Back in 1991, a woman in her forties caught people’s attention at the Women’s Studies Conference at Kolkata’s Jadavpur University, as she beat a little drum and chanted a slogan. This was Kamla Bhasin, screaming ‘Azadi’ against patriarchy while being surrounded by other women.
The word ‘Azadi’, meaning ‘freedom’, is now a common clarion call at almost every student protest. More recently, the expression echoed during Kanhaiya Kumar’s popular chanting, demanding ‘Azadi’ from discrimination, Brahminism, poverty, at Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2016 and later, at the anti-CAA-NRC protests.
The slogan also made way to pop culture, as part of the movie Gully Boy, starring Ranveer Singh as a rap artist, in a song by Dub Sharma.
Today, ‘Azadi’ has emerged as a cry among the youth against oppression in all forms. However, it essentially was a form of resistance against patriarchy.
In an interview with The Quint in 2019, Kamla shared that she heard the slogan for the first time in 1980s among feminists in Pakistan. She was quoted as saying, “Pakistan at that time was ruled by Zia-ul-Haq. The first group that rose up against Zia-ul-Haq was not a political party, it was a group of Pakistani feminists. I witnessed one such meeting and that’s where they chanted it. The chant went: Aurat ka naara – azadi/Bachchon ka naara – azadi/Hum leke rahenge – azadi/Hai pyara naara – azadi.” Inspired by the chant, Kamla Bhasin improvised and came up with her own poem.
At the same time, the feminist icon acknowledged that the slogan was meant for all. She famously chanted ‘Azadi’ not just for women but labourers, dalits, adivasis and so on, during ‘One Billion Rising from South Asia’ a campaign to end violence against women. “From patriarchy-Azadi/from hierarchy-Azadi/from endless violence-Azadi/from helpless silence-Azadi…for self-expression-Azadi/for celebration-Azadi,” Kamla chanted.
Kamla Bhasin began her work on gender back in the 1970s. After quitting her job at the UN, she began to work full-time on her feminist network Sangat. The author and women’s rights activist passed away today, September 25, at 3 am.