In the shadow of the caste society

Indian Democracy. Origins, Trajectories, Contestations
INDIA'S CONFLICTS / India's major economic growth, under Narendra Modi, has deepened the social differences. The coexistence of the many religious groups


"The largest democracy in the world." This is how India is often heard, and perhaps there may be some talk after the nation of 1,4 billion residents in May held another parliamentary election. And yet it seems to be a truth with modifications.

Kenneth Bo Nielsen from the Institute of Cultural Studies at the University of Oslo, along with a few colleagues, has set out to give an insight into Indian democracy, and it has become a fine anthology where experts from all over the world shed light on different aspects of the case. The result is exceptionally good.

We know India as a multi-ethnic nation. About 80 percent of the population are Hindus, but a large Muslim minority and various other religious groups live in the country. In addition, Indian democracy is still in the shadow of the caste society.

Anupama Rao expertly handles these complicated cases in one of the essays. As a researcher at Barnard College in New York, she has long been interested in the Indian caste system, which continues to play a major role in Indian democracy understanding. During the time when India was freeing itself from the British Empire, various models of coexistence between Hindus and Muslims were discussed. There was, among other things, a wing which argued that the two religions could live as similar nations in the same territory, but it ended up dividing the country, giving the Muslims a majority state in the form of Pakistan.

BR Ambedkar, one of the prominent representatives of the homeless, was already trying to convince Gandhi that the homeless had to have a homeland, but in vain. Another leader of this group, the Bengali politician Jogendranath Mandal, just took the consequence and moved to Pakistan, where he made joint case with the Muslims and obtained to become the country's first justice minister. But, paradoxically, a few years later, anti-Hindu sentiments forced him to move back to India, making him even further.

Economic development and religion

Such paradoxical situations are run everywhere in Indian democracy. Kathinka Frøystad, a professor of modern South Asian studies at the University of Oslo, examines in his essay two parameters in Indian society that analysts and researchers otherwise tend to keep sharply separated. One is the country's economic development, where the central question is, of course, whether the increased wealth is distributed evenly, or whether it helps to deepen social differences. And the second is religion, or rather how the many different religions develop and interact with economic growth.


Here, it is natural to turn our attention to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who came to power in the 2014 landslide election. He led the way on promises of rapid economic and technological growth, paired with a deselection of Western thought in favor of Hindus. Although Modi was a staunch supporter of women's equality and more universal family law, he quickly faced criticism for deepening social inequalities, while the Muslim minority and the casteless in particular were overlooked by Modi's sharp focus on Hinduism. nationalism.

This exposes an important dilemma which has far-reaching consequences for India as a multi-religious mega-state. Ever since independence in 1947, India has been marked by numerous internal contradictions, which, among other things, resulted in the separation of part of the country in the form of Pakistan. But on a daily basis, there has just as much been a kind of harmony between the religions, and it has been blown in several places, as a result of the Modi years' aggressive growth economy.

Multi-religious communities

Many Indians have responded with nostalgia. In 2018, a young Hindu from one of the better-off castes wrote on Facebook about his mother, who had fond memories of how in the evening she performed her puja, the Hindu prayer ritual, while being called to prayer from a nearby mosque. The mother's nostalgia was due to the fact that they had been able to afford to move to a "gated community" without mosques nearby. The close understanding of the neighbor's rituals and the community between the religions has been under strong siege under Modi.

Understandably, this problem is not of recent date. In 1992-93, dramatic clashes between Hindus and Muslims led to the destruction of the shrine of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. Subsequently, the magazine India Today asked 20 different intellectuals how they thought it would be best to use the grounds where the mosque had been located. As many as seven suggested building a ritual space that all religions could share, and similar thoughts have been circulating in several other places in India. But it has also been shown that in times of marked Hindu leadership, such places are quickly Hinduized, while something similar takes place under marked Muslim leadership. This has largely been the case under Modi, and therefore it has become one of the great challenges for Indian democracy that economic growth is distributed fairly among the population while India remains a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society for the benefit, and not just of name.

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