Religious Diversity and Human Rights

By Irene Bloom; J. Paul Martin et al. | Go to book overview

9
HINDU NATIONALISM AND
HUMAN RIGHTS

MARK JUERGENSMEYER

The rise of Hindu nationalism in India in the last decade of the twentieth century has been the occasion for a spirited public discussion of human rights. Within this discussion are questions about whether a concept that originated in the secular political theories of the Enlightenment has a home in the discourse of traditional religion, and whether it is compatible with an ideology of nationalism based on indigenous non-Western culture.

Before we can enter into this discussion, however, we have to be clear about what we mean by human rights and, for that matter, what we mean by Hindu nationalism. Regarding the former phrase, not only is "human rights" fuzzily defined in English, it does not easily translate into other languages. The term evolved in the West to indicate a respect for life and a resistance to oppression, and it has also come to mean a host of other things: legal due process, equal opportunities for minorities and women, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free speech, and much more. When seen from a non-Western perspective, at the very most it means a libertarian attitude endorsing any expression of individual tastes, feelings, or desires, as obscene or heretical it might appear to the pious public eye. At the very least, from a non-Western point of view, it means those things that Amnesty International watches out for: the right to live free from physical intimidation and incarceration on account of one's political position or ethnic and religious affiliation. If this minimum definition is what is meant by "human rights"—the notion that people should be

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