by Jazzib Akhtar
“Defeated an empire only to return to a different empire.”

Kilos of grain leave Indian fields onto British ships

Every bit of wheat is accounted for down to the very last bushel

The blisters on our hands reach out for their portion

Imperial officials stutter through their broken urdu

There’s nothing left

Our hands harvested the crops

Our sweat was the fertilizer that gave them life

This was not our famine

Two million dead

If there was no food

Where did it all go?

Winston Churchill sips his tea

We must feed the soldiers he said

Well of course we must assist in the war effort we respond

What are we fighting for?

Hamaray watan pe hamla nahi hai

Our country is not under attack

Toh pir hum kyun lade?

Then why should we fight?

You are British said Churchill

Fight for your King

When you tore us apart and dissected our culture and traditions

Called us savages and uncivilized

 we were not British

When your establishments said “Indians and dogs not allowed”

We were not British

When you could not even spare grain to feed our children

We were not British

Toh hum angrez kahan se hoi?

So what makes us British?

Two and half million Indians died on the battlefields of Europe

Uprooted and transplanted, brown men shipped off to fight for white men

Who are we fighting we asked

We are fighting Hitler said Churchill

Who is Hitler we asked

A tyrant

But what do we know of tyrants we are but servants of His Majesty

Two and a half million rifles fired for someone else’s freedom

When do we get our freedom we asked

Soon said Churchill

Just win this war for me

Is it not enough that we left our limbs behind in North Africa, chasing Rommel through the deserts where the sands swallowed our bodies and drank the blood we spilled for you?

In those sands we marched as the winds blew our footprints away as if we were never there

Lost to the scales of time here so far from our mothers, fighting where so many armies have fought for before

As if the Sahara does not remember that you have sent brown men to their deaths before

How many of us have become shaheed in this land of chaos, caravans, and conquest

These sands are unfamiliar to us and still we whispered the names of our Gods to it as we fell

Is it not enough that in the jungles of Burma we fought imperialism for imperialism

One island nation for another

We liberated Italy for you

Tore down every symbol of fascism and oppression

Defeated an empire only to return to a different empire

We helped liberate Europe

But who liberates us?

Like the motherland she is she has given her sons to fight for your freedom and yet

We remain occupied

Jang hum lade aur ghulam bhi hum bane?

We fight for you and still we are slaves?

We won your war now we are free

Not quite said Churchill

There’s another war to be fought

Who are we fighting now we asked

Churchill takes another sip of his tea

Each other

About the Writer: Jazzib Akhtar is a Houston-based Pakistani-American writer and poet, he is a senior at the University of Houston majoring in Political Science and National Security Studies. He is also an organizer and artist who uses his work to find intersections between art and structural inequity. Apart from being the co-founder of UH’s first poetry slam team and spoken word community, when he is not working on his craft he can be found hitting game-winners at the rec.

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