Vantage point

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Freedom vs Sovereignty

Freedom can mean different things in different places. One country where "freedom" is perceived the closest to what it should be, in my opinion, is America (of course, there are some SCandinavian countries too). Freedom in such countries is personal freedom, the ability of an individual to do as he pleases, as long as it does not harm anyone else, or infringe on someone else's freedom. The state in such countries does try its best to protect this freedom, by putting in place the framework, in form of laws and punishments for those who infringe on freedom. Of course, such frameworks are not perfect yet, as seen from the legislation against gay marriages in most American states, but the intent is there.

In addition to this framework, what these countries also have is a population which seems to understand and internalise this concept of freedom. This understanding is evident from both the ferocity with which they protect their own freedom, as well as the respect they give to others' freedom. Of course, again, there are exceptions, as seen from the gay marriage issue, but by and large, people in such countries show a true understanding of the word freedom.

Now let's come to India.

What does "freedom" mean in India? I am afraid most people think of freedom as "sovereignty". For most Indians, we became free on 15th August 1947, because the state apparatus was run by our own people from that day onwards, as opposed to some foreigners. However, we have never really had a "freedom movement". For us, freedom meant the freedom to sing Vande Mataram, instead of God Save the King. Freedom meant being able to fly a tricolour instead of a union jack.

All these things are expressions of sovereignty and NOT freedom. In India, we take our sovereignty very very seriously, because it is something we struggled for, and like anything hard-earned, we value it. But we never really fought hard for our freedom. There has been no satyagraha in front of the Sena Chief's house demanding that he not infringe on our right to celebrate Valentine's Day. There has been no protest rally against banning of books, though there have been several rallies demanding bans. There hasn't been widespread protest against some Draconian laws, like the ones which make holding hands on marine drive an offence. When the government bans depiction of smoking in movies, there are just token protests.

Whatever little freedom we have, is thanks to the guys who wrote our constitution, because they were influenced by some of the truly "free" countries. We never really demanded too much freedom.

There was a long struggle for Indian sovereignty, and we won it, and attained sovereignty.

Our freedom struggle is yet to start. We Indians, as a people, are neither possessive about our freedom, nor do we respect others' freedom.


Jatin adds via email -

Honestly we can't compare ourselves with Americans, especially when thir history and their thoughts about freedom and liberty etc. are so different from ours. Even though we are a "free" country but how many Indians are truely free. Till 1/4 of us remain below poverty, till we remain poor, till we accept stuff such as castes etc we cannot really call ourselves free. We have so much baggage tied to us. We fought for our freedome just like the Americans did, the only difference being they did it more than 200 years ago and we did it a lil over 60 years ago with too many of us still struggling to really grasp what it means.

The post is right about the constitution, that document is going to keep developing and helping us attain the freedom we fought for, as we grow and hopefully prosper, we will truely come to treasure and understand what it means to be free.


Sarika makes some very good points in this post


Rajagopal responds on his blog here - Individual freedom - India vs America


Aayush's post in response.


Aman writes in -

You have some very interesting ideas in your article titled “Freedom vs Sovereignty”. I can’t help agreeing with most of your views, but with some patriotic reluctance.
Your views on us misinterpreting our ‘Sovereignty’ as ‘Freedom’ after the British left from India, seems like a bit of an exaggeration. After the initial years of independence, the government did whatever it could to make laws that would not take away individual freedom. There has been gross failures in implementing those laws over the last 58 years. The unwanted practices in the administrative machinery have led to the choking of legal implementation which may have led to the curbing of individual freedom.
However I feel that it is unfair for people like you and me to conclude that individual freedom has indeed been taken away.
We’re part of the urban set up – a minority. The real India resides in the villages. The real India is not bothered whether they are allowed to hold hands on Marine Drive or elsewhere nor are they bothered whether they can celebrate Valentine’s day. All they’re looking for is the basic means of livelihood. The real question is – has the Government ensured their freedom? Probably not. But then who are we (urbanites) to say anything. Compared to the real India seems like our freedom has been ensured.
I hope you can successfully rebut me on this and give us urbanites something concrete to crib about.