By Ishita Gopal

Edited by Michelle Cherain, Associate editor, The Indian Economist

Freedom, as defined by oxford dictionary, is the power to act, speak and think as one wants. But this is a very narrow and ambiguous definition of an extremely comprehensive word when applied to society as a whole. People shouldn’t always act, speak and think as they want because, sometimes, it leads to disharmony and discord between cohorts of the society. But sometimes the lack of freedom also leads to chaos. Where freedom to vote and education are just, freedom to murder is certainly not.

So, how do we define this word most lucidly? And when should it be applied?

We could say that freedom should be used to do the “right” thing. But for that we will need to define this right thing. And the debate on that is never-ending! Everyone has their own view on what’s correct and what is not. There really is no way to make two columns and separate out the two.

Of course, there are some actions that can be easily recognized as wrong like- rape- it is WRONG and freedom to commit such an abhorrent crime must not be granted.

Others stand on a middle ground- like freedom of expression. The constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression but there have been increasing cases of moral policing over the last few years. Just recently, an exhibition of an eminent photographer, Sunil Gupta, had to be closed following a complaint that the content was obscene. Another case that created a lot of media hype was when Kamal Hassan’s Vishvaroopam was banned from screening by the government even though the Central Board of Film Certification had passed it. For some, this signified freedom from obscenity, while for others, the freedom to express was curtailed. According to those opposing, instead of banning the film, the government should have hiked security near the cinemas and screened the film than succumb to the demands of a few blinkered individuals. Similar protests had plagued a literary fest at Jaipur last year against Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie’s book ‘The Satanic Verses’.

As the years progress and the society evolves, the definition of what is right and what is not, and the freedom attached with it will keep changing but there are some abiding freedoms that we must always work towards such as- freedom from violence and discrimination. It not only alienates us from our loved ones but also, perforates the society.

Another one is Freedom from poverty. When a person is poor, there is dearth of all resources such as food, clothes, shelter which are essential for wholesome development of individuals. Because it’s so difficult to meet even the basic needs of food etc., children leave school and get employed in the unskilled market to supplement the family income. As a result, they’re not able to realize and use their full potential and get stuck in the vicious circle of absence. Here we see that freedom to get educated is also important.

It is also essential that the society works towards freedom from corruption. People are the building block of a democracy, and resorting to unethical practices to achieve certain personal goals elicits a sense of dissatisfaction and alienation amongst the citizens which may lead to violent clashes and instability Also, it does not lead to judicious utilization and equitable allocation of resources.

We could, perhaps, define freedom as a pareto optimal situation where the power to act, speak and think does not disadvantage any group or individual, where its practice in most cases benefits the whole society and helps everyindividual reach their full potential.

Ishita is a BA( hons) Economics student from Miranda House, Delhi University. She is a multitasker and likes to be involved in all kinds of cultural activities. Besides writing she loves playing Beethoven symphonies, choir practices ,and reading fantasy and fiction.She prefers doing research about a subject by first watching a documentary or two on it, and then reading a lot of articles from different newspapers.  Her dream job is to own a record label while doing freelance writing for a big magazine/newspaper.

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind