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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Fears for Democracy in India

Fears for Democracy in India
Intro by Mike Ghouse, article by Nussbaum

As Indians, and as a nation that has led the world in civility and plurality, we have to continue to work with this recipe for harmonious co-existence. Our heritage is made of stuff that will last, we will see temporary set backs, but in the long run, pluralistic heritage will flourish.

As a naion, we are doing a lot of good things; there are people out there like Mahatma Gandhi and Tagore, who believe, for India to be a successful and a stable nation we have to work on the formula of goodness for all. Goodness for one at the cost of the other will not last longer, our movies depict that notion incessantly, and our stories are geared with Satyameva Jayate. The truth ultimately triumphs. As we progress, we have to acknowledge our failures, our evilness and work on doing thing are good for all. I cannot live in peace if what is around me is not peaceful. Peace is a necessity, blaming others is stupidity.

The conflicts are not between Dalits and Brahmins, Hindus or Muslims, it is the product of injustice and inequality in the society. If we focus on it instead of religion, we can realize accomplishments. I have seen only a few of the Amitabh Bachchan's movies, but they are a reflection of this phenomenon. Ultimately water finds its own level. All of us have to place our cards on the table and re-evaluate what is that we want? If there is an element of force, an element of oppression, then it will take a longer time, on the other hand if Justice is the basis of our solutions, we will see the results sooner.

There is a great economic imbalance emerging; with the mega malls and lavishness on one hand, and incurable poverty on the other is bound to bring clashes, bound to throw us off the balance. We may be seeing conflicts of this sort... we have to include this aspect in our nation building.

At a deeper level, as Gandhi claimed, it is a clash within the individual self, between the urge to dominate and defile the other and a willingness to live respectfully on terms of compassion and equality, with all the vulnerability that such a life entails.

Ultimately each one of us have to seek our own Moksha; if we know it is not earned by oppression, hate and ill-will, we probably can see a better world. I am hopeful.

The following article by Nussbaum will take you through the roller coaster, as you read, kindly frame your mind for solutions with equity and not hate. You will find peace, if not please do not read any further.

Mike Ghouse
Pluralism Buddhism Islam Religion India Terrorism Multi-Culturism

From Chronicle of Higher Education

From the issue dated May 18, 2007

Fears for Democracy in India

On February 27, 2002, the Sabarmati express train
arrived in the station of Godhra, in the state of
Gujarat, bearing a large group of Hindu pilgrims who
were returning from a trip to the purported birthplace
of the god Rama at Ayodhya (where, some years earlier,
angry Hindu mobs had destroyed the Babri mosque, which
they claimed was on top of the remains of Rama's
birthplace). The pilgrimage, like many others in
recent times, aimed at forcibly constructing a temple
over the disputed site, and the mood of the returning
passengers, frustrated in their aims by the government
and the courts, was angrily emotional. When the train
stopped at the station, the Hindu passengers got into
arguments with Muslim passengers and vendors. At least
one Muslim vendor was beaten up when he refused to say
Jai Sri Ram ("Hail Rama"). As the train left the
station, stones were thrown at it, apparently by

Fifteen minutes later, one car of the train erupted in
flames. Fifty-eight men, women, and children died in
the fire. Most of the dead were Hindus. Because the
area adjacent to the tracks was made up of Muslim
dwellings, and because a Muslim mob had gathered in
the region to protest the treatment of Muslims on the
train platform, blame was immediately put on Muslims.
Many people were arrested, and some of those are still
in detention without charge — despite the fact that
two independent inquiries have established through
careful sifting of the forensic evidence that the fire
was most probably a tragic accident, caused by
combustion from cookstoves carried on by the
passengers and stored under the seats of the train.

In the days that followed the incident, wave upon wave
of violence swept through the state. The attackers
were Hindus, many of them highly politicized, shouting
slogans of the Hindu right, along with "Kill!
Destroy!" and "Slaughter!" There is copious evidence
that the violent retaliation was planned before the
precipitating event by Hindu extremist organizations
that had been waiting for an occasion. No one was
spared: Young children were thrown into fires along
with their families, fetuses ripped from the bellies
of pregnant women. Particularly striking was the
number of women who were raped, mutilated, in some
cases tortured with large metal objects, and then set
on fire. Over the course of several weeks, about 2,000
Muslims were killed.

Most alarming was the total breakdown in the rule of
law — not only at the local level but also at that of
the state and national governments. Police were
ordered not to stop the violence. Some egged it on.
Gujarat's chief minister, Narendra Modi, rationalized
and even encouraged the murders. He was later
re-elected on a platform that focused on religious
hatred. Meanwhile the national government showed a
culpable indifference. Prime Minister Atal Behari
Vajpayee suggested that religious riots were
inevitable wherever Muslims lived alongside Hindus,
and that troublemaking Muslims were to blame.

While Americans have focused on President Bush's "war
on terror," Iraq, and 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 condoned and in some cases actively
supported violence against minority groups, especially

What has been happening in India is a serious threat
to the future of democracy in the world. The fact that
it has yet to make it onto the radar screen of most
Americans is evidence of the way in which terrorism
and the war on Iraq have distracted us from events and
issues of fundamental significance. If we really want
to understand the impact of religious nationalism on
democratic values, India currently provides a deeply
troubling example, and one without which any
understanding of the more general phenomenon is
dangerously incomplete. It also provides an example of
how democracy can survive the assault of religious

In May 2004, the voters of India went to the polls in
large numbers. Contrary to all predictions, they gave
the Hindu right a resounding defeat. Many right-wing
political groups and the social organizations allied
with them remain extremely powerful, however. The rule
of law and democracy has shown impressive strength and
resilience, but the future is unclear.

The case of Gujarat is a lens through which to conduct
a critical examination of the influential thesis of
the "clash of civilizations," made famous by the
political scientist Samuel P. Huntington. His picture
of the world as riven between democratic Western
values and an aggressive Muslim monolith does nothing
to help us understand today's India, where, I shall
argue, the violent values of the Hindu right are
imports from European fascism of the 1930s, and where
the third-largest Muslim population in the world lives
as peaceful democratic citizens, despite severe
poverty and other inequalities.

The real "clash of civilizations" is not between
"Islam" and "the West," but instead within virtually
all modern nations — between people who are prepared
to live on terms of equal respect with others who are
different, and those who seek the protection of
homogeneity and the domination of a single "pure"
religious and ethnic tradition. At a deeper level, as
Gandhi claimed, it is a clash within the individual
self, between the urge to dominate and defile the
other and a willingness to live respectfully on terms
of compassion and equality, with all the vulnerability
that such a life entails.

This argument about India suggests a way to see
America, which is also torn between two different
pictures of itself. One shows the country as good and
pure, its enemies as an external "axis of evil." The
other picture, the fruit of internal self-criticism,
shows America as complex and flawed, torn between
forces bent on control and hierarchy and forces that
promote democratic equality. At what I've called the
Gandhian level, the argument about India shows
Americans to themselves as individuals, each of whom
is capable of both respect and aggression, both
democratic mutuality and anxious domination. Americans
have a great deal to gain by learning more about India
and pondering the ideas of some of her most
significant political thinkers, such as Sir
Rabindranath Tagore and Mohandas Gandhi, whose
ruminations about nationalism and the roots of
violence are intensely pertinent to today's conflicts.

A ccording to the Huntington thesis, each
"civilization" has its own distinctive view of life,
and Hinduism counts as a distinct "civilization." If
we investigate the history of the Hindu right,
however, we will see a very different story.
Traditional Hinduism was decentralized, plural, and
highly tolerant, so much so that the vision of a
unitary, "pure" Hinduism that could provide the new
nation, following independence from Britain in 1947,
with an aggressive ideology of homogeneity could not
be found in India: The founders of the Hindu right had
to import it from Europe.

The Hindu right's view of history is a simple one.
Like all simple tales, it is largely a fabrication,
but its importance to the movement may be seen by the
intensity with which its members go after scholars who
present a more nuanced and accurate view: not only by
strident public critiques, but by organized campaigns
of threat and intimidation, culminating in some cases
in physical violence. Here's how the story goes:

Once there lived in the Indus Valley a pure and
peaceful people. They spoke Vedic Sanskrit, the
language of the gods. They had a rich material culture
and a peaceful temper, although they were prepared for
war. Their realm was vast, stretching from Kashmir in
the north to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) in the south. And yet
they saw unity and solidarity in their shared ways of
life, calling themselves Hindus and their land
Hindustan. No class divisions troubled them, nor was
caste a painful source of division. The condition of
women was excellent.

That peaceful condition went on for centuries.
Although from time to time marauders made their
appearance (for example, the Huns), they were quickly
dispatched. Suddenly, rudely, unprovoked, invading
Muslims put an end to all that. Early in the 16th
century, Babur, founder of the Mughal dynasty, swept
through the north of Hindustan, vandalizing Hindu
temples, stealing sacred objects, building mosques
over temple ruins. For 200 years, Hindus lived at the
mercy of the marauders, until the Maharashtrian hero
Shivaji rose up and restored the Hindu kingdom. His
success was all too brief. Soon the British took up
where Babur and his progeny had left off, imposing
tyranny upon Hindustan and her people. They can
recover their pride only by concerted aggression
against alien elements in their midst.

What is wrong with that picture? Well, for a start,
the people who spoke Sanskrit almost certainly
migrated into the subcontinent from outside, finding
indigenous people there, probably the ancestors of the
Dravidian peoples of South India. Hindus are no more
indigenous than Muslims. Second, it leaves out
problems in Hindu society: the problem of caste, which
both Gandhi and Tagore took to be the central social
issue facing India, and obvious problems of class and
gender inequality. (When historians point to evidence
of these things, the Hindu right calls them Marxists,
as if that, by itself, invalidated their arguments.)
Third, it leaves out the tremendous regional
differences within Hinduism, and hostilities and
aggressions sometimes associated with those. Fourth,
it omits the evidence of peaceful coexistence and
syncretism between Hindus and Muslims for a good deal
of the Mughal Empire, including the well-known
policies of religious pluralism of Akbar (1542-1605).

In the Hindu-right version of history, a persistent
theme is that of humiliated masculinity: Hindus have
been subordinate for centuries, and their masculinity
insulted, in part because they have not been
aggressive and violent enough. The two leading
ideologues of the Hindu right responded to the call
for a warlike Hindu masculinity in different ways.
V.D. Savarkar (1883-1966) was a freedom fighter who
spent years in a British prison in the Andaman
Islands, and who may have been a co-conspirator in the
assassination of Gandhi. M.S. Golwalkar (1906-73), a
gurulike figure who was not involved in the
independence struggle, quietly helped build up the
organization known as RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak
Sangh, or National Volunteers Association), now the
leading social organization of the Hindu right.
Savarkar's "Hindutva: Who Is a Hindu?," first
published in 1923, undertook to define the essence of
Hinduness for the new nation; his definition was
exclusionary, emphasizing cultural homogeneity and the
need to use force to ensure the supremacy of Hindus.

Golwalkar's We, or Our Nationhood Defined was
published in 1939. Writing during the independence
struggle, Golwalkar saw his task as describing the
unity of the new nation. To do that, he looked to
Western political theory, and particularly to Germany,
where what he called "race pride" helped bring "under
one sway the whole of the territory" that was
originally held by the Germani. By purging itself of
Jews, he wrote, "Germany has also shown how well nigh
impossible it is for Races and cultures, having
differences going to the root, to be assimilated into
one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan
to learn and profit by."

In the end, Golwalkar's vision of national unity was
not exactly that of Nazi Germany. He was not very
concerned with purity of blood, but rather with
whether Muslim and Christian groups were willing to
"abandon their differences, and completely merge
themselves in the National Race." He was firmly
against the civic equality of any people who retained
their religious and ethnic distinctiveness.

At the time of independence, such ideas of Hindu
supremacy did not prevail. Nehru and Gandhi insisted
not only on equal rights for all citizens, but also on
stringent protections for religious freedom of
expression in the new Constitution. Gandhi always
pointedly included Muslims at the very heart of his
movement. He felt that respect for human equality lay
at the heart of all genuine religions, and provided
Hindus with strong reasons both for repudiating the
caste hierarchy and for seeking relationships of
respect and harmony with Christians and Muslims. A
devout Muslim, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, was one of
his and Nehru's most trusted advisers, and it was to
him that Gandhi turned to accept food when he broke
his fast unto death, a very pointed assault on
sectarian ideas of purity and pollution. Gandhi's
pluralistic ideas, however, were always contested.

On January 30, 1948, Gandhi was shot at point-blank
range by Nathuram Godse, a member of the Hindu
political party Mahasabha and former member of the
RSS, who had long had a close, reverential
relationship with Savarkar. At his sentencing on
November 8, 1949, Godse read a book-length statement
of self-explanation. Although it was not permitted
publication at the time, it gradually leaked out.
Today it is widely available on the Internet, where
Godse is revered as a hero on Hindu-right Web sites.

Godse's self-justification, like the historical
accounts of both Savarkar and Golwalkar, saw
contemporary events against the backdrop of centuries
of "Muslim tyranny" in India, punctuated by the heroic
resistance of Shivaji in the 18th century. Like
Savarkar, Godse described his goal as that of creating
a strong, proud India that could throw off the
centuries of domination. He was appalled by Gandhi's
rejection of the warlike heroes of classical Hindu
epics and his inclusion of Muslims as full equals in
the new nation, and argued that Gandhi exposed Indians
to subordination and humiliation. Nehru believed that
the murder of Gandhi was part of a "fairly widespread
conspiracy" on the part of the Hindu right to seize
power; he saw the situation as analogous to that in
Europe on the eve of the fascist takeovers. And he
believed that the RSS was the power behind this

Fast-forward now to recent years. Although illegal for
a time, the RSS eventually re-emerged and quietly went
to work building a vast social network, consisting
largely of groups for young boyscalled shakha, or
"branches"which, through clever use of games and
songs, indoctrinate the young into the confrontational
and Hindu-supremacist ideology of the organization.
The idea of total obedience and the abnegation of
critical faculties is at the core of the solidaristic
movement. Each day, as members raise the saffron flag
of the warlike hero Shivaji, which the movement
prefers to the tricolor flag of the Indian nation
(with its Buddhist wheel of law reminding citizens of
the emperor Ashoka's devotion to religious
toleration), they recite a pledge that begins: "I take
the oath that I will always protect the purity of
Hindu religion, and the purity of Hindu culture, for
the supreme progress of the Hindu nation." The
organization also makes clever use of modern media: A
nationally televised serial version of the classic
epic Ramayana in the late 1980s fascinated viewers all
over India with its concocted tale of a unitary
Hinduism dedicated to the single-minded worship of the
god Rama. In 1992 Hindu mobs, with the evident
connivance of the modern political wing of the RSS,
the party known as the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party, or
National People's Party), destroyed a mosque in the
city of Ayodhya that they say covers the remains of a
Hindu temple marking Rama's birthplace.

Politically, the BJP began to gather strength in the
late 1980s, drawing on widespread public
dissatisfaction with the economic policies of the
post-Nehru Congress Party (although it was actually
Congress, under Rajiv Gandhi, that began economic
reforms), and playing, always, the cards of hatred and
fear. It was during its ascendancy, in a coalition
government that prevented it from carrying out all its
goals, that the destruction of the Ayodyha mosque took
place. The violence in Gujarat was the culmination of
a series of increasingly angry pilgrimages to the
Ayodyha site, where the Hindu right has attempted to
construct a Hindu temple over the ruins, but has been
frustrated by the courts. Although the elections of
2004 gave a negative verdict on the BJP government, it
remains the major opposition party and controls
governments in some key states, including Gujarat.

For several years, I have studied the Gujarat
violence, its basis and its aftermath, looking for
implications for how we should view religious violence
around the world. One obvious conclusion is that each
case must be studied on its own merits, with close
attention to specific historical and regional factors.
The idea that all conflicts are explained by a simple
hypothesis of the "clash of civilizations" proves
utterly inadequate in Gujarat, where European ideas
were borrowed to address a perceived humiliation and
to create an ideology that has led to a great deal of
violence against peaceful Muslims. Indeed, the "clash
of civilizations" thesis is the best friend of the
perpetrators because it shields them and their
ideology from scrutiny. Repeatedly in interviews with
leading members of the Hindu right, I was informed
that no doubt, as an American, I was already on their
side, knowing that Muslims cause trouble wherever they

What we see in Gujarat is not a simplistic, comforting
thesis, but something more disturbing: the fact that
in a thriving democracy, many individuals are unable
to live with others who are different, on terms of
mutual respect and amity. They seek total domination
as the only road to security and pride. That is a
phenomenon well known in democracies around the world,
and it has nothing to do with an alleged Muslim
monolith, and, really, very little to do with religion
as such.

This case, then, informs us that we must look within,
asking whether in our own society similar forces are
at work, and, if so, how we may counteract them.
Beyond that general insight, my study of the riots has
suggested four very specific lessons.

The rule of law: One of the most appalling aspects of
the events in Gujarat was the complicity of officers
of the law. The police sat on their hands, the highest
officials of state government egged on the killing,
and the national government gave aid and comfort to
the state government.

However, the institutional and legal structure of the
Indian democracy ultimately proved robust, playing a
key role in securing justice for the victims. The
Supreme Court and the Election Commission of India
played constructive roles in postponing new elections
while Muslims were encouraged to return home, and in
ordering changes of venue in key trials arising out of
the violence. Above all, free national elections were
held in 2004, and those elections, in which the
participation of poor rural voters was decisive,
delivered a strongly negative verdict on the policies
of fear and hate, as well as on the BJP's economic
policies. The current government, headed by Manmohan
Singha Sikh and India's first minority prime
ministerhas announced a firm commitment to end
sectarian violence and has done a great deal to focus
attention on the unequal economic and political
situation of Muslims in the nation, as well as
appointing Muslims to key offices. On balance, then,
the pluralistic democracy envisaged by Gandhi and
Nehru seems to be winning, in part because the framers
of the Indian state bequeathed to India a wise
institutional and constitutional structure, and
traditions of commitment to the key political values
that structure embodies.

It should be mentioned that one of the key aspects of
the founders' commitments, which so far has survived
the Hindu-right challenge, is the general conception
of the nation as a uni-ty around political ideals and
values, particularly the value of equal entitlement,
rather than around ethnic or religious or linguistic
identity. India, like the United States, but unlike
most of the nations of Europe, has rejected such
exclusionary ways of characterizing the nation,
adopting in its Constitution, in public ceremonies,
and in key public symbols the political conception of
its unity. Political structure is not ev-erything, but
it can supply a great deal in times of stress.

The news media and the role of intellectuals: One of
the heartening aspects of the Gujarat events was the
performance of the national news media and of the
community of intellectuals. Both print media and
television kept up unceasing pressure to document and
investigate events. At the same time, many scholars,
lawyers, and leaders of nongovernnmental organizations
converged on Gujarat to take down the testimony of
witnesses, help them file complaints, and prepare a
public record that would stand up in court. The only
reason I felt the need to write about these events
further is that their analyses have, by and large, not
reached the American audience.

We can see here documentation of something long ago
observed by the Indian economist and philosopher
Amartya Sen in the context of famines: the crucial
role of a free press in supporting democratic
institutions. (Sen pointed out that there has not been
a famine in recent times in a nation where a free
press brings essential information to the public; in
China, by contrast, in the late 1950s and early 60s,
famine was allowed to continue unabated, because news
of what was happening in rural areas did not leak
out.) And we can study here what a free press really
means: I would argue that it requires a certain
absence of top-down corporate control and an easy
access to the major news media for intellectual voices
from a wide range of backgrounds.

Education and the importance of critical thinking and
imagination: So far I have mentioned factors that have
helped the Indian democracy survive the threat of
quasi-fascist takeover. But there are warning signs
for the future. The public schools in Gujarat are
famous for their complete lack of critical thinking,
their exclusive emphasis on rote learning and the
uncritical learning of marketable skills, and the
elements of fascist propaganda that easily creep in
when critical thinking is not cultivated. It is well
known that Hitler is presented as a hero in history
textbooks in the state, and nationwide public protest
has not yet led to any change. To some extent, the
rest of the nation is better off: National-level
textbooks have been rewritten to take out the Hindu
right's false ideological view of history and to
substitute a more nuanced view. Nonetheless, the
emphasis on rote learning and on regurgitation of
facts for national examinations is distressing
everywhere, and things are only becoming worse with
the immense pressure to produce economically
productive graduates.

The educational culture of India used to contain
progressive voices, such as that of the great Tagore,
who emphasized that all the skills in the world were
useless, even baneful, if not wielded by a cultivated
imagination and refined critical faculties. Such
voices have now been silenced by the sheer demand for
profitability in the global market. Parents want their
children to learn marketable skills, and their great
pride is the admission of a child to the Indian
Institutes of Technology or the India Institutes of
Management. They have contempt for the humanities and
the arts. I fear for democracy down the road, when it
is run, as it increasingly will be, by docile
engineers in the Gujarat mold, unable to criticize the
propaganda of politicians and unable to imagine the
pain of another human being.

In the United States, by some estimates fully 40
percent of Indian-Americans hail from Gujarat, where a
large proportion belong to the Swaminarayan sect of
Hinduism, distinctive for its emphasis on uncritical
obedience to the utterances of the current leader of
the sect, whose title is Pramukh Swami Maharaj. On a
visit to the elaborate multimillion-dollar
Swaminarayan temple in Bartlett, Ill., I was given a
tour by a young man recently arrived from Gujarat, who
delighted in telling me the simplistic Hindu-right
story of India's history, and who emphatically told me
that whenever Pramukh Swami speaks, one is to regard
it as the direct voice of God and obey without
question. At that point, with a beatific smile, the
young man pointed up to the elaborate marble ceiling
and asked, "Do you know why this ceiling glows the way
it does?" I said I didn't, and I confidently expected
an explanation invoking the spiritual powers of
Pramukh Swami. My guide smiled even more broadly.
"Fiber-optic cables," he told me. "We are the first
ones to put this technology into a temple." There you
see what can easily wreck democracy: a combination of
technological sophistication with utter docility. I
fear that many democracies around the world, including
our own, are going down that road, through a lack of
emphasis on the humanities and arts and an unbalanced
emphasis on profitable skills.

The creation of a liberal public culture: How did
fascism take such hold in India? Hindu traditions
emphasize tolerance and pluralism, and daily life
tends to emphasize the ferment and vigor of
difference, as people from so many ethnic, linguistic,
and regional backgrounds encounter one another. But as
I've noted, the traditions contain a wound, a locus of
vulnerability, in the area of humiliated masculinity.
For centuries, some Hindu males think, they were
subordinated by a sequence of conquerors, and Hindus
have come to identify the sexual playfulness and
sensuousness of their traditions, scorned by the
masters of the Raj, with their own weakness and
subjection. So a repudiation of the sensuous and the
cultivation of the masculine came to seem the best way
out of subjection. One reason why the RSS attracts
such a following is the widespread sense of masculine

At the same time, the RSS filled a void, organizing at
the grass-roots level with great discipline and
selflessness. The RSS is not just about fascist
ideology; it also provides needed social services, and
it provides fun, luring boys in with the promise of a
group life that has both more solidarity and more
imagination than the tedious world of government

S o what is needed is some counterforce, which would
supply a public culture of pluralism with equally
efficient grass-roots organization, and a public
culture of masculinity that would contend against the
appeal of the warlike and rapacious masculinity
purveyed by the Hindu right. The "clash within" is not
so much a clash between two groups in a nation that
are different from birth; it is, at bottom, a clash
within each person, in which the ability to live with
others on terms of mutual respect and equality
contends anxiously against the sense of being

Gandhi understood that. He taught his followers that
life's real struggle was a struggle within the self,
against one's own need to dominate and one's fear of
being vulnerable. He deliberately focused attention on
sexuality as an arena in which domination plays itself
out with pernicious effect, and he deliberately
cultivated an androgynous maternal persona. More
significantly still, he showed his followers that
being a "real man" is not a matter of being aggressive
and bashing others; it is a matter of controlling
one's own instincts to aggression and standing up to
provocation with only one's human dignity to defend
oneself. I think that in some respects, he went off
the tracks, in his suggestion that sexual relations
are inherently scenes of domination and in his
recommendation of asceticism as the only route to
nondomination. Nonetheless, he saw the problem at its
root, and he proposed a public culture that, while he
lived, was sufficient to address it.

In a quite different way, Tagore also created a
counterimage of the Indian self, an image that was
more sensuous, more joyful than that of Gandhi, but
equally bent on renouncing the domination that Tagore
saw as inherent in European traditions. In works such
as Nationalism and The Religion of Man, Tagore
described a type of joyful cosmopolitanism,
underwritten by poetry and the arts, that he also made
real in his pioneering progressive school in

After Gandhi, however, that part of the pluralist
program has languished. Though he much loved and
admired both Gandhi and Tagore, Nehru had contempt for
religion, and out of his contempt he neglected the
cultivation of what the radical religions of both men
had supplied: images of who we are as citizens,
symbolic connections to the roots of human
vulnerability and openness, and the creation of a
grass-roots public culture around those symbols. Nehru
was a great institution builder, but in thinking about
the public culture of the new nation, his focus was
always on economic, not cultural, issues. Because he
firmly expected that raising the economic level of the
poor would cause them to lose the need for religion
and, in general, for emotional nourishment, he saw no
need to provide a counterforce to the powerful
emotional propaganda of the Hindu right.

Today's young people in India, therefore, tend to
think of religion, and the creation of symbolic
culture in general, as forces that are in their very
nature fascist and reactionary because that is what
they have seen in their experience. When one tells
them the story of the American civil-rights movement,
and the role of both liberal religion and powerful
pluralist rhetoric in forging an anti-racist civic
culture, they are quite surprised. Meanwhile, the RSS
goes to work unopposed in every state and region,
skillfully plucking the strings of hate and fear. By
now pluralists generally realize that a mistake was
made in leaving grass-roots organization to the right,
but it is very difficult to jump-start a pluralist
movement. The salient exception has been the women's
movement, which has built at the grass roots very

It is comforting for Americans to talk about a clash
of civilizations. That thesis tells us that evil is
outside, distant, other, and that we are perfectly all
right as we are. All we need do is to remain ourselves
and fight the good fight. But the case of Gujarat
shows us that the world is very different. The forces
that assail democracy are internal to many, if not
most, democratic nations, and they are not foreign:
They are our own ideas and voices, meaning the voices
of aggressive European nationalism, refracted back
against the original aggressor with the extra bile of
resentment born of a long experience of domination and

The implication is that all nations, Western and
non-Western, need to examine themselves with the most
fearless exercise of critical capacities, looking for
the roots of domination within and devising effective
institutional and educational countermeasures. At a
deeper level, the case of Gujarat shows us what Gandhi
and Tagore, in their different ways, knew: that the
real root of domination lies deep in the human
personality. It would be so convenient if Americans
were pure and free from flaw, but that fantasy is yet
another form that the resourceful narcissism of the
human personality takes on the way to bad behavior.

Martha C. Nussbaum is a professor in the philosophy
department, law school, divinity school, and the
college at the University of Chicago. Her book The
Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and
India's Future will be published this week by Belknap
Press of Harvard University Press.

Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 53, Issue 37, Page B6


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