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Past present: Independence for whom?

Published Aug 18, 2013 06:46am


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Every year we celebrate Independence Day with fervour and official ceremonies including military parade and state banquet. Titles and awards are bestowed upon military and civilian persons for their meritorious services and performances. Generally, it is believed that we got independence from colonialism after the British departed. We became free in our homeland from slavery and subordination by foreign powers.

There is no doubt that the country became independent and the era of colonialism ended. But the question remains — who really got freedom? The common people, feudal lords, tribal leaders, bureaucrats, military officers or political leaders and the business community? The reality is that the common people still suffer as slaves and are not free. Those who got freedom are the privileged and ruling classes.

During the British period, the feudal lords were supervised and controlled by the British officers. They acted as the most loyal group who supported the colonial government with money and manpower.

However, the British government evolved a system to control them. If a feudal lord disobeyed or violated rules and regulations, his seat in the darbar of the commissioner or the governor was lost. It meant a reduction in his status and the displeasure of the government. The disgrace lowered his position in the eyes of his contemporaries as well as his own people. The feudals would immediately apologise so that their status could be restored. It was common practice for government officials to keep them waiting for hours before a meeting. Those loyal to the British were awarded titles and granted privileges which raised their social status. David Page in Prelude to Partition and Sara Ansari in Sufi Saints and State Power have discussed in detail the imperial control system over the feudals.

In the early period, the Indians were appointed only on lower posts in bureaucracy. Slowly, more posts would be reserved for Indians, especially for those who passed the competitive examinations. However, their conduct was supervised by British high officials and they had to observe special rules and regulations reserved for bureaucracy which suited the interests of the colonial government. Same was the case with the army as the higher ranks gradually opened for Indians.

When the government allowed political parties to be formed, the leaders had to adhere to a strict political framework. It was only during the struggle for freedom that they actually had the opportunity to act freely.

There are two different views regarding independence. The British claimed that they shifted power peacefully but the people of the subcontinent argued that they won their freedom after significant struggle.

So who were the real beneficiaries of independence? The feudal lords previously under British control were now without a supervisor who would watch and check their conduct. They became free to treat the peasants as they liked. They could imprison, flog and even kill them without being punished. They could not be challenged, were above the law and masters of their landed property. The police and government administration came under their control which by violating the law, they could use for personal interests. Their power increased when they joined political parties and became winning candidates as their captive voters elected them for the national and provincial assemblies. Similarly, tribal leaders became sole spokesmen for their tribes.

Both groups emerged as most powerful and influential on the political scene of Pakistan as they now enjoyed privileges that were denied to them during the colonial period.

The military was no more under the control of British officials and high posts now opened up for Pakistanis. Ayub Khan admitted in his memoirs that in the British army, at the most he could have been promoted to the post of a brigadier. But in Pakistan he became field marshal.

Bureaucrats emerged as the most privileged group in the country. They enjoyed unlimited power by appointments on high positions during martial law as well as in democracy.

The business community was free to hoard commodities, increase prices and earn unlimited profits as well as to evade taxes and become the wealthiest section of the society.

Politicians who assumed power used it for personal gains, accumulated wealth, established dynasty rule and retired after plundering state resources.

After independence, the status of the common people changed from being subjects to citizens but they remain unprivileged. Politicians treated them merely as voters and once the elections were over, they were forgotten. If the masses demonstrated for their rights, they were crushed by law enforcement agencies. They are still voiceless, helpless and denied a role in the development of society.

It is an illusion that the people of Pakistan got freedom, and that independence day should be celebrated by hoisting the flag and listening to patriotic songs. Sadly, independence has failed to give the common people freedom, dignity and respect.

Comments (16) Closed

Ali Aug 18, 2013 10:14am

Very true.

Rakesh Aug 18, 2013 11:28am

How true. And it reminds one the scenario of India too. A deja vu. Was it the reason Gandhi was sad on the independence eve and said after much coaxing from BBC journalist for his message to the world----'Tell them Gandhi no longer knows English.'

khalid Pathan Aug 18, 2013 12:34pm

This slavery of masses has no end. The only chance is that this oligarchy will be replaced by a more brutal, authoritarian group comprising of religious extremist, who will not hesitate to eliminate anyone who opposes their rule, as they will do it in the name of religion. Out of fire into the frying pan.

Obaid Qureshi Aug 18, 2013 08:23pm

Dear professor, I follow your weekly article in DAWN. I find it full of truth and therefore always enjoy it. I am proud of you. People like you give us hope of a beautiful country it was meant to be. Please keep it up. God bless you and Pakistan.

Munawar Aug 18, 2013 10:08pm

Instead of claiming to have won independence or freedom from colonial rule it would be closer to the truth that all countries of the Indian sub-continent achieved self-rule. This is a far cry from freedom. In reality there is no freedom nor independence in these countries.

Masood Hussain Aug 19, 2013 12:03am

I am a keen reader of Mabarak Ali will like him to write more often and throw light on our history.

Justice (R) Salahuddin Mirza Aug 19, 2013 12:22am

Mr. Mubarik Ali has said the obvious truth which has so far evaded the general masses. I am sure the article is an eye opener for educated segments of he society.

Ajay Aug 19, 2013 12:22am

Hardly any comments from Pakistanis ! I would have loved to read comments on why political leadership failed, why it left an opening for the military junta, why political leadership failed to abolish Zamindari system early enough after independence before it became a mill stone around its neck. Was common sense lacking? Was Pakistan lacking in leadership?

India did not face the same issues as PAkistan although in the last 30 years, it is moving rapidly towards the path of Pakistan at least in the area of corruption and inept governance.

Anand Aug 19, 2013 02:00am

Just as it has played out in India too. At times out of desperation I wish we were still under British rule.

Avik Roy Aug 19, 2013 04:51am

Superb article! The author mentioned it in the context of Pakistan, however, this is true for India too. In Pakistan probably the feudal lords still dominate. In India, though there is a rise of the downtrodden, the same has become corrupted to the hilt and acting as the new feudals. Bottom line, the so called independence is still unfolding. Where this will take us god only knows. In the meantime my good wishes to Dawn, the author and the citizens of Pakistan.

Syed Aug 19, 2013 08:06am

Excellent analysis.It is for this reason old people like me say British Rule was thousdand time better. It is for this reason, people do not come out to protest when army take over power from a democratically elected prime minister although they had overwhelmedly voted him to power.It could be posswible to get independence from civilised Britisherers but not the present ruling elites of Pakistan.

omair Aug 19, 2013 10:56am

A very well written and though provoking article!

Ahsan Fraz Aug 19, 2013 12:55pm

These feudal lords, politicians, bureaucrats and military are responsible for what Pakistan has become now. We do not celebrate independence day with that zeal and enthusiasm as it happens to be many years ago. Now it is spent just like another holiday. Children no longer wait for TV shows and dramas which were once seen with keen interest when we were small. Very few peoples hoist flags on there houses and the count is decreasing with every passing year. This is happening all because of wrong policies of self centered politicians who only think of earning more and more wealth. Military plans only for their own period as owners of the country and all the benefits are enjoyed by bureaucrats as they are well aware of the fact that both military and politicians need them to run the matters of state. So, there power is increasing day by day and gap is widening between common peoples and these 'servants of the people'.

Shankar Aug 19, 2013 01:33pm

Beg to disagree! If you take indicators like life expectancy, literacy rate, per capita income, infant mortality, health-care etc, we ( India and Pakistan ) have benefited enormously by way of freedom and independence. I can say for sure that Indi has benefited and I am willing to bet Pakistan has also benefited from indepenedence. Sure, there could be unequitable distribution of wealth but that is more a problem of the economic model we chose rather than independence!

umer Aug 20, 2013 01:21pm

You can't expect to have a functional democracy when it is constantly being undermined by the civil-military bureaucracy.

khanm Aug 20, 2013 06:50pm

@Ahsan Fraz: and they keep on coming back again and again... Jay say tum ho wasay he tum per musalat kia ja angay... nothing is going to be changed unless YOU change it...