ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Freedom, Power and Truth


India once again finds itself at the crossroads where, at one end, winners of the recent Lok Sabha elections are busy celebrating the grand success of electoral democracy, and, at the other, civil society’s freedom to think and communicate both the noble and tragic truth has been severely constrained by the conditions of unfreedom that prevail under the very “presence” of democracy. The transformative relationship between power and freedom that defines the prospect of “truth-telling” has taken a regressive and, in fact, a contradictory turn. The benign combination of power and freedom that has been historically expressed through the subaltern struggle for emancipation is being increasingly replaced by efforts that combine these two elements, not for transformative purposes, but for a repressive homogenisation of plural value systems. The freedom to fashion a plural India through the use of powers of creative imagination has been destructively interjected with aggressive impulses such as fear, hatred, and oppression. These impulses, in a regressive sense, constitute the essence of truth, thus making it quite coercive.

When power and freedom take a regressive turn, this necessarily plays out in a deadly combination and, by implication, tends to produce a destructive impact on vulnerable groups. Those involved in violence against the tormented social sections of Indian society not only feel free, but also socially powerful to inflict deep injuries on these vulnerable sections. Such a deadly combination of freedom and power was evident in the incident where four Dalit youths were publicly flogged in Una, Gujarat in 2016. Lynching of minority persons in India continues unabated. The unfortunate suicide by a doubly disadvantaged doctor in a prominent public hospital in Mumbai is a recent addition to the series of suicides by Dalit and Adivasi students in institutions of higher learning, particularly medical colleges. Political power usually divides when it unofficially offers a performative space for the coercive truth, which not only immediately silences its critiques but tends to dance over the life of the vulnerable. These are some of the examples that show the manifestation of truth in its coercive form. Truth that resides in coercion shows no tolerance for democratic dissent; it, in fact, exhibits active contempt towards deliberation and argument as it does not admit debate. Neither does it listen to its inner voice (of the soul).

The truth that finds its essence in the affinity with atrocities and violence does not have any regard for the language of the soul, and hence has no place for M K Gandhi. For Gandhi, truth acquires ethical purity through dialogue with the self. It asks hard questions to the self. Coercive truth, which for its self-definition finds the current politics of hate quite favourable, however, has no place for the life of the mind either; hence, it leaves no place for B R Ambedkar. Arguably, his idea of truth is based on robust and transparent debate, which is aimed at discursively filtering out formidable and perhaps conclusive arguments that can fight any arbitrary claims. For Gandhi, freedom gets combined with the power of the soul, and for Ambedkar, with the mind. This combination finds its benign manifestation in the theory and practice of satyagraha undertaken by both Gandhi and Ambedkar. For these thinkers, the need for dialogue and debate is of cardinal importance inasmuch as it, through communication, makes truth—for example, of caste—publicly discernible.

Such sanatan (age-old) questions, in fact, need to be thrashed out not through unilateral denial, but confrontation and transcendence with the help of transparent debate, and not just among academics, but common people too at the empirical level. This is important because it is here that the truth of various crucial questions resides, in the peoples’ caste/gender practices. Intellectuals try to communicate this truth to power and remind those who are caught in these questions about it. Let us adopt a reasonable attitude towards such intellectuals for whom truth-telling is not empty rhetoric, and who are habituated to speak in favour of values such as egalitarianism; in fact, it is their inner urge that compels them to speak out. It is this need that forces them to take hold of moral resources such as freedom and power. The role of an intellectual is essential because they necessarily think along with the thinking people. They try to lay bare the condition that would build a bridge connecting different layers of fragmentary consciousnesses among the people. It is for these ideational reasons that the intellectuals need freedom to communicate the truth of the breakdown of dialogue and conversation among the people. There is a lack of verifiability of the speeches made by the leaders. People need to communicate with each other on a regular basis and be collectively involved in the deliberative process of forming and firming up critical political judgment in favour of forging solidarity for a better human existence.


Updated On : 14th Jun, 2019


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