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On Rights & Reality

Antonio Francesco Gramsci (January 22, 1891 – April 27, 1937), the Italian Marxist philosopher, journalist, linguist, writer and politician who is best known for his Theory of Cultural Hegemony, once argued that “all men are intellectuals; as all have the capacity to think even in the most physically defined job. However, not all men are intellectuals by social function”. He explained that “all men are intellectuals” because all human beings have rational capacity and capability. In his Prison Notebooks (written between 1929-35), Gramsci mentioned that there are people who use more of their intellectual faculty than others. These people are what he called intellectuals.

While discussing the process of the formation of intellectuals and their roles in society, the 20th Century Italian philosopher stressed that there were two types of intellectuals, namely Traditional intellectuals and Organic intellectuals. Gramsci wrote in his notebooks that the Traditional intellectuals “see themselves as autonomous and independent from the ruling social group, believing to stand for truth and reason”. On the other hand, the Organic intellectuals “emerge from and are tied to a social class within an economic structure. They usually speak for the interests of a specific class or social group”. Gramsci’s proposition strongly challenges the supposed objectivity and neutrality claimed to exist in academic work. As the academic world is predominantly Western ruled, it often serves a particular social group or class.

Even in the 21st Century, not all the intellectuals dare to raise their voice against an authoritarian system or against the existing status quo, especially when an authoritarian ruler declares that criticising the Government is equivalent to planting a mine. In such a scenario, only few intellectuals take to the street. It would be a great mistake if one thinks that all intellectuals are responsible to society. The tradition of constant questioning of the public intellectuals is an ancient practice, so is the history of state patronage of intellectuals.

Tahira Abdullah, a prominent Pakistani Human Rights activist, is one such person who has always stood up against the system even in extreme adversity. Talking about the role of intellectuals, she has raised the most sensitive issue of Pakistan… the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh. Tahira has stated that a couple of Pakistani poets had strongly condemned the killing of innocent civilians of Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) by the Pakistani Army. “We are proud that some journalists, Women’s Rights activists, and common people, too, had taken to the streets, and staged protests against the military operation against Bangladesh,” she added. According to Tahira, the Global Community is not aware of this because of the absence of social media at that period of time. These people had risked their lives to go against the State at a time when Pakistan was under strict Military Rule.

Tahira has recalled that Faiz Ahmad Faiz (February 13, 1911 – November 20, 1984) was one of those poets (in Urdu and Punjabi languages) who penned the verse ‘Hazar karo mere tan se‘ (‘Stay Away from Me‘), depicting the horrific atrocities in Bangladesh. The dream of Muhammad Ali Jinnah (December 25, 1876 – September 11, 1948), the founder of Pakistan, was shattered, as the South Asian nation became a thoroughly Undemocratic State, with many imprisoned for treason within a few years of Independence (1947). Faiz, who spent his childhood in Dhaka before arriving in Pakistan after the Partition of the Indian Sub-continent, was arrested for writing the verse.

Tahira has stated that Women’s Action Forum (WAF), a Women’s Rights organisation of Pakistan, publicly apologised to the women of Bangladesh on bilateral and multilateral platforms for gang rape and other crimes committed by the Pakistani Army personnel during Operation Searchlight. “We have been building continuous pressure on the Pakistani Army and the State to apologise unconditionally for the inhumane and illegal acts of 1971,” she added. According to Tahira, Feminism is not the name of an organisation, but a revolutionary point of view. She further said that Women’s Right to Justice was there in the Constitution of Pakistan, although the Pakistani Government did not implement the law.

Meanwhile, Tahira has admitted that the Pakistani State has been tolerating her for more than four decades. So far, beating, tear gas, insults and detention have failed to stop Tahira from criticising the State. Once, she planned to settle in Kolkata, where her mother was born in 1929. However, she did not get an opportunity to arrive in the eastern Indian city.

It seems that people, like Tahira, would help the younger generations in the Sub-continent identify the real intellectuals with their lives and works in the coming years.

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