Modernity / 25.05.2014

Here is a headline from today’s newspaper: Pakistan frees 151 Indian fishermen ahead of Sharif’s Delhi visit What can we infer from this headline about the world we live in? Recall the stories of bygone times that marked auspicious occasions: It was the king’s birthday – he ordered 100 prisoners to be released. The queen gave birth to an heir – the dungeons were emptied. The heir apparent got married – all death sentences were commuted. Are we living in bygone times or have the bygone times never left us? King Sharif? I am going to India – let us free 151 fishermen. Not only that, let us drive them from Karachi to Wagah in an air-conditioned bus. Let us give the ‘poor’ fishermen royal treatment because we are particularly pleased by the invitation – phooley nahiiN samaa rahey. Remember Diwali last year? We celebrated by releasing 15 fishermen as a gesture of our goodwill. We still...

Analysis / 03.07.2011

By Bettina Robotka Dear Anjum, First, a word about that unspeakable article of Hitchens. He obviously has never lived in Pakistan and doesn’t know anything about its people in reality. Part of his argument is emotional – an emotion that is negative, an emotion of ridiculing and contempt. Whosoever has lived in Pakistan knows that the people on the ground in their majority are neither humorless nor eager to take offense, but warm, hardworking, hospitable and very much tolerant. Actually I always thought that they are too tolerant, they should take offense much earlier. I think they are not very brave in the sense that they go and risk in order to fight injustice, but that is also related to the fact that they are not individuals who think and care only about themselves and that their right and welfare was most important but they are family...

Modernity / 11.10.2010

And Why It Matters Suresh Kalmadi has something to answer for to the Indian people for the chaotic run up to the Commonwealth Games. But given his belligerent stance it seems he feels he doesn’t have to. This would not be a surprise because in India many have gotten away with much more. What I do find surprising, however, is that he has not even been called up for something that, in my view, no one should be allowed to get away with in this day and age. With reference to the lack of spectators at the Games, Kalmadi is reported to have said: "We are working on the children from schools, already steps have been taken in that direction…. And also from the low level of society, we have been distributing a lot of tickets." What is this about the “low level of society” and how can...

Reflections / 13.11.2009

Maupassant provided us the opportunity to reflect on the social pecking order in South Asia and Kabir’s comment has pushed the door wide open. There is so much space for speculation that it needs a post by itself to fill. In doing so we can bring together a number of themes that have figured prominently on this blog – in particular those of modernity and democracy in South Asia. A lot has been written about French salons and there remain disagreement on the details – I will choose selectively to motivate the discussion: A salon is a gathering of intellectual, social, political, and cultural elites under the roof of an inspiring hostess or host, partly to amuse one another and partly to refine their taste and increase their knowledge through conversation.
Ghalib, Modernity / 28.06.2009

Brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant. We have been struggling with the notion of modernity in South Asia and wondering how “modern” modern South Asians are. And here is Ghalib providing an excellent illustration of what being modern might, at least in part, entail: kyaa farz hai kih sab ko mile ek-saa javaab aa’o nah ham bhii sair kareN koh-e tuur kii Is it necessary that everyone would get the same answer? Come! Why don’t we too go for an excursion to Mount Sinai The first thing to note is that being modern does not been mean being ignorant of tradition or history. Ghalib motivates his argument by leveraging the story of Moses going to Mount Sinai and asking to see God; and God responding to Moses that you would not have the strength to withstand the vision.
Modernity, Religion / 11.11.2008

By Bettina Robotka The question of whether there is any positive role for Islam or for religion as such in a modern world is gaining urgency in the light of an ongoing "War against (Islamic) terror" and the spread of militant and conservative interpretations of Islam. The picture which this Islam tends to paint of an ideal Muslim society is that of a patriarchic, male-dominated community inhabited by intellectually unquestioning Muslims who live in closely knit kinship relationships including tribal, biradri and caste units, who accept existing society as given, and who are supposed to follow what the state defines as right or wrong through its laws. There is limited place for individuality, no place for questioning of the basics of social, political and economic life and the task of moral, political, economic and spiritual guidance seems to be left to a small group of Islamic...

Modernity, Religion / 17.09.2008

First, let me quote a passage. Then you try and guess what it refers to. And then we will talk about it together. A race absolutely alien to God has invaded the land of the Christians, has reduced the people with sword, rapine and flame. These men have destroyed the altars polluted by their foul practices. They have circumcised the Christians, either spreading the blood from the circumcisions on the altars or pouring it into the baptismal fonts. And they cut open the navels of those whom they choose to torment with loathsome death, tear out their most vital organs and tie them to a stake, drag them around and flog them, before killing them as they lie prone on the ground with all their entrails out. What shall I say of the appalling violation of women, of which it is more evil to speak then...

Modernity, South Asia / 12.09.2008

South Asia is considered a developing region; in earlier times it would have been called an under-developed one. So, the question is: How under-developed is South Asia and what is the nature of its under-development? We have been interested in this question for some time and have not found it easy to answer given that development is such a multi-dimensioned concept and South Asia such a diverse region. A limited but still interesting exercise is to take some standard indicators (like literacy, infant mortality, and life expectancy) and find out how long ago the now developed countries were at the same stage as South Asian countries are today. That would provide a starting point for discussion based on objective measures. It turns out even this is not a simple task as there are no readily available data to look up. Our enquiries led us to a paper in economic...

Development / 09.09.2008

We must confess our incomplete knowledge of what is really happening in Nepal but this is certainly a phenomenon that warrants close attention. Let us try and sketch a big picture and hope that readers with more details can fill in the gaps that are inevitable. In a series of posts on modernity in South Asia (see under the theme on the main page) we have repeatedly gone over the sequence of events in Europe that marked the change from the old feudal order to the new era of democratic governance. We highlighted the key markers: the emergence of a realization that all men should be equal; the embedding of these ideas in the thinking of the times; a social revolution nurtured by these ideas that overthrew the hierarchical aristocratic order to force the recognition of equality; and the gradual emergence of democracy as the form...

Governance, India, Politics / 26.07.2008

Let us put the big question on the table. Modern democracy as a form of governance has evolved following the emergence of the belief that “all men are created equal.”  How do we look at Indian democracy in this context? Do Indians believe today that all men are created equal? If not, how does it affect the nature of democracy in India? In the West it took social revolutions to force the acceptance that all men were created equal. So the sequence of events was the following: the emergence of a realization that all men should be equal; a social revolution overthrowing the hierarchical aristocratic order to force the recognition of that equality; the gradual emergence of representative governance (the franchise was extended very slowly with women becoming “equal” much later than men) as the form of governance most compatible with a society comprised of individuals equal...