Monday, June 29, 2009

It is through the right of free speech that ideas are expanded and developed

The Relevance of The Right of Association speech in today’s age


Anurag Banerjee

[Speech delivered at Howrah Sarat Sadan on 27 June 2009 on the occasion of the centenary of Sri Aurobindo’s speech The Right of Association.]

Revered Speakers and members of the audience,

Today we have assembled here on this special day to commemorate the centenary of the rendition of Sri Aurobindo’s speech The Right of Association. The Honorable speakers would evaluate The Right of Association through their speeches. I would also like to say a few words on the same topic though the subject-matter of my speech would be a bit different. I would speak on the topic: the relevance of The Right of Association speech in today’s age.

Sri Aurobindo has said that every free nation has three rights. These are: (1) the right of a free Press, (2) the right of free public meeting, and (3) the right of association. The right of free speech is not only the greatest medium of expressing one’s statements but it is also the best medium of self-development and it is through the right of free speech that ideas are expanded and developed. The genuine depiction of ideas leads to the creation of an ideal world. This truth is not limited to the field of politics only but it pervades in humanity as well. When an idea rises from the mind to the levels of consciousness, then, from its movement, takes birth a Force whose strength is unfathomable. That’s why Sri Aurobindo has said:

“The right of speech is cherished because it gives the idea free movement, it gives the nation that power which ensures its future development, which ensures success in any struggle for national life…Then the idea materialises itself, finds means and instruments, conquers all obstacles and goes on developing until it is expressed and established in permanent and victorious forms.”

From the idea takes birth an association and with the association comes its rights. Sri Aurobindo has said that the right of association is such an instrument which enables humanity to grow and proceed towards an integral progress. For the materialization of the progress the presence of three ideas is undeniable. What are they? They are ‘Liberty’, ‘Equality’ and ‘Fraternity’ or brotherhood. These ideas, rather philosophies, were heard for the first time at the time of the French Revolution in 1789. When Sri Aurobindo had delivered his speech on the Right of Association, India had not attained its freedom. In this context let me add that by liberty Sri Aurobindo didn’t mean the freedom of his motherland only; liberty had another meaning to him and that was ‘ultimate emancipation’, meaning mukti or moksha which means freedom from all the narrowness and littleness of the body and spirit which humanity aspires for and we have to seek this freedom not on the exterior plane but within us.

The second pearl of the ocean of idea is Equality. All the religions of the world have taught us that we are one; we are one because we are the children of the same God. It is the only doctrine that Hinduism, Islam and Christianity accept unhesitatingly. Sri Aurobindo has said in this context:

“In the high and the low, in the Brahmin and the Shudra, in the saint and the sinner, there is only one Narayan, one God and he is the soul of all men.”

If we don’t attain the Narayan who resides not only within the Brahmin but within the Shudra as well, not only within the prosperous but within the destitute too, not only within the virtuous but also within the vicious, it would be impossible to be free from the darkness of ignorance.

The next idea is Fraternity or brotherhood. Sri Aurobindo has admitted that the establishment of brotherhood is the toughest task yet its achievement is aspired by all religions and hearts. Not only Sri Aurobindo but also Swami Vivekananda and other saints of the bygone era have preached the message of brotherhood. They did so because they understood that without unity, equality and brotherhood no country in this world, including India, could progress.

If we attempt to evaluate the significance of this speech delivered precisely a hundred years ago and its relevance in today’s era, then we would observe that we still have not been able to accept whole-heartedly the concept of equality and brotherhood Sri Aurobindo had preached. In the past one hundred years, we have undoubtedly made significant progress in various fields but in the field of equality and brotherhood we are stuck in the world that existed a century ago. Discrimination of caste, creed, religion and status—we couldn’t conquer any of the inequalities. From the point of view of technological progress we can compete with any country belonging to the First World but the lack of equality and brotherhood have disallowed us to rise beyond the level of a Third World country. A hundred years ago Sri Aurobindo had predicted the evil effects of the lack of equality and brotherhood. At the same time, he had given the great message—the gospel truth:

“You are all one, you are all brothers. There is one place in which you all meet and that is your common Mother. That is not merely the soil. That is not merely a division of land but it is a living thing. It is the Mother in whom you move and have your being. Realise God in the nation, realise God in your brother, realise God in a wide human association.”

Nowadays we witness the eruption of the fire of violence and the spread of bloodshed almost everywhere in the country. This has happened solely due to the fact that we haven’t been able to tread on the path showed by Sri Aurobindo. A hundred years have passed since the rendition of the Right of Association speech but we have not budged even an inch from where we were a century ago.

We’ve attained the freedom of our motherland. But the establishment of equality and fraternity is yet to be done. The greatest obstacle to its establishment is our ego. Its establishment would not be possible as long as we are unable to conquer our ego. Sri Aurobindo himself has said: “Ego was the helper, ego is the bar.” And this ego has its roots in ignorance. While we have educated ourselves through the textbooks only, we have not been able to educate ourselves in the teaching of the soul and spirit. That is why our minds are still engulfed in darkness and moreover, we have fallen in love with this darkness. When the Sun of Knowledge would rise piercing this darkness of ignorance only then shall we be united. And only then despite the existence of a variety of languages, opinions and costumes marking the regional differences the establishment of Unity in diversity would be an attainable reality.

Come, on this special day let’s all pledge to move on the path showed by Yugarishi Sri Aurobindo and accept his message as the hymn to progress and proceed towards the establishment of equality and brotherhood. Only then would the creation of the India of our dreams be possible. In the words of Dwijendralal Roy (translated by Sri Aurobindo):

“Before us still there floats the ideal of those splendid days of gold:

A new world in our vision wakes, Love’s India we shall rise to mould.”


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