How cosmopolitan is cosmopolitan? (or) how cosmopolitan can cosmopolitan get?

At the point when folk join organizations to be part of teams, they are reminded that they have left all their cultural biases, if any, of colleagues from diverse backgrounds, behind them and are now part of a cosmopolitan workforce. With globalization, we have also reached a stage of cross-cultural sensitivity or so we like to think not just within nations but also across nationalities and continents. So, whatever may be one’s assumptions about another’s cultural background we just don’t exhibit them in the work space. This is ingrained and is possible by and large, the corporate sector especially in multinational organizations (which are all part of the globalization process) where any communal sentiments could damage the interests of the organization which is controlled through several methods and checks and balances. The moot question is whether cosmopolitan values need to be learnt at all or can we assume that families, schools and universities take care of them?
However, if we took a glance at India and the world, how much has the opposite of cosmopolitanism (i.e.) hate speeches or prejudices or stereotyping really come down? How much do we judge our neighbors and colleagues less by their caste, communal and racial backgrounds? Obama’s  leadership and that of several others on these issues has been welcomed by all those positive thinking and well-meaning among global citizens.  The purpose of this post is however to consider the sources at which the child, the teenager and the adult picks up assumptions and notions of the ‘cultural other.’ Socialization by parents and teachers plays an important part in this process.

If and when the parent warns the child in the following terms: “I told you not to play with this those dark-skinned fellows (sic)” can go in for a lifetime of a sense of clear-cut difference, if not bias against those who look black. This point is globally valid. Apart from parents and teachers, the next source of learning could be the peer group. Being teased by a peer-group for belonging to a particular community or hearing the peer group extolling the strengths of a community or perhaps downplaying them could also be a contributory factor.

While all of the above are manageable factors because people unlearn or relearn what they have picked up in their early years so long as the weightage of these values or biases is not too strong. Among the most dangerous form of socialization is that which is performed on  innocent young minds by a socio-political organization or movements.  A brilliant imagery of how mindsets can be modified by groups is demonstrated by the 1997 film . Another major source of prejudice, to state the point briefly, is of course. repeated media coverage of social groups with certain slants/steretypes  which engenders stereotypes of its own.

About a decade or two back it was not uncommon to hear the unselected candidates who emerge out of public service commission interviews complaining that people of certain castes/communities alone were selected. The private sector was largely held free from such problems as it rewarded merit and talent alone, regardless of the cultural background. A large part of the grouse regarding these issues or the hurt felt used to be swept under the carpet. At the highest levels of governance, citizens of various countries are reminded that they ought to think of their nations first rather than the regions or other parochial units among them.

It is here that commonsense understanding militates against social science perspectives of the issue. First and foremost, the primary unit of existence or what is considered as the parochial or the region or even case or community for that matter cannot be denied at all. It is a reality and people very much relate to it on a day to day basis. In social science language we call this the relationship between the UNIVERSAL and the PARTICULAR. There are several particulars and one cannot deny them. There are several primordial sympathies if not affiliations such as caste, community, religion, region, race and so on. So, what then is the UNIVERSAL. The managers of a large country such as ours would consider the NATION as the universal. We then have to draft the equation between the Universal and the Particular within the nation. The moment the individual moves into the globalization process as a member of an MNC, then even the nation becomes a particular in the economic sense and the globe itself becomes the universal with national economies becoming interlocking units into the globalization experience. So, when what unit becomes a ‘universal’ and a ‘particular’ remains a question mark?

It is therefore important that we respect all the so-called ‘parochial’ units or ‘particulars’ as I have redesignated them. It is not the rejection of the particular that is the solution at any level but the transcendence of the particular for a higher goal. The idea of denying the specific or parochial is a polemical method or dominant discourse that seeks to mandatorily define the universal as a certain set category as for example either the region or the nation. In a globalised word, identities are always in a state of flux and so to typecast and straitjacket various levels is a really loss for understanding social, political and economic relations in the globe.

A very old and classic tension is related among Gen-X several of whom opted to learn western pop music. Immediately, among their elders was a hue and cry about how Indian classical music was being abandoned. While there have been real interventions in the form of movements from the 1980s which have taken this perception seriously and tried to popularize Indian classical music, what is important is to notice that right afterwards western music too or its local strains like Indi-pop became very popular. Why is it necessary to think one in exclusion or opposition to the other?

Jawaharlal Nehru spoke about Indian culture or heritage being a palimpsest in which the older strains don’t get wiped away. Rabindranath Tagore whom both Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru hailed as ‘Gurudev’ was among the most cosmopolitan personalities that India nay the world had at the beginning of this century. He had the passion for art and literature both European and Indian, the cultural travels and synthesis both Indian, European and East Asian. Most Indians associate Tagore with barely the national anthem but I would consider his name as synonymous with cosmopolitanism. So was Mahatma Gandhi who argued that if we were all “true believers” of our respective faiths, we would never even speak ill of other religions. Nehru with his agnosticism and mighty international statesmanship directed us to look for oneness beyond the immediate boundaries.

We don’t need to look further than these three heroes for the relationship between the universal and particular and transcending all of them to build that sense of togetherness which is what cosmopolitanism is all about.


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    Great Checkmate to all who ever still promoting caste, region, regional in other words what ever used to stereotyping, prejudice. We are moving towards a flat global village, so everybody would need to follow cosmopolitan, all are equal period. But we have to start discussing about it publicly and have to self promote and erase some stereotypes. The issue with country like India is, India is still developing since some leap forward means 0% to 40% is considered as huge accomplishment, but we have to hit 100% on all social dynamics.

    I agree with Nehru, Gandhi, Tagore’s cosmopolitan views but i think those are from 30,000 feet above. Still now there are many of educated used to ask about caste or search for some symbols to find out the caste/regional. My initial reaction was bitter about asked some parameter about something which helps to prejudice, but later on i realized that they want to know those to help or friendship with, i think those are not as bad as i originally thought. To friendship with we need to know about some common ground, since asking caste/community is a shortcut to find out about one’s common ground. My thinking now is, if one is really willing to help others, but based on some prerequisites, let them start discussing openly and found common grounds. For example, some politician from Maharastra promoted parochial politics, they got more support but later on they couldn’t keep up promise and people started rejecting it. So i think open discussion about each other’s caste, community, region, regional helps a lot to start friendship and reaching out others, but those required lot of courage and candid mind.

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    You have equated cosmopolitanism with universal brotherhood. Cosmopolitan defines the character of a city/place. But that doesnt mean, there is a sense of togetherness.
    London is a cosmopolitan, but different communities live separately.

    Cosmopolitan literally means, where people of different race, culture and religion lives in the region. In that sense, i would say, almost all villages in India are cosmopolitan. You could see, atleast 3 or 4 different castes existing in the same village, eventhough, they remain separated.

    I also recollect a 2000 year old tamil wisdom, where kanian poongundranar says “The whole world is mine, and all people are my relatives” ( யாதும் ஊரே யாவரும் கேளிர் )

    So, the wisdom of universal brotherhood, was rampant through out our indian literature, and we need to look beyond tagore, nehru and gandhi, to understand those.

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    Man is a social animal. Eventhough we live in a global village, our immediate neighbourhood is what matters to us.
    Identity is an important constituent of humans. Because, whereever we go, the question naturally arises “Who are you?”

    Even if we discard nation, religion, caste, creed, we still need the identity of the company we are working in.. we identify ourselves as satyamite, infoscian, wiproite etc, which agains gives us one form of identity..

    Do we have any hesitation in asking “Are you a satyamite?”. Definitely no.. But, why is that we are deeply embarassed, to ask for a caste? Everything is in our mind. The hesitation is because of decades of malicious propoganda against caste system.

    Even in an MNC, people dont mix up that much freely. Indians feel comfortable working with fellow indians, and so as every other country men of the same company. Even at onsite, it was obvious, that indians prefer to stay with fellow indians.

    The same is the case with caste.. Eventhough, caste has outlived its purpose, the generation of hereditary and lineage and a common culture make it continuing still.. The biggest advantage of caste system is that it was NOT racial, and even after acquiring a racial character because of british classification, it has always been maintained its cultural character.

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    Thanks smuthurangan. The primary social layer of society is the family/clan and this can promote the particular. However, the particular is part of the universal and evolves into it as such.

    The reality is that the “flat global village” contains within it many particulars that we are unable to deny in the process of nation-building. Increasingly ‘inclusive’ politics are finding favour and ‘exclusive’ politics are falling by the wayside.

    Friendship should ideally transcend these boundaries but several are still comfortable within those primordial compartments.

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    Thanks Senthil. Cosmopolitanism as universal brotherhood sounds great. And that you are right when you say that one can find cosmopolitanism in our villages.

    Indeed the “யாதும் ஊரே யாவரும் கேளிர்” belief is what our later leaders built on and todays idea of globalisation or ‘global village’ or ‘global citizen’ is a modern-day reflection of that kind of ancient belief.

    The discussion in the post is not about exclusively the specifics say caste or race or ethnicity but about the relationship between the ‘particular’ and the ‘universal’. Depending on our location in societies, the relationship between the specific and the general gets defined in relative terms.

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    Arun g said June 17, 2009, 9:34 pm:

    Defenitely the blog celebrates knowledge and thoughts as a scrumptious meal…This one is an interesting read indeed…

    The message of cosmopolitanism as an idea of co-existence and inclusiveness is taken fully.

    But some of the statements in the blog
    do not fit into the general message given and defies reality and logic….
    Cosmopolitism is largely used against nationalchauvinisms and not generally against racial,gender or casteist biases.But here one doubts what exactly is the cosmopolitism you have mentioned

    ….//”About a decade or two back it was not uncommon to hear the unselected candidates who emerge out of public service commission interviews complaining that people of certain castes/communities alone were selected. The private sector was largely held free from such problems as it rewarded merit and talent alone, regardless of the cultural background”//…..

    Here one gets confused whether the COSMOPOLITISM you mentioned sounds synonymous to social justice ..
    Two decades back the private sector as a well organized single unit had little say or impact on society as a whole and it was not a big issue whatever they practised …It is only in the government sector where representation and mixture of culture is valued even at the cost of merit.When there is reservation implemented in public sector it is generally not supposed to say that they are denied govt jobs based on their caste but still some prejudice of interviewers is still possible and may have aired through the media……In turn the private sector as a unit with no well layed affirmative action or legislature in place which now plays increasing roles in economy has no well laid statistics to claim that social justice and representaion is properly maintained …Without the proper representaion from the conventionally lower layer caste there is no meaning in telling that MNC`s practice COSMOPOLITISM by looking for talent alone or telling that it is doing something towards social justice..

    Another thing is even if the private sector or MNC`s prefers some caste over the other it will not become a news item or a media cry because there is no mechanism to find it out and no much accountability is expected directed towards social justice when it comes to private enterprises but that is not the case with public sector unit in which every citizen in the country can have a say and even one instance will be picked up by the media….While MNC`s does not perceive employees based on any caste at superficial level this does not mean that COSMOPOLITISM as a tool of global or social justice is practiced ..Cosmopliticsm is a hollow idea if it does not take social justice into account and private sector by itself can`t claim any high moral ground in it`s practice .

  7. Quote

    Thanks Arun. At the outset, let me clarify and re-state what I had mentioned in the post. That cosmopolitanism is not about the erasure of particular-(isms), (if you can call them that) but their transcendence. Because the term ‘transcendence’ has such a philosophical ring to it, most miss its value as a practical application in day-to-day life.

    ‘Cosmopolitanism’ and ‘social justice’ / ‘affirmative action’ are closely inter-related but to be termed as ‘synonymous’, in that case, we might need to think differently. This is not so much in the ‘intent’ of those using these two terms but there is also a different conceptual existence of the concept of ‘cosmopolitan.’ This is closer to ethnography or day–to-day lived experience whereas social justice conjures up images of ideology, policy and the larger political sphere.

    Indeed even the public sector has its cosmopolitan mix. It is no one’s case that only one sector either the public or private or MNC’s have issues of cosmopolitan identities. What the post suggests that we think about is in whatever sphere, when we get together as groups of individuals, how do we relativize the particular, transcend and appreciate the cosmopolitan!!!

    The emphasis in your comment has been more oriented towards representation of groups within organizations (whether public or private or MNC) whereas my post focuses on interaction between individuals and groups based on cosmopolitan principles. Both these aspects are important no doubt. Representation is an ongoing issue and improving social interaction is also a continuous effort. No one dimension can succeed to the detriment of the other, I am sure that you will agree, can make for a better society.

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    The term “social justice” is a fashionable term at academic circles, but in reality, its a deeply shallow and void one. It is as abstract as the term “Equality” that we intellectuals often are excited at.

  9. Quote

    Hi Senthil,

    I have not used social justice as a fashion term but in it`s broadest meaning.In the real world it is enshrined in the preamble of our constitution and has defined it in part 3 and part 4.Since this is a basic concept in jurisprudence I don`t understand how it can be a shallow term.Anyway I guess we should not go too much off the topic…..

  10. Quote

    Hi Abdul,
    I agree with you that the one aspect you have mentioned should not act in the detriment of the other and both are important.
    I have only pointed out and highlighted the paragraph which stands out in the whole post where you closely associated cosmopolitanism with social justice(where you cant deny the importance of representation) while the blog in general only deals with interaction between individuals based on cosmopolitanism.
    While doing so I felt that you may have inadvertently tried to paint public service commisions in black colour and MNC`s is white colour which is far from reality.

  11. Quote


    Thanks for your comment. I hope that Arun’s response clears your doubts on that one. Thanks Arun.

  12. Quote

    Thanks Arun. Point taken.

    As you must have guaged from my response, it is not the buckets (public or private or MNCs) within which the social interactions take place that is the focus of my post.

    There is no attempt to paint one compartment/silo as superior to the other either in representation or interaction.

    In all compartments, there is a situation where cosmopolitan values are tested almost on a day to day basis. I hope that sets any doubts on your part at rest.

  13. Quote

    Interesting post Abdul. The point you make – /* It is not the rejection of the particular that is the solution at any level but the transcendence of the particular for a higher goal. */ it is very interesting. However my view is that the solution lies in the acceptance of the particular rather than the transcendence of it. For example, if my neighbor or colleague belongs to a different ethnic group or a religious denomination, it would behove the both of us to accept our identities as is. In my view, unless we are accepting and encouraging of differences amongst us, reaching higher human values as humanity is not possible. In fact, chasing homogeneity at the expense of diversity can actually lead to catastrophe in the long run as history has shown as many times.

  14. Quote
    Abdul Fakhri said June 21, 2009, 9:51 am:

    Thanks Sukumar. Certainly, this post about cosmopolitanism restated in other words is also about the acceptance of the particular. Transcendence is about trannscending something and that something is the particular. In other words, transcendence is anchored in the particular.

    Amen to what you have said about acceptance of our/other’s identities and differences. There is no doubt that a mindless pursuit of homogenity is self-defeating and causes much loss to the self and others. Hence, the persistence in this post to discuss the bare bones of cosmopolitanism which is very much about the celebration of diversity. Please mark the key equation, Cosmopolitanism=celebration of diversity.

  15. Quote

    Thanks Abdul. Cosmopolitanism = celebration of diversity. that is a great equation.

  16. Quote
    Abdul Fakhri said June 21, 2009, 11:31 am:

    Thanks Sukumar for appreciating that equation.

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    Ganesh said June 22, 2009, 7:14 am:


    Two things came to my mind as I read your post and following comments. I agree that we should not give up on our individuality and the uniqueness that our birth affords us to becoming universally similar and perhaps bland. Strengths that our uniqueness brings makes the sum greater than the parts.

    The real interest to me in this topic is to understand when do we as individuals start building biases and walls around people who are ethnically, culturally, racially and linguistically different from us.

    As I observe my eight year old daughter, she is very much aware of the differences between her and her friends, in terms of skin color, accent, facial structure etc. But these just do not seem to influence her behavior towards them. In fact, in her 2nd grade, she developed this close bond with an African American kid almost instantaneously. But I do see an inclination for the “Indian” kids to hang out together. This could be because they meet outside in social setting more often and have sleep overs etc. So, how much does this lead to a bias/affinity to people of her own culture remains to be seen. And I do wonder what I as a parent can do avoid any kind of anti-bias against people who are “different” from her.

    On one side, should I not overtly talk about the differences and not make a big deal about it? Will this emphasize to her the fact that these differences are nothing to even think about and that we are all the “same”. Or should I talk about the differences, explain it and celebrate it and chide her when she develops some kind of bias? It is a tough balance, but I see myself leaning towards the latter more.

  18. Quote

    Thanks Ganesh. A very beautiful comment and set of thoughts.

    I say beautiful particularly because of what you observe about your daughter’s relation with her peer group. Those close bonds with her friends of diverse ethnicities are great and so are her ‘affinities’ with “Indian” children. There is no issue with either is the import of my post.

    I wondered if you have heard of an interesting Mira Nair movie ‘Mississippi Masala’ that comes to mind. (

    Like yourself, my anxiety is where does the loss of innocence begin? Children are often innocent in these matters and its adults who corrupt. Any act of bias or insult perceived in the public sphere can lead to loss of self-esteem on cultural grounds and dent the cosmopolitan attitudes.

    The last paragraph of your comment is poignant with the dilemma that every well-meaning parent and global citizen faces in HOW they should inculcate “virtue” in the child. Virtue may sound a big term but is that not what cosmopolitanism is all about?

    The main emphasis that my post struggles to convey is where in society/socialization children lose their ‘innocence?’ I cannot emphasize this enough that we need to identify these factors that cause this loss to enable people to live cosmopolitan lives.

  19. Quote

    You ahve a knack of picking up burning social issues and somehow personalising them.

    Great effort.

    I gues we need to be bold enough to recognise the walls and bring them down. Uncannily children put up their own walls too, some provided by the society, and some a result of their upbringing!

  20. Quote

    Thanks Revathi.

    If you mean personalising as in the form a narrative, perhaps yes.

    These are social issues and will remain as such and you cannot separate individual or the person from the social/the society. Radical feminists have gone as far as to insist that the ‘personal is the political.’ So, you can see how the equation between personal, social and political have all got intertwined. Try as you might in this day and age, this merger of spheres as it were is a reality.

    A lot of children-speak is what is overheard or borrowed from parents, elders, employees in the household and finally the peer group. If the parent is conscious of what prejudice about others he is enabling his child to unwittingly or deliberately too at times consume, then we can bring down the level of problems in society.

    Some very good people as persons/individuals have sad and deep rooted biases about other castes and communities and you wonder how such a nice person can think such nonsense. The source of this begins with the parents, a kind of familial indoctrination into safeguarding a way of life so that the child does not get too close to other social groups. 🙁

  21. Quote

    /** Some very good people as persons/individuals have sad and deep rooted biases about other castes and communities and you wonder how such a nice person can think such nonsense.

    Abdul.. the biases about other castes are mutual, or non-violent in indian caste system.. we can live with them.. but what about the systemic biases in the semitic religions.. In christianity, its mentioned in the bible that only jesus is the true god, and all other gods are false, and satan.. the world is divided in believers and infidels and the duty of every christian is to convert the infidels to christianity.. This biased propoganda is spread even today in many churches, which i have lot of proof..

    Why is such biases never considered for discussion? Is it because of fear? I am raising this because, it is the caste that has always been bombarded when any discussion about bias happens just because there would be no retaliation..

    Coming to other biases, i would like to mention about the inherent biases that the urbanites have over the rural people?

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