The Independence Act

August 14, 2012


-Photo Credit: Ceedee.

On this, the 65th Anniversary of the birth of Pakistan, it would not be out of place to pay some attention to the means by which it all came about. That pithy instrument by which the path of two nations diverged. The document which set in motion the wheels to transport two societies apart. The Indian Independence Act, 1947.

The 1947 Act is one of the most important Constitutional documents in the history of Pakistan. Yet politically, socially, it is a liability. In today’s modern Pakistan, many would hesitate even to acknowledge the importance of this foundational document. For what is it, but an embarrassing throwback to a time when the Pakistani people were not free.

How better to illustrate this lack of freedom, than by reflecting on the following: The Indian Independence Act, 1947 was an Act of the British Parliament. Nothing really drives this point home, like the following recital:

“Be it  enacted  by the  King's most  Excellent Majesty,  by and with  the  advice  and  consent  of  the  Lords  Spiritual  and Temporal,  and Commons,  in  this  present Parliament  assembled, and by the authority  of the same,  as follows...”

It was in London, that the creation of Pakistan was mandated, and not in Lahore or Karachi, or even for that matter, Delhi or Lucknow. And here, in words, the substance of that very mandate:

“1. As from the fifteenth day of August, nineteen hundred and forty-seven, two  independent Dominions shall be set up in India, to be known respectively as India and Pakistan.”

In a very real sense, it was not a question of “We, the People” – as in the Constitution of the United States – but rather a disparaging “You, chaps over there!” A fact which seems all the more shameful in the cold light of all our post-colonial pride.

The soil of History however, is not meant to bear the seed of emotion, but rather the seed of our ambitions. And for that seed to bear fruit, we must study the soil. In this case, it is the study of what constitutes the nature and content of ‘freedom’, and correspondingly, the question of ‘independence from what?’ What was that intangible thing, which the Pakistani nation hoped to attain; for which so many hundreds of thousands paid the ultimate price.

That intangible thing was none other than the right to decide for themselves how they were to be governed. It was the banner of ‘representation,’ behind which the nations of Pakistan and India gathered. No amount of historical revisionism can erase this one fundamental point. This was the basic compact, which the nation hoped to make with itself. And it was the right to enter into this compact, which the 1947 Act granted:

“6. The Legislature of each of the new Dominions shall have full power to make laws for that Dominion...”

The power to make rules – to make law – was the crowning jewel of independence. The figurative ‘yoke of oppression’ was none other than the castration of the People’s will by a foreign power. The denial of their most fundamental right, namely, to make decisions for themselves. For no man, no matter how much smarter, or more intelligent, or more educated he may be than his brother, has the right to tell him how he must live his life. After all, what is independence, but the ‘independence to act’ and the ‘independence to decide.’ Once this independence is taken away, then even a domestic power may become ‘foreign’ to the nation.

This was the basic lesson inherent in the struggle for independence. And it is this basic lesson, which the Pakistani nation has failed to learn. Representation; Enfranchisement; Democracy – these concepts continue to elude us. Despite the fact that it is these very principles which we sought so hard to attain.

So on this day, spare a thought for the Indian Independence Act, 1947, Enacted by the British Parliament for the Pakistani People. Spare another thought for this document later this year, when the time comes to vote for your chosen representative. Reflect upon it if your representative is victorious. But most importantly, reflect upon it, should he lose.


The writer is a lawyer practicing in Karachi.



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