system to control them. If a feudal lord disobeyed or violated rules and regulations, his seat in the darbar of the commissioner or the governor was lost. It meant a reduction in his status and the displeasure of the government. The disgrace lowered his position in the eyes of his contemporaries as well as his own people. The feudals would immediately apologise so that their status could be restored. It was common practice for government officials to keep them waiting for hours before a meeting. Those loyal to the British were awarded titles and granted privileges which raised their social status. David Page in Prelude to Partition and Sara Ansari in Sufi Saints and State Power have discussed in detail the imperial control system over the feudals.

In the early period, the Indians were appointed only on lower posts in bureaucracy. Slowly, more posts would be reserved for Indians, especially for those who passed the competitive examinations. However, their conduct was supervised by British high officials and they had to observe special rules and regulations reserved for bureaucracy which suited the interests of the colonial government. Same was the case with the army as the higher ranks gradually opened for Indians.

When the government allowed political parties to be formed, the leaders had to adhere to a strict political framework. It was only during the struggle for freedom that they actually had the opportunity to act freely.

There are two different views regarding independence. The British claimed that they shifted power peacefully but the people of the subcontinent argued that they won their freedom after significant struggle.

So who were the real beneficiaries of independence? The feudal lords previously under British control were now without a supervisor who would watch and check their conduct. They became free to treat the peasants as they liked. They could imprison, flog and even kill them without being punished. They could not be challenged, were above the law and masters of their landed property. The police and government administration came under their control which by violating the law, they could use for personal interests. Their power increased when they joined political parties and became winning candidates as their captive voters elected them for the national and provincial assemblies. Similarly, tribal leaders became sole spokesmen for their tribes.

Both groups emerged as most powerful and influential on the political scene of Pakistan as they now enjoyed privileges that were denied to them during the colonial period.

The military was no more under the control of British officials and high posts now opened up for Pakistanis. Ayub Khan admitted in his memoirs that in the British army, at the most he could have been promoted to the post of a brigadier. But in Pakistan he became field marshal.

Bureaucrats emerged as the most privileged group in the country. They enjoyed unlimited power by appointments on high positions during martial law as well as in democracy.

The business community was free to hoard commodities, increase prices and earn unlimited profits as well as to evade taxes and become the wealthiest section of the society.

Politicians who assumed power used it for personal gains, accumulated wealth, established dynasty rule and retired after plundering state resources.

After independence, the status of the common people changed from being subjects to citizens but they remain unprivileged. Politicians treated them merely as voters and once the elections were over, they were forgotten. If the masses demonstrated for their rights, they were crushed by law enforcement agencies. They are still voiceless, helpless and denied a role in the development of society.

It is an illusion that the people of Pakistan got freedom, and that independence day should be celebrated by hoisting the flag and listening to patriotic songs. Sadly, independence has failed to give the common people freedom, dignity and respect.
By Mubarak Ali: http://www.dawn.com/news/1036689/past-present-independence-for-whom

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