Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Politics / 20.07.2008

The BBC is doing a fine job in India reporting events that compel readers to think about the broader implications of the story. We had earlier picked up a story about the threat by purists to mixed religious communities. The post (Hindu-Muslim or Muslim-Hindu?) has become quite popular on the blog suggesting that readers enjoy being engaged by challenging questions. Now the BBC has reported on the goings-on preceding the July 22 vote of confidence in the Indian parliament. This too raises some interesting questions about the nature of democracy in India. The story itself states very clearly: “When India is described as 'the world's biggest democracy' it remains strictly true.” A story like this in Pakistan would most likely have found the reporter on the first plane out of the country. So there is no doubt that in relative terms governance in India has a much better...

India, Politics, Religion / 14.07.2008

The following story reported by the BBC is an intriguing one and we wonder what readers will make of it. Islam and Hinduism's blurred lines By Jyotsna Singh, BBC News, Ajmer, Rajasthan Story from BBC NEWS, Published: 2008/07/11 16:20:24 GMT http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/south_asia/7473019.stm Forty-two-year-old Sohan Singh is delighted to call himself a "full-fledged" Hindu. Recently he cremated his mother, defying a family tradition of burying their dead. Mr Singh is a member of the Kathat community in Rajasthan and follows what his community believes is a pledge undertaken by their forefathers. Legend has it that the Mehrat, Kathat and Cheeta communities - with a combined total of one million people in four districts of central Rajasthan - are the descendants of the Hindu ruler of the warrior caste, Prithviraj Chauhan. The three communities also have strong Islamic connections, because many centuries ago, their forefathers undertook a pledge to follow three Muslim practices. These include the circumcision...

Fundamentalism, India, Pakistan / 01.07.2008

The only F-word to have retained its unambiguous meaning is the original F-word. Two others, Feudalism and Fascism, seem to have lost all meaning. They serve no purpose except to characterize any development the user is negative about. Thus anyone you don’t like can be labeled a feudal or a fascist. This might not matter much because feudalism and fascism are largely phenomena of the past. Fundamentalism is a new F-word, however, that demands a lot more care in its usage. Fundamentalism is both current and hot and there could be a lot riding on how we define and interpret the phenomenon. Narrowly interpreted, the term fundamentalism refers in religious discourse to a total commitment to the literal interpretation of a scared text and a belief in its infallibility. In this sense, there can be no religious fundamentalism without the existence of a scared text. It follows from...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Pakistan, Politics, South Asia / 26.06.2008

There was a music program in Washington, DC recently in which the three performers on stage were of South Asian origin – the vocalist from Bangladesh, the tabla player from Pakistan and the harmonium player from India. All three were young and together they created a beautiful music. The Indians in the audience asked for Faiz, the Pakistanis for Nazrulgeeti, and the vocalist herself sang the verses of poets from India. The program was a huge success lasting over five hours. It was an occasion that was symbolic of what was possible in terms of coexistence. Is that an unrealistic dream for South Asia? The election primary in the U.S. this year is a ready reminder of the transformations that are indeed possible. A mere fifty years after the Civil Rights Act when black Americans were second-class citizens afraid of being lynched and cities were burning with...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Politics / 10.06.2008

In this series of posts we have thus far highlighted the following propositions: 1. The census introduced by the British in India (around 1870) classified people by religion. This was unlike the practice followed by the census in Britain itself. 2. Instead of using the religious beliefs as reported by the respondents themselves, the census classified them into the broad categories of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, etc. 3. A complex social reality that comprised of many mixed traditions, practices, and beliefs was simplified into set of broad overall categories. 4. When religious identity moved into the political domain with the adoption of separate electorates the rigid classifications assumed a new importance because one group could only gain at the expense of others. In this post we shall see with the help of Kmaljit Bhasin-Malik’s text how this new reality and realization affected the behavior of different groups and the impact...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Politics / 06.06.2008

A number of readers have expressed reservations about our comments on the first census in British India (Democracy in India – 3). It is argued that disclosure of full information is always for the better and cannot but be helpful in the long run. This misses the point. It is not always the case that pre-existing information is lying unobserved and a neutral process is involved in bringing this knowledge into the public domain. With the first census in British India, knowledge was actually created. This is what Kamaljit Bhasin-Malik explains in her essays on the census: The Punjab census illustrates that the census was not a passive data-gathering instrument. It did not merely count what is.  Census officials first had to create categories and define them. But this was no simple process and the realities that census takers encountered collided with their imperial taxonomies, which assumed Punjabi society...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Politics / 31.05.2008

In the first article of this series (Democracy in India – 1) we had highlighted the importance of the introduction of elective governance in India by the British, the choice of separate electorates based on religion, and its negative impact on communal relations. The following quote from the Indian Statutory Commission in 1930 showed how religion was turned from a social distinction into a political one that mattered in terms of who got what: So long as people had no part in the conduct of their government, there was little for members of one community to fear from the predominance of the other. The gradual introduction of constitutional reforms, however, had greatly stimulated communal tension as it aroused anxieties and ambitions among many communities by the prospect of their place in India’s future political set-up. Thus “while the goal of achieving independence from British rule was never a...

India, Modernity / 26.03.2008

By Dipankar Gupta Why should the best graduates from a strong middle class society cash in their chips to head for the Silicon Valley? But this is what happens in India. As a knowledge society, can we hold our head contents high when even the Philippines has more than six times the number of qualified engineers per thousand than we have here? Is it surprising then that in a land of a billion people the Information Technology sector employs only three million and no more? If we now go below the brain line then is our consumption standard at least indicative of a strong middle class? In which case, why is it that only 3% of Indian households own cars?  Does our boast not sound ridiculous especially when more than 4.5 million American households below the poverty line own cars with 290,000 of them actually owning three...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Politics, South Asia / 08.02.2008

The subject of the nature of democracy in India is important and we will continue to record our thoughts and ideas here to improve our understanding and hopefully to converge to a better sense of the phenomenon. In this post, we reproduce some ideas from Dr. Bettina Robotka, a historian at Humboldt University in Berlin.  Dr. Robotka had commented on one of our earlier posts (How Modern is Modern?) and impressed by her arguments we obtained her essay “Democracy in India – A Historical Perspective” which is a chapter in a 2000 book (The Cultural Construction of Politics in Asia) edited by Hans Antlov and Tak-Wing Ngo. Dr. Robotka characterizes the form of governance in India as a “colonial democracy” (the word colonial has no pejorative connotation in the context; it refers to the historical origins of the present system) in which a centralized state replaced the...

Democracy/Governance, Governance, India, Modernity, Pakistan, Politics, South Asia / 02.02.2008

In the last few posts we have left a few loose ends dangling: there have been references to individualism in the context of hierarchy, to social contract in the context of monarchy, and to reason in the context of modernity. In this post we will try to tie the loose ends lightly to highlight some of the connections and hope to come back for a fuller discussion at a later time if there is demand. There is no one better to weave the argument around than Thomas Hobbes (1558-1679) whose famous book The Leviathan (1651) became the foundation for most of Western political philosophy. Of course, Hobbes did not emerge in a vacuum. The seventeenth century is widely accepted as a decisive turning point in Europe that marked the transition from an old decaying order to a new emerging one that many equate with modern society. Very briefly,...