- FORUM FÖR OMFATTANDE DEMOKRATI -
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THE 'VASUDHAIVA KUTUMBAKAM' INITIATIVE
South Asian Dialogue Group (Kepa)
Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (The Earth is a Family), a Coalition for Comprehensive Democracy, is about furthering, strengthening and deepening 'democracy' simultaneously in economic, social, political, cultural, gender and ecological dimensions of life, from local to global levels.
Pursuing the Democratic Dream
Modern day dominant science, social and economic processes, and polity tend to fragment life, issues and people's ways of looking at them. Democracy has come to mean merely 'representative' political structures. Despite this dominant thrust of institutionalisation over the past 200-500 years, which has culminated in the present processes of monopolistic, hegemonic, and humanly disempowering globalisation, there is another perspective of democracy which is still widely espoused intellectually and intuitively. It is an idea about relationships being based on equality, mutuality and respect in individual interaction between family members, between communities, between human beings and the rest of nature, in the market, between genders, and the nation state, and between peoples across the nations. The challenge for all of us is to build politics around this perspective to channelize all institutions towards ever expanding and deepening democratisation.
People in South Asia have long cherished values which, in modern times, are best expressed under the rubric of 'universalism' and various dimensions of 'democracy'. Before the colonial interventions of the West, even when there were rulers of foreign origin, the participatory mode of governance from the grassroots to the top, devolution of political power at all levels, and cultural plurality were hallmarks of our social-political system. We had our own failings such as the obnoxious practice of untouchability. The communitarian principles manifested through the caste system degenerated into hierarchical fundamentalism. But, despite all kinds of failings, the sense of 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam'' (The Earth is a Family) has been part of our cultural sensibility since time immemorial. That is why our socio-cultural diversity is a source of strength and, in fact, the primary defining force behind our unbroken identity. There have, of course, been brief phases of ideological or identity polarizations. But soon, the pluralist perspective prevails again. The basic premise of this world-view is that no sect, religion, ideological group, class, socio-political formation, the state, or church can claim a monopoly over TRUTH. Each one's 'truth' is able to capture only some aspects of the TRUTH, depending upon the vantage point, and not 'the TRUTH' as a whole. Other dimensions are contained in the 'truth' possessed by our enemy, and our allies.
Threats to Democracy
All epochal transformative moments in history are pregnant with two opposing possibilities a new dawn or an era of darkness. What are the forces of darkness at this juncture?
Globally, an elusive 'Consumer Paradise' is being promised through the mass media and the market. There is a mad rush for this kind of globalism. Socio-political forces, whose world-views and dreams are anchored in a doctored view of history (such as Huntington's view on 'Clash of Civilisations'), are becoming victims of the prevailing social pathology of a 'mad-race syndrome. Social identities are getting hardened and becoming more and more competitive. These forces believe that they are engaged in a survival struggle, in which moderation finds little place as a democratic trait.
The Democratic Agenda
No one organization can aspire to fulfil the need of all types of interventions required to realize democratic values in all walks of life. So, by definition, there cannot be any one Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. It is a way of relating to at each other, not a structure for unifying or homogenising the diverse. It is an attempt to 'own' each other and nurture each other's democratic interventions despite differences. Therefore it can be more-or-less a space for enabling ideas on concerns about democracy and a platform for diverse interventions. It can be a forum where people from diverse backgrounds, sharing this broad search come and share their work and create new coalitions without necessarily merging their respective institutional/organisational identities.
Such an initiative could also be seen as an effort to engage the civil society in dialogues on a number of crucial issues at various levels: local, regional and international. The dimensions can be articulated as,
ÆEmpowerment of the daridranarayan, the 'last person' (Economic Democracy),
ÆEcological regeneration and people's control over natural resources (Ecological Democracy),
ÆEnsuring human dignity (Social Democracy),
ÆStrengthening plural co-existence (Cultural Democracy),
ÆDeepening of democratic structures and institutions (Political Democracy)
ÆEvolving gender relations based on mutuality, equality and respect (Gender Democracy)
Our shared view is that selfishness and greed are only one part of the human journey and not the defining characteristics of human life. Wants can be fulfilled, and even indulged in, without being glorified.
The task of building true democracy today is inextricably linked to the global struggle to reform or transform capitalism without a readymade version of any ism. It is a project based on the perennial values of non-violence compassion, justice, equality and freedom and truth.
Many radical movements think that their responsibility is only towards a fundamental transfer of power in favour of the oppressed and marginalized. They feel no responsibility towards the larger whole while pursuing the cherished ideals. Moral renewal of individuals and institutions in society, with a sense of the larger whole, is the responsibility of all.
In a phase of phenomenal upsurge of democratic aspirations, new norms have to be agreed upon through a process of participatory dialogue even with the adversary, at various levels of human collectivities. One has to recognize the complementarity of each other's 'truth' and consciously avoid being judgmental regarding the other's viewpoint. The critical evaluation of other viewpoints has to be in an idiom which encourages moderation and introspective engagement on all sides. Such processes are unfolding and can consciously and actively be pursued today.
We espouse a three fold method for democratisation. One is 'dialogue', basically to recognise the contours and the calling of our times. Dialogue at all levels, including with the adversary, is possible only if we believe in the willingness of the human spirit for struggle and self-sacrifice against injustice instead of believing in the conspiracy theory. The dialogue must consciously be across hierarchical structures at each level, incorporating the idiom and aspirations of the most marginalised. Constructive action to strengthen and promote modes of production and ways of life consonant with the various dimensions of democracy is the second aspect, which must be based on a participatory process at each level and across levels. Simultaneously, we have to fight the injustice. For this, multiple forms of non-violent political action are the only answer. One is conscientious civil disobedience, to use Gandhi's word, 'Satyagraha'.
GW IV, Ganga,
Jawaharlal Nehru University
New Delhi-110067, India
Tel: +91-11-6713251 (O),
+ 91-11-6102638/ 6102752 (R)