Freedom for Life or Life for Freedom: Celebrating India’s 77th Independence Day

The freedom is to choose between life and death, and the freedom also lies, in demanding through democratic institutions, denied spaces of empowerment.

By Om Prakash Dwivedi

As the largest democracy in the world, India celebrates its 77th Independence Day, it is equally vital to understand the notion of freedom that has kept our civilization alive and thriving. Freedom, as we know, can never be subjective, its meaning lies in its renderings of collective well-being, precisely the reason why the world turned to democracy.

Freedom and democracy, or freedom in democracy, entail an imperative embellishment of the order and maintenance of life. If your freedom to breathe is an irrefutable claim, then so is the others’. This balance is manifested in our cosmic design that takes care of our proportionate share of inhalation and exhalation. Freedom doesn’t lead to suppression but to an acceptance of others, engagement with others, promoting others, and that is possible only when we are free to co-opt these othered communities. As Mahatma Gandhi also underlined, “drops in separation could only fade away; drops in co-operation made the ocean which carried on its broad bosom greyhounds.” Gandhi also foregrounds, “Real Swaraj (freedom) will come, not by the acquisition of authority by a few, but by the acquisition of the capacity by all to resist authority when abused.” 

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Freedom imposes on us a duty to preserve and promote this order that we call life. Without life, there will be no meaning of freedom and that’s why we need to be more responsible in our choices and meanings of freedom. That’s also precisely the reason why freedom can not be linked to narratives that happen to be the scaffolding of modern-day nations. Narratives are ideologically driven and politically inclined, often catering to power centres with an implicit aim to be part of that power structure. Narratives can be conveniently twisted and bent down to gain power, as discernible in the acts of some demagogues, thinkers, writers, and even activists in the long history of human civilisation. For many of them, imposition of order is out of the equation, and hence, in the blink of an eye, they perform ideological makeovers to shift from the left to the right. These self-acclaimed custodians of society and nation have also turned out to be custodians of their own image makeover, and in so doing, have emerged as gatekeepers of freedom and its manifestations. They know the art well and perform it even better. Perhaps, one could see some of them as seasonal players whose freedom lies in generating power at the cost of anything. 

No wonder then, that a sense of divisiveness has always underpinned postcolonial India, and it would be naïve to link the periodic cycles of violence to any ideology or political party. Our notion of freedom is so flawed that it led to the partition of the nation, thus also resulting in the concomitant partition of spaces and minds. If one proposes to be the champion of the freedom of our nation, then who is to be blamed for the partition and the accentuated divisiveness so palpable in recent times? We all know the demagogues responsible for this blot on the face of humanity.

Even in international circles, the freedom to render order of life has been replaced with the necessity to vex muscles thus maintaining and legitimising one’s cultural and political hegemony. How would one define the freedom to bomb small nations so abundant in present-day times? We exist because of nature’s exercise to create and maintain an order to nourish and flourish life for all of us. Conversely, our self-serving notions, even practices of freedom have brought us to this point where even breathing spaces have become undemocratized. As Gandhi aptly underlines, “Freedom is never dear at any price. It is the breath of life. What would a man not pay for living?” Likewise, Atal Bihari Vajpayee avers, “We are unnecessarily wasting our precious resources in wars… if we must wage war, we have to do it on unemployment, disease, poverty, and backwardness.”

Freedom, therefore, is not about the ‘I’ but about you and us, about the humans and the more-than-humans as well. The Indian tradition realised this much earlier that’s why it has always promoted claims for the interconnectedness of life. The Shiva Advaita (nondualism) philosophy that underlines, ‘I AM THAT’ underscores the ultimate oneness of life. Similarly, the claim for ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ – the earth as one family’ laid down in our ancient text, only points to the need to understand the ultimate outcomes of our freedom exercises.

With this limited time on our hands, we must try to celebrate the mahotsav (festival)of collective freedom, rather than perpetuating and amplifying ideological rigidity and thus choosing to be blind to other alternatives, in fact, they are not alternatives, they are the tenets of life as convincingly demonstrated by many ancient texts. Yet, it is a pity that they do not find mention in our secular exercises. 

The freedom is to choose between life and death, and the freedom also lies, in demanding through democratic institutions, denied spaces of empowerment. Freedom must lead to both physical and mental well-being. We are thriving as a democracy because there is a sense of inclusivity. Perhaps, the best metaphors that come to my mind to illustrate this democratic freedom is that of the sun and the moon. Both exist concurrently but having lived its moment, the sun subsides, allowing the moon to enjoy its time and space. As a society are we civilized enough to have this mutual respect for freedom? 

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Contributing Author: Om Prakash Dwivedi tweets @opdwivedi82 His interests lie in the field of postcolonial theory.

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