India’s reluctant democracy assistance: world’s largest democracy also world’s most hierarchical society


India, the world’s largest democracy, also happens to be the world’s most hierarchical society; its most powerful and wealthy citizens, who are overwhelmingly upper-caste, are very far from checking their privilege or understanding the cruel disadvantages of birth among the low castes, analyst Pankaj Mishra writes for the New York Review of Books:

Dalits remain largely invisible in popular cinema, sitcoms, television commercials, and soap operas. No major museums commemorate their long suffering. Unlike racism in the United States, which provokes general condemnation, there are no social taboos—as distinct from legal provisions—against hatred or loathing of low-caste Hindus. Many Dalits are still treated as “untouchables,” despite the equal rights granted to them by India’s democratic constitution.

India is commonly — and rightly — considered as a reluctant democracy promoter, notes analyst Ian Hall. But while sceptical about the motives behind Western attempts to promote democracy and about the effects of their democracy promotion efforts, India has since the mid-2000s moved warily to involve itself in “democracy assistance”, he writes for the Observer Research Foundation:

This article argues that New Delhi has engaged in these activities in the context of a wider shift in strategy, in parallel with the forging of a strategic partnership with the United States and with growing concern about managing China’s influence in South Asia. It observes that India’s foreign policy elite still has considerable doubts about democracy promotion, both in terms of its inconsistency with basic international norms, especially state sovereignty, non-interference, and non-intervention, and in terms of its patchy recent record of success. It argues that India’s approach to democracy assistance, which involves a blend of multilateral and bilateral initiatives, most aimed at South Asia, and most in parallel with better-funded economic development projects, reflects these various pressures and concerns.

India hosted a World Movement for Democracy conference in 1999, an event which had financial backing from the US National Endowment for Democracy, Hall adds. RTWT

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