Response to 'Notion Of Freedom And Reality Of Unfreedom' by Anand Teltumbde

Vaibhav Wasnik

[The article 'Notion of Freedom And Reality Of Unfreedom' by Anand Teltumbde can be found here. Vaibhav's response expresses a belief in electoral democracy and the transformative potential of the Indian constitution. Round Table India shall continue to welcome all shades of Dalit and Bahujan opinion]


The article by Mr Teltumbde starts off with genuine grievances, talking about the democratic values of ' Justice-social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equality of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation' as the advertised driving forces behind the constitution and compares that to the state of affairs in India as a nation by highlighting 'neo-liberal reforms' as the ultimate blunder.

Later Mr Teltumbde, conforming to his style of prose, tries to elaborate on the topic under discussion, by presenting the philosophical definition of freedom with its emphasis on free will in thought and action and the social possibilities the definition affords, highlighting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations as the culmination of the efforts to identify the principles that every democratic nation state around the world has to inculcate within its structure of governance.

However, just as is the norm in his recent style of writing, he somehow ends up in a diatribe on non-factual opinionating by starting a section titled 'The Genesis of Constitutional Freedom' claiming that (India's) liberal constitution for all its 'lofty' ideals could not somehow 'divorce itself from the liberal ethos of the colonial regime and the impact of the Bolshevik revolution'. His very thesis breaks down with the simple realization that the colonial regimes or the Bolsheviks, unlike in independent India, didn't have their rulers elected by the people making those regimes an antithesis of the democratic nation-sate of India. While Mr Teltumbde complains that the ruling classes were assured of their dominance because of a lack of a mechanism for challenging their dominance, he somehow does not present an alternative. The only guesses that we could be led to make are the ways of the communists that he so implicitly admires in his writings.

The saying 'Haste makes waste' comes about as a perfect lesson about the arguments related to the changes he may propose. You just have to look at the fate of non-democratic forms of changes brought about through the barrel of a gun in the name of workers rights, be it in Russia or in China and the gross violation of individual freedoms that such revolutions have engendered. Also, Mr Teltumbde fails to acknowledge the changes in the power structures in Indian democracy with the rise of the lower castes to positions of electoral power, which even though may not be sufficient and even symbolic in the eyes of Mr Teltumbde, but still are humongous, considering the 3,000 year history of this nation. That such a change has happened within a period of just 60 years itself deserves mention even from a severe critic. The Indian constitution was never understood as being an instrument for radical or quick change, because problems and attitudes that are inbuilt in the very fiber of the society don't change by just wishing them away (with a gun). The change has to be gradual and in this regard the constitution as a document, even though insufficient at times, can never be considered as a failure.

Next, Mr Teltumbde goes about mentioning the articles related to individual freedoms and the restrictions on the same. The obvious intent of this mention was not to quote the freedoms but to highlight the restrictions. Whatever be the point he is trying to make, it gets trivialized when it is realized that the majority of the Indian populace would agree with the restrictions, especially when they are proposed in the interest of independence, sovereignty and integrity of India, morality and public order.

Next, Mr Teltumbe goes about advertising his opinions by claiming that the caste hierarchies have been enforced thanks to the class character of the state which the constitution as an instrument ends up supporting. Mr Teltumbde does this without quoting the actual articles from the Indian constitution through which the Indian state's support for class based inequalities gets its legitimacy. Also this opinion is contrary to his own example of a dalit penning an article in English which would be impossible with strengthened caste hierarchies being the norm.

Further, Mr Teltumbde goes about implicitly linking, without offering proof, the imposition of emergency to some imaginary internal contradictions in the Indian constitution. The tone of the article somehow mentions the emergency just to add spice to its talk about standing for individual freedoms, without mentioning the threats, whether external or internal, that aimed to destabilize the nation. However, the fact that such suspension of rights was temporary and in accordance with an inbuilt feature of the constitution is omitted. In the end, Mr Teltumbde gets the genie out of the bottle and speaks about the 'dreaded' acts: Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, Maintenance of Internal Security Act, 1971, National Security Act, 1980 etc, which in spite of being tantamount to being abused as any law, are enacted in the country's best interest, to preserve its sovereignty and integrity. It is this emphasis on sovereignty and integrity of the nation that gets support from the vast majority of the nation, so much so that it becomes the duty of every citizen as per the constitution and that justifies the wisdom of such laws. The debate really is about the health and integrity of nation vs the whims of a vocal minority and when the issue is looked through the lens of such a debate the laws, even though being susceptible to abuse, end up being justified.

Later, Mr Teltumbde goes about making some general comments about religious fanaticism, without correlating these comments to the failure of the principles of the constitution, or even correlating them to his thesis as to the constitution being a tool in the hand of the 'ruling class'. Just as in most of the article he again gets confused with the virus in the fiber of the society with some innate issues that need sorting out in the constitution. The only conclusion one can draw is that it is his disbelief in a slow change that is the hallmark of most workable, democratic methods of change that may be at fault here.

In the end, Mr Teltumbde feels that the Indian state has misappropriated its labels as it tolerates Hindutva while labeling naxalism as an internal threat. This seems like an attack out of the blue, when you realize that Hindutva in spite of its dictatorial rhetoric still follows the democratic path of going to the ballot while naxalism is directly opposed to the very concept of India as a nation by going for the gun instead of the ballot.

Vaibhav Wasnik is a researcher and he blogs here.

Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.

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