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At a time when people take it upon themselves to define freedom for others we at Juggernaut are creating a space for all ‘Our Freedoms’ to coexist. We had the opportunity to speak with Roshan Ali, an acclaimed novelist and one of the contributing writers for our newest release- Our Freedoms, about what freedom means to him. 

Roshan-Ali

Q: Do you think that Freedom of Expression today comes with terms & conditions applied? Can you see this changing anytime soon?

RA: Freedom of expression always comes with conditions. What matters is what those conditions are. It is a difficult problem to solve for people because of the vast range of parochial conditions that societies exist in – and these parochial factors confuse and derail efforts to create a society that applies the ‘right’ conditions on freedom of expression. On the whole, I can think of only one of what these ‘right’ conditions are, which is: instigating violence. This is because violence is the anti-thesis of expression and only can thrive at a time.

Q: What’s your take on the recent event of a few international figures extending their support to the farmers’ protest and the static messages posted by Indian celebrities after said support?

RA: One of the ironies of the present government (and modern authoritarian governments generally) is that they speak of self-reliance but are intensely aware of what the world thinks of them. This is probably because they know deep down that it is not really possible to be ‘self-reliant’ in the way they claim to want. This contradiction is generally a source of great friction in the way they operate and was clear in the way they reacted when a Western pop star (somebody they shouldn’t really care about if they care about what they say they care about) tweeted about the farmer protests. The celebrities who then tweeted their support of the government are less interesting: they are just cowards.

DELHI, INDIA - DECEMBER 18: Farmers shout slogans as they participate in a protest at the Delhi Singhu border on December 18, 2020 in Delhi, India. Hundreds of thousands of farmers from surrounding states have been protesting on the outskirts of Delhi for weeks, blockading highways leading to the capital. Farmers say they are protesting against laws that deregulate the sale of crops, which they say will put them at risk of losing their livelihoods and land to big corporations. The government has said that the reforms are necessary to improve the efficiency of the agricultural sector, which is heavily dependent on government subsidies to survive. (Photo by Anindito Mukherjee/Getty Images)

Q: The right to protest and free speech is a barometer for a robust democracy. In that sense, where do we really stand on the global stage?

RA: We seem to be losing positions in most democracy indexes. And this is no surprise. The present government is clearly of an authoritarian breed and its leader is a dangerous demagogue. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we are living in fascism – this is hyperbole and is not helpful. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if a fascist government was in power for 7 years. That is not to say that they don’t want India to be something akin to a fascist country – it is only resistance from their opponents and a robust system built by the founders of post-Colonial India that has prevented them from taking those last few steps.

Q: Lastly, what does freedom mean to you?

RA: To be in a free state means to experience a minimum amount of coercion – both mental and physical. To achieve this (and we can never achieve this perfectly) it means to have a system that nurtures both creativity and criticism at the individual level, and, at the governmental level, makes it as easy as possible for people to remove those who have power.

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