Since I came to Vancouver, I got to interact with a lot of students from parts of the world where freedom has a different meaning. I realised we Indians don’t appreciate enough how we have been raised. Neither do we realise how things are in other parts of the world. Let me elaborate some more.
The right to free speech has been so ingrained in our daily lives through the intensely active Indian media (although their activity is not always in the right direction) that we don’t even notice it. When it comes to expressing our opinions, we are always at the front. Politicians actually need to worry about how to keep their dirt behind closed doors. I believe all of this freedom to think and express has helped us evolve the idea of right and wrong in two distinct ways,
- permitted under the law.
- acceptable as a society.
We also realise that they need not overlap. Although that is not ideal, we try to reach a resolution through debates in either the media, a court of law or the parliament. This has a big implication for us as a society, it is never acceptable for an entity to circumvent the law even when justified by an argument such as, for the greater good. When individuals grow up in an atmosphere with restricted freedom, one doesn’t appreciate this subtlety and often justify breaking the law arguing its for the greater good and whatever collateral damage that comes with it is acceptable. In their mind their personal limits of acceptability is the only constraint on choice.
Now one may ask what is wrong with that as long as it is well intentioned? In reply to that I would ask, how is a justification like that different from any of the justifications provided by any of the political or religious zealots? Who decides whose judgement is to be respected? An impartial construct is needed here, and the law provides that. So as a matter of principle a society should try to evolve such that the respect for the law is supreme, and when the law comes in the way a mechanism to debate and make amends should be in place. Since people are different it is impractical to expect the law from different parts of the world would consider an event in the same light, but we can always agree on the basic set of rights. It is easier said than done, but definitely not impossible.
This is often a strong dilemma as the situations where this is relevant always involves a police state with curtailed political or social freedom, and the law and its methods become highly questionable. And often there are no ways for people to debate this and they are even kept in the dark by the state controlled social machinery. Even in situations like this, calling for a revolution, the establishment of a rule of law provides credibility to the revolutionaries after the fact.
What I am trying to drive at is, if there is no respect for the law by the common citizens to start with, then there is no hope of establishing a free and equal society. If we have the right to choose when to abide by the law, then the law becomes ineffective and irrelevant. Even a change of regime need not be illegal. The legality of the change provides the required basis of principle for the subsequent rebuilding of the society. If we disregard this we end up replacing one autocracy for another. If the founding principles are tainted so will be whatever is built on them.
When highlighted against the last few years’ international events, this difference in the notion of right and wrong and its implications on the society leads to different conclusions about the legality of some of these international developments. Some of these have been justified with arguments in the same lines as this fuelling the disregard for the rule of law. To achieve any real success in correcting this mess we need to start by addressing the need for respect for the law by the commoner rather than blind enforcing of the law in these afflicted regions. People need to be re-educated and value of human life needs to be ingrained back into the societal fabric of these conflict zones to achieve any form of success. (we could do with some of that too) Blind use of force might result in another generation of children growing up with a personal sense of right or wrong instead of a collective.
I just wish people realised the loss of even a single life is not acceptable before its too late.