Elementary freedoms

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The fundamental importance of human freedom, in general, is strongly supplemented by the “instrumental effectiveness of freedoms of particular kinds to promote freedoms of other kinds”. It is because the linkages between different types of freedoms are empirical and causal, rather than constitutive and compositional. This is explained with the strong evidence that various freedoms, like economic and political freedoms, for instance, help to reinforce one another, rather than being hostile to one another. Similarly, social opportunities of education and health-care compliment individual opportunities of economic and political participation and also help to foster people’s initiatives in overcoming their respective deprivations.

The Urdu saying “Khali Paet Ibadat Bhi Nahi Hoti” so ably simplifies this for popular comprehension. One cannot make vital human activities, like the ones that guarantee basic sustenance, subservient and subject to the achievement of political ends. Nobody’s hunger will wait until and particular political end is achieved. Patients can’t be expected to hang around for essential health-care until even ‘their own desired political goal’ is reached. The basic human activities have to go on simultaneously alongside the general politics. Halting former for the sake of the latter goes against the common sense, for it projects one freedom as contradicting with the other which is not what the reality is.

Any move or the movement which aims political freedom of people has to be alive and receptive to all other freedoms and liberties they already have. Although this is not to say that strategic maneuvering with various human activities once in a while for pure tactical reasons is not allowed, but no approach is going to be successful if it undermines the very basis of its support – the general public. Freedom as common masses understand it is basically the removal of certain limiters to the freedoms they already have; or, in other words, they should be able to do what they want to do in the best of all possible worlds, of course under terms agreeable to the general population. So, any movement or run-up towards ‘this’ desired goal has to strive for the removal of what Amartya Sen would call “unfreedoms” – poverty as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systemic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities as well as intolerance or over-activity of repressive states.

Having said this, a cursory analysis of the situation in Kashmir shows that everyone here is culpable of having encroached upon the common people’s freedoms. While the governments are blameworthy for their share of tyranny and repression, those on the other side of the divide too are guilty of having put curbs on the basic liberties of people’s physical mobility, economic sustenance, even access to health-care and education. And what is really unfortunate is that the political discourse is framed so that each side is draping its naked self-interest in the clothing of popular urge and furthering its politics by denying elementary freedoms to vast numbers of people.

Both sides must understand that lack of substantive freedoms relate directly to economic poverty, which robs people of the freedom to satisfy hunger, or to obtain remedies for treatable diseases, or the opportunity to be educated to rise above the ordinary stations of life. Similarly, the violation of freedom results directly from a denial of political and civil liberties by authoritarian measures and from imposed restrictions on the freedom to participate in the social, political and economic life of the society.

With all that’s been said in hindsight, it’s time that instead of slugging it out on people’s heads to satisfy their respective egos, the political leaders – both the establishment as also those pitted against it — restore elementary freedoms to the people first, for then only could they be expected to be wooed towards something else – bigger freedom, which interestingly the either side promises.

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