In a letter to C.F. Andrews, Rabindranath Tagore said, ‘We have no word for nation in our language. When we borrow this term from other people it never fits us.’1
For Rabindranath, nation with a small ‘n’ signified her samaj, the society which thrives when it embodies a country’s aspirations, is responsible for her progress and has the well-being of her citizens at the heart of its collective consciousness. When the samaj deteriorates to a moribund state, crushed by subservience to an outside power, riddled by superstition, marred by discrimination and inequality, a sense of apathy holds it back from realizing its full potential. The reliance on samaj, rather than the state (Rabindranath’s Nation with a capital ‘N’), should rest with the people rather than the ruling power, a tradition that is, according to Tagore, intrinsic to India’s sense of collective unity, a unity in diversity which guarantees India’s continuity as a nation. This is the samaj that Gandhi sought to ignite with a sense of its own worth, rousing a nation to unite as one voice to seek swaraj, self-rule, the freedom of the people to rule themselves. As Gandhi said to Tagore, ‘Our national struggle is in reality a struggle for liberty worthy of a self-respecting nation.’2 The self-respect and self-reliance that Gandhi wished to arouse in the Indian nation/her samaj, was through implementing social justice by ensuring social inclusion. Tagore reflected the same idea in his essay on ‘Freedom’ where he said,
In India the real cause of the weakness that cripples our spirit of freedom arises from the impregnable social walls we raise between the different castes.3
In tune with Gandhi’s concerns, Tagore went on to say,
To gain this freedom we need to liberate ourselves from the fetters of self and from all those passions that tend to be exclusive. It is this liberating principle that we must apply to an imprisoning world.4
In a world experiencing a pandemic leading to lockdown and a temporary ban on international travel, the rising numbers of the infected and the death toll drive home the reality of the marginalized and deprived as the hardest hit. While we continue to be confronted by succeeding natural catastrophes (e.g., Amphan, the super-cyclone that has devastated Kolkata and towns and villages in India and Bangladesh along the Bay of Bengal coastline) we witness the role the community plays in bringing relief to the victims in a crisis. Global conflicts continue in spite of a call for an international cease fire by the UN Secretary General, and narrow nationalism sweeps across Nations, driving wedges between social groups and nations, as borders are policed and walls constructed, while majoritarianism marginalizes minorities, reinforcing the peripheral positioning of the ‘Other’ in a climate of intolerance and fear. Under these circumstances, samajic (social) stability is jeopardised and threatened and holistic progress of a community can thus be stalled. Tagore and Gandhi’s concerns about samajic (social) freedom(s) remain more relevant than ever.
To keep the spirit of freedom alive in society, we invite scholars/researchers, writers and artists to join this debate and share their thoughts and ideas on how we can protect and exercise our freedoms in a samaj marked by its sense of social responsibility, relying on the foundational tenets of acceptance, accommodation and creative experiment which can guarantee progress for the nation.
Articles and Creative Writing and Art on the following broad themes are welcome:
Liberty and Liberation in samaj.
Freedom(s) as basic human rights.
Creativity: the place of art and culture in samaj (society).
Inter-cultural dialogue and transnationalism.
The Idea of Samaj/Society.
Environment and sustainability.
Education: holistic, creative and interdisciplinary.
The position of Truth today.
The validity of the local balanced against global considerations.
Catastrophes: reality and the aftermath.
Font for main text: Times New Roman, font size: 12; font for footnotes: Tahoma, font size: 10. References/bibliography need to adhere the MHRA Style Guide. (See https://gitanjaliandbeyond.co.uk for guidance).
Submission deadline for Title and Abstract of proposed article: 31 August 2020
Submission deadline for complete article with keywords: 15 October 2020
Designation and affiliated institution will need to be mentioned against the name of the author accompanied by a list of three related recent publications with the complete article.
All submissions and enquiries may be made to the following email address:
gitanjaliandbeyond (at) gmail.com
For prose pieces, the MHRA Style Sheet Guidelines are available at: gitanjaliandbeyond.co.uk/submissions
The renowned historian, Dr Talat Ahmed, Co-Director of the Centre for South Asian Studies (CSAS) at the University of Edinburgh will be Guest Editing this significant issue of Samaj and Freedom(s) for Gitanjali and Beyond.
1 Letter from Tagore to C.F. Andrews, see Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, The Mahatma and the Poet (New Delhi, 1997 and London: Penguin Viking, 2011), p. 55.
2 In a letter from Gandhi to Tagore, dated 5 April 1919. Quoted by Uma Das Gupta, Friendships of Largeness and Freedom: Andrews, Tagore and Gandhi: An Epistolary Account (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2018), p. xv.
3 Rabindranath Tagore, ‘Freedom’, in Ed. Nityapriya Ghosh, The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2007), p. 628.