6 posts categorized "Democracy in India"

November 09, 2005

India: A Democracy’s Near Collapse into Religious Terror, Part VI

The struggle to be investigated is not confined to India: the Hindu right has a powerful and wealthy U.S. arm, which both funds suspicious activities in India, possibly activities associated with Gujarat’s genocidal violence, and foments discord here and in Britain.  Much of the animus of the U. S. group has focused on scholars.  Colleagues here in the United States have been threatened with physical violence, even death, or had eggs thrown at them, when they tell a version of long-ago history that does not suit the agenda of the Hindu right.  Representatives of the Hindu right have made serious, though unsuccessful, attempts to have American universities remove troublesome scholars from assignments involving the teaching of ancient Hindu traditions.  Although I myself have been verbally attacked at times, and although my Dean had one phone call saying that I had no right to teach, the odd thing about the nature of these attacks in America is that a person like me who writes about a genocide today, saying that the Hindu right is complicit in the murders of thousands, is less likely to be targeted than someone who writes about mythology or ancient history in ways that contravene the new orthodoxy.  Part of the story of my book on this subject will involve unraveling the complicated connections between the Hindu right in India and the expatriate community in the United States, which surely need careful scrutiny and further inquiry. whatever one’s political and religious views may be. 

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November 06, 2005

India: A Democracy’s Near Collapse into Religious Terror, Part V

One way of understanding the choices before India today is to think of the nation’s choice of national anthems.  At the time of Independence, and ever since, two different poems have been competing for this coveted spot.  The losing candidate in 1947, now vociferously championed, once again, by the Hindu Right, is a song known as “Bande Mataram,” “Hail Motherland,” written by the Bengali novelist Bankimchandra Chatterjee.  Chatterjee himself was a complex figure, and he may or may not be endorsing the sentiments of his song, which occurred in one of his novels.  But the song, quickly taken up by the nationalist movement of the early twentieth century, portrays Indian identity in a manner strongly influenced by Western romantic European patriotism, as a matter of adoring the motherland, and being prepared to shed one’s blood in her cause:

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November 03, 2005

India: A Democracy’s Near Collapse into Religious Terror, Part IV

Anyone who wants to understand today’s India needs to approach the nation with open eyes and curiosity, looking to see the variety that is there, rather than to judge prematurely that a given custom or idea is the “real” India and another one less “authentic.”   Such artificial ideas of purity and authenticity are not only misleading, they are also the very ideas that have been exploited politically by the Hindu right in trying to cast non-Hindus as alien polluters of the national fabric.  They know that they find a receptive audience in America, since Americans (in addition to their widespread suspiciousness about Muslims) are currently very guilty about the legacy of colonialism, and thus all too inclined to accept the fiction of a pure unsullied “other” that was polluted by external forces.   Usually such fictions mask a history that was always divided, contentious, and heterogeneous.  Many of the painful struggles over the teaching of history in today’s India concern just such soothing but deeply misleading fictions of the past.  One cannot understand the current political debate if one begins from the position of romantic nationalism that the Hindu right has expended so much energy in marketing. 

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October 31, 2005

India: A Democracy’s Near Collapse into Religious Terror, Part III

I write not only to present a case study in the threat to democracy from religious tension, not only to engage Americans in an informed dialogue about India, but also to defuse the inaccurate and unhelpful assumption that Islam is a global monolith bent on violence.   When people talk of the “clash of civilizations,” or opine that Islam is not compatible with democracy, I find that (quite apart from their omission of Turkey and Lebanon) they typically know little about South Asia. (“South Asia” is the term usually used to refer to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and sometimes Indonesia and Malaysia; it is distinct from “Southeast Asia,” the term that refers to Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, etc. One sign of this general ignorance: My c.v. mentions that I am a member of my university’s Committee on Southern Asian Studies.  When I am introduced for lectures, it is very common that the introducer changes this to “Southeast Asian Studies,” as if it was always fine to substitute a familiar term for an unfamiliar one.)   Few know, for example, that Bangladesh is a thriving, if poor, Muslim-majority democracy (about 85% Muslim), with democratic self-government, two energetic women who lead the two major parties, a strongly pro-woman official policy, and a constitution that protects fundamental rights very strongly, similar to India’s constitution.  Its national anthem, “Amar Sonar Bangla” (“My Golden Bengal”) is a song written by Hindu Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore.  As Amartya Sen says, “This must be very confusing to those who see the contemporary world as a ‘clash of civilizations’ – with ‘the Muslim civilization,’ ‘the Hindu civilization,’ and ‘the Western civilization,’ each forcefully confronting the others.” (Amartya Sen, “Tagore and His India,” The New York Review of Books June 26, 1997, 55-63.)

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October 24, 2005

India: A Democracy’s Near Collapse into Religious Terror, Part II

India's story is of intrinsic interest and importance.  By following the story of Gujarat, Americans can begin to understand better than most currently do the political and religious dynamics of the world's most populous democracy, a nuclear power, and a nation that will play an increasingly large role on the world stage.  India is typically not well covered by the U. S. media or by education in U. S. schools and colleges.  Indian scholars who have written extremely well about their own situation, in books and articles and in a national press that is admirable for its quality and its openness, have little name-recognition in the U. S. and are rarely read. During the ascendancy of the Hindu right, when intelligent diplomatic pressure could have achieved change, U. S. foreign policy was largely indifferent to internal tensions in India, focusing only on the threat of nuclear conflict with Pakistan.   American ignorance of India's history and current situation was largely to blame for such omissions.   Americans typically follow events in the Middle East rather closely.  If one wants to know about Israeli-Palestinian relations, for example, ample material for such an understanding is readily available from daily newspapers, television, and the internet.  India is simply not as "present" to the American mind, because it is not as present in the American media.  Thus India's own struggle with religious extremism is little known, and the lessons it can teach us are little appreciated.

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October 16, 2005

India: A Democracy’s Near Collapse into Religious Terror

While Americans have been focused on the war on terror, Iraq, and the future of democracy in the Middle East, democracy has been under siege in another part of the world. India -- the most populous of all democracies, and a country whose Constitution protects human rights even more comprehensively than our own -- has been in crisis. Until the spring of 2004, its parliamentary government was increasingly controlled by right-wing Hindu extremists who condone and in some cases actively support violence against minorities, especially the Muslim minority. Many seek a fundamental change in India's pluralistic democracy. Despite their recent electoral loss, these political groups and the social organizations allied with them remain extremely powerful. The political future is unclear.

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