- As far back as fifth century BC, Plato and Aristotle discussed with their students whether monarchy or democracy was better. In modern times, Rousseau first argued for freedom as a fundamental right of humankind. Karl Marx argued that equality was as crucial as freedom. Closer home, Gandhi discussed the meaning of genuine freedom or swaraj in his book Hind Swaraj. Ambedkar vigorously argued that the scheduled castes must be considered a minority, and as such, must receive special protection. These ideas find their place in the Indian Constitution; our preamble enshrines freedom and equality; the rights chapter abolishes untouchability in any form; Gandhian principles find a place in Directive Principles.
- The autobiography of one of the greatest persons of the twentieth century, Nelson Mandela, is titled Long Walk to Freedom. In this book he talks about his personal struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa, about the resistance of his people to the segregationist policies of the white regime, about the humiliations, hardships and police brutalities suffered by the black people of South Africa. These ranged from being bundled into townships and being denied easy movement about the country, to being denied a free choice of whom to marry. Collectively, such measures constituted a body of constraints imposed by the apartheid regime that discriminated between citizens based on their race. For Mandela and his colleagues it was the struggle against such unjust constraints, the struggle to remove the obstacles to the freedom of all the people of South Africa (not just the black or the coloured but also the white people), that was the Long Walk to Freedom.
- Gandhiji’s thoughts on non-violence have been a source of inspiration for Aung San Suu Kyi and in her book Freedom from Fear. She says, “for me real freedom is freedom from fear and unless you can live free from fear you cannot live a dignified human life”. We must not, her words suggest, be afraid of the opinions of other people, or of the attitude of authority, or of the reactions of the members of our community to the things we want to do, of the ridicule of our peers, or of speaking our mind. Yet we find that we often exhibit such fear. For Aung San Suu Kyi living a ‘dignified human life’ requires us to be able to overcome such fear.
- Voltaire’s statement — ‘I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to death your right to say it’.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental value and for that society must be willing to bear some inconvenience to protect it from people who want to restrict it.
- Gandhi’s “answer to doubt”, given around Independence Day in 1947 — also known as the “talisman” — is deservedly famed. In that short text, Gandhi suggested that our uncertainty over the right course to take would disappear once we ask how the most helpless person we have known would be affected by our choice.
- Yet, along with equality, Gandhi wanted fraternity; along with justice he sought reconciliation. Demanding justice for Dalits, Gandhi also strove for a partnership between Dalits and upper-caste Hindus. He wanted India’s Hindu majority to protect the country’s minorities, but he also wanted Hindu-Muslim friendship, and he asked Pakistan’s Muslim majority to protect that country’s Hindus, Christians and minority-sect Muslims.
- “The theory that ‘development’ entails ‘costs’ and that this is a ‘sacrifice’ that some must accept in order that others might benefit must be recognised to be disingenuous and sanctimonious; it must be firmly abandoned. Pain and hardship imposed by some on others cannot be described as a sacrifice by the latter…‘Stakeholder consultation’ is another misleading and sanctimonious formulation. Both the beneficiaries of big projects (farmers receiving irrigation in the command area, industries and cities getting electricity, etc.) and those lands, livelihoods, and centuries-old access to the natural resource base are being taken away are lumped together as ‘stakeholders’ who must be consulted. In truth, the beneficiaries are stake-gainers whereas the project-affected groups are stake-losers, and the primacy of the latter over the former needs to be recognised…”
- “All men are created equal” – Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence