November 26th, 2017 at St. John's Indian Orthodox Church
The Azadi Celebration was held on November 26 2018 at St. John Indian Orthodox Church. 80 people from different generations and civilizations attended. Youth and elders discussed a history that is not taught in schools or universities. The discussion inspired all to work towards unity for a better world against the forces of war and empire, and to continue the work of past generations.
The event featured a photo exhibition of the Indian Independence movement and the Non-Aligned Movement, including photographs of Martin Luther King in India, Indira Gandhi and Fidel Castro, and WEB Du Bois and Lala Lajpat Rai. Artists performed the revolutionary works of Bhupen Hazarika, Paul Robeson, John Coltrane, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and more. Community leaders like Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed (past president of the Bangladesh Association of North America), ES Reddy (former head of UN Special Committee Against Apartheid), Somarajan Kunjukunju, (president of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP) of Delaware County), and Dr. Anthony Monteiro (scholar and activist of the North Philadelphia African American community) spoke about the unity of the people against racism and for a world where people can live with peace and dignity. In the words of ES Reddy: "we too have a duty to continue the struggle for a peaceful and just world – A world in which there is no racism and no violence, where no one makes profit by selling weapons of murder, a world where men and women have equal rights, a world where the color of skin does not bring privileges or humiliation. Long Live Dr. Du Bois! Long Live Mahatma Gandhi!"
Presentation: Civilization in South Asia, and the Atrocities of Europe
The world is changing and it is in times of change that we question our assumptions and ideas about the world. Today, we look back to our history to understand the civilization that we come from, and its contribution to the world. India was one of the great civilizations of the world: it stretched from the Hindukush mountains in the north west to the tip of Kanyakumari in the south,and the dense forests of Burma in the east. The many faiths, peoples and languages in this region are unimaginably diverse, and yet are bound together by history. The contributions to art, science and philosophy are huge, and still not at their proper place in the world.
When the British left us in 1947, they left a society with 90% of the population illiterate and in deep poverty. British policy had a huge death toll, and events like the Bengal Famine, where many millions died of hunger even as food was being exported to Britain by Winston Churchill, must be remembered as crimes against humanity. We look back today to honour the sacrifices of those who fought against the British rule and understand the struggle that they waged for freedom. If our young people, the new generation, is to have a sense of identity and self-respect, then we must understand this history and absorb it. It was the need for trade, for spices and silk, that brought Europeans to Africa and Asia. But the relentless greed for profit can make people forget religion, culture and morality. It was in the 16th century that Portugal first started the trade in human beings: the slave trade. The cruelty, the hatred and the violence has been documented by scholars but a trade in human beings also caused a shift in values. The drive for money and wealth led to a complete lack of respect for human beings. This history lay the foundation of the British rule and colonization of India. The British worked hard to emphasize our differences and hold their power through a policy of divide and rule. We were told that our history was one of conflict between Hindus and Muslims. We were told that our education system was inferior, that our traditions were inferior. The British regularly wrote reports that put Indians into smaller and smaller boxes based on their language, religion, sect, caste, sub-caste, and skin colour. They set up an education system that would teach us very little about our own contributions to knowledge. We continue to fight each other today, and those who are truly in power remain the same. More so, we were told that we could not deal with our own problems, that we needed European rule to take us to modernity. But what is this modernity based on? India’s share of the world economy when Britain arrived on it's shores was 23 per cent, by the time the British left it was down to below 4 per cent. Britain's industrial revolution was actually based upon the de-industrialisation of India. The handloom weavers of Bengal, for example, were famous across the world. They were making fine muslin, and Britain came in, cut off their thumbs, broke their looms, imposed tariffs and duties on their cloth and products and started taking their raw material from India and shipping back manufactured cloth. That meant that the weavers in India became beggars. This is one side of the story. The other side is that the rule of the British was never accepted by India, the evidence is given by constant rebellion against the unjust government. There were rebellions in every corner of the subcontinent- from the movement of Pagal Panthis under the leadership of Tipu Shah in Bangladesh to the peasant unrests in Punjab, to the series of Mappila revolts in Kerala that lead to the great Malabar rebellion. There was also resistance from the tribal communities, including the Bhils, the great Birsa Munda, fighting against the seizure of natural resources and forests that were their livelihood. In 1857, there was a revolt from Delhi to Gwalior led by Rani Laxmibai which pledged allegiance to the Mughal emperor. These lay the foundation for our powerful movement for freedom from British rule, for peace, justice and equality. The ideas of our freedom struggle were of a socialism that drew on our civilization and philosophies. Gandhi understood the ills of western society and the western way of life - materialism, militarism and racism. We were treading in the footsteps of the Buddha, Sree Narayana Guru and Mohammed to establish a new kind of society where all were equal. Great poets and philosophers arose out of this movement, Sahir Ludhiyanvi, Rabindranath Tagore, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Nazrul Islam, Mohammed Iqbal, and Sarojini Naidu. Our leaders stood strong and upright, with the truth on their side, Khan Gaffar Khan, Nehru, K. Kelappan, Subhash Chandra Bose, T.K. Madhavan, Aruna Asaf Ali, Surya Sen, Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad. They were ready to sacrifice everything for the people. In the words of Sahir, Kya khaakh vo jeena hai jo apne hi liye ho Khud mit ke kisi aur ko mitne se bacha le What is a life lived only for oneself? Erase yourself to save another from being erased The lives of each of these men and women deserve study and serve as models for all of us. The reason we wish to know this past history is because its spirit did not end with the end of British rule. In times of crisis, we see evidence of it again.The combination of imperialism and racism led to horror and degradation for all humanity, including the British. As Jawaharlal Nehru said, “The future historians of England will have to consider how far England’s decline from her eminence was due to her imperialism and racialism which corrupted her public life”. We hope the performances that follow can give you a glimpse of the spirit of independence, courage and determination that our people fought with.
Presentation: The Collapse of Europe, and the Building of a New World
In the words of Sukarno, former president of Indonesia, “We are often told "Colonialism is dead". Let us not be deceived or even soothed by that. I say to you, colonialism is not yet dead. How can we say it is dead, so long as vast areas of Asia and Africa are unfree. And, I beg of you do not think of colonialism only in the classic form which we of Indonesia, and our brothers in different parts of Asia and Africa, knew. Colonialism has also its modern dress, in the form of economic control, intellectual control, actual physical control by a small but alien community within a nation.”
History has proven that the United States cannot be the model for the new world we seek. It has followed britain and established a colonial empire of its own. We see that colonialism continues when African Americans face deep poverty, a lack of education, and daily police violence. Colonialism continues when America wages war across Asia and Africa, and dictates how nations spend their money. Colonialism continues when we have to give up our culture, and community, and our youth have to become white to be accepted in this country. ‘Divide and rule’ has been used by Europe to separate people who had a shared history. On the eve of independence, the movement of India was undermined by the partitioning of its land and its people. This partitioning was a way for Europe to ensure that it never left India, and ensure India’s dependency on the West. The lines between India and Pakistan were drawn by Winston Churchill, who hated the people of South Asia. The life and work of Kazi Nazrul Islam defied the partition of Bengal along religious lines. He used both Hindu and Muslim traditions with ease to synthesize a message of unity and love. On the one hand he is the writer of the finest poems in honour of the goddess Kali and on the other hand he authored Islamic songs like Morubhaskar. We must not let the West dictate how we see each other, and instead fight for unity for a better world. This means unity and peace among the people of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. It also means unity with others who have faced this history, unity with Africa. Here, in the United States, it is unity with the African American struggle for freedom, in the spirit of Martin Luther King and Gandhi, Paul Robeson and Bhupen Hazarika. We carry all this history with us, each of us are inheritors of the legacy of Subhash Chandra Bose, Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Birsa Munda, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Sarojini Naidu. This history compels us to act with moral uprightness, to always side with justice against oppression, to speak the truth, and to put humanity before petty personal gain. We will chose to stand with all those who are still fighting for a world free from hunger, poverty and war. As Faiz compels us, Bol, ke lab azaad hain tere: Bol, zabaan ab tak teri hai, Tera sutwan jism hai tera – Bol, ke jaan ab tak teri hai. Speak! For for your lips are free Speak! Your tongue is still your own Your upright body is yours - Speak! For your life is still your own. Our current moment has brought to light what Martin Luther King said about America, “I suspect that we are now experiencing the coming to the surface of a triple prong sickness that has been lurking within our body politic from its very beginning. That is, the sickness of racism, excessive materialism, and militarism.” What we need today is a new vision for the world, one that is not governed by greed and war, but rather by human need and peace. To do so, we have to understand the place of Asia and Africa in the world, and work to build principled unity between them.