Martha Nussbaum Articulates the Importance of Political Liberty in India
As we celebrate India’s independence this week, it is easy to focus on economic growth and the competition between nations for advantage in the global market. These issues are certainly important. But we should remember, too, the crucial role of political liberty in creating a nation that remains a model of democratic achievement for the developing world. As an academic whose university has recently launched a major research center in Delhi, I love to work in India, in a way that I would not like to work in China, or even the somewhat more open Singapore. Since its founding, India has cherished not only liberty of access to the political process—and its voter turnout is well above that in my own country—but also a group of other liberties: freedom of speech, freedom of religious belief and worship, the freedom of association, and the free choice of occupation. (Most political theorists hold that the last of these liberties requires a market economy, so one could argue that that liberty is in a better state today than at the founding.)
These freedoms are not set in stone, and they are periodically threatened. Freedom of speech is threatened when books are banned and pulped. Freedom of religion is threatened when religious minorities face mob violence. Freedom of association is threatened when individuals are harassed for their group membership, whether left or right, and when sodomy laws make people risk prison for their intimate relationships. All these problems, and still others, make the liberties insecure in today’s India. But their defense is vital to a strong nation, for two reasons.