INDORE, India — A confluence of global crises—including the global health pandemic, economic downturns, and environmental disasters—has renewed a willingness in public consciousness to explore paths to building social, economic, and political structures grounded in a culture of care.
In response to this growing interest, the Bahá’í Chair for Studies in Development at Devi Ahilya University, Indore, has initiated a discussion series titled “Building a More Caring World: Implications for the Family, the Community, and the Market.”
The gatherings, two of which have already taken place, focused on the spheres of the family and community. These sessions brought together academics and representatives of civil society, delving into the implications of fostering care within these spheres. Future discussions will expand on the implications for the market.
Challenging assumptions about human nature
In a document prepared by the Bahá’í Chair for the discussions, a deep-rooted concern is raised: generations have faced societal systems—whether social, economic, or political—that minimize or neglect the essential, life-sustaining role of care.
The document emphasizes that addressing this challenge necessitates a reevaluation of dominant conceptions of human nature. Models that depict humans as largely self-interested, such as Homo economicus or Homo politicus, have deeply influenced our societal structures. These views champion self-centered and competitive behaviors and obscure the vital roles of altruism, cooperation, and community-minded actions.
The value of care
Arash Fazli, Assistant Professor and Head of the Bahá’í Chair, spoke about the devaluation of care in society, stating: “Although we constantly depend on the nurturing, companionship, and support of others in our environment, the true value of care in sustaining life and fostering human capabilities often remains unrecognized.”
He noted: “Care work, often associated with the household, has traditionally been seen as part of the feminine private domain, contrasting with the masculine public domain where work is more widely recognized and valued.”
This devaluation, said Dr. Fazli, has profound implications for expectations that are placed on women in society, impacting their personal and professional trajectories. “In patriarchal orders, where achievement, autonomy, and independence are valued in men, there is often an expectation of women to be selfless and prioritize family devotion.”
He added that these societal perceptions and expectations can create challenges and barriers for those seeking opportunities in higher education and participation in the workforce.
Sudeshna Sengupta, an independent researcher and consultant, explored this idea further, saying that many societies operate on the assumption that a “caregiver, typically the mother, will be present at home.” This often results in limited services and support structures that are available to families with children under the age of three.
Ms. Sengupta pointed out that certain welfare policies may inadvertently place the responsibility on women to fill care provision gaps. This can pose challenges, especially for economically underprivileged women who are expected to tend to familial care needs while also engaging in part-time work.
Mubashira Zaidi, from the Institute of Social Studies Trust in New Delhi, added that these challenges are further compounded because of care needs that extend beyond children to the elderly and people with disabilities.
Fostering equality through moral education
Drawing from the Bahá’í teachings on the equality of women and men, Dr. Fazli emphasized the family’s role as fundamental to societal transformation. He stated, “The surest way to replace oppressive gender norms is by addressing the concepts and practices instilled in young minds from their earliest years within the family setting.” This environment primarily shapes perceptions of masculinity and femininity.
Dr. Fazli emphasized the broader challenge at hand. Beyond sharing domestic responsibilities, there is a need to “raise boys and girls who aspire to build their capabilities in service to humanity and our planet.”
Bhavana Issar, Founder & CEO of Caregiver Saathi Foundation, underscored the profound influence of family dynamics, stating that the family’s nurturing environment significantly “shapes the values we carry, not only within our families but also in our interactions with the world.”
The paper prepared by the Bahá’í Chair for these gatherings elaborates on the broader implications of care, stating that when we view humanity through a lens of care, we recognize all people as part of a single “human family… with each individual possessing an innate moral worth,” and each demanding treatment with dignity and respect.
Community as a pillar of care
While families provide a foundation for fostering caring societies, it is within communities that broader patterns of interaction, cooperation, and resilience are established and reinforced.
Dr. Fazli noted that communities offer a “natural setting for cultivating caring relationships.”
Martha Moghbelpour, member of the Bahá’í Office of Social Action in India, highlighted the transformative power of education in nurturing caring communities. Using an analogy from the Bahá’í teachings, she described individuals as mines rich in gems of infinite value, suggesting that every person has untapped potential, which education can release. She emphasized that through education, people can develop their ability to foster unity, understanding, and cooperation within their communities.
Elaborating further, Ms. Moghbelpour shared stories of a culture of care that has been fostered by young people engaged in Bahá’í educational endeavors throughout India. The pandemic, she noted, brought to the fore the essence of community resilience, with many instances when youth “arose selflessly and volunteered to assist one another even in the most frightening circumstances.”
The bonds of friendship that these youth had nurtured through Bahá’í educational programs underscore the significance of service to society in building caring and resilient communities, she said.
Ms. Issar added that “in caring for someone else we actually live a purposeful life.
“This is,” she said, “the very essence of being a human being.”
In his concluding remarks, Dr. Fazli emphasized, “To achieve social and economic justice, we must first acknowledge prevailing injustices.” He highlighted the need for a reexamination of societal values, envisioning a future where care is placed at the forefront and recognized in all its manifestations.
The Chair’s next gathering in this discussion series will focus on the implications of new conceptions of a more caring world on “the market.”