Why India should continue to liberalise politically, socially and economically
Source : News Bharati EnglishDate : 25-Feb-2015
India must find its own balance between individual liberty and the need for social cohesion.
Indian society is a paradox. The people of this land have a long history of liberal ideas, and yet today, it is broadly speaking, relatively unsure of itself on its path to liberalisation. In every society, and at all times, there is a dialectic between the will of the individual to assert herself in order to flourish, and the will of the group to impose a set of norms, which sustains social unity. Like all societies, the Indian society is in a state of rapid flux, and just like a pendulum swing it is quickly approaching its maximum velocity at the perpendicular, before it begins to slow down in momentum, eventually becoming momentarily still, before swinging back the other way. At both polar extremes, society is deeply unhealthy. When liberalism goes too far, social cohesion breaks down, and the tyranny of the individual rules; and when society becomes too illiberal, the tyranny of culture and custom suppresses individual flourishing. Both extremes are to be avoided.
Indian society, composed of its thousands of sub-cultures, and religions, is conceptually plural, and therefore liberal. Having said this, the average Indian is deeply tyrannised by social custom, religion and tradition. Here lies the paradox. Here, it will be prudent to remember an old Taoist saying, ‘confusion and paradox are the fiercest guardians of truth’. We have ample of both – confusion and paradox in the present narrative amongst Indian commentators.
Another point to note is that in India there is somewhat a close linear correlation between wealth and individual liberty. The wealthier one is, the more individual liberty one exercises on a daily basis. The poor on the other hand, and the rural poor at that, which constitutes a large part of India’s population is certainly tyrannised by custom, religious dogma and tradition. The liberal cinema has depicted this ‘blind faith’ recently through Bollywood movies, trying to unshackle the poor masses from their chains. What the liberal cinema types are failing to recognise is that these people without the social order, through strict cohesion, would see their world collapse in the short term because they lack money – the thing which buys liberty in India.
It’s money that buys one space; it’s money that buys one social acceptance, even as I break social norms; and it’s money that ultimately makes one an individual where dependence on any other is minimised. The poor of India do not have this luxury.
Society, any society, if one studies history is always driven in the direction set by those who own the resources, i.e. the rich. As the adage goes: ‘follow the money’. The rich in any society eventually end up pulling the rest along with their vast pools of resources – media, legislation, utilities, and so on. And Indian commentators must not make the mistake that the rich always want mindless liberty and have no care for social cohesion. Quite the contrary. One sees that the United Kingdom is beginning to swing in the opposite direction where the rich are pooling their resources to strengthen community, family and national pride. The rich in Britain want to see a more cohesive society, because they believe that too much liberty has corroded social cohesion causing the breakdown of the family unit, neglect of the elderly, and failure to raise socially aware children, amongst many other issues.
As India liberalises, and it must continue to do so, Indian society is going to come up against the natural ills caused by increasing individualism, rampant consumerism, and the breakdown of faith in custom and religion. Indian society will have to be prepared to respond to these problems as they arise, and will need an Indian solution to them. So why ought India continue to liberalise?
Liberalism, I would argue, is good for individual flourishing. When enough individuals flourish, society is enriched – through ideas, through art, literature, sports, science, entrepreneurship and the like. India needs more of everything. Without liberalism, Indian society will simply fail to live up to its potential, which will ultimately be a global loss, not just an Indian one. Indian society will naturally see a complete new sub-culture developing. The culture around marriage will irreversibly change; the extended family system will gradually fall way; caste and samaj networks will become impotent; and religious authority will be increasingly challenged. This is to be tackled head-on, with foresight. Counter forces harking back to a ‘golden era’ will continue to face a losing battle; for these forces do not understand the power of liberty and its natural dialectical processes. Liberalism is an irresistible force. The key is not to resist it, but to shape it.
What might an Indian liberal response look like? First, and foremost, liberalism must be made patriotic. The American society has managed to do this very well. They have managed, on the whole, to harness patriotism without unleashing the dark-side of the force, that of race, or the other. American society for all its diversity has managed to remain cohesive under the American flag and the American dream. India too, must have its unique dream. What would the Indian dream look like? Indians will have to create their own version. A dream that uniquely describes what the nation is trying to achieve; what every individual is striving for; and so on.
A liberal society requires a mature and responsible citizenry. Once again, for all of Europe’s problems, the average European is a mature citizen who handles his or her liberty with prudence and with a deep sense of social welfare for their fellow citizens. In the United Kingdom, almost every citizen will rally around the National Health Service – healthcare free at the point of delivery. Each citizen is willing to contribute to a taxation policy which benefits others. A major aspect of the European maturity arises out of education, both parental and child. An Indian education must reflect this new found liberty, and actively educate both parents and children how to use their liberty for the benefit of society.
In short, Indian thinkers, the rich, and the political and social elites will have to face a brave new world, and make it authentically an Indian response. If, for any reason, they fail to do this, they will find a country torn and splintered, with a rampant flow of western liberalism entering the heart of every Indian, which would cause havoc in the inner life of the society.
(The author is UK-based writer specialised in comparative study of religions.)