An Entity Conceived In Hatred, Survives On Hatred Or How Abul Kalam Azad’s Fears Became Pakistan

Maulana Abul Kalam Muhiyuddin Ahmed (11 November 1888 – 22 February 1958) was a Muslim scholar and a senior political leader of the Indian independence movement. He was a vociferous advocate for the unity of India, opposing the partition of India on communal lines. Following India’s independence, he became the first Minister of Education in the Indian government. Details »

Pankaj Mishra & The Heritage Of Indian Pluralism

Pankaj Mishra, one of my favorite writers and intellectuals, has written a fascinating essay for The National newspaper title Beyond Boundaries that speaks about India’s long and resilient syncretic traditions.

I have featured his piece, thanks to his kind permission, on my The Idea of India project website. For those who may not know, this is a long-term project I am working on documenting India’s heritage of pluralism and syncretism. Details »

Arundhati Roy On The Meaning And Idea Of Resistance

It has become fashionable to simply accept, to acquiese to power, to be obsequieous, to kiss-ass, to bend over to be taken from behind, to be grateful that your mortage can still be paid, to look for hand outs, to simply repeat the rhetoric and language of the powerful…to simply exlain the status quo and consider it insight.

Arundhati Roy continues, quietly and incisely, to remind us that dissent, all dissent, is the fundamental platform of democracy and of liberty.

One of my favorite commentators, Mark Slouka, recently penned a piece called Democracy & Deference where he ask, first the Americans, but then the world in general:

Turn on the TV to almost any program with an office in it, and you’ll find a depressingly accurate representation of the “boss culture,” a culture based on an a priori notion of—a devout belief in—inequality. The boss will scowl or humiliate you…because he can, because he’s the boss. And you’ll keep your mouth shut and look contrite, even if you’ve done nothing wrong . . . because, well, because he’s the boss. Because he’s above you. Because he makes more money than you. Because—admit it—he’s more than you.

This is the paradigm—the relational model that shapes so much of our public life. Its primary components are intimidation and fear. It is essentially authoritarian. If not principally about the abuse of power, it rests, nonetheless, on a generally accepted notion of power’s privileges. Of its inherent rights. The Rights of Man? Please. The average man has the right to get rich so that he too can sit behind a desk wearing an absurd haircut, yelling, “You’re fired!” or refuse to take any more questions; so that he too—when the great day comes—can pour boiling oil on the plebes at the base of the castle wall, each and every one of whom accepts his right to do so, and aspires to the honor.

And then leads us to the crucial question on which our democracy may hinge:

What kind of culture defines “maturity” as the time when young men and women sacrifice principle to prudence, when they pledge allegiance to the boss in the name of self-promotion and “realism”? What kind of culture defines adulthood as the moment when the self goes underground? One answer might be a military one. The problem is that while unthinking loyalty to one’s commanding officer may be necessary in war, it is disastrous outside of it. Why? Because loyalty, by definition, qualifies individualism, discouraging the expression of individual opinion, recasting honesty as a type of betrayal. Because loyalty to power, rather than to what one believes to be true or right, is fatally undemocratic, and can lead to the most horrendous abuses.

Indeed, what kind of culture is that? We would do well to consider answers.

The Hindus Live In Small And Dark Homes Or Educating Our Child Soldiers

JuD Grafitti Pan

The minds of children are usually shut inside prison houses, so that they become incapable of understanding people who have different languages and customs. This causes us to grope after each other in darkness, to hurt each other in ignorance, to suffer from the worst form of blindness. Religious missionaries themselves have contributed to this evil; in the name of brotherhood and in the arrogance of sectarian pride they have created misunderstanding. They make this permanent in their textbooks, and poison the minds of children.

Rabindranath Tagore “To Teachers”,

from Chakravarty, A (ed) The Tagore Reader (Page 216)


Our wars, our massacres, our suspicions and fears, our prejudices and hatred, begin in the pages our of children’s textbooks. Details »

The New India? Or How It Became Just Like Everyone Else!

I came across this piece in the recent issue of Granta and it made for depressing reading.

Capital Gains by Rana Dasgupta

I was not quite sure what about it really cut to the quick. I am still not sure.

Perhaps it is some sort of romanticism about a world in the past that cared for something more than just material wealth, brand awareness, consumer choice and flash. But I have read Robert Musil’s A Man Without Qualities and know well that such a world never existed. There is a surprising continuity in man’s perpetual search for the banal, the bombastic and the brilliantine! Details »

How Hindus Are Destroying New Delhi Or An Exercise In Absolute Foolishness Masquerading As A Stupid Opinion

Writer Rana Dasgupta, famous for his book Tokyo Cancelled, has penned a piece on the city of New Delhi and its rampaging obsession with things material, brand-obsessed, consumerist, shallow, callow and crass. Called Capital Gains it appeared in the recent issue of Granta magazine.

Fair enough – one can write similar pieces about pretty much any city in any ‘capitalist revolutionary’ city anywhere in the world. Take your pick, this story though well written and at times funny, could just as well be about Karachi, Rio De Jeneiro , Bangkok, Dubai, Shanghai, Beijing or even the now-under-China’s shadow, Hong Kong. Details »

No Pharaohs In The Modern World: The Liberal Muslim & Indian Democracy

The stranglehold of the orthodoxy, especially in its political and religious form, has to be loosened and slackened. The answer lies in more and more Muslim communities moving towards democracy. There is no short cut to democracy. . . . There is no place for pharaohs in the modern world. (Mushirul Hasan)

Martha Nussbaum has had a deep and committed engagement with India – a land she calls ‘her second home’, for many years now.  This American philosopher with an interest in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, political philosophy and ethics, has found a deep interest in modern India’s struggles with democracy and ethics.

Nussbaum is currently Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, a chair that includes appointments in the Philosophy Department, the Law School, and the Divinity School. She also holds Associate appointments in Classics and Political Science, is a member of the Committee on Southern Asian Studies, and a Board Member of the Human Rights Program. She previously taught at Harvard and Brown where she held the rank of university professor.

Her latest missive on the situation in India comes as a bit of a surprise because it addresses a subject few have had the will to address; liberal Muslims confronting violence, discrimination and injustice, and yet choosing the path of the law, non-violence and intellectualism to confront it.

A new essay Land of My Dreams: Islamic liberalism under fire in India Martha Nussbaum offers a fascinating history of one of Delhi’s great liberal educational institutions, the Jamia Millia Islamia.  As Nussbaum describes it in her piece:

Jamia was born radical. Its curriculum emphasized the study of nationalism as well as the study of Islamic history and the Qu’ran; its admissions policy welcomed male and female, Hindu and Muslim; its pedagogy emphasized debate and contestation in the teaching of all subjects, including religion, denouncing the mere “passive awareness of dead facts.” The school had strong links with theorists of progressive education such as Bertrand Russell and Rabindranath Tagore and thus gave substantial weight to the arts and vocational education.

The piece is as much about the Vice-Chancellor of the institution, Mushirul Hasan, whose story, as Nussbaum points out, reminds us of 3 things:

First, the values we associate with classical liberalism-such as the defense of the freedom of speech, the freedom of conscience, and procedural due process-are not exclusively Western values. During the independence movement in India, they were reinvented by a colonized people who had seen just how little their Western masters honored such norms.

Second, these values are not tepid and centrist, as we sometimes hear, but rather, truly radical in a world of nations increasingly under pressure both from external violence and from internal quasi-fascist forces.

And finally, Hasan’s story shows that there is a distinctive and genuinely Islamic form of liberalism, long-lived and drawing inspiration from religious texts and their central concepts.

Unfortunately The Boston Review magazine allows people to comment on the essays they publish.  The reactions to Nussbaums’ piece stretch the realm of decency and coherency. I suspect that in the coming weeks the number of ‘comments’ consisting of slurs, abusive dismissals, sexist denigrations and outright insults against this scholar, philosopher, humanist and ethicist will only grow. These commentators do a disservice to not just Nussbaum, but to the very community that apparently think they are defending by abusing the writer and her works!

Martha Nussbaum is also the author of a book on the rise of Hindu fundamentalism and the threat to Indian democracy called The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India’s Future which was reviewed by Pankaj Mishra in the New York Review of Books

The Tears of The Goddess


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