November 3, 2005
Vol. 25 No. 4

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    Conference to look at India’s constitutional plight

    By Kim Dixon
    News Office

    Wendy Doniger

    Amartya Sen

    Martha Nussbaum

    It is the world’s most populous democracy, with a Constitution promising its 1.1 billion citizens mutual respect and protection of basic democratic ideals. Yet strife between the Hindu majority and Muslim minority populations continues to cast a pall over its model democracy.

    It is India, and in recent years, explained Martha Nussbaum, the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics in the Law School, Philosophy and the Divinity School, “a group of extremist organizations from the Hindu right has fomented antagonism toward the Muslim minority.” This antagonism piqued in 2002, when Hindus attacked Muslim civilians, leading to the deaths of 2,000 people.

    “Thinking about India is instructive to Americans, who in an age of terrorism can easily over-simplify pictures of the forces that threaten democracy,” said Nussbaum. “In India, the threat to democratic ideals comes not from a Muslim threat, but from Hindu groups.”

    Nussbaum and Wendy Doniger, the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions in the Divinity School and the College, will tackle these and related issues in an upcoming conference titled “India: Implementing Pluralism and Democracy.” The conference, which begins Friday, Nov. 11 and continues through Sunday Nov. 13, is co-sponsored by the Martin Marty Center and the Law School’s Center for Comparative Constitutionalism. All sessions will be held in the Weymouth Kirkland Courtroom of the Law School, 60th Street and University Avenue.

    “There are pressing questions to be asked about how the gap between constitutional aspiration and daily reality is to be filled,” said Nussbaum. “This conference poses a question about India, but it is really a question that is urgent, in somewhat different ways, for almost any democracy in the world.”

    Guest scholars in South Asian studies, women’s studies, and Indian history, as well as journalists and artists, will discuss and debate the role of religion, nationalism, the media, the women’s movement and the expatriate community at the conference.

    Economist and philosopher Amartya Sen, the Lamont University Professor at Harvard University, is headlining the conference as the keynote speaker. Sen, who won the Nobel Prize in 1998 for his work in development economics and social choice theory, is the author of the recently published book, The Argumentative Indian.

    Sen pioneered the “capabilities approach,” a way to gauge a country’s quality of life that includes its economic achievements, but also takes into account access to health care, education and other aspects of human functioning.

    “India: Implementing Pluralism and Democracy” is free and open to the public. For more information and a complete schedule, please visit http://marty-center.uchicago.edu or the Web site for the Law School’s Center for Comparative Constitutionalism at: http://ccc.uchicago.edu.