Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Jasmine Revolution that did not reach Tiananmen Square

There was one brief period in my life, in my early life, when I understood what it means not to have the freedom of expression.  I was barely into my teenage and I knew I hated the very idea of government clamping down on that glorious freedom.

It was when federal rule was imposed as a result of a declaration of national emergency.  The prime minister, Indira Gandhi, and her minions--especially her second son, Sanjay Gandhi--turned India into a police state.  One of my favorite magazines, Thuglak, carried blank spaces in its pages--the blank resulting from the government censors axing out paragraphs that, one would assume, were critical of the government.

A fearful life was not worth it even though trains ran on time and workers actually worked.  It became the beginnings of the doubts about the communist ideas that so much fascinated me, though it took me a few more years to completely rid myself of the red within.

A little more than a decade later, I, like hundreds of millions of others on this planet, watched transfixed the protests at Beijing's Tiananmen Square.  Pro-democracy protests by students who were in my age cohort.  The rawness of the emotions!

Recalling the protests, Nicholas Kristof writes:
A quarter-century has passed. The bullet holes in the buildings along the Avenue of Eternal Peace have been patched, and history similarly sanitized....
The great Chinese writer Lu Xun once wrote, about an earlier massacre: “Lies written in ink cannot disguise facts written in blood.”
I have to remind myself that it has been 25 years since those protests.  Twenty-five years!

Individual freedom is way too valuable for me to give up.  I empathize with those who yearn for it.  When the Arab Spring spread, I hoped that the protests in Tunisia and others in the Arab world would reach China and trigger a Jasmine Revolution.  It never happened, of course.

If you can read this blog post, tweet, update your status on Facebook, or even yell out loud that your government is fucked up, those are all evidence that you--and I--have freedoms that did not come easily.  A great many made this possible for us, and often they paid for it by suffering torturous deaths.  For now, it might seem as if the deaths of the Tiananmen protesters was all in vain.  Not by any means.  For one, it reminded millions like me that freedom is precious.  Further, as Kristof writes:
As China prospers and builds an educated middle class, demands for participation will grow. I’ve covered democracy movements around the world, from Poland to South Korea, and I’m confident that someday, at Tiananmen Square, I’ll be able to pay my respects at a memorial to those men and women killed that night.
I can only hope that we are not far from that day in the future.

Here is the late poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz:
Speak, by Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Speak, your lips are free.
Speak, it is your own tongue.
Speak, it is your own body.
Speak, your life is still yours.

See how in the blacksmith's shop
The flame burns wild, the iron glows red;
The locks open their jaws,
And every chain begins to break.

Speak, this brief hour is long enough
Before the death of body and tongue:
Speak, 'cause the truth is not dead yet,
Speak, speak, whatever you must speak.

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