What it’s like to be a liberal in India

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This was an essay topic in last year’s “Students for Liberty” essay writing competition. I didn’t end up submitting it because I was caught up with my own work, but here is the part that I did write:

The term liberalism holds a lot of weight, which is primarily emotional. Countries and individuals have fought for their right to liberty. As universal concept, it is sacred. India, as many call it “the land of Kama Sutra”, “the biggest democracy in the world”, “the most multi-cultural and multi-racial country in the world” etc. has historically had a lot to do with liberalism, of all kind – social, sexual, economic, contrary to the popular belief that it has historically been had a “conservative” culture.

Liberalism in India is also considered to be a western and hence foreign concept, like it was brought to us by the British. So the rich Indians, who supposedly imitate the westerners seem to be the only ones who are privileged enough to accept and propagate liberal ideas. And now, liberalism is restricted to the “elites” of our country. The freedom to marry outside one’s cast and religion is considered to be a legitimate form of marriage “only in cities”

After the independence of India from the British, our constitution laid out the preamble, which said that India will be a secular republic that will ensure liberty of freedom, thought, expression to all its citizens. However, we have seen that in the recent past many ruling parties have broken this promise.

Today, India’s liberalism is under threat. From ideas like banning porn and meat to “converting” individuals to a particular religion, it’s losing its “liberal” touch.

Because of these conservative and fundamentalist ideals of the government, we have been able to define what liberalism is not in India, which should give us a clear definition of what it is. Merely the opposite, right? To be a Liberal in India, an individual should be okay with others watching porn, eating meat, converting to a “non hindu” religion. Or, one should himself/herself eat meat, watch porn, experiment with his/her religious identity etc?

The idea of flexibility, live and let live enters here.

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