Kanhaiya Kumar. (Photo by Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images) 
Snapshot
  • ‘Azaadi’ is based on the premise of getting freedom from something. It relies, nay is based on, the ‘other-ing’ of a certain entity or element from which freedom is sought.

India is simmering. Political turmoil has gripped the country, primarily around the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 and the National Register of Citizens.

The Opposition has found a renewed energy and drive, with people from all walks of life joining in, to register their criticism of these policies of the government.

The call for ‘Azaadi, Azaadi’ has been conspicuous in all of these protests. ‘Azaadi’ literally means ‘freedom’, and it was former JNU students’ body president and CPI member Kanhaiya Kumar who coined the now-famous “hum leke rahenge azaadi” slogans to seek freedom ‘within the country’s laws and systems of justice’.

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I was curious to know what the fundamental meaning and nuances of what has now become a buzzword actually is. As per some, this Azaadi is freedom from falsities and false promises, while for others it is freedom from unemployment and divisive politics. For still others, it seems to mean freedom from the current government and its policies.

The term has become so all-inclusive that one could put in just about anything in there. While the anti-government populace wants ‘freedom from fascism and ultra-nationalism’, the pro-government people have been seeking ‘freedom from anti-nationalism and political violence’.

If the ancient Indic conception of God, in Brahman, was defined by the concept of ‘neti, neti’ or ‘not this, not this’, since Brahman was beyond any and every description, the conception of ‘Azaadi’ seems to be more in line with the idea of ‘iti, iti’ or ‘(also) this, (also) this’.

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It seems this popular slogan is going down the path of wanton expansion, and I believe the idea is in the very conception itself.

Azaadi’ is based on the premise of getting freedom from something. It relies, nay is based on, the ‘other-ing’ of a certain entity or element from which freedom is sought.

In the reductionist model, where the individual or the particulate is preeminent, this ideation is natural. However, this is what often leads to fissures and friction in society and nature, in the form of acrimony and self-centered confrontation.

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The fundamental problem in this idea of freedom is that it does not consider freedom within the larger picture, in a comprehensive way. It may just become freedom for the sake of freedom. The only way this transcends the contextual and the immediate is if it assumes the meaning of ‘liberation’.

However, ‘liberation’ from another element or entity still remains a limited concept. This is something that oriental philosophies, particularly those of the Indic civilisation, will find foreign.

Long before Karl Marx discussed political emancipation in his 1844 essay On the Jewish Question or the first few Women's Liberation organisations formed in the late 1960s in the United States, liberation and emancipation was the heart and soul of the Indian people, albeit not just physical or social but also spiritual.

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Being liberated from the burden of identities in the material and the attachment with physicality itself in a higher sense has been the underlying basis for the idea of ‘Mukti’ or ‘Moksha’.

Moksha is derived from the root muc, which means release or liberate. The Mundaka Upanishad Mundaka II Khanda II Verse 4 says

प्रणवो धनुः शारो ह्यात्मा ब्रह्म तल्लक्ष्यमुच्यते।
अप्रमत्तेन वेद्धव्यं शरवत्तन्मयो भवेत्॥

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which translates to

Pranava (Om) is the bow, the Atman is the arrow and the Brahman is said to be its mark. It should he hit by one who is self-collected and that which hits becomes, like the arrow, one with the mark, i.e.. Brahman.

In this verse, ‘Muchyate’ is an early form of describing ‘Mukti’, by speaking of how one merges or becomes one with the supreme consciousness or Brahman.

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This liberation is a transformation that allows one to see the truth beyond the immediate realities and attributes of things, and to look behind the fog of ignorance.

In the worldly sense, this does entail emancipation, as beautifully portrayed in the Vivekachudamani

जाति नीति कुल गोत्र दूरगं
नाम रूप गुण दोष वर्जितम् |
देश काल विषया तिवर्ति यद्
ब्रह्म तत्त्वमसि भाव यात्मनि ||२५४||

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Beyond caste, creed, family or lineage,
That which is without name and form, beyond merit and demerit,
That which is beyond space, time and sense-objects,
You are that, God himself; Meditate this within yourself.

The manner in which liberation takes place in one’s life itself is highlighted by Vedanta in the concept of Jivanmukti, which is in contrast to Videhamukti, which refers to liberation after death, in the spiritual plane. Not only is Jivanmukti psychological liberation from various fears in life and emancipation with regards to various identities such as colour, creed, nationality, gender and caste, but also a fundamental dissolution of an individual’s final identity as a human being into a higher Unity consciousness.

This is highlighted in the Rig Veda Mandala 5 Hymn 59 Verse 12, which is also regarded as the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra:

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त्र्यम्बकं यजामहे सुगन्धिं पुष्टिवर्धनम्

उर्वारुकमिव बन्धनान् मृत्योर्मुक्षीय मामृतात्॥

which translates to

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Om, We Worship the Three-Eyed One (Lord Shiva),
Who is Fragrant (Spiritual Essence) and Who Nourishes all beings.

May He severe our Bondage of Samsara (Worldly Life) and thus Liberate us from the Fear of Death, by making us realize that we are never separated from our Immortal Nature.

Here, Shiva, of the Hindu Trinity, is the predominant manifestation of the Brahman. Since physicality itself is being discussed as a hindrance for liberation, the attributes and identities associated with physicality are naturally considered as secondary as well, and thereby, true liberation and emancipation is conceptualised and attained.

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This naturally brings freedom from these encumbrances but not by other-ing anybody or anything but by being an integral part of it all, and realising the true nature of things. This kind of freedom takes place by the realisation of the underlying unity of all things, irrespective of their physical attributes and orientations.

As a result, there is no hostility or hate, just compassion. There is no acrimony, only camaraderie. There is no exertion, only ecstasy. There is no agitation, only an inner revolution.

There is no this and that but only us. Only One, as beautifully portrayed in Yoga Vashishta Book 7 Chapter 55 Verse 23

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निर्वाणमेवमिदमाततमित्थमन्तश्चिद्व्योम्न आविलमनाविलरूपमेव ।
नानेव न क्वचिदपि प्रसृतं न नाना शून्यत्वमम्बर इवाम्बुनिधौ द्रवत्वम् ॥

which translates to

It is termed the nirvana-extinction of a man, when his view of this outstretched gross and impure world, becomes extinct in its pure spiritual form in the vacuity of his mind. The vast and extensive world presenting all its endless varieties to view, has no diversity in it in reality; but forms an infinite unity, like the vacuous space of the sky, and the fluidity of waters of the one universal ocean on the globe.

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It is this spiritual mooring and underpinning of Dharmic and Indic thought that naturally led to a culture of acceptance and unity in diversity, of acquiring Purushartha (elements such as resources, righteousness and liberation) and yet transcending them. The tragedy of history and myths is the one-sided story-telling, with respect to the victor in major confrontations usually, and thereby a tendency to present the partial truth.

It is in understanding truth in its entirety that Mukti arises, and it is in this understanding that one obtains impartial, comprehensive and truly satisfying freedom, liberation and emancipation: One that provides freedom from subjectivity, falsities, segregation, politicking, deprivation and discrimination.

Mukti is the freedom from hunger, poverty and discrimination, on the physical, social and spiritual planes, and we must stand up for this as strongly as possible, with compassion, camaraderie and clarity in our hearts and minds!

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