India observed the 70th anniversary of its independence on August 15th this year.
Around this day, there was a lot to read, watch and hear in the media about various aspects of freedom, how it had impacted the country and its people, the achievements of the governments and what further needed to be done to fulfill the aspirations of the people.
2. The weekly magazine ‘India Today’ published the views of a few extra-ordinary Indians about what freedom meant to them, and what they thought about the situation in the country vis-a-vis their expectations. These views were categorized according to the filed of activity of each individual, as freedom to dream, freedom to exist ( for dalits and the downtrodden) freedom to question (the established rituals) to learn (for the unlettered) to demonstrate, to perform, protest, disagree, to know, to breathe (unpolluted air) etc.
3.Freedom of expression and speech expressly provided for in the Indian Constitution were not specifically mentioned by any of the contributors.
4. In the context of the present surcharged atmosphere in the country blaming the Central government and the ruling party BJP of atrocities against dalits, it was refreshing to find two of the dalit contributors among those mentioned in para 2 above painting a favourable picture about their situation in Society. Mehattar Ram Tandon says for example:
“I am welcome everywhere, in every household, every community I am called for bhajans and people don’t distinguish in matters of food when I am around. This quality has a special significance since I come from the Satnami community listed as Scheduled Caste”
Another Dalit contributor, Ginni Mahi says: “It would be unfair to say that the situation for Dalits has not improved over the years. I get immense respect from people all around me. They talk about my talent not about my caste……. What concerns me is that people across castes belonging to economically weaker sections are being exploited..”
5. Reverting to the topic of freedom, people tend to talk about the freedom of their choice with elation as if it were an end in itself. The important thing to remember is that humans live in Society and an individual’s interest has to be subordinated to that of the society, if there is a conflict. As one of the contributors referred to in para 2, T.M.Krishna says:”Independence is a collective experience: it is meant to be about the others,not me.”
6. The line between independence and anarchy and between freedom and licence is thin. A sense of responsibility towards others and discipline are pre-requisites to the enjoyment of freedom.
7. Some freedoms call for denial of some other freedoms. For example, the freedom to breathe unpolluted air, calls for denial of freedom to drive diesel cars, or run factories or even construct houses. Freedom to demonstrate or agitate results in denial of freedom to those not participating in such demonstrations or agitations to carry on with their normal lives or activities including ambulances to carry patients to hospitals. Freedom to question established rituals, though undeniably necessary, may hurt the freedom of some to practice their faith. The Constitution of the country allows freedom of expression and speech but it has to be exercised with reasonable restraint so as not to provoke any sections of the people.
8. Therefore, as humans, we should not aspire for absolute freedoms. But there should be no freedom to treat another human as an unequal human. That should be the only absolute.