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The many interpretations of azadi on JNU’s campus

delhi Updated: Mar 14, 2016 09:53 IST
Heena Kausar
The meaning of azadi

JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar addresses JNU students after his release in New Delhi, India, on Thursday, March 3, 2016.(Sanjeev Verma/ HT Photo)

Azadi or freedom, a word made popular by JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar in his fiery comeback speech, has become a tagline for the JNU sedition row.

While Kanhaiya used it as a broad brushstroke when he said he wanted “freedom within India and not from India”, JNU students flesh out what it means to them.

Something as simple as travelling late at night can become a reality only with freedom, said students.

“(Azadi means) freedom from the fear of being raped and molested because I am travelling at an odd time,” said a student, who did not wish to be named.

The punch line is among the many popular slogans raised at protests by JNU students.

“When we raise the azadi slogan we are trying to say is that we want freedom from evils like Brahmanism, poverty, hunger and systematic suppression of marginalised people,” said former JNUSU president Lenin Kumar.

We want freedom to dress the way we want and eat what we want, which may include beef, he said.

JNU has been the eye of the storm since alleged anti-national slogans were raised at an event to commemorate Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru. The incident led to student leader Kanhaiya being charged for sedition, which sparked off countrywide debates on nationalism.

“Nationalism has been defined in a different way by Tagore, Periyar, Nehru and Gandhi. We want azadi to discuss those definitions and express our views on them. In Tagore’s words, we want a situation where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,” said Amrit Raj, a student of Spanish.

Freedom to discuss uncomfortable realities and issues is azadi, they said.

“The slogan stands for freedom to raise any issue without the fear of being incarcerated the next day. I want freedom for all of us to speak up about Article 377 even after Supreme Court’s verdict on it,” said Sumedha, a student at School of Language, Literature and Culture studies.

However, some students cautioned against appropriating its usage. A student said Kashmiris used it for years and that those sentiments should be respected.