Indian Value System13th February 2020
“Indian value systems do not encourage us to replicate the same consumer culture that is rampant in the West,” For example: Families in India still make younger children wear the clothes worn by older children in the house, not because of poverty, but because Indian value systems encourage ‘recycle and reuse’ of material goods at home.
India is a pluralistic and multi-cultural society where many faiths and belief systems regulate the life of individuals. India is not a Hindu society even though Hinduism is the religion of the vast majority of the people. In this part of the globe many religious traditions, both indigenous and foreign, have been established over the years. We have Buddhism, Sikhism, Bhakti cult, Sufi tradition as well as Islam and Christianity. Many religious gurus, law-givers, social reformers and statesmen have come to guide and influence the life and culture of Indians. The Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Bhagvat Gita as well as the Quran, the Bible, the Guru Bani, etc., have molded the thinking pattern and consciousness of Indians. So also the Hindu caste system and the joint family pattern have a decisive influence on the followers of other religions.
The struggle for human rights essentially reflects the concerns and requirements of modern human being whereas the cultural values operated in a traditional context where many of the agencies which at present account for the violation of human rights norms were not known. Since human rights is basically a problem between authority and the individual it is essential to examine the Indian understanding of the origin of authority.
- Duty-First Approach
Broadly speaking Indian culture never saw the individual and society as antagonistic to each other. The Hindu vision was that of an orderly society, with each individual doing his assigned job. The individual and society were viewed as two complementary and incomplete entities tied to a relationship of mutual obligations, a commitment which was essential to ensure the well-being of all. Those who acted as the guardians of society and worked out the delicate nuances and detailed network of the social order were neither concerned about, nor even conscious of, the concept of human rights. They were more commercial about the moral dimension of a human being’s activities than the legal aspect. Much emphasis was placed on the understanding of society from a moral perspective. Of course this understanding was highly elitist reflecting the brahminical vision of a perfect society. However, this is not to deny the existence of a legal framework and law books to regulate social relationship at various levels. Those were of different nature and have nothing to do with the present concept of Rule of Law which is the main vehicle to ensure the equality of all — a fundamental objective of the human rights movement.
As regards the origin of the government (authority), the Hindu tradition believed in a supernatural source. According to it, human beings in a state of defenselessness and social disorder appealed to the gods. The gods appointed a king in their own image and on their behalf whose task was to protect the people and maintain law and order. In return, the king would claim a share of one sixth of the produce. The caste-based social order also emerged from this divine source.
In terms of well-codified norms and level of the people’s consciousness, the notion of human rights did not exist. But in terms of implications, i.e., ensuring a person’s protected position, one can say that people enjoyed their rights. Thus in the Indian culture rights flowed from duties. The performance of one’s boundless duties in accordance with dharma (duties) ensured the rights of another. Non-adherence to the neatly defined and minutely worked out duty code would lead to a state of anarchy in society which would destroy the individual himself.
Another dimension of this duty-first value system of Indian culture is that since the emphasis on rights leads to conflicts and claims of one’s own due, the architects of society and its law-makers, probably sought to avoid a scenario wherein each one would be fighting for his rights. Such a situation would have resulted in an anarchy defeating the very purpose of arranging a stable social order.
- Nishkama Karma
Another dictum of the Gita which has taken deep roots in the Indian mind is Karmanye badhika rastu ma falesu kadachan. That is, one must go on performing one’s duties without being worried about the rewards or the results. One finds most of the Indian parents consoling their children by citing this Gita bani in the event of the latter’s failure in any endeavour despite hard work and sincere efforts. The habit of conformism ruled out any scope for challenge which is the main vehicle to ensure one’s rights. Further, the concept of an individual was also not there. The individual as an individual had no identity as he essentially belonged to his family group, caste or sub-caste, etc. Each individual is called upon to perform his duty without being concerned about the reward for or consequences of such an action — nishkama karma.
- Ahimsa and human rights
Ahimsa can be identified as another key Indian cultural value which ensures rights by implication and interpretation. Since the concept of ahimsa emerged out of a very healthy Buddhist tradition, it is essential to understand the Buddhist theory on the origin of government or authority. The Buddhist theory did not believe in any divinity. As opposed to the Hindu tradition, it was rooted in a republican mold. It talked about a “golden age which gradually decayed through the institution of private property and other social evils”. As a result, the people assembled and elected one from among themselves to rule over and ensure an orderly society. This has various implications. The ruler is a chosen representative of the people and not a monarch appointed by God with absolute powers. Thus the emphasis is on the sovereignty of the people which naturally leads to a stress on the rights of the individual in society. Even though the idea of the sovereignty of the people remained central to the Buddhist political philosophy, it could never be developed into a theory of the rights of the people (Romila Thapar 1985). May be it was not necessary then. Nevertheless ahimsa , which gives every life a right to live, is a reflection of the belief in the sovereignty of the people.
In a broader sense, ahimsa means much more than non-violence. It means not hurting anyone or any life both physically and psychologically. Basically it is a negative concept from which flows a positive value, i.e., protection. Ahimsa aims at ensuring and providing a protected existence to every one free from mental and physical violence and it is here that the basic postulation of ahimsa coincides with the main concern of the present human rights movement worldwide.