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South Asia Nobel laureate attacks Hindu nationalism

By Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta, BBC News, Monday 28 dec 1998, published at 07:10 GMT

Calcutta: "No city is more broad-minded," says Amartya Sen

India's Nobel Prize-winning economist, Amartya Sen, has launched an attack against the forces of Hindu cultural nationalism in India.

Thousands of Calcuttans turned out on Sunday to greet one of the city's greatest sons, who won the Nobel Prize for economics this year.

But the UK-based professor was in no mood to talk on his favourite subject, welfare economics. Instead he told the large gathering it was necessary to reject the narrow separatist view of Indian culture propounded by Hindu nationalists.

"It is important to reject the vision of Indian culture as a fragile object that would break in contact with influences from outside," Mr Sen argued.

"Rather, our general understanding of a non-fragile Indian civilisation is quite profound," he continued. "But more specifically, no city, I believe, can claim to be absorbative, more broad-minded and more in tune with the non-isolationist view of cultural excellence than this city, our Calcutta."

Mr Sen's remarks were lustily cheered by West Bengal's ruling communists, who had organised the civil reception to honour the economist. Like Mr Sen, the communists oppose the forces of Hindu nationalism in India.

However a militant Hindu leader has struck back criticising the Nobel award as part of a "Christian conspiracy" to undermine Hinduism. World Hindu Council head Ashok Singhal said Mr Sen's repeated calls for developing literacy in India reflected a secret desire to promote Christian missionary-run institutions.

Uneasy with nationalism Observers say Mr Sen, who is the Master of Trinity College in Cambridge University, is uncomfortable with the growth of Hindu nationalism in the country in recent years and was now seeking to confront ideas propounded by them.

When Mr Sen won the Nobel Prize this year the Hindu nationalists questioned the relevance of his research and thinking in an India ruled by them.

Professor Sen was the first Asian recipient of the Nobel economics prize.

He was chosen for his work on welfare economics and particularly the causes of famine and ways to prevent it.

After experiencing a devastating famine in of Bengal in 1943, Professor Sen undertook extensive research on famines in India, China and Africa.