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Treading fearless

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Treading fearless

Can we not manage our own freedom, is the fundamental question

The fact that violence of man against man has become common place around us in India — not just under the present Government but under all previous ones too — is deeply disturbing. Hindus lynching Muslims, men raping women, communal riots breaking out leading to mass murders — how is it that despite all the laws in our mighty Constitution, religious doctrines, and societal values that lay out the framework for ‘appropriate’ behaviour, we still continue to kill? Can we not manage our own freedom?

In my opinion the crucial principle that differentiates freedom from slavery is the principle of voluntary action as opposed to compulsion to think or do anything. For example, what is the difference between Anna Hazare who in 2011 fasted or deliberately chose to abstain from food in order to draw attention to his ethical position against corruption, and a person who is starving because he lacks the opportunity to get food? They are both living in a politically free India. Neither are gaining good nutrition such that both are in pain. But the former is exercising free choice, whereas the latter is not free because he has no choice. It is therefore only the latter who is enslaved to his condition of starvation.

By this definition, I believe that it is not the legal framework in the Constitution, nor the laws in the court, and certainly not society, that forbids us to harm or even kill one another. It is our voluntary respect for the individual right of another man to live, that prohibits us to harm or kill him.

Unless we have this respect in us, no amount of rules curbing our various freedoms would save a man from man. But if we, one, carry this respect within us, and two, are able to exercise our rational faculty in our actions, then even if society’s arbitrary rules asks us to kill another man, we will disobey. Of course the human mind is not infallible. We are not always capable of thinking rationally, and may make the wrong decision. But when rationality fails then respect for the other, intervenes.

In essence, another man’s survival requires that those who are free must also be rational and educated to respect one another’s life. These two pre-conditions are essential. It is therefore that no matter how many legal or societal rules we create to control our freedom, if we as a nation do not nurture respect rationality and the ability to independently think and judge, we will continue to kill or harm each other at the least pretext. 

Rationality and freedom are therefore two sides of the same coin. We can only be rational when we think with a free mind, and when we are rational then freedom can win. One does not really exist without the other. A rational mind does not work under compulsion. Once it perceives the situation, it can not be subservient to anyone else’s orders or controls. Such a mind can therefore be perceived as dangerous to political harmony. If such a mind can not be cajoled, manipulated, forced even by a gun, then how can a political leader have his own orders obeyed? The limits to consensus are finite in a nation as diverse as India! Freedom of expression in India has in fact been curbed — more or less in different eras — by many successive governments ever since we gained our political freedom from the British. After all can there be any greater irony that in year 1951 the very first amendment made to the Constitution of India included the provisions to curtail freedom of speech and expression in the country?

So if encouraging rational thinking amongst our people is detrimental to an Indian political leader’s tenure in power, then what incentive does he have to encourage quality education in India? I refer here to the kind of education that opens up the mind with questions, rather than close it with answers learnt by rote; the education that teaches us to respect each other as human beings, and not pull one another down even when scrambling for the same resources; the education that persuades us to stand up with our head held high despite all our perceived flaws, and not idolise a stereotype; the education that asks us to think for our own selves and speak up our opinion, and not pander to those of other’s.

Going by this argument, for political leadership to remain in power, it would perhaps be in their best interest that citizens abstain from such — formal and informal — education. Parents then must be told not to nurture independent minded children? For which society must work hand in hand with politicians in power and parents, to ensure that the mental faculty of our children to think rationally and independently is forever stunted? Schools must continue to encourage learning by rote, as that is the sure shot way to produce clones as future citizens who will be programmed to learn — without application of mind — everything they are told? Unfortunately today, this is a fairly accurate sketch of the case in India. As a consequence these are the citizens who are the easiest to provoke with political rhetoric.

I am, by no means, suggesting a great deliberate conspiracy on the part of political leaders to stunt the mental faculty of our citizens. My point here instead is that political leadership in India has no real incentive to encourage an education that will promote rational and independent thinking. The citizens resulting from such a socio-political nexus are not free. Their minds are slaves to the dictates of others. They will not question the rules laid by politics, society, religion, or the boss who demands work 24x7. And the issue is not about being a slave for a ‘good’ cause — be it political, social, religious, work, or any other — versus slave for a ‘bad’ cause. The issue is freedom versus slavery.

The writer is Chief Sustainability Officer for the group of companies, Jindal Steel and Power Ltd. She is a Global Leadership Alumna of the World Economic Forum





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