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Past present: Born free

Rousseau in The Social Contract says, “Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains”. A thought-provoking and meaningful line which highlights the social, political, cultural and moral chains that enslave a person. Ironically, people are apathetic and indifferent about being shackled and have no urge or wish to liberate themselves.  They happily conform to their confinement as a legitimate way of being controlled.

For instance, the fully documented daily routine of Mughal rulers shows how they spent their time from sunrise to dusk. Every moment of the day was a part of their disciplined schedule. They appeared in the palace balcony for their subjects early in the morning as a good omen. Afterwards they proceeded to the court to administer the business of the empire. Their busy routine continued till evening until they retired to the privacy of their bedroom. Once Shah Jahan who was unwell, failed to appear in the balcony which generated rumours about his death, resulting in a war of succession among his sons. As a result, he lost his throne and spent the rest of his life as a prisoner in the fort of Agra. Aurangzeb learnt a lesson from this and never missed a public appearance despite his serious illness. These were golden chains which the rulers happily accepted as a price of their power and authority.

In modern times, the tradition has continued with political leaders being chained by protocol and their movements being restricted. They are not free to be like ordinary people and go to the park for a walk, or to a restaurant for a cup of coffee and enjoy the freedom in their lives.

Ordinary people are shackled by social, religious and cultural chains which do not allow them to liberate themselves. If an individual tries to get rid of these shackles, he is ostracised from society and he becomes isolated.

Therefore, the majority of people willingly or unwillingly accept these traditions, cultural and social practices that bind the person in such a way that he cannot release himself from the relentless grip.

Rousseau, in his prize winning essay, criticises the advancement of civilisation and accuses institutions, traditions and values for enslaving man. According to him, civilisation has damaged mankind by taking away freedom. He argued that in the early period of human history, man was closer to nature, and enjoyed pleasure and happiness without any bondage.

History shows that the process of technological inventions and their use has completely tied up our lives at the cost of liberty. Rousseau points out that man lived a simpler life in the early period of history. People were free to eat or dress according to their own will. But in modern times, people dress according to fashion dictates and eat according to certain table manners. They like it when others appreciate their attire, language and  lifestyle. People live for others and lose their independence.

Recalling the allegory of Plato’s Cave, where a group of people tied up in chains see reflections on the wall that they perceive as real. One of them frees himself and goes out of the cave into the glaring sunlight. He returns to the cave and tells the other people that they are watching nothing but a reflection of the real world. They do not believe him and continue to be in the same position with no desire to break their binding chains nor to liberate themselves from enslavement.

There is no doubt that the chains may be very heavy and people are used to being shackled. But despite the powerful constraint, if attempts to break away are made from time to time, mankind would one day be liberated from bondage.

In the Pakistani society, we are bound by centuries-old, rusted chains of feudalism, tribalism, religious fanaticisms and mutilated social and moral values. We are used to bearing with them and sometimes even regard them as holy and sacred. There is no alternative except to break them, emerge out of the darkness of the cave and embrace the light of freedom by restructuring civilisation with new, positive and progressive values.

Man should be free and unrestrained to become a master of his destiny and use his creative powers to fully and freely enjoy the fruits of life.