The azadi chant may have captured the imagination of a large section of people, thanks to the JNU Students' Union (JNUSU) President Kanhaiya Kumar, hailed as the new youth icon by most media houses, but the woman who conceived this chant its modern manifestation - well-known feminist Kamla Bhasin, insists that mere sloganeering will do little to facilitate the much talked about social change. "Chants never change anything. You have to work on the ground and mobilise people. A slogan is just one of the millions of tools employed to raise awareness," she tells DailyO.
Contrary to popular perception, the azadi chant has not originated from Kashmir valley where it enjoys much popularity among downtown Srinagar's stone pelters. It is in fact Das who conceived it as a war cry against patriarchy, demanding equal rights for women through its foot tapping rhythm.
Bhasin, making it clear that the word copyright means 'right to copy' improvised the poem in the Indian context after she heard a few lines during a woman's conference in Pakistan in 1985 (Meri Behne Maange Azadi) adds, "The improvisation never stopped. I modified it further into "Meri Behne Mange Azadi" into - 'azadi from helpless silence, azadi from violence, azadi from media vultures, azadi from nuclear thunder' during a conference in Beijing in 1995. The key is to keep adapting it to contemporary social realities, something which we are seeing today. Can't we hear the JNU students chanting 'Ladenge Jitenge'? This originates from the Right to Information Movement in Rajasthan," says Bhasin.
Stressing that, over the years, she has felt that it is important to ask freedom for and not just from, the social scientist recites a few lines, "Freedom to walk without fear, freedom to sing from the heart, freedom to dance sans inhibitions."
Insisting that for her it was never a feminist chant, Bhasin points, "Since the beginning we have been including farmers, workers and tribals too. Any kind of freedom for women is impossible without freedom from caste and the present social circumference the society as a whole operates in. Everything is so bloody interconnected."
As the conversation veers towards gender, her area of specialisation, Bhasin, who studied Sociology of Development at Muenster University in Germany, wants to talk about how patriarchy has harmed men. "For the past 100 years, we have focused only on women and completely ignored its ramifications on men and what it is doing to them. Have we not stereotyped them? Men cannot be seen as sensitive or crying. Women can wear jeans, but are men allowed to wear anything remotely feminine by the society? Why are only they 'expected' to be the earning members?"
Bhasin feels that the contemporary society has brought out the worst in the male gender. "I read a news item about a 14-year-old boy raping a woman. I refuse to believe that violence is in their DNA. If that was true, wouldn't all men be rapists, but that's not the case, no? Every second week there is a report of a young male student firing from an automatic weapon on a crowd. What have we done to men?"