Martha C. Nussbaum writes a very interesting and detailed article on the possibility of a complete failure of democracy in India.
Her article written in The Chronicle is titled “Fears for Democracy in India“.
Citing the Godhra incident, she points out the systemic rise of the Hindu-right wing and the collapse of the once-acclaimed tolerance of the Hindu religion.
I think Godhra was a national calamity that could have easily been prevented. It is a shame that the people who were a part of this massacre continue to rule in the state of Gujarat.
One of the many interesting points she makes in this article is that the Hindu right-wing ideology is an import of the west, and it does not follow the traditional rules of the Hindu religion.
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.”
All around, we do see a breakdown of our cultural fabric and our tolerance levels. The recent Sikh outbursts are one such example.
Martha touches upon the positive role of the free press in India and the utter disdain shown by the law and order machinery during the Godhra incident. She makes an interesting point related to the role of the education within the Indian political and social context:
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.
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.
For me, that last line summed up in clear terms the status of our current educational policies.
Clearly, a third-party view of your country at times provides you with a greater understanding of the affairs of your own country.
Do read the article, it would be well worth your time.