Reflections on July 4th

I am here on a visit to US. Today, On July 4th, I remember what a colleague from Itron US, pointed out to me a couple of months back about the core concept of Rights in the US: “All people are created equal. People have natural rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The government does not grant them and so the government cannot take them away. It is the duty of the government to protect and ensure these rights.” These ideas were put in as the core value of America by Jefferson, who took these ideas from Locke.

Though this is the ideal and goal, it took a long time to get to where US is today, and there is a long way to go to fully realize this vision of the founders. When Jefferson wrote these words in 1775, slavery was still in practice. It did not go away till 1865, almost 90 years after this was written. Women got voting rights in US only in 1920. Black people were guaranteed to voting rights only in 1965. Society takes a long time to change!!!

One big thorn in the flesh is “equality of people” across countries. The origin of sovereignty of nations in Europe comes from the Westphalian Treaty signed in 1648. However, the treaty was not universal. It only ensured the sovereignty of the signatories. It is like the European countries saying to themselves, “Guys, let us not fight with each other. Let us together go and fight, loot, kill and plunder (and convert to Christianity) the rest of the world.” If the treaty was true to its spirit and if the signatories had enough statesmanship, they would have extended it to all nations. On the contrary, the treaty, which is glorified in Europe became the cause of unimaginable genocide, exploitation and suffering for rest of the world.

This was exactly what freedom fighters from Thomas Jefferson to Mahatma Gandhi fought for.  It was only when Britain did not agree to representation in the Parliament, that independence was declared. Till 1942, all that Mahatma Gandhi wanted was that the British Empire treat all its citizens equally. Only when he lost all hopes of that, he declared the “Quit India Movement”. If Britain had been a true democracy, the Empire would have survived.

Even today, the people of the countries of the world are not treated equally. For example, the concept of UNSC divides countries into nuclear-weapon haves and have-nots on a historical date. This gives way to highly discriminatory treaties like the NPT. It is unfortunate that USA is signatory to these. Poor Jefferson would be turning in his grave.

Another area where inequality between nations is clearly visible is climate talks. If “all people are created equal” as the US Constitution says, then allowable carbon footprint should be determined per capita. This is something that the so-called “developed” nations have never got to accept.

In spite of the political position of the USA as a country, I really admire the people of the USA. This is one place in the world that anyone from any corner of the world can feel at home. There is almost no discrimination on the lines of colour, language, gender, job, etc. When I pass through the corridor of a hotel, when the cleaning maid greets me with confidence, I see the success of USA in her eyes. The real success of USA is not technological advancement, superior military, or working public utilities. It is the confidence and equality that is felt by a poor black woman doing a menial job when she meets another person. If there is one thing in USA that I envy, it is this. I pray for the day when this would be the case to all people all over the world.

I also pray for the day when the US government also treats all people all over the world equally, that day when US respects the sovereignty of countries, that day when US stops having military bases half way round the globe, that day when UN treats all countries equally, the day when only UN defense aircrafts and vessels are allowed in international airspace and waters, that day when sharing the resources of the world are always talked in per capita basis.

The next step to that would be to extend the concept to all living beings. The Copernican revolution should extend to the forests and the dinner table. Man is not the center of the Universe. Man is just another living being on the earth. It will be a landmark in human history when animal rights are talked of on par with human rights.

Well, we have come a long way. But we have a long way to go. Swami Vivekananda, the great lover of Man, in his poem titled “To the fourth of July” written on 4th July 1898, wishes the USA to proceed to fulfill the aspirations of freedom of the people of the entire world:

Move on, O Lord, in thy resistless path!
Till thy high noon o’erspreads the world.
Till every land reflects thy light,
Till men and women, with uplifted head,
Behold their shackles broken, and
Know, in springing joy, their life renewed!

 

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2 Responses to Reflections on July 4th

  1. viswanath says:

    I agree that America an developed land of liberty. May be it can be added that African Americans got voting rights only in 1965 under Martin Luther King Jr. But the bigger question I did not understand is – what is equality, given that even the same person changes with time. But equal voting rights makes sense.

    • gokulmuthu says:

      Thanks Viswanath. I have added that also.

      People will develop with time. What needs to be guaranteed is the opportunity to self development and self expression.

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