Bengaluru, Mar 6: "It's a beautiful word--Azaadi. A word that encompasses various human emotions. It's a philosophy. Azaadi stands for a just society for all," says a Kashmiri student, Mohammad Ishan (name changed on request), who is pursuing his Bachelor of Engineering (computer science) degree from a well-known college in Bengaluru.
Being a Kashmiri from Srinagar, Mohammad tells OneIndia, that the word (Azaadi) has been etched in his heart since his childhood.
Azaadi (Persian: آزادی) is an Iranic word, meaning freedom and liberty, says Wikipedia. It is very much an Indian expression too, as the word reverberates across the length and breadth of the country.
Every now and then, Mohammad tells us that the streets of Srinagar would burst into cries of Azaadi, whenever a civilian (or at times an alleged militant) was killed by the army.
"The word Azaadi is a pivotal part of our lives (Kashmiris). The long-drawn conflict in the state has resulted in the killing of several civilians and many young men who took up guns. Self-determination is not just an idea for us, it is vital for our survival. Mainstream India might call our desire anti-national. But it is a reality," says Mohammad.
It is because of his political ideology, Mohammaed says, he does not want to be named in the story. "Your readers might think I am an anti-national. I am not against India. I love India. India is my home too. However, aspirations of the Kashmiris too can't be ignored for long."
Like Mohammad, 23-year-old Alka Devi from Imphal, Manipur, who is working as a content writer in Bengaluru tells us that her state has long been demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
"We also want Azaadi from violence. Our state has seen enough bloodshed and extra-judicial killings in the name of fighting militancy. Many innocents were killed in this war between Indian army and militants. There is no place for AFSPA in a democracy," says Alka.
Alka clarifies that demanding Azaadi from AFSPA does not mean she is an anti-national.
"We salute all the brave soldiers who are fighting for us on the borders. But we should not support army atrocities on civilians in the name of fighting militancy," she adds.
It was in September 1980, when AFSPA was imposed in Manipur to fight home-grown insurgent groups in the state. Even after 35 years, lawlessness continues in the state with more than a dozen insurgent groups operating in Manipur.
Clearly, AFSPA has done no good to the residents as more than 1,500 alleged extra-judicial killings were reported in the last three decades.
Both Alka and Mohammad don't know each other even though they live in the same city. However, one strong link connects them-the reign of terror in their home states. Because of the cycle of violence, both were forced to leave their homes to find better career opportunities.
"After finishing my high school from Imphal, I did my graduation from Shillong and came to Bengaluru to find a job. There are very few job opportunities in Manipur. As peace remains elusive and the state often erupts into violence, students suffer a lot as schools and colleges can't function properly. So, I left Imphal five years ago and now I'm working here," says Alka.
Mohammad hopes to get a job after completing his degree. "I want to work after clearing my finals. I have to repay my study loan. I am ready to work anywhere in the country," smiles Mohammad.
After the political row erupted in the Jawaharlal Nehru Uinversity (JNU), where students were accused of allegedly raising anti-national slogans, leading to the arrest of JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar (who was released from jail on February 3), the word Azaadi became the rallying point for all those who supported Kanhaiya.
Starting from the JNU campus to the streets of Delhi, as protest marches were hosted in support of Kanhaiya's release from jail, participants chanted Azaadi to express their demands. Even on Thursday night, post his release from jail, Kanhaiya during his now famous speech uttered the word Azaadi several times. He and his friends shouted Azaadi slogans several times to put forward their demands.
In a country of 1.3 billion people, it would be impossible to count Azaadi chants of all, but a few popular personalities have already told the world what they want Azaadi from. The first among them is the Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal.
Kejriwal wants Azaadi from the interference of the Lt Governor.
The contexts could be different for everyone-be it Kanhaiya, Alka or Mohammad-but we all want Azaadi from one or the other thing.
If only the actual meaning behind the emotion get heard, we all can make this world a more beautiful place.