• kewal sethi

liberal space – some ideas

liberal space – some ideas


'when china rules the world: the end of the western world and the birth of a new global order' is a book written by martin jacques. jacques argues that the rise of china has not followed the western model of a transition to modernity and will challenge the global dominance of the western nation-state. china, as a ‘civilization-state’, will soon rule the world. its impact will be not only economic but also cultural, leading to a global future of ‘contested modernity’.

there was a comment on the book, " i've read the book... for a person raised in the liberal western space, i found him rather easily impressed by precisely the most negative and dangerous aspects of the chinese nation- the undemocratic thinking, the ruthlessness...

my view was "what liberal western space? ask about it from the millions of palestenian refugees in lebanon. gaza, west bank who have been displaced because of western support for israel, ask about it from iraqis still in guatanamo prison held without trial. ask about it from the relatives of civilians killed in drone attacks in afghanistan and pakistan. ask about it from relatives of syrians who are dying because of west financed and west armed conflict. what is democratic and liberal about these? ruthlessness - less said the better".


but this did not satisfy the person concerned. the comment was, "which does not disprove that a liberal western space exists or is desirable".

i did not carry the discussion further since the forum was was not suitable for such discussion and any further expression of thought by me may lead away from the purpose of the forum. my reply would have been, "it proves exactly that. as for desirability, what is desirable is liberal space which can be in the image of indian (i dare not say hindu for fear of being held to be a communalist, reactionary, backward looking, narrow minded and all the other attributes with which such views are assailed) liberal space."

though i did not post that reply, i have been mulling over the question in my mind. to my mind what i said proves that there is no such thing as liberal western space. in fact, going further, it has never existed. it is a myth created by the western people to malign the east holding them to be illiberal and backward and all that goes with it. consider the facts. heirarchy

the history, as per the western held belief, started with God creating man in his own image and ordering all the angels to salute him. satan rebelled and refused to do so holding that he was also created by God and man cannot be held to be superior to him. for this act, he was ordered out of the heavens. ever since a war is on. devil tempts adam and eve and they commit a sin (of getting knowledge), called the original sin for which mankind has been suffering ever since. this war banishes any idea of coexistence and the liberal space is, by definition, nonexistent.

going further into evolution of history, the jews are persecuted and this led to exodus. no liberal space in egypt. the jews, in their turn, persecute jesus when he tries to point out the infirmities that have crept into the religion. christians, in their own time, persecute each other. the catholic church in france opposed the huguenots, and there were incidents of attacks on huguenot preachers and congregants as they attempted to meet for worship. the height of this persecution was the st. bartholomew's day massacre when 5,000 to 30,000 were killed. in the 17th century, roughly 200,000 huguenots had fled france due to religious persecutions. how many red indians and other natives were killed in americas? what happened to maya and inca and other cultures? and how many africans were made slaves? the discrimination continues to this day. what action was taken against the apartheid policy of government of south africa? the western countries were quick to align to attack kosovo, iraq, afghanistan, libya and are now preparing to attack syria and iran. the change of 'unfriendly' regimes in central and south america is a regular event. hamas in palestine won in the elections but were not recognized. the list can go on. and all this is done in the name of so called western liberal space.

the countries named above happen to be populated by muslims but islam, itself, is a western religion. it has the same basis of God versus devil. the man has to be saved, by force if necessary. their history of intolerance is too well known to call for examples. what happened to zoroashtrians? the crusades are the example of hatred of the two communities. in lebanon, the christian minority was the victim. cyprus had to be divided. so also sudan. islam calls for death to kafirs. though the word 'islam' means peace and universal brotherhood is preached but it applies only to the faithful. but the faithful are also divided and one sect cannot tolerate the other sect. violence is in the air. west, having been taken over by materialism, is not in open warfare with each other but united against anyone who will threaten their right to possess the means of furthering their materialism and possession of worldly goods. should their compatriots threaten the welfare of a state, the war can break out, if there is no threat of immediate retaliation. it is only that threat which prevents the armed struggles between the countries in the west.

is there an asian liberal space – chinese, indian or other. no doubt, there have been persecutions at times in both the countries like that of donglin faction in china in 1620-27 or of the hmong people in south china before christian era whence they had to move to vietnam etc. and the recent excesses of cultural revolution but such cases are sporadic events. in india, reference is made to persecution of budhhists by pushyamitra or by mihirkul, who invaded kashmir from afghanistan, the extent of the persecution has never been stated and appears to be more with the idea of presenting india as being no different from others, rather than an objective bit of history. there were battles between various kings for various reasons, including expansion of kingdoms and many died during these battles but it cannot be termed as persecution. likewise the sangh parivar opposition to conversion is also called persecution of christians by the catholic pope and other christian organizations. this is only a travesty of truth. both india and china have been free from large scale and sustained persecutions unlike the western world. the east has always preached tolerance. the sects co exist and even if their views are not respected, they are not banned either. this is what marks it out as an area of liberal space.

but we have been brainwashed. from childhood we are told of the liberal attitudes of the west and the conservative views of the eastern world. the abysmal condition of women is described in details. what is their own situation? i refer to a book 'a blighted life' by rosina bukwer lytton. for those who rile against indian treatment of its women folk and compare it with the freedom that their counterparts enjoy in the western world, by way of denouncing the hindu religion, by the christian world the above story would come as a rude shock. it is not a story of the medieval ages but of the nineteenth century england, the so called torch bearer of progress. the story deals with the mechanisms by which lady lytton was sought to be contained by her husband lord lytton because she would not 'go by the expectations from a wife'. so much so that she was confined to a mad house because she dared to tell the voters of his political constituency of his behaviour towards her. finally her son bought her silence by giving an annuity of 500 pounds sterling per annum. mind you, the son was no ordinary person. he was then the viceroy of india with a salary of pounds 2,50,000 per annum. the women in united kingdom got the right to vote in 1928. in 1863, leone levi wrote, in his book, international commercial law,, 'by marriage, the personal identity of the woman is lost. her person is completely sunk in that of her husband, and he acquires an absolute mastery over her person and effects. hence her complete disability to contract legal obligations; and except in the event of separation by divorce, or other causes, a married woman in the united kingdom cannot engage in trade'.


it may be questioned that when it is conceded that neither chinese nor indian culture allowed persecution, why the indian liberal space is being advocated. it is for a specific reason. chinese system, even though pretty liberal, was always centralised. it was ruled by the emperor and the bureaucracy. no doubt the officers were chosen after clearing examinations and getting their training with superiors and, to that extent, it was not a despotic administration like that of czar of russia or louis 14 of france, nevertheless was still centralised administration. in contrast india had full measure of decentralization. it is an oft repeated statement that india resides in villages. while now it is part of rhetoric, it was a fact of life earlier. the hindi equivalent of the statement would be ^^ns'k dk izk.k xzkeksa esa clrk gS** (desh ka praan gramon mein basta hai) this word 'praan' cannot be translated as breath or even life. perhaps the word 'essence' may keep the original meaning. this has continued for millenniums. the villages had their own judicial system, their own policing and their own education. the muslims rulers, though they had no faith in such niceties, nevertheless never disturbed it if they could get their share of wealth. this impoverished the villages but the system remained intact. it was only with the advent of the british that they played havoc with the system. yet the sway of patel and kotwar, though nominated by the authorities, was absolute. they were given same respect as due to chosen leaders. the collector continued to have a great influence on the course of events in the districts, all due to the past traditions of decentralisation.

when did this change? the blame must be squarely laid on the russian type of planning imposed on the country. an extra constitutional body, nominated, was given all the powers over the land, of planning from the central level to the village level. the parliament ceased to matter on the questions of development. finding nothing else to do, they started interfering in the administration, which was beyond their jurisdiction. they were, probably, encouraged by the powers that be so that they – the powers that be – could continue their work unhindered. some persons put date of the watershed of deterioration of administration as 1967 (when coalition governments were formed) or 1972(when the prime minster chose to oppose nominee of her own party) or 1975 (when emergency was imposed). but make no mistake. the trouble started with the constitution of the planning commission. the autonomy of the villages, of the districts, of the states, was done away with. the entire apparatus moved from the central command.

it would need a full fledged article to describe how the complete destruction of the system was achieved. what is intended here is to point out that indian liberal space, that is being spoken of, is not the present state of affairs but that which existed for a long long time, from times immemorial, it may be said. it will, of course, be difficult to reverse all the changes that have been brought about, but certain values can still be followed. and what is more important is that the entire world should follow them to ensure peace and prosperity for everyone.

to conclude,, the liberal space is desirable but not of the western variety which is self seeking, self serving, changing with the needs of the western world, inventing stories to denigrate everyone else, if it serves their purpose. it denies even the right of self defense to the countries which it does not like, (witness the banning of air space over the years to iraq, libya whose regimes were fighting against the rebels), restricting the entry of labour in their countries while advocating full freedom to move their goods without any hindrance. let there be parity amongst the nations which alone will ensure liberal space. and india can lead in this endeavour provided it sets its own house in order.


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