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Globalization and the Hindu Right

February 19, 2009

Does religion have anything to do with free markets and globalization ?

Probably Not. Right ?

If you are an Indian, think again.

In this Wall Street Journal article (written in 2005) [Link], Amit Varma of India Uncut blog points out the myth about the Indian free market and why the Hindu right is against globalization.

The Hindu right wing, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party and collectively known as the Sangh Parivar, also fears globalization. Its sustenance comes from identity politics, the impact of which is diluted by the opening up of the cultural mindspace to “foreign influences.” If people are busy chasing prosperity and gaining Western liberal values, they will naturally have less time to focus on “the Hindu identity,” and suchlike. Rabble rousers need the masses to be disaffected.


It does ring  true when we realize that poverty and religious fervour have a high correlation [Link]. If only all our politicians worked for the upliftment of the downtrodden masses and kept religion out of their equation (Sigh!) . Who knows. Maybe in a hundred years !!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Elis permalink
    February 19, 2009 6:58 pm

    It didn’t occur to me before, but it’s possible the BJP is really afraid of class changes and the independence it brings women.

    Here’s a video that might be related showing women being assaulted for drinking and dancing:

    Does caste play any role in this?

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      February 19, 2009 11:51 pm


      Thanks for the link. Yes, you maybe right. Historically, people have always reacted to societal and cultural changes. Every male-dominated society has felt threatened when women started expressing their freedom and India with’s it 4000+yr old historical and cultural burden is just reacting to this shifting culture. I am not sure if they are afraid of women’s independence in particular but for them independent women are a symbol of wesern culture and influece which they are trying to undermine.

      As for caste, to BJP’s credit I haven’t heard BJP or the Hindu brigade publicly supports such a practice, in fact they often condemn it (publicly atleast). But I am not sure how they plan to get support from all sections of the society to preserve Indian culture when caste divisions are prevalent. Even though caste politics doesn’t play much role in the cities, in the villages it’s a big issue and may make or break an election.

  2. March 2, 2009 7:17 am

    The logic works to a point. Globalization is not just about markets and liberal values. It is also about new tools to spread viral ideas such as religion. The evidence does not back the claim that economic globalization leads to lesser religiosity. It is cultural globalization that does. Economic globalization simply provides the religious folk with more means of spreading their fantasies. Just look at India- now instead of walking to the temple, they drive to it and break a coconut in front of their cars. Meera Nanda reports that more Indians have reverted to arranged marriages than before, in the face of markets that are more open than ever before. In the US, instead of attending church in their local community, they drive hours to spend the morning with 30,000 others in a glorified eulogy.

    Poverty and religious fervor do have a high correlation, but that correlation is most definitely not directly caused (rationality is better correlated with education, I’d bet). The US and Saudi Arabia are striking exceptions that demonstrate this. Also, there is the assumption that free-markets equal prosperity, an assumption that is well-meaning but misguided. Just look at the US now. It has a protectionist free-market, but also has the highest wealth disparity making life for the poor much harder than in most developed countries. THAT (the struggle for life) is a better marker for religiosity. Globalization is too large a phenomenon to be characterized as simply as Verma does. But then again, he’s a pro-globalization advocate, so I would expect some varnishing of facts. I, on the other hand, try to approach these things with an objective perspective.

    But in general, I agree that the cultural effects of globalization are terrifying to the religious folk in India, but they will use the new technologies to their advantage unless we beat them at it.

  3. nitwitnastik permalink*
    March 4, 2009 9:44 am

    “Economic globalization simply provides the religious folk with more means of spreading their fantasies”

    I agree. However, it also provides more people to be educated therefore less illiteracy which in turn means better chances of producing rational thinkers.

    “Indians have reverted to arranged marriages than before”

    I am not sure if that has anything to do with globalization or religion per se, but from a belief that love marriages are not as stable as arranged marriages. The statistics in western countries clearly point out that love marriages are no gurantee of stability in marriage and I think young indians are somehow using this to conclude that arranged marriages are more stable.

    “The US and Saudi Arabia are striking exceptions that demonstrate this”

    I actually blogged about it..

    here’s link that shows parts of US which are less properous than others are as religious as fundamentalist countries..

    Btw, Saudi arabia is not a democracy and theocratic countries where the state controls and regulates religious behavior can hardly be used for objective assesment of religious belief.

  4. March 5, 2009 8:56 pm

    I agree with your points NN. I just think that drawing a correlation between globalization, a messy and politically diverse phenomenon, and religion does not inform us as much as it may seem to. I had mentioned in my previous comment that education is a better marker, and as you say above globalization may increase literacy.

    Can you explain why S Arabia should be excluded simply because its a theocracy? Governments always have an effect on religion, and some more than others. The opening of markets in China and Russia increased the influence of religion in those countries. So obviously the effects of globalization depend on pre-existing political conditions as well.

    If you think of globalization as the increased exchange of goods and ideas across cultures, then
    there is reason to believe that it will increase knowledge about the natural world, but there is plenty of evidence that it also increases opportunities for the most pervasive religions to spread into previously untapped avenues. But the whole thing is too messy to deal with in a few words.

    On this subject, Meera Nanda’s upcoming book is called God and Globalization. Should be an interesting read. I can send you the introduction to it (exclusive pre-release!) if you wish. I haven’t really read it properly yet, but here’s an excerpt: “It is the thesis of this book that the growing liberalization and globalization of the Indian economy is not only compatible with, but is actually contributing to the growth of a virulent form of political Hinduism which is as wedded to the project of politicizing and universalizing a Hindu (or “Vedic”) worldview, as the Islamists and Christian fundamentalists are to maximizing the influence of their own respective faith traditions”- Meera Nanda.

  5. March 5, 2009 9:19 pm

    I must question the premise that economic globalization increases “literacy” more than usual. Information tends to grow exponentially, regardless of economic systems. In fact, the free-market has shifted attention from knowledge for knowledge sake (which encourages critical thinking) to knowledge for economic gains (which reduces critical thought). You may be right that it does (because of better standards of living and what not), but I’d like to see some statistical studies on that. This is a genuine question, please let me know if you come across anything on this.

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