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…. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign. (John Stuart Mill)
In modern history, the years 1492 and 1498 were to leave an extraordinary mark as Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama sailed off on sea voyages to discover hitherto unfounded distant lands. The Western World’s search for spices and new sea routes gave birth to a phenomenon that was later called colonialism. The West was able to colonize most parts of South America, Asia and Africa between Sixteenth to mid-Nineteenth centuries. Initially imbued with trade and commerce aspirations, the colonists gradually mixed it with the burdens of reforming and transforming the Brown Man. Gradually the Western notions of liberty and freedom manifested in political system of democracy were to attract native elites of the colonial world. Thus began the struggle for ‘freedom’ which in reality meant throwing away the yoke of slavery imposed by foreign elites. By 1960s, most of the colonial world was ‘freed’ of the foreign rule. The colonial world had attained the ‘external freedom’ but it still needed to learn and adjust to moorings of ‘internal freedom’. During the ‘freedom movements’, the emphasis remained on dreams and demands, protests and violence, as natives aspired to replace the foreign rule. With occupation forces gone and ‘freedom’ achieved, the state and society in post-colonial world faced new set of challenges – it faced the challenges of adjusting to the freedom ‘issues’ of individuals, groups and institutions. Here ‘freedom’ did not stand alone for ‘freedom of expression’, but the right of ‘free choice’ for legitimate expansion and progress among individuals, groups and institutions. However, during this internal struggle between individuals, groups and institutions, the overriding factor remained the concerns for rapid development, progress and prosperity. The newly independent state and society was subconsciously in competition with former colonist world. There is a long tale of revolutions, dictatorships, coups and overthrows in the not-distant post-colonial history. Swinging along democratic and dictatorship pendulum, one model that attracted the most for rapid development remained the ‘authoritarian state’ model. In this model, one group or aligned groups of elites imposed their versions of development strategies caring less for others’ choices. Certainly, the ‘freedom’ remained a casualty in newly-freed post-colonial world. The swing along this pendulum might have continued but the end of the Cold War and spread of Globalization during the last decade of Twentieth Century posed new challenges to the post-colonial world. Now, the world was dominated by the single hegemon that seemingly stood for a world aspiring for goals of liberal democracy and free market economy. The Information Revolution spearheaded by rapid technological advancement added to the challenges of ruling elites in the post-colonial world. The masses living there now could see and draw comparisons with the developed countries and their civilizations. The buzz words of power politics were replaced by democracy, human rights, gender equality etc. The post-colonial state and society felt compelled to rapidly construct new narratives for smooth transfer of power, fair distribution of wealth and social justice matching the developed world. This process appears irreversible, as individuals and groups trying to establish hegemony are being resisted everywhere to an unprecedented level. Notwithstanding, the ruling elites in post-colonial world will have to negotiate this transformation very carefully in a positive direction to avoid any toppling effect.
The individuals and groups are key components of a state and society. The states often vary with respect to number of groups basing on cultural, linguistic, ethnic and sectarian differences and diversity. The more number of groups with diversity, the more degree of accommodation is needed to adjust to the legitimate needs of everyone’s freedom. The Western world in its quest for individual and group freedom has been able to construct a relation in which neither freedom of one entity is undermined nor it oversteps the others. However, a cursory glance at the post-colonial world makes it evident that most of the states and societies are still struggling to adjust to the issues of ‘internal freedom’. Most of these have yet not been able to get rid of notions and symbols of their earlier ‘freedom struggle’ against colonists and consider it an end in itself. The unsettled part of post-colonial world is still inextricably involved in issues like balanced civil-military relations, religious freedom, ethnic groups and their identities, cultural dominance and place of individual in the society. However, due to the phenomena of information technology, media and globalization, there is an intense energy either unleashed or inside the bubbling pot to settle the issues of ‘internal freedom’. As often said that man’s proclivity to err is more common, the probability of one’s freedom over-stepping the others’ cannot be ruled out. In present times, the institutions of politicians and political parties, media, military, judiciary, civilian bureaucracy, sectarian outfits, ethnic groups etc. – each would be challenging the other to acquire the ‘due’ or grab ‘more’ on its perceived ‘freedom list’. To strengthen their position, most of these institutions can take refuge in dogma, ideology and altruistic ideals. However, the history of mankind has proved that states and societies are woven better on procedural guardianship and adjustments to pursuit of everyone’s self-interests than remained bonded by lofty altruistic ideals in the long run. Therefore, while settling the issues of ‘freedom’, the whole construct has to be based on reason and legitimate pursuit of interests allowing each one’s empowerment for collective progress.
In the process of asserting the ‘freedom’ right, the established institutions and balancers are likely to face a paradoxical challenge. They would often be attacked unjustly by the over-enthusiasts and for that they must defend themselves – however, in their defensive shield, they must exercise the caution not to absorb others’ legitimate yearnings. For that would be inimical in entirety. However, the post-colonial state and society need to be watchful that they do not become victim of ‘freedom agenda’ that in reality is crafty use of ‘foreign policy’ by the foreign powers to achieve their specific goals. A foreign sponsored ‘freedom ride’ would amount to nothing but instability, chaos and anarchy. Adjustment, accommodation and transformation are the course for the post-colonial world but maintaining stability is the key to all. The stability in this case would mean not giving way to a thunderous shower but allowing, steering and managing soft down-pouring which gradually empowers all without hurting in the process.