Our history provides many examples of people & communities which have been enslaved or exploited by more powerful groups. But it also provides us inspiring events of heroic struggles against such domination. The struggle for freedom represents the desire of people to be in control of their own lives & destinies and to have the opportunity to express themselves freely through their choices & activities. Not just individuals but societies also value their independence & wish to protect their culture & future.

What is freedom?

Freedom means the absence of constraints. It is also about expanding the ability of people to freely express themselves & develop their potential. A free society would be one that enables all its members to develop their potential with the minimum of social constraints.

Freedom allows the full development of the individual’s creativity, sensibilities & capabilities: be it in sports, science, arts, music or exploration. A free society is one that enables one to pursue one’s interests with a minimum of constraints. Freedom is considered valuable because it allows us to make choices & to exercise our judgement. It permits the exercise of the individual’s powers of reason & judgement.


A concept analogous to Freedom in Indian political thought is ‘Swaraj’. The term ‘Swaraj’ incorporates within it two important words – Swa (Self) & Raj (Rule). Swaraj was an important rallying cry in the freedom movement inspiring. Tilak’s famous statement – “Swaraj is my birth right & I shall have it.”

The Sources of Constraints

Restrictions on the freedom of individuals may come from domination & external control. Such restrictions may be imposed by force or they may be imposed by force or they may be imposed by a government through laws which embody the power of the rulers over the people & which may have the backing of the force.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose on Freedom

“If we are to bring a revolution of ideas we have first to hold up before us an ideal which will galvanise our whole life. That idea is freedom… by Freedom I mean all round freedom, i.e. freedom for the individual as well as for the society, freedom for the rich as well as for the poor; freedom for men as well as for women; freedom for all individuals & for all classes. This is an ideal which may appear Utopian to hard-headed men & women, but this ideal alone can appease the hunger in the soul.

                    (Presidential address to the Student’s Conference held at Lahore on 19th October, 1929).

Why do we need Constraints?

We cannot live in a world where there are no constraints. We need some constraints or else society would descend into chaos. The important question however is to identify which constraints on freedom are necessary & justifiable and which are not? What sort of authority, external to the individual, may justifiably say what can be done & what cannot? Further, are there any areas of our life & action that should be left free of all external constraints?

To answer the above questions we need to understand the “Harm Principal” which is beautifully described in John Stuart Mill books “On Liberty” one quotation helps in exploring this –“… the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.


People often finds liberalism & freedom as some. So it’s important to understand. What is Liberalism?

Liberalism has been identified with tolerance as a value. Modern liberalism focuses on the individual. For liberal entities like family, society, community have no value in themselves, but only if these are valued by individuals. Liberals tend to give priority to individual liberty over values like equality. They also tend to be suspicious of political authority.

Historically, liberalism favoured for free market & minimal role of the state. However, present day liberalism acknowledges a role for welfare state & accepts the need for measures to reduce both social and economic inequalities.

Negative & Positive Liberty

In the beginning of this article, we talked about two dimensions of freedom – freedom as the absence of external constraints & freedom as the expansion of opportunities to express one’s self. In political terms, they are called Negative Liberty and Positive Liberty.

‘Negative Liberty’ seeks to define & defend an area in which the individual would be inviolable, in which he or she could do, be or became whatever he or she wished to ‘do, be or become’. The basic examples will be choice of food to eat in healthy conditions, choice of clothes to wear.

Whereas ‘Positive Liberty’ is concerned with looking at the conditions & nature of the relationships between the individual & society and of improving these conditions such that there are fewer constraints to the development of the individual’s personality. Example- Quality education should be basic right of every children.

Freedom of Expression

John Stuart Mill set out good reasons why freedom of expression should not be restricted.

“At various times there have been demands to ban books, plays, films or academic articles in research journals. Let us think about this demand to ban books in the light of our discussion so far we see freedom as ‘the making of choices’, where a distinction is made between ‘negative & positive liberty’, where we recognize the need for justifiable constraints’ but these have to be supported by proper procedures & important moral judgements. Freedom of expressions is a fundamental value & for that society must be willing to bear some inconvenience to protect it from people who want to restrict it. Remember, Voltaire’s statement – ‘I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to death your right to say it.”

Banning is an easy solution for the short term since it meets the immediate demand but is very harmful for the long-term prospects of freedom in a society because once one begins to ban then one develops a habit of banning. The famous works that are banned Ramayana Untold by Aubrey Menon & the Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie.

John Stuart Mill, a political thinker, offered a passionate defence of freedom of expressions including freedom of thought & discussion. In his book “On Liberty” he offered four reasons why there should be freedom of expression even for those who espouse ideas that appears ‘false’ or misleading today.

First, no idea is completely false. What appears to us as false has an element of truth. If we ban ‘false’ ideas, we would lose that element of truth that they contain.

The second part says that truth does not emerge by itself. It is only through a conflict of opposing views that truth emerges. Ideas that seem wrong today may have been very valuable in the emergence of what we consider right king of ideas.

Thirdly, this conflict of ideas is valuable not just in the past but is of continuing value for all times. Truth always runs the risk of being reduced to an unthinking cliché. It is only when we expose it to opposing views that we can be sure that this ideas is trustworthy.

Finally, the last point’s talks about ideas that often looks false at one point by the entire society &, therefore, suppressed turned out to be true later on. A society that completely suppresses turned out to be true later on. A society that completely suppresses all ideas that are not of losing the benefits of what might turn out to be very valuable knowledge.

If we want to enjoy freedom then we have to accept responsibility for our actions & their consequences. That’s the reason many people advocate that children must be placed in the care of parents. Freedom differs at various stages. For individual freedom is different, for society freedom means differently. A balance between the negative & positive liberty is required to maintain a proper balance in the state.

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