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The Idea of India: Text of Nehru Lecture delivered by Amartya Sen at Trinity College, Cambridge | 5th Feb 1993

13 November 2004

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Text of Lecture delivered by Prof Amartya Sen at Trinity College, Cambridge in Feb 1993

"When, some months ago, “the idea of India” was agreed on as the title of my Nehru Lecture, I had not imagined that the subject would be as topical as it, alas, has become through the terrible events of recent months. The idea of a secular India, tolerant of different religions (and of none), which had been taken for granted since independence, has been severely damaged by extremist Hindu political groups. The present round of events began on the 6th of December with the destruction of a sixteenth century mosque (the Babri Masjid) in the northern city of Ayodhya, by politically organised mobs of activist Hindus, who want to build a temple to Rama on that very spot. That outrageous event has been followed by communal violence and riots across the country, in which thousands have perished – both Hindus and Muslims, but Muslim victims have far outnumbered Hindus. Some of the worst incidents have taken place in Bombay, usually thought to be the premier city of India. The extremist Hindu political movement that spearheaded the present turmoil has gone on to demand an official end to Indian secularism, to be replaced by the recognition of India as a Hindu state. This proposal, if accepted, would involve a dramatic alteration of one of the basic principles of the Indian constitution, and a radical departure from the idea of India – a pluralist, tolerant and secular India – that was part and parcel of the Indian nationalist movement and which was reflected in the legal and political structure of independent India. It is that idea and the challenges it faces that I want to discuss. [ . . . ]

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Idea of India - Text of Lecture by Amartya Sen Trinity College Cambridge | 5th February 1993