There has been a usual enthusiasm about the mass uprising in Egypt over Mubarak’s “misrule”. Most of my friends from India (I do not have foreign friends) were hugely exuberant about what appeared to them as a Freedom Movement totally led by the masses and hence the ultimate expression of liberation. I was of course sceptical and expressed my reservations in my status in which I said that the mass hysteria in the country would end up in the Muslim fanatics replacing the dictator. I eventually removed the post from my status because I felt that Egypt could perhaps be an exception to an ochlocracy. I was thrilled when Supriyadi (Mrs Roy, our teacher from MHS) posted a link in which her son-in-law, Nezar from Berkely expressed similar reservations about Egypt’s Freedom Movement.
We in India take our story for granted. India’s Freedom Struggle has been the largest mass movement that the modern world has ever seen. What is interesting is that this movement has been fairly participatory, commanded almost the whole of our existence and world view, been more or less persistent, somewhat loose and unorganized and often leaderless and what is more striking, it has been basically non-violent. The Indian Freedom Struggle was neither a struggle against political anti-incumbency, nor a cultural assertion; instead it was a humanist effort at securing institutional support wherever oppression existed in whichever form. This is why; the Indian Freedom Movement had such a universal appeal precisely because political power was merged with social emancipation. The Freedom Movement of India became the basis of what we know as de-colonization and the idea of the Third World, a world of nations born out of popular struggles against colonialism, emanated from the Indian soil. Before India’s Freedom Movement, colonialism was looked upon as a civilizing process where the superior Western civilization was supposed to be civilizing savage cultures of the colonized people. The Indian Freedom Movement told them that it was immoral to rule over sovereign people.
My friends who imagined that Egypt’s Freedom Movement would be something similar took our history for granted. Freedom Movements can fall into traps of the military junta, or religious fanaticism or even into crony elites. It took a huge amount of effort for many kinds of freedom struggle leaders to bring such a mass of loosely gathered people into getting into the discipline of democracy, rule of the Constitution, a rational society, universal justice, acknowledgment of rights and establish modern values in everyday life. India undertook a long and a painful journey towards galvanising a mass into a disciplined democracy and a sustainable sovereignty. It required not only sacrifice of life and sometimes of property but also a sacrifice of interests positions when elites colluded into the interests of the masses, the privileged spoke from the point of view of the poor; the Brahmin included the untouchable and the men allowed spaces to women. It was not an easy thing for a society of the 19th century that held customs like sati, infanticide, social seclusion of widows, untouchability as sacred and beyond doubt into a society that outlawed each of these consecrated customs and made them into cognizable crimes. It was not easy for a society dominated by zamindars and other feudatories to abandon such unquestioned domination into equality before law; it was not easy for a society dominated by Brahmins to allow secularism among Hindus to flourish. And each of these have been attained and the processes within our society that made such achievements possible are worthy or exploration by sociologists, especially those in Egypt, Afghanistan or even in Kashmir and Manipur and Nagaland.