The biggest crisis India is facing right now is the “collapse of the nation”, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen said Thursday at the inauguration of the Amartya Sen research center in the Salt Lake region of Kolkata.
What frightens him most, Sen said, is the divisions he currently sees in the country. It was also “extraordinary” that colonial laws were being used to put people behind bars, he added, without specifically mentioning the recent arrest of an activist Teesta Setalvad by the Gujarat Police.
Mere tolerance would not be enough to counter all of this, he said. “India has an inherent culture of tolerance, but the need of the hour is for Hindus and Muslims to work together,” said the celebrated economist, adding that “majority is not the end of everything.”
Sen’s comments follow furious debate and violence in several states following comments by two BJP leaders Prophet Muhammad. It also comes a few days after a tailor was beheaded in Udaipur, allegedly over a social media post supporting the controversial comments. Referring to the controversy, Sen said India was going through “an extraordinary situation in which derogatory remarks were made about the Prophet”. BJP expelled one of the politicians in connection with the comments and suspended the other.
India is not a country that represents only Hindu culture, Sen said, adding that Muslim culture is also part of the country’s vibrant history. “I don’t think Hindus as a group would be able to appreciate the Taj Mahal. dara shikoh, Shah Jahan’s eldest son, translated 50 Upanishads from the original Sanskrit into Persian, enabling the world to learn about Hindu scriptures, culture and traditions. The ragas and music of Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan are also evidence that people of different religions work together to create magic. Such cooperation is necessary in India today, where to speak of tolerance will not address the dangers of fragmentation,” said Sen.
India has an inherent culture of tolerance because “Jews, Christians and Parsis have lived with us for ages,” he added. Sen also highlighted the important role of the judiciary in a democracy. “The Indian judiciary often overlooks the dangers of fragmentation, which is frightening. A secure future requires a balance between the judiciary, the legislature and bureaucracy, which is lacking in India. It is extraordinary that colonial laws are being used to put people behind bars,” the economist said. Sen’s speech also alluded to the recent debate about rewriting and erasing history. The story was about truth and fact, he said. “We as citizens must take the risk and fight to protect our nation’s common history and truths,” he added.