Never in the history of mankind has the word ‘liberal’ generated as much interest as it does today.
Today, the word evokes extraordinary polarity with people more than willing to take sides on either side of the argument. Increasingly ordinary happenings get dragged in to this narrative as the common man haplessly engages in to this argument becoming ever more faithful to his divisive self.
The etymology of the word traces its history to Latin word ‘liber’ meaning free. Living in a democracy and constitution that promises liberty as its core ethos one is surprised find it evoking such acerbic reactions.
One assumed that as the society becomes more progressive and modern it embraces liberalism more fervently steering itself clear of the dogmas or race, religion, caste etc. On the contrary one witnesses’ reversal of sorts with increasing disenchantment towards liberal values among countries that have vibrant democracies that are on the economic growth path.
An array of articles by experts point out liberalism in its true avatar never existed with only our deepest prejudices have taken centre stage now. And what construed liberalism was essentially a public posturing among closet conservatives because it made sense to speak about liberal values at that point of time.
What it means is that true liberalism never existed and what one heard and saw hypocrisy at its best.
To me it is far from truth. This is same as looking at the world in binaries. What makes somebody a liberal? The problem I feel lies in our perception of liberals. Who is a liberal anyway?
- Does he have to be an atheist?
- Does he have to be a socialist?
- Does he have to be a supporter of minorities?
- Does he have to be English speaking?
- Should he work in the NGO?
- Should he have studied in JNU/TISS?
- Should be anti-establishment?
- At the least is it necessary for him to be a Bengali?
- Or is he the chap who calls himself ‘unofficial subramaniam swamy’ or drunk Vinod Mehta
If you speak to someone who mocks liberals, it is very likely that he would consider him to be one of those, if not all.
The problem lies with the beholder, who holds a narrow definition of who can be liberal and who cannot be a liberal. A similar example of who is popularly perceived as not liberal.
- Who is religious
- Who is supporter of BJP
- Who is from RSS
- Who is from Gujarat
- Who likes Narendra modi
- Who doesn’t like Rahul Gandhi
- Who likes Arnab Goswami
- Who doesn’t like Barkha dutt
- Dislikes Jawaharlal Nehru
Among many who consider themselves liberals, they are likely to have a strong conviction that people who have the above traits are not likely to be liberals.
It is indeed ironical that a liberal would fall in to a same trap and surrender his objectivity to the commonly held beliefs.
Contrary to what is being written and popularly believed, a lot more of us are living a liberal way of life than one can imagine. It is up to us to believe in that and wear it proudly. This is something our country and our society is capable of and our entire history is a testimony to that.
Personally, I have never found it too hard to spot a liberal around me. In a country like India, how you were born makes a considerable influence on your way of life. The tag one gets in terms of religion, caste, socio-economic position casts a permanent label on your beliefs, attachments and your value systems. And it lasts a life time.
To me if someone can overlook the tag that he inherited through birth and lead a life that is not coloured by inherent prejudices, that marks him out as a liberal. And I can count many in my life who are leading a life that is devoid of such prejudices and driven by empathy if not objectivity.
Look around you and you will find more liberals than you had initially thought of. After all the world is not such a bad place. It is not doomsday yet.