Most people who consider themselves free are actually imprisoned in a web of complexes, self-doubts and insecurities
Written by Kobad Ghandy | Published:August 15, 2015
Freedom is also a much-distorted word — the subtle indoctrination by the media in the West is described as freedom, while the controlled media in countries like China is said to reflect the lack of it. (Source: Express photo)
It is ironic that I should be asked to write on freedom when I have been incarcerated in a jail within a jail (the high-risk ward of Tihar) for the last six years, with the criminal justice system crawling along endlessly. Here there is no freedom to even enter the main jail or go to hospital when sick.
Anyhow, freedom is a relative concept — ranging from anarchy at one extreme to democratic centralism at another. But even within existing systems, some are more free than others. In India, our stars — film, cricket, business, political — will enjoy all possible freedoms and could even get away with murder. But starving farmers don’t even have the freedom to get two decent meals or treatment for their sick children. For me, confinement in jail is a claustrophobic denial of freedom, but not for the habitual petty criminal. He is used to life in prison, continuing his criminal activities within. For him, there is no feeling of lack of freedom in jail and many intentionally come back after release.
Freedom is also a much-distorted word — the subtle indoctrination by the media in the West is described as freedom, while the controlled media in countries like China is said to reflect the lack of it. The US and India are said to be the two largest democracies with maximum freedom. But ask a black person in the US whether he feels that way, or the Scheduled Castes in India. The Dalits often feel the British were better than their brahmanical rulers, as with the British, the caste oppression was not overt, but that by upper castes has been crude, inhuman and degrading.
This distortion, even if not so crude, is to be seen in most spheres of life. Take the police and us. While going to the court, they see no problem in locking me in a three-by-three cage within the van in which one can hardly breathe in summer. No consideration is made for age and health. Then, on reaching the court lock-up, one is subjected to a humiliating search, where even a pen is suspicious (once, even spectacles). Here, most inspectors do not allow us to interact with relatives, even lawyers. Of course, dons in jail say they have no such problem. One often hears the cops in the van eloquently chatting about freedom and democracy in India. The rulebook and numerous judgments say even convicts (let alone undertrials) should be treated with dignity — but that is only for the books. Crushing the self-respect of the inmate is part of the criminal justice system — not of course if you are a tycoon, film star or don.
And if one turns to the judiciary, though more fair than most other spheres, one has recently seen some questionable judgments, even at the level of the Supreme Court. Take my case: based on a fake confession — not even signed by me, allegedly made in police custody in Telangana, in a language I could neither read nor understand (Telugu), which I even denied having made in court. Ten to 15 cases have been clamped on me. No doubt, in the two so far chargesheeted, though the high court has granted bail, the other cases are still pending. This, because the Delhi lieutenant governor by an order has prevented me from attending cases outside Delhi till the Delhi case is over. So the LG is, de facto, asserting jurisdiction over Andhra Pradesh/ Telangana courts!
The essence of all this is that the concept of freedom is relative, it is also sensational. In reality, freedom has no meaning if not associated with humanity and justice. Abstract freedom does not exist except in the Western vocabulary. In fact, even in this “free world”, most people who consider themselves free are actually imprisoned in a web of complexes, self-doubts, insecurities, etc, making that freedom notional.
And if I am thus imprisoned, it, in turn, reacts on my surroundings, as lack of openness builds an atmosphere of artificiality
all around. And such an atmosphere can never be of free associationship — it results in all sorts of one-upmanship, game-playing, scheming, pretence, etc. An atmosphere a person may want to flee from, but cannot, as he/ she is entrapped.
One needs to talk less of freedom and more on humanity and justice. If there is humanity and justice, a byproduct will necessarily be freedom. And the greater the quantum of justice and humanity, the greater will be the freedom.
If one wants to see the true spirit of free people, one needs to look at little children. They have a spontaneity and all expressions — of happiness, anger, hurt, sadness — are directly reflected on the face. If such naturalness was there in adults, it would bring a burst of fresh air in the stultifying atmosphere of existing social relationships.
The closest I have seen to such a free (adult) spirit is in my late wife, Anuradha, who, even as a postgraduate professor,
had the innocence of a child, with a passion for whatever she did, and an enormous sense of justice. As Felix Greene said, “Free to be human”.
The writer is currently in Tihar jail facing trial in Delhi under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.