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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Arguing With The Argumentative Indian

Though Amartya Sen's latest collection of essays has received widespread and well-deserved acclaim, Pavan K. Varma has a bone or two to pick in his review for The Independent:

"The violence and bigotry traditionally inflicted by high-caste Hindus on members of their own faith, the low-caste Shudras, has no parallel in any other religion. Nor is Hinduism particularly welcoming to outside influences. We need only recall that until recently Hindus considered all foreigners to be mleccha, inherently unclean, and regarded those who ventured to foreign lands - as Mahatma Gandhi famously did when he left for England to study law in 1888 - as having polluted themselves.

"Any civilisation as ancient, accomplished and diverse as India's will have instances of argument, dissent and debate. This is something to be proud of. But to make such instances the principal contributing factor for the success of the democratic experiment in India, or for the triumph of secularism, is, I believe, to oversimplify things.

"The real reason why the erstwhile 'untouchables' or the poorest of the poor have the freedom to argue today is that the working of democracy - with all its inadequacies - has created a real shift in power to the deprived and dispossessed. This, and not examples of argumentation in elite circles of Indian society in some remote past, is the reason India is now an argumentative nation."

Varma goes on to say of Sen that his vision "for a pluralistic and secular India, which comes out so vividly in this book, deserves wholehearted respect and endorsement," but ends by asserting that "he ends up making the same uncritical evocation of the past that he rightly criticises among the Hindu zealots."


  • Pavan Varma also has an interesting take on why the 21st century will belong to India in Being Indian.
    Even though I don't agree with Varma that Indians will succeed primarily because of their selfishness and desire for upward mobility, he makes for interesting reading.

    By Blogger chamique, at 11:45 AM  

  • Keep meaning to read that book, actually. Another one on the unread pile...

    By Blogger PrufrockTwo, at 2:30 PM  

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