The Preamble of the Constitution of India grants and secures to all its citizens, the liberties of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship. It is not often that we realise, and take time to appreciate these liberties. When we cannot appreciate them, it is only in the absence that we would wish for their presence.
The absence of liberty of thought is best elucidated by the concept – ‘thoughtcrime’, introduced by Orwell in his magnum opus -1984. The concept of a totalitarian state where the government is watching you with video-cameras, and is able to decode the thoughts in your mind by observing your facial expressions at every single instance. This is the scenario where even a passing anti-government thought could send you to a labour camp or, a box filled with hungry flesh eating mice. You might belittle this portrait by citing logistical difficulties in the real world. Consider the scenario existing in the real world. The idea of being sent to an eternally burning hell for committing adultery in a Christian way. How? – by only imagining your neighbour’s wife on your bed. The imagery of a burning hell, which is being imposed on little children is causing mental harassment. This is the absence of freedom of thought. Curtailment of the fundamental aspect that makes us humans.
The liberty of freedom of expression includes expressions by speech, writing or any other means; freedom being curbed for expressing your thoughts, expressing your gender, sexual orientation etc. The treatment of the LGBTQ community in India is one of the instances where the freedom to express oneself is curbed. The curbing of freedom is not unlawful in this country. Edward Snowden had once said, “It is not the unlawful things that are so threatening, but the ones that are completely lawful, are the ones that are the most dangerous”. The police-nabbing of a girl from Maharashtra, for a mere status update on Facebook about Bal Thackeray was completely lawful at the time of Section 66A – exactly what Snowden meant. If I were that woman, I could not appreciate the freedom of living in a freely expressive state. The absence made her realise the importance. The liberty to express freely in India is undoubtedly greater than the theocracies of the world like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan etc., but amongst the democracies, we are miles behind the Scandinavian and American countries.
Our country also provides us the liberty to have beliefs and express them. This country provides us with the freedom to have any beliefs or also the right to not have them. There can be no coercion to rally behind a single belief. Again, unlike the theocracies like Iran, Saudi Arabia North Korea etc, the choice to not believe or pretend to believe, will not result in death by citing the medieval laws of apostasy. The freedom also to believe is provided to us by our country. Even the leading democracy of the world like France has curbed the freedom to sport a veil in public, to suspend a cross across the neck or to grow a beard.
Although we can go back and forth about whether we can truly think freely, express freely and have all the freedom to belief and worship any supernatural power or refrain from doing so is a debate for another day. Simply acknowledging the fact that we have been provided these liberties by our constitution, with provisions to fight when curtailed, must fill us with gratitude and must lead us to appreciate the beauty of this clause. We have all the freedom granted to us and we need to start using it wisely. The cage around us is open, and we need to realise that.
*Alston here, is adding his understanding of a discussion on the preamble that was taken up in the Induction Training of the India Fellow Program.