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Mainstream, Vol XLVII No 21, May 9, 2009

Mahatma Gandhi’s Inclusive Approach to Humanity

Wednesday 13 May 2009, by Subhrendu Bhattacharya


Mahatma Gandhi believed in the unique approach of inclusiveness, away from divisiveness of any kind. He wanted men and women to admire humanity in general, irrespective of race, religion, caste, creed, and tribe. The inclusiveness included feelings of goodwill and cooperation, beyond the boundaries of nations. Mahatma Gandhi was a true insignia of Indian culture, which has always believed in promoting peace, cooperation among its people and among people of different nations of the world. If we see the cultural expansion of India in South-East Asia during the ancient period, we notice that even to this day, we have several places with India’s cultural imprint. These can be traced back to the BC period, to the times of Emperor Ashoka. Buddha, the Prophet of uni-versal peace and righteousness from India, is revered in different parts of South-East Asia. In countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Mynamar, Mongolia, China, Japan etc., we have the relics of Buddhism going back to a few thousand years. Buddhism preaches its tenets of peace, goodwill and amity among people.

Colonialism and Divisiveness

Time and again, at the global level, a lot of divisiveness seems to have reared its head, specially driven by the greed for money, the greed for commodities, the greed to carve out global spheres of influence, among nations etc. The divisiveness, probably in its worst form, could be seen in the efforts of a few colonising countries of Europe to exploit the economic resources of foreign nations. They set up colonial regimes in different parts of the world. It all happened in the modern period of history. It started about 400 years ago, when the industrial revolution created a system of mass production of goods that necessitated the acquisition of economies of scale. These goods-producing companies could earn increased economic profits only by increasingly expanding their economies of scale. It led to their desire to improve the aggregate demand for goods, internationally. The governments of these countries, where the industrial revolution had taken place, also felt very inclined to support their businesses and, therefore, focused on developing their naval power. They invested significant capital in developing and modernising their navy.

Once these countries improved their navy, and could easily cross the seas and oceans, they started waging wars against countries in different continents. They set up their political and economic control. Thus started a kind of divide between those, who had seen the industrial revolution earlier and also had developed better navy, and other nations, which had missed out on industrial revolution and also had weaker military capacity to save their sovereignty. The British, the French, the Italian, the German, the Spanish, the Portuguese—all of these modern economic global powers gradually started thinking that they were more developed than those whom they had invaded and subjugated as colonies. Gradually, in the lexicon of scholars, a language of economic divide came to be used frequently, such as the developed countries and developing countries.

This distinct divide, based on economic and political supremacy , also created indirectly a sense of superiority based on colour differences. In the literature published in the developed world, the colour came to be an important way to describe people and their characteristics. Surprisingly enough, without much hesitation some literature in the developed world came to describe humanity as Whites, Blacks, Browns, and Yellows etc. It baffles right thinking people as to how humanity could be described in this particular manner not only in the literature but also while debating on issues in national/international seminars. National identities, in the alternative, should have sufficed.

Unfair Economic Policies Decelerated

Economic Growth

The sense of superiority due to the economic divide made many people in the developed countries feel superior to those who were still grappling to come up in the economic ladder. Many of these colonial regimes indulged in exploitation of the subjugated by continuing political control. With the adoption of economic policies which were not fair, the European countries during the colonial period came to be economically better organised and of course enriched. One such example was dumping on these colonies a lot of their goods produced in their countries and exported to the colonies. Further, they also compelled the colonies to buy them at a price fixed unilaterally by the colonial powers. There was obviously no level playing field in such a global trade. Thus the phenomenon of superiority of Europeans, came to be covertly felt.

Since the industrial revolution came in Europe, this gave them a huge advantage in accelerated economic development of their nations. It considerably improved the standard of living of their people. Further, they also found captive markets for their manufactured goods in the colonies. Their dichotomous economic policies of free trade, to be followed by colonies and protectionism by them, helped them to maintain their economic superiority. Thus from the middle of the 18th century to the middle of the 20th century, for almost 200 years, the economic divide between the industrially developed countries and the industrially backward countries continued unabated.

It is in this contingent environment that the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi needs to be viewed. He came as an advocate of the unity of mankind, irrespective of differences.

End of Colonialism—Global Inclusiveness Begins

The global wars caused enormous downsides to these industrially developed nations and bled their resources so much so that it became increasingly difficult for them to hold on to the far-flung colonies. They were in such financial straits that even to govern their own nations and to provide employ-ment to their own people became a formidable challenge for them. They faced financial crises. This weakening situation of the industrial nations of Europe led America to design a Financial Assistance Plan for Europe for their economic recovery; this was known as the Marshall Plan.

This was also the time when India, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, resolved to achieve independence from the British. Though the movement in India to free the country from British control was non-violent, it was wholeheartedly participated by the masses of the entire nation. Finally, the British Government succumbed and granted national freedom to India. Inspired by India and its leader, Mahatma Gandhi, other British colonies in Asia and Africa also followed suit and demanded freedom. Gradually the British colonies were liberated and so were liberated the colonies of other European countries, such as France, Italy, Germany, Holland etc. It is surprising that colonialism, which epitomised divisiveness by the colonial regimes, continued even until the 1970s.

As and when more and more countries became independent of the colonial rule by foreign countries, there started a change in the international approach among nations. Nations, including the developed ones, came to realise that divisiveness is not right and much can be gained for both the developed and developing world by better global diplomacy and goodwill. Thus was renewed the inclusiveness in the global arena. Even the European countries, which had controlled in the past countries in different continents through political and economic exploitation, came to realise that the future lies in international cooperation and not international divisiveness.

The British initiative in this regard was the formation of the Commonwealth of Nations, which became an interesting forum for the meeting of nations that were once part of the British global empire. It has been a fine development that little ill-will remained in the developing nations against their foreign erstwhile controllers. In other words, the colonies of Britain continued to maintain good political and economical relations with Britain and vice versa. The same relationship existed between the French, the Dutch and the governments of other countries, which were once colonies. Exchange of human resources between such countries started with a view to acquire learning and to leverage the learning acquired in the developed nations. Scientific and technological cooperation, educational cooperation, public policy cooperation etc. formed the elements of collaboration between these two sets of nations.

In the development of these efforts we see the pursuit of the principles that Mahatma Gandhi once conveyed to the world. Gandhi firmly believed that much can be gained from treating humanity with the principle of inclusiveness, rather than practicing divisiveness. Not only was Mahatma Gandhi indirectly followed and respected in the world by the emergence of friendly and amicable relationship among nations, but also his ideas of inclusiveness came to influence the public policies in many countries.

Bottom-up Movement for Inclusiveness
in America

The public policies globally came to be guided more by the principles of inclusiveness and far from divisiveness. The example that comes to mind is a bottom-up movement which the United States of America witnessed, the Civil Rights Movement. Dr Martin Luther King spearheaded the Civil Rights Movement, asking for equality for the Blacks, in social, economic, political, and employment realms. His movement came at a time when America was known to practise a lot of discrimination against the Blacks not only informally, but also formally. There were laws that segregated the Whites and Blacks in different schools. The Blacks were prohibited by law/rules in the southern States not to travel in the buses and trains along with the Whites. The Blacks, particularly in the southern States of the US, were prevented from using even the rest rooms that were meant for the Whites. The Blacks, when thirsty, could not drink water from the water fountains, if they were meant for the Whites. Further, the Blacks were denied educational facilities as there were practically no schools for them. The Blacks mostly worked as low-paid workers and better jobs were reserved for the Whites. This was the divisive scenario even in the early 1960s in the southern States of America. Though living for centuries together side by side in the same country, and despite the leadership of Abraham Lincoln, the President of the USA who had already abolished slavery as early as in 1857, these abhorrent practices astonishingly continued in the American society and economy until the 1960s.

Independent India had granted universal franchise to all its adult citizens in 1947. Much after India had achieved its independence from British rule, Dr Martin Luther King was still fighting for civil rights for the Blacks in the middle of the 1960s. The American society was far from being just even after 100 years of the abolition of slavery by its great leader and President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln. Since 1776, when the US became independent from the British, that is, even after 189 years, Dr King was still fighting for the equality of rights among people.

Dr King was greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s noble principles of peace, non-violence and truth while he was leading the Civil Rights Movement in America. At that time, he came to India and visited Mahatma Gandhi’s land and called it a pilgrimage. That was the homage paid by Dr King in 1959 after he returned to America. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent struggle for India’s freedom from the British , Dr King continued the Civil Rights Movement in the US. Unfortunately, he was assassinated when the movement was still going on.

Dr King’s efforts did not go unheeded. President John F. Kennedy had felt that electoral justice to the Blacks need to be given. Unfortunately John F. Kennedy was also assassinated in 1964. However, his wish to give electoral franchise to the Blacks was accomplished by the next Democratic President, Lyndon B. Johnson. The Blacks waited for the franchise since 1776 and this was a great achievement.

Dr Martin Luther King’s son and daughter-in-law visited India recently in 2009 to pay their homage to the great Indian leader, who taught people in the world to live inclusively and respect other people irrespective of their caste, colour, tribe, race, religion and national identity.


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