Amartya Sen, in his book, "The Argumentative Indian", contends that Hinduism does not lend itself easily to conventional interpretation as a monolithic religion. With extensive annotations from the philosophical texts and scriptures, he argues that Hinduism can at best be considered as a conglomeration of a variety of beliefs, spanning the entire spectrum from animism to monotheism, even atheism. Quoting from a book on Hinduism by his grandfather, Kshiti Mohan Sen, Amartya Sen lauds the heterodoxy of beliefs that the
"Hinduism also points out that a difference of metaphysical doctrine need not prevent the development of an accepted basic code of conduct. The important thing about a man is his dharma [roughly, the personal basis of behaviour], not necessarily his religion." That pride in liberality and tolerance contrasts rather sharply with the beligerently sectarian interpretation of Hinduism which is now becoming common through its politicization. [Ch 3: p 46]
Not that I am terribly interested in interpreting any religion, but I am with the Sens in their philosophical interpretation of Hinduism. The problem with Amartya Sen, though, is that he confuses philosophy with politics. His target of ire, quite obviously, is Hindutva and its political representatives, the Bharathiya Janata Party (BJP). Sen should have known better, however, than to build political arguments around philosophical arguments. Unlike philosophy, politics doesn't mix quite well with logic.
After a few pages of polemics that seem to be emanating from the political platform of the Congress or the Samajwadhi Party, rather than from a Nobel Laureate in economics, Sen gets to the details of demographic classification. Arguing that "there is no unique way of categorizing [people]", he suggests several alternative majorities [Ch 3: p 55]:
- the category of low- or middle-income people (say, the bottom 60% of the popultion);
- the class of non-owners of much capital;
- the group of rural Indians;
- the people who do not work in the organized industrial sector; and
- Indians who are against religious persecution.
Is it me or is Sen's bias showing here? I can come up with more neutral majorities married men and women, cricket fans, right handed people... well, we'll let it pass. I do agree with Sen that there isn't any sanctity about computing a numerical majority on the basis of religious identity. And, I share Sen's scorn for the international journalists who "persistently describe India as a mainly Hindu country", but not the USA or the UK as a mainly Christian country.
Fast forward to a Frontline interview, given by Sen to John M. Alexander on the importance of public reasoning in a secular democracy (When does an economics scholar cross the line into politics? Is it when he points a finger at you, or is it when he seizes a photo opportunity with a child?). Responding to a question on rights and social justice, Sen says, and I quote:
Consider, for example, the issue of minority rights. When minority rights are violated, three terrible things are happening. First, the human right of the minority not to be terrorised or killed is violated. Second, there is the violation of what Immanuel Kant called a perfect obligation or duty, that no one should violate other people's rights. And here, it is being violated by those who are injuring and killing the minorities. Third, there is the non-fulfillment (to use Kant's term again) of the imperfect obligations of others, which refers to the failure of others in the community to protect the minority as in the case of Gujarat.
Which category of people is Sen labeling as a minority here upper income Gujaratis? Whose rights are being violated according to Sen the urban minority? Who are the objects of the Kantian non-fulfillment of the imperfect obligations soccer fans? Of course not. Sen's crusade (or, should I say, crescentade) is against what he perceives as the violation of the rights of the Muslim minority.
If Hinduism were a misnomer for a cornucopia of religions, if the Hindu India were nothing more than a journalistic reduction, and if a Hindu majority were merely a censual fiction, then is Muslim minority anything more than an eminent historian's myth?