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The primacy of ‘Inclusion’ in Indian Thought

With the coming of the Bhakti movement since the 12th century AD, the great saints and devotees such as Kabir, Raidas, Meera, Raskhan, Nanak, chokhamela, Tukaram etc., taught the values of inclusive life and revolutionised the relationship between humans and God.



Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda in his Chicago speech in 1893 defined ‘Vedas’ as the ‘accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times.’ He argued that such treasury has laid the foundation of Sanatan (endless) religion, which is ‘one of inclusion of everyone, and exclusion of none’. The castes, for Vivekananda, was once linked to the idea of self-preservation, and would ‘die a natural death’ in the absence of the necessity of the same.

Similarly, all the Indian intellectuals since ancient times have criticised the exclusionary and discriminatory practices of the caste system and endeavoured to build an inclusive society for the national resurrection. The essence of ‘inclusivity’ in Indian thought lies in (re)producing positive values such as Karuna (compassion), Sahana Vavavtu (togetherness), Bandhutva (fraternity), samrasata (harmony), swatantrata (liberty) and swaraj (self-rule). The Indian concepts are positive because of the essence of inherent ‘inclusion’ unlike western scholarship which theorised the concepts such as exclusion, individualism, secularism etc connoting negativity. Western thought lacks the experience and language of higher positive values such as inclusion which is central to Indian thought since antiquity.

The philosophical premises of Sanatan and Shramanik thoughts demonstrate the metaphysical and transcendental realm of the existence, being, self and the super self or cosmos. However, such transcendentalism cannot be termed abstract as its teleology is concerned with the conduct of all-inclusive day to day life-worlds. The intellectuals, rishis or divine figures of ancient India such as Krishna, Gautama (the Buddha), Mahavir Jaina, Charvaka, Nagarjuna, Brihaspati, Vedvyasa, have provided the world’s best philosophies to create an environment of osmosis, Sahanvavtu (togetherness), justice, respect and welfare for all beings including humans which are necessary conditions for an inclusive society.

Bhakti movement

With the coming of the Bhakti movement since the 12th century AD, the great saints and devotees such as Kabir, Raidas, Meera, Raskhan, Nanak, chokhamela, Tukaram etc., taught the values of inclusive life and revolutionised the relationship between humans and God. They introduced the philosophy of ‘immediacy’ and rejected all ritualism and middle persons between humans and God. The central concern of the Bhakti thinkers was to create an all-inclusive society without any discrimination and caste-based prejudices. They aimed to propagate a more fulfilling method of worship that was inclusive of the underbelly of Indian society. To lay the foundation of an all-inclusive egalitarian society, they emphasised absolute surrender to God and propagated one’s direct connection to the supreme being without any intermediary. This was the greatest moment of inclusion, incomparable in the world.

The Bhakti leaders challenged the societal norms of their times and wanted to bring about a change in the way society treated its vulnerable groups who were supposedly ‘lowborn’. In Maharashtra, Bhakti leaders like Tukaram wrote on religious matters in Marathi- the language of the people and therefore, challenged the linguistic hegemony of higher caste. There were others like Mirabai, who challenged the patriarchal norms by devoting herself to Krishna while fighting her family for the same; Guru Nanak, who founded Sikhism, a syncretic religion that preached devotion devoid of ritualism; and Kabir, whose songs appealed to the poor due to its practise of worshipping one god and even attaining salvation without any help from the upper caste Brahmans. The Bhakti Movement was aimed at social regeneration and was a way of celebrating the people from the periphery.
Finally, the moment of modern Indian times which harmonised the transcendental, philosophical, practical as well as constitutional domains of inclusion can also be seen as the culmination of the desire for inclusive Indian society. The thinkers such as Dayanand Sarasvati, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Jyoti Ba Phule, Savitri Bai Phule, Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda, Ram Krishna Paramhansa, Bankim Chandra, Gandhi, Savarkar, Ambedkar and Lohia etc. transformed the thought tradition of India in many ways. They not only engaged with the deeper questions of marginality in various domains of life but also contributed to construct an inclusive society in India.

Bhakti movement

Thus, in the backdrop of inclusive thought tradition in India and on the eve of Ambedkar’s birth anniversary, the Social Studies Foundation (SSF) has proposed to organise a two days national seminar to bring together scholars, professors to brainstorm on the historicity of marginality and inclusion and future for inclusive India. The proposed seminar on ‘Marginality and Social Inclusion’ is being organised in collaboration with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy (CSSEIP), Jawahar Lal Nehru University on 13th and 14th April 2022. The presence of eminent personalities such as Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, Vice Chancellors of several Universities including JNU, academicians and scholars across the country would contribute for a value based discourse on ‘inclusion’ in India. In other words, this seminar aims to encourage the youth, academicians, intellectuals and policy makers, to explore history and possibilities for promoting inclusion rather problematising the question of marginality and exclusion. This seminar shall engage with Indian thought traditions that had been contributing for two thousand years to construct an inclusive society and what lessons the present generation should take forward to reconstruct the all-pervasive inclusive Indian society for national resurrection.