Public protests after gang-rape will strengthen Indian democracy: Michael Sandel

Last Updated: Sun, Jan 27, 2013 11:40 hrs

Jaipur, Jan 27 (IANS) Political philosopher Michael Sandel Sunday said he was impressed by the public protests in India following the horrific gang-rape in Delhi and the incident might actually have some "redeeming effect" and help make Indian democracy stronger.

"This horrific event might be the occasion for a kind of public discourse, and the civic activism against the crime may have the redeeming effect to make democracy more robust," Sandel at the Jaipur Literature Festival.

"I am impressed and moved by the protests and civic activism displayed in India, but whether it will be possible to sustain this energy remains to be seen. Political parties are not all that is there to democracy. True democracy requires civic activism and social movements that test its (the democracy's) claim and hold political parties to account," Sandel said.

In a special broadcast episode of his BBC Radio 4 series "The Public Philosopher", Sandel anchored a public discourse on "rape, crime and the status of women in the society" against the backdrop of the Delhi gang-rape of a 23-year-old woman Dec 16, who died 13 days later.

Sandel, who brought his show live to the Jaipur fest, said that "philosophy in a country like India does not inhabit the clouds, but lives in the heart of the city and in the heart of the nation's democratic life".

Talking to a packed house at the Mughal tent at the festival about the "import of rape as a special kind of crime and its psychological and social response", Sandel said "everyone in India was in favour of a woman's equality. In a pluralistic society like India, different strands of political philosophy run very deep".

He added that society tries to "contend with the aftermath of an event like rape in different ways" and that "sexual violence was special because it involved humiliation".

Drawing parallels between sexual and sectarian violence, Sandel said they were "special because the trauma inflicted reached the identity or the very being of the victim".

Sandel observed that "the identity of a woman and a man's respect for a woman mattered in an equal and pluralistic society" because it translated into respect for human life.

"I believe in the ability of citizens to engage in debates of this kind in a democratic society. But the greatest challenge for the democratic society is that there is no simple formula (for the debate). Instead, it requires institutions of the civil society that are capable of challenging what the government can may be doing," Sandel told IANS.

"There will always be a certain blurring of the line between debates, political parties and civic societies. That blurring can be good, provided social movements and civic societies do not allow themselves to be corrupted by political parties," he said.

A professor of political philosophy at Harvard University, Sandel has authored five books on ethics, democracy, politics and biotechnology. His books have been translated into 19 languages.

Sandel released his new book, "What Money Can't Buy, The Moral Limits of Market" (earlier released abroad) at the literature festival for Indian readers.

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