India and Pakistan: yet another Independence Day

By B. R. Gowani

Beast of Burden: photo: Zakir Gowani

The Beneficiaries of Independence

An observation of countries freed from the white colonial rule, reveals that the dreams of the majority in realizing the fruits of freedom have frequently remained just dreams.

In the post-freedom period, often the nationalist leaders fighting for sovereignty from the colonial shackles have been trained by, or have remained in close proximity to, the same white masters from whom they sought to be liberated.

A few leaders did genuinely try to carve a post-independence path that would allow them to follow an economic system that would not put them under the dictates of their former colonial masters. However, their plans were frustrated by those masters who now re-colonized their countries economically through the financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund they created after the Second World War. These institutions would hold back the funds from the colonially devastated countries that refused to fall into the trap of this dependency.

Another observation: when a country gets freedom from the colonizers, a certain class of citizens benefits both in good and bad times. This phenomenon has been observed in the colonizing countries too. The Great Depression of 1929 saw most people in the US being pushed into misery. However, the rich continued to have their parties and lived the same luxurious life they enjoyed before the onset of the Depression.

The beneficiaries could be a priestly class, such as the Brahmins in India or the dominant ethnic group(s) which may not always be a numeric majority. This was true in the pre-1971 Pakistan which comprised of a Bengali majority (54%) but where the major power holders were Punjabis who comprised of only about 27% of the population.

A unique case being South Africa where not only did the white minority become the new colonizers under the facade of Independence, but they passed an official policy of apartheid through which they minimized contact with the colored majority.

This scenario was repeated in many Latin American countries when the fair skinned Caucasian-looking Hispanics became the new masters; including in Guatemala, where darker skinned native Indians make up 60% of the population. Of course, these dictators were taking orders from their former colonizers and the new master: the US.

Pakistan and India: Different paths

Pakistan and India gained independence from the British in 1947 on August 14 and 15, respectively. Initially, the citizens in both countries had high hopes that conditions would be better than under the British Rule. The reality of poverty, bribery, injustice revealed itself blatantly almost immediately turning their dreams into sour reality.

It was apparent not too long after that both countries had chosen different paths of governing.

At the time of independence, only Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, who was an agnostic and a constitutionalist, was influential enough to hold the country together and introduce it to democracy. But within thirteen months he succumbed to illness. Later, the military along with the feudal class and the bureaucrats became major players in Pakistan politics. In India the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s liberal and democratic outlook allowed it to venture on the path of democracy; and the civilian leaders who followed him adhered to this policy.

The other aspects of Democracy

While it is true that India has more freedom of expression than Pakistan, freedom from censorship is but one pillar of true democracy. Freedom from hunger, illiteracy, sickness, homelessness, injustice, violence, police harassment, bribery, etc. are other necessary aspects of democracy.

However, the different systems in both countries should not fool anyone that the majority of Indians are in any better shape than their counterparts in Pakistan. On the United Nations HDI (Human Development Index), India is placed at the 132nd position out of 179 countries — barely above Pakistan’s 139th position.

Pakistan’s future is hard to predict. India, however, is emerging by the grace of United States – as a regional superpower. In an interview to the Tehelka, Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s appreciation of Indian help in ruthlessly crushing the Tamil Tigers lends testimony to this: “I am sensitive to India’s feelings because India is my elder brother.”

However, the grim figures on poverty, economic disparity, health, education, farmer suicides and other unpleasant statistics paint the real picture of the state of affairs in India. The increasing power of communalist elements, the unresolved Kashmir problem, the ongoing conflict in northeast India do not augur well for India’s future.

India has achieved some affluence but it has a long a way to go in alleviating the misery of the majority of the people.

Also, India, like many other countries (US included), has ignored the 1948 UN Charter on Human rights.

In December of 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights comprising of 30 articles. Article 25 states:
• (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
• (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

B. R. Gowani can be reached at

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