What On Earth Is ‘Freedom’ That We So Often Talk Of?

Posted on February 18, 2011 in YKA Editorials

By Abhirup Bhunia:

At the outset, let’s understand that there’s hardly anything as relative or person-specific as the concept of freedom. For one person the liberty to fly a kite is freedom; for someone else, the freedom to even think of doing so could mean enough liberty.

[Indeed short of better examples!]

So, are we free? It is a million dollar question affecting billions of lives in India and the world. Freedom is an all-encompassing concept stemming from the idea that free will is the only alternative to despotism. Historically perhaps it was the Roman plebian that asserted that it is the people, and only they, who matter. Liberty denotes the freedom of choice primarily. It may refer to the choice of voting for one party and rejecting the other – political freedom of the electorate; the choice of picking one product and snubbing another – economic freedom of the consumer; the choice of establishing a company and look right through the service sector – individual liberty of the human being. The last example can also be stretched to fit under the economic liberty category. Well these suggest an outline (although not an exhaustive one) of what freedom exemplifies in a free country and in broader context, the world.

In today’s world, looking at freedom without the context of globalization will be a missed opportunity for analysis. It is widely believed that economic and political freedom are paired and contingent on each other. The former has the bigger stake in the material world. The abstracts of political and civil liberties may remain hollow terms. Capitalism, the alternative to communism, and the one which eventually won the infamous cold war of ideologies, is identified with entrepreneurship and a general sense of self-determination vis-à-vis capital. Globalization adds to the flavor, and in effect helps in realization of the concept in its fullest and broadest sense.

The geographical boundaries shaped up by wars, conquests and invasions in the pre-civilization and the colonial periods have come to be disregarded. This is in order to make the planet integrated and to allow a system of free inflow and outflow of goods, capital and labor. And all of the abovementioned makes the world a free market. But for a lot of them who aren’t subscribers to the so-called economic development (and trust me, they are the whopping majority), the following two comparatively smaller paragraphs will find greater identification.

Let’s pass up the theories and concentrate on ground realties. A poor man cannot choose a better education for his son for want of money – is that freedom? The same man doesn’t get a chance to voice his opinion as the media has no time for him – is that his freedom? Or the mere fact that he can woof out his frustration from the rooftop (oh can one stand on the wobbly thatched roof in any case?) makes him a free man? Even that isn’t a guaranteed freedom, since any anti-establishment view (here establishment refers to the local party in domination) can lead him to being tortured at the hands of party goons! The peasants do not have political free-will either.

They know what a vote against those colored outfits which gave them alms in the form of quilts in the bygone winter would mean to them and they do not want to invite trouble; they already have many! If the low-profile dissidence of a cultivator leads to hounding, we don’t see why the Binayak Sen verdict is surprising. Do we?

This very unflattering post could be my last exercise of the constitutionally granted freedom of speech/expression, if authorities somehow read-through this. But I’m hiding behind the comfort that the government won’t have time for that!