May 16th, 2008

Group at JNU   In the photo above you see the members of our group around a table at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, India during the afternoon of Friday, May 16, 2008.  The speaker (at the end of the table) is Dipanker Gupta who is a Professor in the Center for the Study of Social Systems at JNU.  Professor Gupta spoke to us about the caste system in India.  Others from our group will be blogging about this presentation.  I am sharing, in this post, some of the content from the presentation that followed Professor Gupta’s that afternoon.  Professor Gurpreet Mahagan, who is Professor of Political Science in the School of Social Sciences at JNU spoke to us about religious (and other) pluralism in India and the political issues and challenges it raises.  Professor Mahagan began by pointing out that there are over 1600 spoken languages in India and more than 33 official/recognized languages.  The process of integrating religion and politics in India almost 60 years ago lead to a sort of redefining of liberalism. Professor Mahagan identified and briefly discussed three “moments” or “processes” that serve as historical reasons for what is seen today in Indian governance and politics.  These three moments are: (1) Pre-colonialism, (2) the colonial period and (3) the framing of the Indian Constitution.  Due to colonialism, the Indian state, at the beginning, had to start with a pre-existing diversity / plurality.  The argument for India to be a religious state was resisted in favor of an “even handedness.”  Professor Mahagan distinguished this sort of ‘theory of justice’ (justice as even-handedness) from Rawls’s later articulation of justice as fairness (in A Theory of Justice).  I took it that the key difference between even – handedness and fairness is that with the former only certain particularities about the thick conceptions of good that are endorsed by members of the diverse communities can be taken into consideration in political decision making.  Rawls’s position involved abstracting more completely away from such details because he thought failure to do so involved certain kinds of unjustified partiality or bias and hence a lack of fairness.  The resulting secular state was identified by Professor Mahagan as involving two dimensions.  These two dimensions of secularity are: (1) there should be no established religion (this was not in the original draft of the constitution, though India eventually took this on) and (2) No one should be discriminated against or disadvantaged on account of their religious identity.  Since Hinduism, importantly, is a religion of practice rather than a religion of belief, it was determined that it was practically impossible to restrict such practice of religion to the private sphere. Doing so would be a kind of discrimination.  It strikes me as a wise (though clearly not problem free) practical position that stands in stark contrast with the secularism of France in particular and even the U.S. to a lesser degree.  

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