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Business News/ Opinion / Views/  American and Indian values are needed in the world

American and Indian values are needed in the world

The US and India should help the world develop an interdependent relationship that views national concerns in relation to and not in opposition to global considerations, and recognizes diversity.

Kamala Harris represents an America that takes pride in diversity as a central tenet of American life. (AP)Premium
Kamala Harris represents an America that takes pride in diversity as a central tenet of American life. (AP)

As I watched the horrific events of 6 January unfold in Washington DC, my heart sank. It was disheartening, if not totally unexpected, to witness the end of the Donald Trump era with domestic terrorists storming the Capitol building while brandishing Confederate flags and wearing MAGA (Make America Great Again) hats. The attack felt like a life-threatening assault on the values that have attracted millions of people from all over the world, myself included, to the United States.

But eventually it dawned on me that 6 January wasn’t the beginning of something new. It was rather the last gasp of disgruntled people desperate to hold on to a world about to be irrevocably transformed. The best symbol of that change, and of the American values that many of us cherish, is the new vice president, Kamala Harris. A woman of color, the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, and wife to a white Jewish man, Harris represents another side of America, one that takes pride in diversity as a central tenet of American life. If the story of our new vice president represents the dawn of a new multi-cultural majority in the United States, it can also serve as the beacon for a new kind of global belonging that is desperately needed now.

The perils of the pandemic have made it clear that no person or nation is an island. We must see our independence in relation to our interdependence. It involves recognizing the reality of our diversity while cherishing what we have in common. Two countries, more than many others, have the potential of creating this new kind of relational global identity out of the multiplicity they embody at home: The U.S and India. Ironically, the ideals of “creating one out of many" are tarnished in both countries at the moment.

Kamala Harris, through the heritage of her mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris, has lived with the reality of multiple belongings. She has said that she learned to be equally comfortable with temple-going, sari-wearing aunties in South India and her African American sorority sisters at Howard University because of the values her mother taught her at the height of the civil rights era in the US. She learned to respect differences among her larger group of family and friends through their common humanity. Embedded in her experience, which is shared by millions of others, is a sense of mutual responsibility—a value that we must nurture in an age of easy viral transmissions, instant communication, and global threats like climate change. Learning to navigate local conditions, national priorities, and global considerations simultaneously is now an urgent necessity.

The United States—home to people from around the world—should be on the forefront of creating this new kind of interdependent belonging, one that looks at national concerns in relation to rather than in opposition to global considerations. However, the strain that sees anything “global" as antithetical to “national" runs deep in the country’s blood. It became a predominant theme in the rhetoric of former president Trump, who declared repeatedly that only those who support "America First"—the nationalists as opposed to globalists—are true patriots. This exclusionary attitude was plainly visible at the insurrection on Capitol Hill. Recasting global interdependence in positive terms—as not antithetical to but in relation to our local and national interests—will be a tremendous challenge. The biography of our new vice president, and the stories of millions of others who learn to navigate the journey of multi-rooted belongings, provide a path to create a new kind of relational global belonging.

This concept of mutuality and expansive belonging is not new to India. After all, it was first articulated some 3,000 years ago in an ancient Indian Vedic text: Treat the world as family. In India, the Sanskrit phase, Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam graces the entrance of the Parliament building. It’s been used so much that it feels cliched and abstract to the point of being meaningless. It’s also fair to say that the spirit captured in the phrase is now hard to find in the divisive rhetoric so commonly expressed in the country. As fragile as it may feel in India in the contemporary context, it should serve as a north star for the country and for the world.

All humans instinctively understand what it means to be a member of a family. In a healthy family, each person learns to be independent through the strength of the collective. We learn to let go of grudges for the sake of the unity of the larger group, and we learn to come to each other’s aid in the times of need. We learn to accept differences and expand our sense of belonging. Conversely, when families are dysfunctional, the emotional dissonances hurt not only individuals but the whole collective enterprise.

We have learned through the coronavirus crisis that our global family of almost 8 billion people is deeply wounded and in need of repair. We have also learned, as the secretary general of the United Nations has remarked, none of us can be healthy unless every one of us is healthy.

These are dark and difficult days for America and India as they are for the world. The Joe Biden-Harris administration will have its hands full in steadying the domestic ship. In India as well, the temptation to remain divisive and parochial may persist. However, none of the political leaders in either country has the luxury of focusing only on local and national issues at the expense of the global priorities. In fact, as exemplified in Harris' story, they have a unique opportunity to pave the way in making our global family more functional and whole again. The survival of our planet depends on it.

Vishakha N. Desai is a member of the governing council of Krea University

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Published: 30 Jan 2021, 01:41 PM IST
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