Building A Free India: Defining Speeches of Our Independence Movement that Shaped the Nation is a collection edited by Professor Rakesh Batabyal. In his introduction, he writes: ‘India’s movement for independence has been hailed as one of the largest non-violent mass movements in human history where a poor, unarmed population fought a mighty empire and won its freedom. However, it was not merely a war to oust a colonial power, but a century and a half of the most intense intellectual and political struggles in which a new and modern nation was conceived and the unity of a people along a modern entity called India was forged, effectively defining the content of the freedom that was sought. This collection is an attempt to present a glimpse into the ‘epic struggle’, as historian Bipan Chandra had termed it, through speeches which work as so many windows to significant moments in that struggle and the founding ideas and dreams for the free country and the citizen of that enlightened society.’
Later, Professor Batabyal elucidates that the ‘resultant effect of the speeches was the focusing of political action towards scripting an ennobling nationalism that would give us a just and equal society. The speeches that we have assembled here, of the constitution-making process and all that led up to it, allow us to retrieve some of those moments which went into building the ideational universe of the Indian freedom movement, and the democratic Republic of India.’
Here’s an excerpt from the collection, which is Kazi Nazrul Islam’s speech, Deposition of a Political Prisoner, translated by Sajed Kamal:
On 26 September 1922, a little over eight months after his famous ‘Bidrohi’ (The Rebel), the poem ‘Anandamoyeer Agamoney’ (Coming of Goddess Durga) by Kazi Nazrul Islam (24 May 1899 – 29 August 1976) was published in his bi-weekly magazine Dhumketu, for which he was charged with sedition. Dhumketu had consistently demanded complete freedom from colonial rule and soon a warrant for Nazrul’s arrest was issued. He was arrested in Comilla, East Bengal in November. On 7 January 1923, he wrote ‘Rajbandir Jabanbandi’ (Deposition of a Political Prisoner) while awaiting trial in Presidency Jail, Calcutta and on 16 January he delivered it in the court of Chief Presidency Magistrate Swinho. He was sentenced to one year of hard labour. ‘Rajbandir Jabanbandi’ was later published in Dhumketu on 27 January 1923—its final issue. The speech is an example of Nazrul’s superb skill in composing what in today’s terms would be considered a ‘prose-poem’, in which his characteristic, holistic interweaving of the poetic, political, spiritual, personal and universal finds a powerful, uncompromising and eloquent expression.
Nazrul Islam had the ‘superb skill in composing what in today’s terms would be considered a ‘prose-poem’TT Archives
The charge against me: I’m a rebel against the Crown. Therefore, I’m now a prisoner, convicted by a royal court.
On one side is the Royal Crown, on the other, the flame of the Comet. One is a king, with a sceptre in his hand; the other is the Truth, with the sceptre of Justice. On the side of the king are state-paid government employees. On my side is the King of all kings, the Judge of all judges, the eternal Truth—the awakened God.
No one has appointed my Judge. In the eye of this Judge Supreme, kings and subjects, rich and poor, happy and sad—all are equal. On His throne are placed side by side the Royal Crown and the beggar’s monochord. His law is Justice, Religion. That law is not created by any human conqueror for a particular conquered people. That law is created by the global humanity from its realisation of the Truth. It belongs to the universal Truth. It’s the law of the Supreme God. On the side of the king is a molecular piece of the creation; on my side, the primordial, infinite, indivisible Creator.
What is behind the king is insignificant; behind me is Shiva. The goal of the one on the side of the king is selfish, monetary reward; the goal of the one on my side is the Truth, the reward of Bliss.
The message of the king is like bubbles; mine—the boundless ocean. I’m a poet, sent by God to speak the unspoken Truth, to give form to the formless creation. God speaks through the voice of the poet. The message is the revelation of the Truth, the message of God. That message may be judged seditious in a state-court, but in the court of Justice, that message is not against Justice, not against Truth. That message may be punishable in a state-court, but in the light of Religion, at the door of Justice, it is innocent, untainted, untarnished, and inextinguishable as the Truth itself.
The Truth reveals itself. No angry look or royal punishment can suppress it. I’m the lyre of that timeless self-revelation—the lyre in which the message of eternal Truth has been resounded. I’m the lyre in the hands of God. A lyre may break, but who can break God? There’s Truth, there’s God—there’s always been and always will be. One who is obstructing the message of Truth today, trying to silence it, he too is but a miniscule, insignificantly powerful, part of God’s creation. It is due to God’s gesture, God’s presence, God’s will that he is here today, and may not be here tomorrow. There’s no limit to a human being’s foolish pride; he wants to imprison, to punish his own creator! But one day, that pride will definitely drown in tears.
Anyway, as I was saying, I’m an instrument for revealing the Truth. Maybe some cruel power may be able to imprison that instrument, may even be able to destroy it; but the One who plays the instrument, in that lyre who plays the message of Shiva, who can imprison Him? I’m mortal! But my God is immortal, I’ll die, the king will die—because many rebels like me have died, as have many kings who have brought such charges. But never—for no reason—it’s been possible to suppress the Truth, to kill His message. That’s how He is revealing Himself today and will do so through eternity. This proscribed message of mine will once again be expressed through other voices. The music of my flute will not die simply because my flute has been confiscated—I can play the music through another flute I can get or create. The music is not in my flute—it’s in my heart; and the flute—in my creative skill of constructing it. Therefore, neither the flute or the music is to be blamed. Rather, I’m the one to be blamed—I, the player of the flute. Likewise, for the message which has flowed out of my voice, I’m not responsible. It’s not my fault, nor my lyre’s; rather, it’s His fault—who, through my voice, plays His lyre. Therefore, it isn’t me who is the rebel against the state. The real rebel against the state is that Musician of lyre, God Himself. There’s no royal power or a second god who can punish Him. No police force or prison has yet been created who can punish Him. The state-employed translator, in the state-language, has merely translated the language of that message, but not its life-spirit. The translation merely expresses the rebellion against the state, because the purpose of that translation is to please the king. My writing expresses the Truth, Power and Life-spirit. My purpose is to worship God; on behalf of the oppressed, distressed global humanity, I’m the shower of Truth, tears of God. I have not rebelled against a mere king, I have rebelled against injustice.
A young Nazrul Islam in front of the Dolmadol canon in Bishnupur in the 1920sWikimedia Commons
I know and I have seen—I’m not alone standing convicted in this court today. Standing behind me is the beauteous Truth, God Himself. Throughout ages He stands quietly behind his soldiers of Truth turned political prisoners. A state-employed judge cannot be a judge of the Truth. Through farcical trials like this when Jesus was crucified, Gandhi was imprisoned, that day too God quietly stood behind them. The judge could not see Him. Between him and God stood the emperor. In fear of the emperor, his conscience, his two eyes were blinded. Otherwise, he would have trembled in fear and awe in his seat, turn blue, along with his seat of the judge, burn to ashes.
The judge knows that what I’ve said and written is not unjust in the eyes of God, not a lie in the court of Justice. But he will probably punish me, because he is not on the side of the Truth; he is on the side of the king. He is not on the side of Justice, he is on the side of law. He is not free, he’s a servant of the king. Yet, I ask—whose courtroom is it? The king’s or of Religion? This judge—is he accountable to the king, or to his conscience, to the Truth, to God? Who rewards this judge? The king or God? Wealth or self-satisfaction?
I hear that my judge is a poet. I’m delighted! A rebel-poet is to be judged by a judge-poet! But the last boat at the day’s end is calling this elderly judge; whereas, red-dawn’s naba-shankha is here to greet my coming. Death is calling him, life is calling me. I can’t tell whether our respective setting star and rising star will unite. Nah, I’m talking nonsense again.
Today, India is subjugated. Its people are slaves. This is the absolute truth. In this kingdom, to call a slave a slave, injustice an injustice, is sedition. This cannot be the rule of Justice. This forcible twisting of a truth into a lie, injustice into justice, night into day—can the Truth go on tolerating this? Can such rule last forever? It’s been possible this long, maybe because the Truth was oblivious. But today the Truth is awakened—any awakened soul with eyes can see that for sure. Am I a rebel because I voiced the distressed cry of the Truth stricken by this unjust rule? Is it only my own crying? Or, is it the united, loud voice of the entire oppressed, Heaven and Earth? I know, the cataclysmic roar of my voice is not mine alone—it’s the cry of the suffering of the entire world. This cry cannot be silenced simply by intimidating me, even killing me. Suddenly, in someone else’s voice, this lost message will be heard thunderously!
Instead of India being subjugated, if England was subjugated by India and if the defenceless, oppressed people of England, like the people of India, would be anxious to liberate their own motherland, and, if at that time, I was the judge and, like me, this judge, charged with sedition, was to be tried by me, then, what this judge at that time from his defendant’s dock would have said, I too am saying the same thing in the same way.
I’m highly self-confident. What I’ve understood to be unjust, oppression, a lie—I’ve called it just that—without trying to please anyone or to receive praise or a favour. I have not merely rebelled against the injustices of the king, but my Truth-sword has also attacked and rebelled against the society, race, nation. For this, in and outside my home, I’ve been subjugated to much too much ridicule, humiliation, reproach, attacks. But I’ve not let anything intimidate me into debasing my Truth, my God; out of greed I did not sell off my self-realisation; I did not shorten my austerely attained self-satisfaction—because I’m dear to God; a lyre of Truth. I’m a poet, my soul is one with the soul of the truth-seeing saint. I’ve been born with an unexplainable, boundless sense of fulfilment. This is not my arrogance, but a simple and honest acknowledgment of the truth of self-realisation and self-confidence. I cannot accept a lie out of blind faith, greed, fear of the king or the public. I cannot accept tyranny. Then my God will abandon me. It is because this body-temple of mine is the seat of the awakened God that people worship this temple, show reverence. What will be left of this temple if God abandons it? Who will come seeking in it? That is why in my voice was heard Shiva’s trumpet call of cataclysm, in my hand the Comet’s fire-flag wavered, behind the flag the temple-God in the guise of Narayan danced the Dance of Destruction.
This Dance of Destruction is a prologue to a new creation. That is why I relentlessly, fearlessly, with my head raised high, held the flag and played His trumpet. I heard the piercing call of the mighty Shiva, I understood the command of his blood-red eyes. I understood instantly that I was a red soldier of the universal cataclysm of protecting the Truth, regaining Justice. He sent me as a precursor to Bengal—the green cremation ground, a land asleep—to blow the trumpet. I’m an insignificant soldier, I have merely obeyed his command with the best of my ability. He knew—mine would be the first chest to be hit; I’m therefore honoured to think of myself as the first wounded soldier of this cataclysm. After being released from prison, when I submit myself to His feet with the mark of a wound on my chest and the blood-mark of persecution on my forehead, when I submit myself to His feet, then His compassionate offering of nectar will calm, reliven and inspire me. On that day, once again, I will take my stand under the shadow of His sword. That hope for a crimson dawn, ecstasy, will transform my prison days into a heaven of resounding laughter and songs. I’m a son of the Immortal. Without even my asking for it, God has given me the power to transform the torturous iron rods into precious jewels and gold with the touch of the all-pervasive delight in the heart of the child-eternal. I have no fear, no regrets, because God is with me. My unfinished duty will be completed by someone else. The Truth cannot be suppressed. The comet in my hand will now become a torch of fire in the hands of God to burn the injustices, tyranny. Now the captain of the fiery airplane will be God Shiva himself! Therefore, lo, there’s nothing to fear!
My imprisoned mother has called upon her unworthy son, offering him a place in her bosom. I do not know if there’s a place for this unfortunate child in the bosom of the subjugated, helpless mother. If there is, then I will thank the judge with tearful eyes. I reassure you—I have no fear, no regrets. I’m a son of the Immortal. I know that the tyrant’s tormenting of the Truth comes to an end; in that Truth lies my destiny!