Over the past few months, we have been witness to serious political unrest as the ruling dispensation continues to be blamed for curtailing freedom of thought and expression. Needless to say, owing to its potential, the issue was passed through an involute political turf thereby marring the essence of the concepts with the tool of majoritarianism. Be it freedom of speech in the virtual world or in the real world, an immensely pluralistic discourse has ensued.
In this process, we have seen various definitions that claim to be ‘comprehensive’ in defining the gamut of the said freedom. At this juncture, it would be interesting to venture into a philosophical path to understand and discuss the nuances of freedom of thought and speech thereby emphasising on the importance of introspection and debate within any given discourse.
The genesis of Indian Culture dates back to several millennia; and ever since, its legacy has evolved accordant with the societal constraints and concerns. The concept of freedom takes birth, enriching every aspect of the community like language, religion, cuisines, art, music, values and many times even emotions.
Freedom of speech has inspired all writers to dwell into the logic and reasoning behind every debatable substance – especially, the ethical essence that underlays arguments in the modern world. One such law that has constantly been under the limelight, with writers often opposing each other’s opinion regarding the connotation and context included in its covenant, is the concept of liberty itself and what it indicates.
In the recent past, the country has seen various instances wherein a lot ideas were condemned. Before jumping to conclusions or being ‘judgmental’, we need to come to terms with the fact that liberty or freedom is a term seldom understood. With reference to human agency, it has had the tendency to perplex the most brilliant thinkers through history. Though not short of anecdotal and metaphorical implications, it brings forth the capacity for one to perform actions.
As an imperative based on what is fundamental about human nature, it brings forth the capacity of a self conscious agent. Its most fundamental notion is enclosed in the understanding of how individuals interact with the society, and to what capacity those actions are a result of their unbridled consciousness, rather than being predetermined or compelled in any form.
Classical Indian philosophy correlates the concept of individual liberty with the concept of liberation, where the individual is understood as a transcendental self. The most prominent school of thought is Veda?nta of which Advaita depicts the most comprehensive dialogue regarding the nature of ‘self’ and the value and limits of ‘freedom’. It propounds a lucid explanation illustrating individual consciousness within the soul.
Freedom is experienced through self-realisation, i.e., awareness, by understanding the difference between ‘ultimate reality’ and ‘illusionary reality’. The illusion is the cause of ignorance, which gives the impression of ultimate reality in the physical world of temporal reality. Through the means of awareness, introspection and self realisation one can transcend this ignorance, gain freedom and realise the ultimate reality, i.e., composure.
The dispositions are virtue and vice, wisdom and ignorance, passion and dispassion, power and weakness. Ascent to higher planes is obtained by virtue, and the descent is because of vice. Liberty as a conception was reconstructed in light of the challenge to social practices of India.
The Neo Roman theory indicates that, even in the absence of restrain, one is not free. This is because even if you are living under the will of anyone else, you will, without a doubt, censor your action in order to avoid trouble. This as such has a nefarious effect on your liberty.
In India, the question of ‘self’ inevitably leads one to a question of introspection. Self-examination in India has various facets – some linked to religious traditions; some that are divorced of religious foundations and some that are built on moral or ethical principles.
To sum up, history only highlights the diverse thoughts that India had for the offering, not only those that are ratified above but many others, which claim their autonomy on every other professed value. What is more evident, is that regardless of the foundation of such prophecies, they all claim the irrevocable value of introspection, which forms the basis of liberty in the best of its sense; a positive line that doesn’t have an endpoint.