INDEPENDENCE DAY: Indian Democracy Still Struggles To Define Freedom As It Celebrates 75th Anniversary



By Zile Singh

The Day, August 15th, was celebrated throughout India and abroad by the Indian Missions and the Diaspora in different ways with pomp and show. The President and the Prime Minister addressed the nation promising a better future.


“Swaraj (freedom) is my birth- right and I shall have it.”- Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak.  Freedom is too abstract an idea to be defined accurately and precisely. Freedom has different deeper meanings. The notion that someone can be absolutely free is absurd.  Most of the time, one person’s freedom obstructs another person’s right. All living beings aspire and exert for freedom. Nobody wants to be imprisoned, bound, tied down and trampled down. About freedom, it is said, “Nobody can give you freedom.  Nobody can give you equality and justice.  If you are a man,you have to take it. A sick man is not to be pitied who has his cure in his sleeve.”  Once freedom is achieved, it can only be sustained with responsibility and reasonable restrictions. Freedom without reasonable restrictions leads to chaos and lawlessness. Freedom and slavery form a circle. You can either be a free man or be a slave. It is not necessary that one is a slave of any foreign power or an authoritarian ruler in his own homeland. One can be a dumb and deaf slave to one’s own ideology, sometimes rightly, but most of the time unconsciously. There are millions of people who are slaves to their sick mentality, one way or the other. On the other hand, there are people who are the destroyer of freedom in the garb of “Caesar’s wife is above suspicion.”  Or, by coining a slogan, “My religion is being discriminated against and is in danger.” Some even exert muscles in the name of a new-found freedom and demand violently for a ‘separate homeland’.


To some, political freedom is above all: the right to assemble, to free speech, to participate in government (vote, run for govt. etc.)  To others, economic freedom is essential:  freedom from hunger, freedom from fear of health, or other woes.  There are still others who want freedom from religious bigotry, unfounded beliefs, rituals and superstitions. There is another class of freedom seekers who want personal freedom to do whatever pleases them, i.e. drugs, sex, abortion, nudity, dress-form, creative arts etc. Alas! Millions are urging freedom from caste. Lynching in the name of religion and caste are spread over ever since.


Political, economic, religious and personal freedoms are the material aspect of freedom.  Now, a question arises whether one will be content to simply carry on with life as usual basking in the sun of the above-mentioned freedoms, especially hunger and disease, without the opening up of a new dimension of freedom relating to self-awareness and inner calm?  Because ‘to be content’ in a welfare state is everybody’s aspiration. In order to defend our freedoms, we make protests and resort to rioting in the name of social activism. In order to push our demands, we think that we have to make ourselves strong and flex our muscles to the extent where the government and the public are put in inconvenience to yield. But we cannot stand with muscles flexed and sit-in-protests by blocking the public conveniences all the time.


More than outward freedom, we need inner freedom and peaceful co-existence because humanity spells beyond national boundaries and personal religious beliefs.  For this one has to understand that between public protests for freedom and response from the government, there is a space. The oppressor and the seekers of freedoms have their respective responsibilities to appreciate that space.  Dialogue, understanding and tolerance are parts of that ‘space’. The real solution lies in the marriage of social activism and good governance. Unfortunately, today the social activism and governing aspirations have taken the form of narrow selfish interests and bigoted religious agenda respectively. In democratic norms, these groups of people are given the names of ‘Political Parties.  These are, satirically “Enlightened plc.”  These ‘public limited companies’ are evoking public emotions in the names of religion, region, language, sex and even ancestry to vote for them. They promise to make the country a place where everyone will be healthy and happy. Directly or indirectly, their only agenda is money, power and unbridled control. So tempting are their slogans that ordinary masses shun their responsibility and escape into their deceptive and divisive manifestos.


The Political, economic and spiritual thinkers of all ages have devised rules to administer the subjects with due diligence and due process of law.  In a secular democracy, political parties should govern by the spirit of the Constitution (Rajdharma) once invoked by Prime Minister, the late Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Public’s personal sentiments need not be ignored by the ruling class. At the same time the opposition forces should not incite public anger to gain political mileage.


Words alone will not cut the ice, neither will prayers alone. We have to bring in unison our rights and duties to usher into a world of real ‘Freedom’. All out efforts by all in the right direction ( Sab KaPrayas ) are  required as advocated by the Prime Minister of India in his Independence Day Address to the Nation. The Public and the public limited companies, in particular, need to pay heed for a better future.


“Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom. – and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.” – Benjamin Franklin.


To sum up; Millions of people have shed their lives at the altar of freedom. Freedom has abundant responsibility.

Zile Singh is a well respected Columnist, Writer and a Vipassana Meditater. He has a Post-Graduate Diploma in Human Rights.  He can be reached at [email protected]