Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Let me start with an anecdote.

Once while doing some sort of research in rural Eastern UP in India, people were asked what does freedom mean to you. One group's response was freedom means death. Upon probing why, the people said yes only when we die, we will be free from this wretched existence. We pray to God, please, in the next birth, make us a dog, a cat or a cockroach, just don't make us a human being.
If you could see their "wretched existence" with your own eyes, you would understand what they meant.

However, "Freedom of expression" has, nowadays, come to mean the entirety of what it is to be free. In reality, people living amidst violence or extreme poverty would hardly consider themselves free even if they have freedom of speech, free elections and free media. Freedom needs to be understood from citizens' life perspective, based on how free a person really feels. At the first level, people ought to feel free to exist. If there is widespread crime and violence in a society, no one can feel free. Next is economic freedom. People living amidst poverty are helpless and not free, even if they have freedom of speech. Only upon fulfillment of these basic freedom needs does a higher order need like freedom of expression become relevant or meaningful.

In reality (not how it is all supposed to be, in theory), democracy has enabled freedom of expression but not economic or physical freedom in the developing world. In that context, would you not say that an argument for democracy (in the developing world) is elitist, not the one against it?