Communalism may impede India's growth, says Amartya Sen

Communalism may impede India's growth, says Amartya Sen

Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate, Professor of Economics and Philosophy, Harvard University, USA during the award ceremony of Infosys Prize 2019 in Bengaluru on Tuesday. | DH Photo: Pushkar V

In an era where the free transfer of knowledge is imperative for national development, Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen cautioned that the climate of communal conflict in India could impede the development and spread of knowledge.

During an address at the Infosys Prize 2019 ceremony on Tuesday night, Sen pointed out that there were deep links between friendship and knowledge.

“Our intellectual horizons expand when we learn from each other,” he said.

Taking a dig at the growing popularity of “Vedic science” in the country which claimed to encompass “the golden age of Indian mathematics,” the Nobel laureate chastised this as “a world of fantasy” which has crept into parts of university education in India.

“Any belief which holds that science and mathematics could flower in ancient India detached from the rest of the world, unrelated to what we learn from others, ignores how science works. The idea that science could flower in such a world, in splendid isolation, may be easy to intellectual maximalists in India but that understanding is fundamentally mistaken,” he said.

When queried after the ceremony about whether his barbed comments were in direct reference to the current politico-education situation in the country, Sen chuckled.

“I wasn’t addressing the present political situation in India — the theme of my talk was ‘barriers to friendship’, either between nations or within nations, because sectarian and communal conflicts have their bad effect on political and social life. They can also make the development of knowledge and the spread of knowledge much harder,” he said.

On CAA, JNU attacks

When asked about attacks on universities, especially the recent violence at JNU, Sen said he was “appalled by what is going on”.

While admitting that there is much student anger in the streets of India, Sen was careful to point out that students had many different issues to think about, considering their fraught lives, and not all anger was a result of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). 

The Nobel laureate, however, was categorical in his personal belief that the Supreme Court should quash the CAA because it was unconstitutional.

“Using religion for the purpose of discrimination is not acceptable in the eyes of the Constitution. If citizenship should be granted, it should be on a fair and equitable basis, not on the basis of communal discrimination against one religion and in favour of others,” he said.

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