‘Freedom First! is a protest movement in Kerala that is made up of collective, continuous, simultaneous acts of freedom that anyone, anywhere can commit.’
This is the manifesto of a movement that is underway in Kerala. It is a collaborative work of several organisations and individuals working in the fields of cinema, LGBT rights, atheist groups, journalists, and intellectuals.
Individual freedom and human rights are under threat in many parts of the world, including India, America, Hungary, Poland, Turkey and China. This is evident in the statement “America First”. “Nationalism first”, “religion first”, “race first”, “sentiments first”, “markets first” and “cow first” are versions of this statement which are suppressing freedoms and the rights of individuals. Through such statements, the organised minorities of oppressors are able to terrorise the vast free thinking humanity.
This is possible because this word, “Freedom”, was appropriated by neoliberalism as a brand name and a war cry; it was surrendered in the name of securitisation and the permanent global war; freedom has come to be a militarised term in many states, including India where its translations as “Azadi” in Urdu and “Viduthalai” in Tamil have invited punitive measures from the state; and the free thinking people have not organised to defend and expand their freedoms.
“Freedom First!” is envisaged as a movement of free thinking individuals to organise and to demonstrate our basic human rights, freedoms and expressions of love. The hard-won idea of human rights and freedoms sustained many a struggle and undergirded international laws and constitutions. It was assumed that politics takes place under the validating condition of freedoms and human rights, even in those places where their violations continued to take place, including caste discrimination, racism, and gender discrimination. That is, the availability of freedoms and human rights as the end and the ground of politics let their absence and violations be manifest. However, freedoms and human rights have been taken for granted like a jade in a vault which is not needed in our everyday life. Should we wonder if it is still there in that vault? Not only are they not universally available to all people, but they are also progressively eroding wherever they did obtain.
Today this condition provided by the rights to free speech, to life and liberty, to cultural expressions, to love, to non-normative sexuality has been undermined. This condition, which is enshrined in international law and in the constitutions, is itself in need of rescue. Unless we insist on these freedoms and rights by demonstrating them, they will soon become redundant before the law itself.
It may seem a strange idea to demonstrate the very freedoms guaranteed by international law and human rights. Even today we would not think of sneezing, eating, and loving as a political acts. And yet, eating a certain food and loving outside one’s religion, caste, gender norms and race are already being curtailed through illegitimate (that is, contravening freedoms and human rights) legal measures and force.
Freedom First! is a protest movement that is made up of collective, continuous, simultaneous acts of freedom that anyone, anywhere can commit. Through these acts of freedom we shall make a positive exercise of them rather than wait for their disappearance to hold a “Freedom’s wake”. Freedom First! is a call to all to break through the borders and ‘big, fat, beautiful walls’ of nationalisms, fascisms, languages, religions, skin colours, gender norms, market tyrannies, passports and war hysterias.
These acts can include fighting censorship by distributing, displaying, and performing restricted and banned literature and works of art; inventing and expressing forms of love; expressing the freedom to wear clothing without being subjected to anyone’s code; inventing ways to practice or not to practice religions, including the invention of new religions or multiple religious conversions; persistently challenging the restrictions to freedoms through legal means and practicing non-cooperation with unjust laws.
The goal of Freedom First! is to instantiate the already existing freedoms and rights, to display them in public, and through this display to strengthen our constitutional and democratic institutions. It is not meant to be an organisation since “Freedom First” defines humanity itself. The title “Freedom First!” is more like the title of a book still being written or a cinema in the making. This movement is the creative intervention of each one of us. This movement and its protest strategies should be relayed everywhere and the lessons learned from each instance of protest should be gathered under the title “Freedom First!” as a common work in progress of humanity. It is also a test of the state of humanity to explore its own freedoms and rights in this way, and an interminable experiment to discover new freedoms.
B. R. P. Bhaskar
Venkateswaran C. S.