India’s View on Human Security: Citizens First, Holistic Urbanisation and Cooperation with the European Union
Human Security as a concept is highly contested. Currently, there are two broad schools of thought. The first sees human security as an all-encompassing formula which includes human development, human rights, human freedom, human dignity and security. The second, narrower understanding of human security limits itself to freedom from fear, conceptualising human security as freedom from organised violence, repression and human rights abuses. The two understandings of human security – broad and narrow – have mirrored a North-South divide within the United Nations. Western countries, such as the US, Canada and European Union member states, have mostly embraced the freedom from fear agenda, while the global South and Japan have rallied behind the freedom from want agenda. For developing countries, the narrow conceptualisation is wedded to the Responsibility to Protect norm, fearing that human security may be instrumentalised to legitimise interventions, invite interference and compromise sovereignty.
India has long been criticised especially in the West for not supporting the notion of human security in the light of gross violations against humanity, like the ongoing conflict in Syria. In this regard, India has largely been painted as a spoilsport at the United Nations and non-player in the international arena. For many in the West, India’s growing international profile does not match its global responsibility. However, this is a gross misconception. As this paper aims to establish, India is arguably making the largest contribution to further human security. As a country representing one-seventh of humanity including a third of the world’s poor, India sees human security through two main lenses: democracy and development. The Indian approach to human security simply translates into ‘citizens first’ and the country today is managing the world’s largest domestic development programme while its international development assistance footprint is widening progressively.
Until now, human security has remained a restricted area for bilateral cooperation between the EU and India. Significant differences in the understanding of the concept of human security have reined cooperation. Yet, as pillars of an emerging multipolar world and strategic partners, the EU and India must find ways to collaborate and advance the debate on human security which remains of global significance. Expecting India to conform to Western views would be misplaced. Appreciating the breadth of India’s challenges, as well as its self-perception as a former colony wary of foreign inference in domestic affairs, is required. The EU and India can most effectively collaborate on human security by enhancing bilateral cooperation on sustainable urbanisation. Urbanisation is one of the top challenges facing India as well as a leading priority and its impact would be felt across hundreds of millions if not 1.25 billion lives in the country over the next decades. While India has embarked on the journey towards urbanisation, it is essential to ensure that the path to urbanisation is both sustainable and green. The EU has extensive experience in building sustainable, socially inclusive societies. Advancing bilateral cooperation on sustainable urbanisation under the human security paradigm would not only enable both partners to make an important contribution to a significant percentage of the world’s population but also pave the way for enhanced and deeper dialogue on human security at the bilateral and multilateral echelons.