Student Blogger - #dgemw Blog: Religion, Culture and Politics in India
Martha Nussbaum presented two moments from Indian history that highlight the ways that the reconstruction of religion for political purposes can sometimes be bad for women. She is not focused on Islam, but her insights are relevant to today's discussion nonetheless.
In 1890, a 10 year old child was raped to death by her adult husband. Under existing law, this was not a crime. The marriage age was 10 and marital rape was not recognized. There was a reform movement which tried to have the husband prosecuted, but the British judge chose to accept the husband's version of the events and the law. The judge said that he had to defer to the wisdom of Hindu tradition. He noted the inadvisability of external influence and meddling. Hindu reformers pushed for legislative change, but the British resisted this as well out of respect for "Indian" culture and tradition. There was a tremendous push for reform in this time period involving many women. Why did this fail? The British did not allow internal reform. "Primitive India" was easier to control. The British promoted mysticism at the expense of science. Another view is that the British recognized that subject males needed to rule something. Ruling over women made them less troublesome for the colonial power.
The other moment that Prof. Nussbaum discussed is more recent and ongoing. The Hindi Right came about in opposition to reformers like Ghandi. This movement reconstructed Hinduism reinforcing female docility and male aggression. They were also greatly influenced by German nationalist thought. Gandhi saw Hinduism to mandate equality for women and was joined by liberal Muslims. The Indian independence movement was built on these movements together. These movements were not secular; they followed their religion to these egalitarian ideas. The Hindu Right depict themselves as pure, but aggressive towards enemies. They then depict Muslim men as overly sexual and violent. They claim that this is true Hinduism and call reformers, like Gandhi, secular, not really Hindu. They pick and chose passages from Hindu texts that reinforce purity in love and aggression in war. They do not like, and react violently, to presentation of Hindu texts that are in opposition to this vision.
Why did Prof. Nussbaum choose to share these historical moments in Hinduism at a conference devoted to the Muslim world? She wanted to stress the fact that democratic reform movements are not always inauthentic and they are not always Western. Both of the reform movements discussed above are internal to India and were opposed by the West, or western thought. She also wanted to draw attention to the common phenomenon of the distortion of religious tradition and doctrine when they become tied to politics and power. Additionally, she would like us to remember that this distortion is often used to subjugate women.