While America is focused on religious militancy and terrorism in the Middle East, democracy has been under siege from religious extremism in another critical part of the world. As Martha Nussbaum reveals in this penetrating look at India today, the forces of the Hindu right pose a disturbing threat to its democratic traditions and secular state.
Since long before the 2002 Gujarat riots—in which nearly two thousand Muslims were killed by Hindu extremists—the power of the Hindu right has been growing, threatening India’s hard-won constitutional practices of democracy, tolerance, and religious pluralism. Led politically by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Hindu right has sought the subordination of other religious groups and has directed particular vitriol against Muslims, who are cast as devils in need of purging. The Hindu right seeks to return to a “pure” India, unsullied by alien polluters of other faiths, yet the BJP’s defeat in recent elections demonstrates the power that India’s pluralism continues to wield. The future, however, is far from secure, and Hindu extremism and exclusivity remain a troubling obstacle to harmony in South Asia.
Nussbaum’s long-standing professional relationship with India makes her an excellent guide to its recent history. Ultimately she argues that the greatest threat comes not from a clash between civilizations, as some believe, but from a clash within each of us, as we oscillate between self-protective aggression and the ability to live in the world with others. India’s story is a cautionary political tale for all democratic states striving to act responsibly in an increasingly dangerous world.