Man has been trying to be free since the beginning of mankind. Freedom is the sense of denying an existence inferior to any other, of being in command of one’s self and having a ‘free will’. Simply put, freedom is equality; equality among men and the various identities they hold, of nationality, ethnicity, religion or occupation etc. Equality is when no person or identity is presumed to be superior or subservient to others.
We have endured the worst of all inequalities, the curse of the colonial yoke. An entire civilisation was subdued for around two centuries, and it took a ‘Mahatma’ to call the bluff. The path to freedom was to know that you weren’t inferior to anyone. Yet, it was a difficult process because freedom had to embrace everyone. So, the Mahatma and his pupil Panditji knew that till all inequalities of patriarchy, caste, creed, feudal bondages and their corresponding exploitation with its resultant poverty remained, we could not possibly achieve freedom in full measure.
So, the world witnessed the miracle of our national movement when the subdued rose to establish the higher values of humanity while colonial forces retreated with their bluff called. From this movement came our Constitution which guaranteed equality to its citizens. Panditji went further and established institutions which could protect the Constitution and safeguard freedom.
Yet freedom thus guaranteed is perpetually in peril, and thus eternal vigilance is the price we need to pay. Why is freedom which is so valuable to human existence perpetually in peril? Because, we have not overcome inequalities completely and there exist deep fault lines which can be exploited by forces who seek freedom to dominate, ignorant that it enslaves them more than those they seek to dominate.
Today we stand on the edge of a precipice, staring down the dark depths of fascism and loss of freedom, for all of us, even those who have come to fancy their chances of dominance. Of late we all have been discussing the signs of fascism visible in our country, and I can’t help referring to the 12 signs mentioned at the US Holocaust Museum.
Hyper nationalism and obsession with military strength, disregard for human rights, control of mass media and other institutions including the judiciary and election commission, growing gender, religious and caste violence with an increasingly communal discourse, along with the alignment of corporate greed and the lust for political power of the ruling party is identifiable in every walk of our polity and society alike. We see that the moral force of the national movement is waning but we also know that this is the life force of our nation and civilisation, and it can’t be denied for very long.
Gandhiji had once said that freedom means freedom to make mistakes, and based on this our Constitution granted us freedoms, but we see malicious forces prevailing upon state agencies to enter prestigious university campuses, and the same cowardly forces take form of a mob and enter our kitchen and lunch boxes.
Lumpenisation of our youth through the spread of a malafide anti-intellectualism and celebration of mediocrity, has rendered our youth incapacitated, prey to their evil machinations and is an attempt to trap them in a chain of violence and crime where they can only look up to the ruling dispensation to save them from the law.
Mob lynching is the worst manifestation of fascism and poses existential threat to freedom and constitutional democracy. I call it the vampirisation of our polity. We need to identify these forces attacking our freedom since we have earned it.
Our society has three fiercely independent groups in farmers, students and small entrepreneurs. The current regime has systematically targeted them through their policies of Demonetisation and ill-conceived GST and making farming unviable.
We, in Chhattisgarh, are trying our best to bring them back on their feet. Our leader Rahulji had anounced farm loan waiver and paddy prices of 2500 Rupees per quintal and we duly implemented them on day one. Our government has launched the ambitious scheme of “Narwa, Garwa, Ghurwa, Baari” which roughly translates to “rivulets, cattle, village waste management and backyard farms”.
When our farmers reclaim their authority on their land, water, seeds and manure and are assured of remunerative returns, they will be empowered to fend off these predatory forces. Gandhiji had said that he drew his strength from the moral strength of the Indian peasant whose forbearance and faith in non-violence remained unmoved against centuries of oppression.
Similarly, our tribals can help the world back to sanity, provided their land and forests are restored to them. We for the first time returned unused acquired land in Lohandiguda and doubled the MSP of their Tendu leaves, which has instilled the belief that they now have a government which is not acting on behalf of predatory capital.
We need to respect freedom and freedom of the last man. Our government has gone ahead to withdraw false cases foisted on tribals. And in order to affirm our committment to Freedom of the Press, we have set up a committee under retired Supreme Court judges to make laws for the protection of journalists.
I believe that our fraternity is our biggest strength, and this is what the fascist forces want to destroy. Each day we hear someone calling for economic and social boycott of some communities.
Our syncretic culture is our strength, our great spiritual heritage is our strength, our faith in our Constitution and in constitutional values, which Babasaheb had called constitutional morality, are our strength and this is what we need to summon to defend our freedom.