Before it became a Bollywood chart-topping number, “Azadi” was a slogan to reclaim rights and challenge authoritarianism. While most people think of the chant as a gift from Kashmiri separatists, “Azadi” originally was actually a feminist slogan picked up from Pakistan and popularised by Kamla Bhasin, a renowned feminist who used it to oppose patriarchy and injustice against women. In 2016, a sedition case was filed against Kanhaiya Kumar, a politician and the former president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union JNUSU, after an out-of-context video of him chanting “azadi” went viral. And while this was met with much uproar at the time, “Azadi” or the chant of freedom is often equated with separatist desires instead of simply being interpreted as asking for the constitutional rights to be returned to citizens.
Now, Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh has warned protesters opposing the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act that chanting the “Azadi” slogan will amount to sedition, and that strict action will be taken against all those who engage in such sloganeering.
Speaking at a rally in Kanpur on January 22, Adityanath addressed the ongoing unrest in the state saying, “In democracy, staging a peaceful protest is everyone’s right. One can give memorandums and protest peacefully. But I want to reiterate that if anyone resorts to violence, we would recover damages from them. And also, I would like to state that raising ‘azadi’ slogans that were raised in Kashmir, would come under treason and attract strict punishment. This will not be tolerated.”
These comments come after citizens, mostly women, participated in an indefinite sit-in against the CAA at Lucknow's iconic clock tower and Gomti Nagar over the weekend, a movement similar to the women’s protests in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh. Not only were these peaceful protesters accused of "rioting" and "unlawful assembly", but Adityanath also claims this is just a way for Muslim men to be lazy and “shamefully” send their women and children to do their work for them. At several places, including Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh and in Lucknow, women have been at the forefront of the protests. While this has generally been jubilantly lauded, Adityanath said, "They started making the women sit at roads. The children have been made to sit. It's such a big crime that the men are sleeping under the quilt and the women are made to sit at roads. It is shameful."
While protests against the CAA—that has been criticised for excluding Muslims and being unconstitutional—have been going on in full steam across the country, the deadliest ones have been in Uttar Pradesh, where the death toll of protesters has gone up to 20 people. Meanwhile, videos circulating on social media show
police personnel in UP attacking peaceful protesters
and even seizing their food and blankets. However, despite it all, the protests are fearlessly continuing and spreading to all parts of Uttar Pradesh, creating an unsettling atmosphere for the government that is cracking down on free expression.
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