Pragmatism in International relations: The Hindu perspective

Hindu religion traditionally, also known as Sanathan Dharma, meaning eternal duty. Most of the people uses the words “religion” and “dharma” interchangeably but dharma which is eternal duty of God. Duty of God is shared, not just by followers of Hinduism, but by all beings in creation, including gods and the rest of the humanity and hence dharma prescribes a certain set of moral and religious laws and principles that govern religious duty and human conduct on this earth and beyond. Most of the Hindu traditions and law sourced from Shruti and Smriti. Shrutis are revelations while Smriti is traditions; the sacred text of four Vedas which can be classified in three main subgroups. Philosophies of the Vedas contained in Aanyankas and Upanishads provide elaborations however commentaries made to the Vedas are in Brahmanas. Philosophies underlying the Hindu religions are old and tested upon times and ages and contained a great amount of wisdom and their approaches are scientific. Since its philosophies are based on rationality, it deals with human sentiments, its behaviour, and microscopic relationship from a minuscule unit of a family to the whole vasundhra (mother earth). Maha Upanishad in chapter 6 verse 71-75 which saysudāracaritānāṃ tu vasudhaiva kuṭumbakam’ i.e. the wise believes that the entire world is a family. This single verse which has been repeatedly used to address the international communities from time to time demonstrates the universality and inclusiveness of the Hindu perspective.

Fight between Dhuryodhana and Bheema in Mahabharata war, Image Credits : Painting by Madhava Priya Dasi


Most of the international and multilateral organizations came into existences post World War II which main focuses were international peace, co-operations among nation states, peaceful conflict resolutions and coexistence. All these institutions works on two levels; one at individual centric, deals with duties, morality and ethics of individual and another at macroscopic level that includes sovereign states. For example Hippocratic Oath is a solemn oath taken by physicians undertaking to comply with ethical standards written nearly 2000 years back. Ayurveda oldest available medicine system has its own Charaka Samhita and Susruta Samhita, written around 2700 BC had very sacred oaths of initiation for physicians. In Ramayana, when Sri Lakshman became unconscious and Ravan’s vaidhya (physician) Sushena was hesitant about treatment of Lakshmana, Vibhishan explained the duty of a vaidhya. Services of a vaidhya are not limited to any states, society or king, he should treat all human beings without considering their society, clan, caste, country, varna, colour, form etc. This is the eternal religion of Vaidhya. Apart from morality of service of a vaidhya schools like Vaisheshika preached about inferences and perceptions that should be obtained about a patient's pathological condition for treatment. Whereas, Nyaya School propagated its teachings on the basis that one should have an extensive knowledge of the patient's condition, and the disease condition before proceeding for treatment. Both school of thought become complete relevant in today’s scenario when world is fighting with pandemic like Covid-19 and international community is in dilemma about origin of virus and most likely culprit will be scot-free.


In a similar case, around two decades back in 2002, Chinese plaintiffs filed a case against Imperial Army of Japan, in Tokyo district court for spreading plagues, anthrax, cholera, typhoid and other communicable diseases in Quzhou, Ningbo and Changde city of China in between 1940-42 and the judge found the imperial army had contravened the Geneva and Hague conventions. But in case of corona virus-spread culprits seems immune because of their improbity in WHO, political discord among power centres and political leaders. To confront this condition Indian philosophy had a provision of ‘Matsya Nyaya’ (law of fish) that admits ‘it is the law of nature that big fish devouring the smaller fish or the strong will prevail over the weak. States play a key role in the maintenance of law and order in the state as per rule of law. As it is mentioned in Arthaśāstraapraṇītaḥ tu mātsyanyāyaṃ udbhāvayati’, when the law of punishment is kept in abeyance, it gives rise to such disorder. To maintain the order in society or in world Manusmṛiti (code of Manu) provides the oldest legal text which is basically a code of conduct. Yajnavalkya and Prasara are other most illustrious law-givers in ancient India. Manusmriti mentions that the person not participated in war should not be enslaved, heinous to attack children, women and old, surrendered soldiers will be freed after war, fair treatment with spy and so on. Agni purans mention prisoners of war should not be enslaved that are in consonant to the modern days Geneva conventions. As cited in Ramayana, when Hanuman Ji was arrested and presented to the court of Ravana, he was treated fairly as an ideal diplomat suggests how ancient Hindu society has inculcated the value. Many narratives have been spread about Manusmriti and its limitation to certain caste and creed. Universalities of Manusmriti lie in its closing versus ‘evaṃ yaḥ sarvabhūteṣu paśyatyātmānamātmanā. sa sarvasamatāmetya brahmābhyeti paraṃ padam’, meaning He who thus recognizes in his individual soul, the universal soul that exists in all beings, becomes equal-minded towards all, and enters the highest state, Brahman.


Hindu philosophy which also talked about sovereignty of a state not in just term of ‘internal’ sovereignty but also ‘external’ sovereignty and internal sovereignty does not have meaning until states are free from external forces and burdens. As the Shookra neeti professes, ‘there is no great happiness than that from self-rule’. Further svârâjya, aparadheenatva (The doctrine of independence) or ‘external sovereignty’ is mainly from Kautilya’s doctrine of mandala which revolves around the influence, interest and ambitions of a state. Ambition of a state must have to acquire strength and happiness of its praja or to follow doctrine of vijigishu where wellbeing of king and its inhabitants are in the nabhi or nucleus. It also recommend the ‘rajya dharma' (Righteousness) and 'nitishastra' (ethics) with ethical course of conduct as hallmark of internal and external policy of the state to avoid any uprising in the state or influence from an external forces. Further, state must have mitra (ally) because Kautilya believe ‘your neighbour is your natural enemy and neighbour’s neighbour is your friend’. To deal with ari (enemy), arimitra (enemy’s ally), arimitramitra (ally of the enemy’s ally), parshnigraha (enemy in the rear) states as described by Kautilya, Kamandaka disciple of Kautilya, advocate ahimsa as well, apart from the military options of the ruler. Other than ari and mitra, madhyama (mediatory) and udasina (neutral) states constitute the smallest unit of international grouping. Enemy states or ari diminishes its influences also according to its distance from the nucleus of the state. Distance affects bi-directionally in international grouping, to p synergy state should consider the alliance to achieve the common goals of the states. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation is such an example where despite the distance among mitra state international grouping is successful because of common objectives.

Universal acceptance of Indian wisdom lies in the idea of sarva-bhauma,ie the rule over whole earth. Aitareya Brahmana which mention some of the most aspirational quote, like ‘I want to achieve the conquest of both space and time…. I want to be sarva-bhauma….. and be the eka-rat of the earth up to the skies’. Similarly Gopatha Brahmana mentioned about the size and sacrifices of the kingdoms. Bigger the nationalities greater will be the yajnas (sacrifices). To emulate this we have to compare the India’s vaccine maîtri program during Covid-19 with yajnas where India has just not provided the vaccine to underdeveloped countries, neighboring countries but also to Canada and Brazil. This lays the foundation of dig-vijya or the conquest of the quarters when there is no further aspirants for the next war. India’s dream to become vishwaguru is a similar state of attainment of dig-vijay so that world would be at peace.


Author: Rajeev Raman is the winner of the Article writing competition on the topic "Pragmatism in International relations: The Hindu perspective" conducted by Satyawahr on its first anniversary

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