Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam : The Old Testament of Globalism

Only small men discriminate saying: One is a relative; the other is a stranger. For those who live magnanimously the entire world constitutes but a family.

 

The above shloka from the Maha Upanishad is not merely a cliché but a lived reality of the Indian nation. India, has from time immemorial lived upto this testament by welcoming all kinds of races of people into its national social fabric. From the Parsis who fled persecution in Iran in the early century to the Siddis of eastern Africa who were brought as slaves by European colonizers to the West coast of India and who live as full and equal citizens of India. Even when the Western world was operating on the principle of racial superiority which led to massive historical tyranny of slavery being imposed on Africans, India’s ethos was such that slaves like Qutubuddin Aibak and Malik Ambar (initially an African slave) were becoming Kings and Emperors. Similarly, Indians Turks, Huns, Mongols, Afghans, and Arabs who came to India as traders and even as conquerors settled down and Indianized themselves in the hospitable and warm social milieu of India. Today, the descendants of all such peoples are proud Indians. In the current times also, India hosts several such persecuted nationalities from around the world- Pakistani Hindus, Tibetans, Rohingya Muslims (around 40,000 are currently refugees in India), Afghans (Sikhs and anti-Taliban Muslims), Chakmas, Hindus, and Muslims (mostly economic migrants unlike the first two who have fled religious and state persecution) of Bangladesh are some of those who having fled war or persecution have found a home safe enough in India where they know they won’t be denied their human rights. Of late, India has given political asylum to some prominent Baloch leaders from Pakistan too, who have raised their voices against continued denial of Baloch rights by the Pakistani government. The Nepalese too have settled down in their millions in India. Today they form the majority in Sikkim and the Gorkhaland region of West Bengal.

In the realm of ideas, India’s globalism is best reflected in the Rig Vedic invocation:आनोभद्राःक्रतवोयन्तुविश्वतःwhich means, ‘Let noble ideas come from all directions’. It is hard to find such a highly idealistic strand of globalism in any other ancient text from world literature. Working sincerely on this line, India has for millennia welcomed scholars and their ideas. FromMegasthenes of Greece, to Fahien and Huen Tsang of China, to Ibn Batuta from Morocco, to the scholars from around the world who came to learn, teach, and share their knowledge with Indians at the great ancient learning centres of Nalanda, Takshashila, Vikramshila, and Sharada Universities, everyone who sought a quantum jump in the advancement of his knowledge came to the radiant centreof wisdom that was India. Indeed, it is argued by some scholars that even Jesus Christ spent his youth in Kashmir from the age of 13 to 30 and learnt meditation and theological knowledge from the Buddhist monks of Kashmir.While India gave the mathematical ideas of zero and infinity to the world, it was always eager to learn useful technologies like paper, and Chinese fishing nets (which are still used on Kerala’s coasts !) from the Chinese; Unani system of medicine from the Arabs; exquisite carpet-making crafts from the Persians, and many more. In the realm of sculpture, Indian artists of the Gandhara school took a lot of Greek influences.While India gave Panchtantra to the world which later morphed into Aesop’s fables in Europe, it received the stories of Ali Baba, the Arbian Nights, Sheikh Chilli, and Mullah Nasruddin and made them a part of its own repertoire of popular bedtime stories. There was a great cultural and ideational exchanges in the Qissakhwani Bazaar of Peshawar, in the port city of Cambay, and in the numerous towns which fell on the route of the ancient Silk Road.

 

Another aspect of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam has been the constant support modern India has shown for the other nationalities struggling against the yoke of colonialism, oppression, and poverty. India has constantly shown support for the cause of Palestinians by being one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with the PLO. Similarly, it was the case with Namibia while it was struggling for its independence from apartheid South Africa. Even militant anti-Americanists like Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh found a sympathetic audience in India. At the same time, India has never sought to join any ‘camp’ of nations which is antagonistic to the interest of any other camp. Hence when the whole world was being torn apart during the Cold War, India came up with the idea of non-alignment. More than a matter of political expediency, it was a moral principle which sought to keep the poor, developing nations of the world free from great power rivalries. In the 1970’s it was an active leader in the UN in formulating the collective demand of the Third World countries for a New International Economic Order, which sought to free poor countries from debt, and demanded fair rules of exchange between the developed and the developing nations. After India embraced liberalization, privatization, and globalization in the early 1990’s, the idea of VasudhaivaKutumbakam gained a new dimension in India. It came to symbolize the reality that India needed to integrate more by allowing freer movement of not just people and ideas, but also goods, capital, and services of other nations. Today India is a major partner in a new global force in the form of BRICS which envisages to present an alternative to the existing international institutions like the World Bank, the WTO, and the IMF which have so far acted only in the interests of a few rich nations of the West. Thus in democratizing international relations through BRICS, India seeks to make the global family of nations more egalitarian. While and India has always upheld the universalist principles of human dignity and human rights in its actions, it has been opposed to imperialistic military ineterventions in domestic affairs of other nations under the guise ‘humanitarian intervention’ under the leadership of Western Powers. In 2014, India along with other BRICs countries opposed the western desire to militarily intervene in Syria.

The third aspect of VasudhaivaKutumbakam has been its active participation in UNPeace Keeping Operations around the world. It has actively set up its missions in Afghanistan to help build its critical infrastructures like the Afghan national parliament, dams, roads, bridges, etc..Its active support and participations in institutions of global governance like the UN is driven by India’s desire to see a world which unitedly comes together to solve the hallenges of collective humanity like poverty, hunger, development, and climate change. It supported the Chinese candidacy in the UN and the UNSC when the Western Great powers the UK and the USA were opposed to it. India’s stand was driven by the fact that the Chinese represented one-fifth of the human race and as such without them, the UN would not be a globally representative body.

 

The magnanimity of India and Indians is accentuated by the fact that despite India’s resources being strained, it has never turned back or disappointed humanity whenever it is in need. Besides, it also sends millions of dollars worth of aid to the poorest nations of Africa. At the same time, it has also never imposed pre-conditions before accepting peoples of different faiths unlike many other nations around the world.

Like a concerned family member, India has thus sought to keep the global family (the kutumb) together in times good and bad. A popular Sanskrit prayer which Indians have sung for thousands of years is a living proof that even in their personal prayers to the Almighty, Indians ask for blessings for the whole of humanity.

 सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः
सर्वे सन्तु निरामयाः 
सर्वे भद्राणि पश्यन्तु
मा कश्चिद्दुःखभाग्भवेत् 
 शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः 

Meaning:

Om, May All become Happy,
May All be Free from Illness.
May All See what is Auspicious,
May no one Suffer.
Om Peace, Peace, Peace.

Verily, this goes on to prove that parochialism and exclusivism is not in the DNA of the Indian national make up. This also testifies to the Indian attitude that growth of one should not be to other’s detriment. Co-operation and sharing, rather than cut-throat exploitation is the mantra that Indians have chosen for their prosperity. While other nations’ philosophers have given the concepts like the ‘state of nature’, ‘war of all against all’, and ‘zero sum game’, such ideas have never gained popular traction in the Indian psyche. Hence, historically speaking, ancient India which stretched from the Arakan to the Hindukush never attempted to conquer other races and nationalities by force. Rather, who so ever came as an invader was allowed and assimilated into the Indian mainstream. While other great civilization like the Chinese believed themselves to be the ’middle kingdom’ and thus walled themselves from rest of their world; and the western countrieswith their fount in the Greco-Roman civilization thought of themselves as superior races who had the divine right to conquer and rule others, Indians have believed that the whole world is one big family and that conviviality and co-operation, rather than conquest and competition should be the motto for governing the life of a nation.

Shimaila Iqbal

Campus Chronicle

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