Global Citizenship Education: Towards Globalizing Culture of Rights and Responsibilities

 sudha reddy

Sudha Sreenivasa Reddy

Eco Foundation for Sustainable Alternatives (EFSA) India


Abstract: It is heartening to see more and more international debates about the gravity of the issues confronting humanity with unprecedented global social, political and ecological dangers. There are very few places on the planet, which are not in a state of emergency in one way or the other. An Attempt is made here to highlight the urgent need for reimagining global citizenship education and global citizens in order to transcend the present anthropocentric development and reach out to all those unheard voices, whose precarious lives are under the clutches of patriarchal nature of unsustainable development. Understanding the true nature of education, universal values of democracy, rights and responsibilities evolved from rich experience of civilizations, philosophers, thinkers and practitioners is invaluable treasure in redefining culturally sensitive global citizenship education from which emerge conscious ‘global humane beings’. What we need in the world of globalization is globalization of culture of responsibility. Globalizing responsibility lies in the hearts of global citizens to gather all the positive forces of compassion and non-violence we can, of whatever origin, whatever nature, and to nurture, enrich and propagate them like luminous seeds of hope that ultimately leads to ecologically sustainable societies.

Key Words: Reimagining global citizenship education, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam global humane beings, Co-responsibility, Globalizing Responsibility, Universal Charter of Human Responsibilities.

“If we all discharge our duties, rights will not be far to seek.”M.K. Gandhi

Although human society today has achieved an immense progress in science, technology, and production it has not been able to mitigate the sufferings of humankind. Poverty and inequality, illiteracy and ignorance, wars and violence still remain great threats for global stability and prosperity. Uncertainty and conflicts are spreading across the world; political and economic systems are facing newer and complex challenges; and reductionist science is rapidly changing human civilization.

Differences in religious, cultural and economic disparities are a source of tension between countries and people. Competing nationalisms pose threats to global collective security. Along these, increasing environmental degradation and climate change is a major and universal challenge for humankind. Forceful evictions and displacement of millions of people in the name of development, impact of conflicts in the name of religion and regime change besides natural calamities pose bigger challenge to the idea of ‘citizenship’. What would be the political status of these people? Which nation they belong to? The important question, therefore is, which social order will lead to conditions that encourage a society to learn from its mistakes and relearn to create sustainable societies.

These are some of the major challenges raise major concerns about the very foundational models of education and global citizenship at all levels. Reimagining education and global citizenship in action is the need of the hour in addressing this!

What kind of Education we need? 

One of the well known Indian Philosophers & educationists, J.Krishnamurti regards education as “Prime significance in the communication of that which is central to the transformation of the human mind and the creation of a new culture. Such a fundamental transformation takes place when the child, while being trained in various skills and disciplines, is also given the capacity to be awake to the processes of her/his own thinking, feeling and action”.

Such children tend to be – analytical, observant, perceptive, discerning and action oriented, so crucial to their maintaining a right relationship with fellow human beings and to nature.

I would refer to these children as the forerunner to –‘global citizens/global humane beings’ as it is they through the new approach of education will be able to address the global problems of poverty, hunger, illiteracy, inequity, violence and ecological crisis. The present educational approach has been a failure in this regard.

While this is the true essence of ‘education’ often emphasized by educationists, in the present dominance of neo liberal model of development there is a growing realization at all levels that the existing models have failed and that there is a total dearth of relevance between the human being and the complex contemporary society.

The ecological crisis, increasing poverty, hunger, illiteracy, injustice and violence are forcing us to face the harsh realities of the human condition. At a time like this, we need to address not only the structure of education but also the nature and quality of human mind and life; thus calling for a transformative new approach that breaks through the frontiers of particular cultures. The new approach establishes an entirely new set of universal values, which in turn can create a compassionate civilization- ‘global humane beings’, who with increased critical awareness and committed action transform the lives of others, especially of the deprived sections of the society   at the local, national, and international levels.

It is in this context that this educational paradigm is of critical to reaffirm eternal values of eco systems, in the future generations, who evolve into global humane beings and shoulder ethical responsibility that paves path to prevent a upheaval of violence, corruption and greed facing the world today and future.

Global Humane Beings in ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’

*Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (From “vasudhā“, the earth; “ēva” = indeed is; and “kutumbakam”, family 😉 is a Sanskrit phrase which means “the world is one family”.

It is a social philosophy emanating from a spiritual understanding that the whole of humanity is made of one life energy. If the whole ocean is one how then a drop of the ocean be different from the ocean? If the drop is different from the ocean how then can it ultimately be dissolved in the ocean? It means that the whole earth is just one family.

People of South Asia have long cherished values which, in modern times, are best expressed under the rubric of ‘universalism’ and various dimensions of democracy. Before the colonial interventions of the west, the distinctive features of our socio –political system were cultural plurality, devolution of political power at all levels and the participatory mode of governance from the grassroots to the top.

In spite of persisting social evils such as untouchability, caste system, inequity, communalism in South Asian societies the sense of *‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ has been part of our cultural sensibility since time immemorial. That is why our socio-cultural diversity is a source of strength and in fact the primary defining force behind our unbroken identity. There have, of course, been brief phases of ideological or identity polarizations. But soon after, the pluralistic perspective prevails.

The basic premise of this world view is that no race, sect, religion, ideological group, class, socio –political formation, the state or ‘a religious institution’ can claim monopoly of the truth. This forms the basis for a democratic society. ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ is a feminine idea aspiring to redefine citizenship and democracy from a mode of governance to a way of life based on the foundational principles of interconnectedness and interdependence that prevails in all dimensions of life. This perspective of all-inclusive democracy can be called ‘sampoorna swaraj ‘(full realization of self-rule).

The idea of self-rule goes beyond the political. It encompasses life itself in a comprehensive manner that makes our lives more meaningful. As M.K.Gandhi emphasized, Swaraj relates to all dimensions of human life and applies to relationships at all levels, from the individual to the global:

  • The relationship between nature and human beings
  • The dynamic of ‘the individual’ and ‘the community’
  • The dynamic inter-relationship of ‘the self’ and ‘the other’
  • The relationship of individuals; the various types and levels of collectivities with governance structures
  • The relationship of individuals and collectivities with the market

Thus shared culture of rights and responsibilities of individuals in the extended World Family is intrinsic in sustaining the relationship among themselves and with all ecosystems; all of us are interconnected and interdependent among ourselves and with all eco systems.

Co-responsibility of Global Citizens:

Given the context of a wide cultural gap between the East and West (or for that matter North vs South), we need to be actively and cohesively involved in bringing about a change in our own neighbourhood / community and simultaneously connecting to global challenges and sensitive to diverse needs. Each one of us by our lack of involvement is responsible for most of the irresponsible wrongdoings in the world. Most of the time we are disconnected from the interdependent laws that rule the harmony of the planet, and adhere to comfortable systems of progress, not seeing that in many cases that so called progress goes against the harmonious original stream of life, destroying the lives of innumerable people, who with their breath and sweat, struggle against that man made stream for the survival of what is dear to them, their intimacy with the spirituality of Mother Earth. We must move away from the freedom of indifference towards the freedom of involvement of those who are infringed in today’s world. What we need is globalizing the compassionate leaders from grassroots who encompass all respecting all forms diversity and pluralism and assume co-responsibility in self and towards sustainable societies.

Globalizing Culture of Responsibility: Uniting in the universal Rights and Responsibilities:

The world has come a long way in the international recognition and protection of Human Rights, since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations in 1948. The UDHR was a response to widespread outrage to the Holocaust and other crimes of that time. Those who drafted the UDHR drew from ethical principles of the world’s religions, as well as from socialist, liberal and other secular thinking. They sought a Declaration that reflected standards that are common to cultures and traditions all over the world.

The main approach of the UDHR was to define the rights of individuals, and to fulfil those rights as a responsibility of governmental authority, as it is primarily a State obligation. In recent years, however, an argument has emerged that too little attention has been given to individual duties and responsibilities. The pursuit of rights is futile when it is not accompanied by the commitment to duties and responsibilities. Duties to its society and people covering social, political and economic well being!

A fundamental common characteristic which human beings have is a sense of responsibility. This is expressed in our everyday discourses, in families and in societies where the word ‘responsibility’ implies a willingness to take care of what is valued and is embedded in our ethical, moral systems and cultural traditions.

Responsibility is not an abstract concept. It is identifiable because it is concretely grounded in our relationship with each other, which means taking responsibility for something / someone. It is the ability of human beings to respond to challenges posed by themselves, their social and their natural environment. The concept of responsibility is a uniting idea and transcends the citizenship of any country or membership of any nation and is the foundational basis of every human relationship..

It is only in a shared culture of responsibility that human beings can become human and humane. Creativity, spirituality, individual and collective achievements flourish and attain grandeur and glory, only when there is justice and peace. Qualities of compassion, forgiveness, love, sharing and universal solidarity become cherished and sought after attributes only when a community, society or nation is at peace-within and with out. In a world in which most of the ethical values are largely discarded the notion of responsibility has to be highlighted, redefined and recontextualized.

Responsibility is not an end to freedom of speech, but on the contrary, a free response of to the very challenge that existence confronts us with. The feeling of responsibility rests with being human. It is part of the feeling of wanting to be accountable; one cannot be accountable for what lies beyond one’s awareness.

The concept of Human Duties and Responsibilities serves to balance the notions of freedom and responsibility. While rights relate more to freedom, duties and obligations are associated with responsibility. Despite this distinction, freedom and responsibility are interdependent. Responsibility, as a moral quality, serves a natural, voluntary check for freedom. In any society, freedom can never be exercised without limits. Thus, the more freedom we enjoy, the greater the responsibility we bear towards others, as well as ourselves. The more talents we possess, the bigger the responsibility we have, to develop them to their fullest capacity.

Throughout history, prophets, saints and sages have implored humankind to take its responsibilities seriously. Mahatma Gandhi, for example, preached on the seven social sins:

  • Politics without principles.
  • Commerce without morality.
  • Wealth without work.
  • Education without character.
  • Science without humanity.
  • Pleasure without conscience.
  • Worship without sacrifice.

Because Rights and Duties are inextricably linked, the idea of a Human Right only makes sense if we acknowledge the duty of all people to respect it. Regardless of a particular society’s values, human relations are universally based on the existence of both Rights and Responsibilities. There is one ancient rule that, if truly followed, would ensure just human relations: the Golden Rule. In its negative form, the Golden Rule mandates that we not do to others what we do not wish to be done to us. The positive form implies a more active role: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” A brief yet profound statement yet so difficult to practice

Bearing in mind the Golden Rule, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides an ideal starting point from which to consider some of the main obligations which are a necessary complement to those rights:

  • Right to Life obliges us to respect life.
  • Right to Liberty obliges us to respect other people’s liberty
  • Right to Security obliges us to enable every human being to enjoy security.
  • Right to partake in our country’s political process obliges us to choose good/responsible leaders. 
  • Right to Work under just and favourable conditions & provide a good living standards for us/our families, obliges us to perform to the best of our capacities.
  • Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion, obliges us to respect other’s thoughts or religious principles.
  • Right to be Educated obliges us to share our knowledge and experience with others.
  • Right to Benefit from the Earth’s Bounty, obliges us to respect, care and restore the Earth and her natural resources.

Globalization is matched by problems, which demand solutions for ideas, values and norms respected by all cultures and societies. Recognition of the equal and inalienable rights of all peoples requires a foundation of freedom, justice and peace – but this also solicits that Rights and Responsibilities be given equal importance to establish an ethical base, so that all people can live peacefully together and fulfil their potential. A better social and cultural order, both nationally and internationally cannot be achieved by laws, prescriptions and conventions alone, but needs a Universal Charter of Human Responsibilities. Human aspirations for progress can only be realized by agreed values and standards applying to all people and institutions at all times.

It is heartening to see more and more international debates about the gravity of the issues confronting humanity with unprecedented global social, political and ecological dangers. There are very few places on the planet, which are not in a state of emergency in one way or the other. The need of the hour is to gather all the positive forces of compassion and non-violence we can, of whatever origin, whatever nature, and to nurture, enrich and propagate them like luminous seeds of hope. There lies our responsibility as conscious ‘global humane beings’ who still believe that life is precious and is a wonderful thing to preserve and revere. To shift towards this paradigm, re- imagined global citizenship education offers right perspective and direction and transcends anthropocentric development.

At this august seminar where people across the world have come forward to participate and share it would only be appropriate that the lessons shared and learnt here would be taken back to our own countries where in a continued and sustained way it can be applied in action with the encouragement and support of each other. With this regained enthusiasm let’s also go to the deprived and marginalized, local communities; to listen to their ‘unheard voices’, learn from them the traditional wisdom and to share with them that power which can still move mountains. This is the way towards ecologically sustainable societies.

Let me end with a universal prayer from a Vedic scripture:

Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah
Sarve Santu Nir-Aamayaah |
Sarve Bhadraanni Pashyantu
Maa Kashcid-Duhkha-Bhaag-Bhavet |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||           –   Brihadāraṇyaka Upanishad


Om, May All become Happy

May All be Free from Illness

May All See what is Auspicious

May no one Suffer

Om Peace, Peace, Peace.


Article presented in the International Seminar: ‘Global Citizen Education For Sustainable Development’

GLOBAL LAND PATHS, Vitsa, Epirus, Greece, 25-30 July 2015


  • Krishnamurthy on Education, Krishnamurthy Foundation of India
  • Vjay Pratap, Ritu Priya and Thomas Wallgren (2004)Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam; An Alliance for Comprehensive Democracy: Published by Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam
  • D. Jeevan Kumar and Sudha.S, (2008) edited : Uniting in Responsibilities in a Culture of Rights –Locating Possibilities, Centre for Gandhian Studies, Bangalore University, Bangalore, India
  • Sudha .S (2006) Paper on Spirituality as a Bridge between the Secular and the Religious: A holistic Answer to Social Harmony and Dignity
  • John Clammer and Sudha.S (2014) Reflection on Action Document: Towards Cultures of Responsibilities : Engaging With Human Rights Defenders on Ethics, Rights and Responsibilities

This article was published on 5th December 2015, for the International VolunteerDay at Global Education Magazine.


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