Back to the Moment of Promise – ‘Azadi’ (freedom) Series of Art Work by Shahid Mirza

Artist Shahid Mirza’s Azadi Series is a set of seven mix media paintings illustrating different aspects of our ‘freedom’ from British rule in the 1947 partition of India. From the direct, explicit and in-your-face bloody history of our colonization to the fading shades of secularism in Pakistan, these paintings invite us to contemplate on ourselves post-partition.

Choice of mix media creates the eerie feeling of contemporality within the historicity of the past. With each of these paintings, the Artist tries to bring us back to that moment of promise when freedom from colonization and sectarian bigotry seemed possible; when millions of lives were lost to achieve it.

By bringing us back to that moment of promise, the Artist encourages us to confront our own concepts and constructs of ‘freedom’ before we go on and congratulate ourselves on the continuation of the hollow and shallow facade of celebrating August 14.

azadi-1a-shahidmirzaAzadi 1
Blood-letting of the powerless.

azadi-2a-shahidmirzaAzadi 2
Destruction of life by agents of the state.

azadi-3-shahidmirzaAzadi 3
Changing positions of (Muslim and Hindu) power-brokers.

azadi-4-shahidmirzaAzadi 4
The deadly religio-spiritual antagonist.

azadi-5-shahidmirzaAzadi 5
Sectarian violence.

azadi-6-shahidmirzaAzadi 6
Early faces of hope.

azadi-7-shahidmirzaAzadi 7
Freedom for who?

Created after the formation of Bangladesh, Bhutto’s assassination, Zia’s Islamicization, and Pakistan’s Talibanization, Azadi Series displays the history of partition in the context of today, and, in bringing the past into the present where we continue to suffer from the same but intensified problems of inequality, these paintings insist that the moment of promise is now.

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Azadi Series by Shahid Mirza first Published at Uddari Art, Punjab 1947 & After

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‘Indian Obsessions: China’ by Randeep Purewall

Even as he spoke of ‘India China Bhai Bhai’, Nehru wrote about China in his personal letters as India’s ‘foe or adversary for a considerable time to come’. Just after India conducted nuclear tests in April 1998, the then Minister of Defence George Fernandes proclaimed China as India’s ‘potential threat number one’. And again in May 2011, a Times of India article rang alarm bells about the expansion of the Chinese navy into the Bay of Bengal.

Whether it is the lingering trauma of China’s invasion of India in 1962, China’s coziness with Pakistan, or India’s endless self-comparison against China’s higher GDP growth rates and HDI rankings, the idea of China as a threat or competitor to India is an Indian obsession. But while many Indians focus on the actions of the Chinese toward India, few have reflected on factors that are part of India’s own national psyche. Why is India so fixated on China? How does India see itself in the world? And how does this affect India’s perception of China?

Like any country, India perceives other countries the same way that a particular person may perceive (or misperceives) another person. And just as it is difficult, if not impossible, for one individual to observe another individual objectively, free from personal bias, belief or experience, so too can it be difficult for one country to perceive another country ‘objectively’ free from history, realpolitik, or nationalist ideology.

India’s perception of China is affected by India’s perception of itself and its place in the world. With the birth of the idea of a united India under the British, and the rediscovery of ancient Indian learning, many Indian nationalists, including Nehru in The Discovery of India, became convinced that India had once been ‘great’ and dreamed that destiny would restore it to such greatness. The idea of India’s greatness was lavishly displayed at the First Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi in March 1947. It found echoes in Nehru’s ‘tryst with destiny’, and spawned the ‘Nehruvian’ school of Indian foreign policy thinking which envisioned India as a key player in Asia and the world. It later became India Shining under the BJP in the 2003 reelection campaign after India’s GDP received a boost from good monsoon rains.

China is a threat to India because it threatens to challenge or appropriate India’s own belief that it is the great Asian power. Not only does China share with India a conviction of its own historic destiny as a great power, but China also lays claim to being one of the most successful and influential civilizations in Asia and the world.

Whereas India may be an emerging or potential emerging power, the China threat is already arriving or has arrived through its growing share of world trade, its diplomatic and political influence through the United Nations, and the ‘soft power’ challenge of the Chinese model of development. For India, Chinese actions such as the 1962 invasion or competition for resources in Africa are threatening not simply in and because of themselves, but because they challenge India’s own belief that it should be the preeminent power in Asia and have its place amongst the great powers of the world.

If we challenge India’s beliefs about itself, we also change its perceptions of others. By challenging India’s beliefs that is inherently ‘great’, or destined for ‘greatness’, its perception of other countries like China who are rapidly growing economically or becoming powerful diplomatically, may become less distorted. China may instead start to look like a developing country that is working hard to achieve self-sufficiency and prosperity after its own troubled history. By looking at what may influence one country’s perception of another, we can appreciate why Pakistan perceives India a certain way, why Israel looks at the Palestinian authority in a particular light, and how perceptions can be readjusted by challenging and discrediting core beliefs in inflated national selves, mythologies and destinies.

Randeep Purewall is a lawyer, researcher and cultural activist based in Surrey, Canada. Contact him at:

Bhagat Singh’s Statue by Fahmida Riaz

There is news from Delhi
alas! Alas!!
What a mess they have made
Of Bhagat Singh
In the Parliament Square!

For sixty years they petitioned
The British rejected him
But YOU! Our own government.
Erect his statue
in the Parliament Square.
At last the government beat its breast
and said why not!
and erected the statue in the parliament square.
But when the veil was lifted
You discover it is not Bhagat Singh
That 24 year old beautiful lad
Nor his young limbs that they could not properly burn
On the fateful night when they hanged him.

It is some 60 years old guy
Flabby and tired looking
With upturned mustaches
Ah what the hell is this.
This is not our Bhagat Singh
In the Parliament Square
Who the hell is he?

Ha ha ha! Dear friends
Wipe your tears look closely
At all the other statues
Is it the same Jawahar Lal as he was? Is it the same Gandhi?
The same Abulkalam Azad?

The in-coming and out-going respected parliamentarians
Have made an omlette of thier reality
And gobbled them up long long ago.
In this grand square
Only scissored and edited versions
Can find a lasting place.

Bhagat Singh was the child of his time
And times have changed. He loved Urdu poetry and Ghalib
And Ghalib, getting rid of his robe
Is Galib now, winking and singing some trashy “gajal”
Ishwarya Rai is dancing on it
So kind of her.

And in his city Lahore
Bhagat Singh is a Sikh
Who perhaps left for India in ’47
Such names make people nervous
Is the god-damn man coming back?
to claim his property??
We shall never let that happen
After all we left fields and barns
shops and houses
in Ludhiana.

Bhagat Singh was a pure Indian
His times are swept away with the wind
He was a purely Indian heart-flame
Light in the water
rustling in the wind
He was a purely Indian passion of his time
And times have changed.

Let his statue remain where it has been for 60 years
Accross both sides of the border
In a heart or two.
There every morning
Longings as innocent and ignorant as little children
Cover his young body with fresh garlands of marigold
Bathe his limbs with tears of love and adoration
He belongs there
He is happy there.

Translated by the author from the original in Hindustani

Original Urdu Version

On Bhagat Singh Statue Controversy

Background Information

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