The Freedom: Hyphenated to history - Brinda Karat, Born in 1947

“It’s all about individual choices”

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India according to a freedom child
The concept of freedom has several components. First, certainly, when we commemorate 1947, it is the sovereignty of India and freedom from any kind of imperial or colonial rule. When we think of freedom, we think of India free from the control of these countries that utilise India for their own interests. The second aspect of freedom is certainly freedom of the people, that is, freedom from wants, poverty, oppression and inequality. The third and most important is the freedom of individuals to live their lives within social contexts which do not impinge on freedom in the name of tradition or religion or any other fundamentalism. Therefore, you have national freedom, socio-economic freedom and the individual freedom of choice. This is what should represent a free country.

I was born in 1947, and in the past 67 years if we look at how close or how far we are from the goal of a free country, it raises several questions. There have been many areas where we have advanced and have been able to encourage independence of thought. There are many areas where we have registered remarkable growth, be it industry or scientific development, and have asserted an independent position, particularly in the earlier years of independence. But when we look at today, there is a great decline in the very concept of sovereignty, and that is also linked to the changing correlation of forces at the international level. A group of developed countries led by the US thinks that it can determine what freedom means for the world. Today there is a concept of freedom which has to be linked with the concept of benefits for the so-called ‘developed world’ because they have the power. This is colonialism in a new form and method. Unfortunately, the classes who rule India today, the governments which have represented India over the past so many years, have compromised on basic issues. This is totally against what we meant by freedom in 1947.

How can an international institution such as the WTO, World Bank or IMF decide the blueprint for our development? We know what is best for us and therefore why should we accept, in the name of free trade or opening up the market, any regime that doesn’t suit our people? The concept of a global world is a concept with a deeply negative impact on the sovereignty of nations. I am not saying India has to isolate itself to defend its freedom. But freedom cannot be linked to the inequalities which are there in most international institutions today. I am concerned that the concept of sovereignty is being restricted and subverted in the interests of other countries. India has its own parliament, and the Parliament has to decide what is good or bad for the country. We have always said that all international agreements must get the approval of the Parliament. No government, however big its majority is, should have the right to sign an agreement that has an important impact on Indian sovereignty.

When the world is talking today about the Thomas Piketty book, Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century, on how capitalism has an intrinsic aspect [that fosters] inequality, India is a country which has one of the highest gross inequalities in the entire world today. There are inequalities which have been driven by certain economic policies. India is in the midst of the worst kind of unfreedom. India, in spite of its claims to be on a trajectory of growth, gets rated poorly in all human development or economic inequality reports.

The inequality is also linked to the question of caste in India and the use of so-called ‘social engineering’ for narrow political purposes by important groups and political parties. They maintain the status quo with the assumption that different caste combinations lead to power. Sadly, politics today is all about power, be it electoral or parliamentary, and they try to combine caste groups without addressing the inequalities within a caste or between castes. They have given up universalisation for caste-based social engineering and private policies. With the BJP in power, we have all the toxic elements that lead to a greater divide in society. Communalism, casteism and corporatism are the three Cs which define India today.

Last but not least, freedom is about individual choices. Today we have a situation where there are social sanctions for the most heinous crimes, such as honour killings and rape based on caste and religion. You have organisations that have coined regressive [terms] such as ‘love jihad’ [an alleged effort of young Muslim men to convert young women of other communities to Islam by feigning love]. How does [such terminology] fit within the framework of the Indian Constitution? How can you have the subversion of festivals to make it Hindu versus Muslim? It is astonishing to see political leaders associating themselves with such an anti-society approach. The fruit of freedom has been destroyed by toxic beings in our polity.

Women in India have asserted themselves to break barriers. That is why there is a backlash from conservative forces in our country, which is supported in many cases by some political parties. When orthodoxy gets space through political representation, it is a very serious development.

I think the youth of this country have a great responsibility to carry forward the strengths of freedom. I would like to end with a message to them: when you dream, always remember it cannot be based on deprivations that lead to nightmares for others.

(Brinda Karat is a member of the CPM’s Politburo)