“Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently. Not because of any fanatical concept of ‘justice’ but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effectiveness vanishes when ‘freedom’ becomes a special privilege” wrote Rosa Luxemburg in her seminal work on Russian Revolution.
These words have a greater resonance to understand the situation in India. Under the present government, Freedom became an exclusive ‘special privilege’ for few people- those who are in the government and those who support it. For the government and its supporters, freedom lies in misusing their powers and crushing all kinds of opposition which dare to question their abuse of authority. Freedom of speech and expression, enshrined in the Indian Constitution in Article 19, is no more a right of all citizens. This is very evident looking at the events that are unfolding in the last few months.
Recently, Social Activist Harsh Mander was named in the 2020 Delhi riots chargesheet. Delhi police believe that he conspired to provoke violence with his speech delivered to students at Jamia Milia Islamia last December. In that speech, he said, “If someone is darkening the future of the country, and we reply in the same language then we will only be amplifying the darkness. Darkness can be fought only with light. We have only one answer for their hate, and that is love”. Which part of this speech is advocating any provocation? His speech urges the students to walk in the path of Gandhiji’s non-violence and reply to all hate with pure love. Ironically, BJP leaders who are found using communal language and responsible for sparking the violence are left free and police didn’t dare accuse them. Is it because they have ‘freedom’ to do that and Harsh Mander have no freedom to stand in solidarity with the students who are brutalised under government’s watch?
In another incident, Uttar Pradesh police lodged FIR against journalist Supriya Sharma for a report she wrote and published on the effects of the lockdown in Varanasi village adopted by Prime Minister. In that report, she pointed out how the villagers have no ration cards, food kits and how many lost employment due to lockdown. This piece seemed to be ‘defamatory’ and ‘negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life’. Though many reacted against FIR being filed on Supriya Sharma. International organisation Reporters without Borders, which advocates for the preservation of the right to freedom of expression, condemned “in the strongest terms this blatant attempt to intimidate one of India’s most resilient reporter!”. But this opposition to government’s action fell on deaf ears.
This is not the only instance of filing FIR against journalists. There is a consistent increase in such instances in the past few years. In the World Press Freedom Index, India ranks at 142 position out of 180 countries listed and it has dropped two positions compared to the previous year report. Neighbouring Pakistan ranks 145 and Bangladesh at 151. There is hate campaign, murder threats, police attacks and arrests against the journalists if they write or speak against the present regime and stand in solidarity of victims of state violence. In this route, the Government is again reinforcing its privileged freedom to do as it wants and curbing the freedoms of press.
Arrests of scholars and activists became a common practice in the country- Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlanka, Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Rona Wilson, etc. This list goes long. If the reasons shown for the arrests of these activists are closely observed, there is no sensible logic in them. None of these activists conspired against state and prime minister, instigated violence, or involved in defamatory matters. There is one clear message underlying all these events: Dissent is no more tolerable and government doesn’t want to be questioned. This goes against the very foundations on which India was formed.
One of the greatest weapons at the government’s hands in its efforts to curb the freedoms are draconic laws like UAPA and colonial sedition laws like section 124A, which the government uses to justify its undemocratic actions should be curbed. In 1922, Gandhiji was charged under 124A for his articles in his weekly journal ‘Young India’. Gandhiji said that this section is “prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code” and called for this section to be scrapped. Even today, seven decades after Independence, this section still prevails and the government uses again and again to cut the feet of its opponents using this law. But can curbing these laws itself will be enough to ensure freedom for all citizens? Certainly not. If not these, governments can find new ways to continue its abuse of power. The only way to break this vicious circle of abuse is empowering the citizens to fight for their freedom, which is theirs and now being taken away by the government.
Mahatma Gandhi advocated that real freedom comes not which authority is vested in fewer hands, but only when all the citizens of the country have capacity to resist authority when it is abused. Government is trying to curb citizens authority, which is in turn, depriving them of their freedoms. These are signs of dictatorial rule and greatest threat to democracy. It is now the responsibility of the citizens to preserve and nurture their right to freedom. There is a compiling need for collective actions from all sections of citizenry. Only through continuous collective resistance against repressive regime can citizens ensure preservation of their freedom. The virtue of freedom should not be reduced to ‘a special privilege’ of few individuals. It is a right of all and in the effective exercising of that right lies the path for nurturing Indian democracy and preserving its constitution.
I want to end here quoting Rosa Luxemburg with whose quote I begin this essay. Evidently, in her last known piece of writing before she was summarily executed after being arrested and tortured by German Government, against whose leadership she was fighting at that time, Luxemburg wrote that “the leadership failed. But a new leadership can and must be created by the masses and from the masses. The masses are the crucial factor. They are the rock on which the ultimate victory of the revolution will be built. The masses were up to the challenge…. Tomorrow the revolution will “rise up again, clashing its weapons,” and to your horror it will proclaim with trumpets blazing: I was, I am, I shall be!”.
Mucheli Rishvanth Reddy is pursuing final year in BA Economics, Political Science and Sociology at Christ University, Bangalore. Mail Id: [email protected]