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Article

Hijras are described as eunuchs and hermaphrodites, and they are a subgroup within the transgender community in South Asia. They go beyond Western descriptions of LGBT persons and are better understood as a complex interplay of gender, sexuality, traditions, and kinship. Hijras face social stigma and legal discrimination due to their nonconformance with the gender and sexual norms of hetrosexuality dominant in India’s society. They negotiate their identity through religion and mythology, whereby they undergo rituals of castration and emasculation, by virtue of which they play a significant role in ceremonies and festivals. Previously, legal frameworks like the anti-sodomy law of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the lack of a gender category for the transgender in official government documents resulted in discrimination and marginalization of the Hijra community. They faced harassment and violence from the police, medical establishment, and other individuals, and they experienced systemic exclusion from vital social services like employment and healthcare. Legal reform in India, such as the Supreme Court’s recognizing the transgender community as a “third gender” in 2015 and the decriminalization of sodomy in 2018, have been positive steps to improve the status of Hijras. However, inconsistencies in the definition of transgender persons and ambiguity in operationalizing the self-identification process remain, posing a challenge to effective policy implementation. Sociocultural norms of Hindutva and homophobic ideology are still prevalent, resulting in little improvement in the marginalized status of Hijras and the transgender community in India.

Article

Bas Hooijmaaijers and Stephan Keukeleire

Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) have, since the beginning of the 21st century, gained greater influence in global political and economic affairs and, since 2006, also steadily developed and increased their political dialogue and cooperation. South Africa joining the BRICS political grouping in 2011 was matched by a strengthening of the BRICS dialogue. This was reflected in the broadening range of issues covered, the increasing level of specificity of the BRICS joint declarations and cooperation, and the institutionalization of BRICS cooperation in various policy fields, including the creation of the New Development Bank (NDB). Notwithstanding the increased interaction between the BRICS states on the various political, economic, and diplomatic levels, the countries differ considerably in their political, economic, military, and demographic weight and interests and in their regional and global aspirations. China particularly stands out among the BRICS due to its political and economic weight. There are sufficient reasons to question the significance and impact of the BRICS format. Still, the BRICS countries have found each other in their commitment to counter the “unjust” Western-dominated multilateral world in which they are generally underrepresented. The EU did not develop a “BRICS policy” as such, which is understandable given the major differences between the BRICS countries and the ambiguous nature of the BRICS format. To deal with the various emerging powers and complement its predominantly regional partnerships, the EU instead institutionalized and deepened the political and economic bilateral relations with each of the BRICS countries, including through the objective of establishing a bilateral “strategic partnership” with each of these countries. However, the analysis of the EU’s relationship with the BRICS countries indicates that the label “strategic partnerships” mainly served as a rhetorical façade which belied that the EU failed to turn these relationships into real strategic partnerships and to behave strategically toward the BRICS countries. Another challenge for the EU appears when analyzing the BRICS within the broader context of various emerging power constellations and multilateral frameworks, including variations of the BRICS format (such as BRICS Plus, BASIC, and IBSA), multilateral frameworks with one or more BRICS countries at their center (such as the SCO, EAEU, and BRI), and regional forums launched by China. Taken together, they point to an increasingly dense set of partially overlapping formal and informal networks on all political, diplomatic, and administrative levels, covering an ever-wider scope of policy areas and providing opportunities for debate, consultation, and coordination. Whereas most of these forums are in and of themselves not very influential, taken together they have an impact on the EU and its traditional view on multilateralism in several ways. Seen from this perspective, the BRICS and other multilateral forums pose major challenges for both European diplomats and European scholars. They will have to make considerable efforts to understand and engage with these various forums, which are manifestations of an increasingly influential and powerful non-Western world wherein the role of Europe is much more limited.

Article

Rina Verma Williams and Sayam Moktan

With over one billion adherents worldwide and 15% of the world’s population, Hinduism is the fourth largest, and among the oldest, of the major world religions, with important political aspects that reverberate well beyond South Asia. Yet it is perhaps the least studied of the major world religions. Hinduism is also one of the most geographically concentrated religions of the world. The majority of Hindus are concentrated in two South Asian countries, Nepal and India, where Hindus constitute 80% or more of the population. Small but politically influential diasporic communities of Hindus are found throughout Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, the United States, and Canada. Key characteristics of Hinduism that set it apart from Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), especially politically, include its polytheistic nature and lack of one single authoritative text; the tremendous variation in its practice across locality and caste; and its frequently informal practice beyond the confines of official institutions such as temples. Hinduism has been compatible with a range of regime types over time in India and Nepal, including empire, monarchy, and democracy. Both India and Nepal are officially secular countries, but the status of secularism in both countries is contested by the forces of Hindu nationalism, a movement that seeks to institutionalize the political, social, and cultural predominance of Hinduism. Religious conversion is expressly prohibited in Nepal; in India, it is increasingly under legislative attack. The politics of caste are an important political aspect of Hinduism in both India and Nepal. While politics in both countries remain dominated by upper castes, important lower-caste political mobilization has appeared in India, but has yet to take hold in Nepal. A better understanding of Hinduism’s political aspects has enormous potential to enhance knowledge of religion and politics more broadly.

Article

Kristina M. Teater and Laura Dudley Jenkins

Freedom of religion is a constitutional right in India, but this religiously diverse democracy regulates religion in several ways, including enforcing religious personal laws, regulating religious minority educational institutions, monitoring conversions, limiting religious appeals during political campaigns, and outlawing acts that outrage religious feelings. The 42nd constitutional amendment in 1976 added the word “secular” to the Indian constitution, which provides a distinctive model of religion-state relations and regulation that is rooted in historical struggles with colonial rule and abundant religious diversity. The “personal law” system grants major religious communities distinct family laws. Religious minorities have regulated autonomy in the sphere of education based on constitutional commitments to minority colleges and educational institutions. The religious freedom clause in the Indian constitution is one of the most comprehensive in the world, yet several state-level “freedom of religion” acts prohibit “forcible” or “induced” conversions. Affirmative action or “reservation” policies also necessitate regulating conversions, as low castes lose their eligibility upon conversion to Islam or Christianity. Appealing for votes on the basis of religion or caste is a “corrupt practice.” A colonial-era statute continues to outlaw “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” Constitutional and state regulations of cow slaughter also protect the religious beliefs of some Hindus. Whether defending “religious freedom” by limiting conversions, or criminalizing insults to religious beliefs, laws in India to “protect” religions and religious persons at times threaten the practice and expression of diverse religious perspectives.

Article

Rajendra K. Jain

India took a keen interest in the nascent European Economic Community (EEC) and was acutely concerned about the adverse implications of the British application for membership. New Delhi was one of the first developing countries to establish diplomatic relations with the EEC and the first non-associate member developing country to sign a commercial cooperation agreement. During the Cold War, relations with India were of marginal interest for Brussels, especially as South Asia was traditionally considered a British domain and a complex region beset with intractable problems. In the early 1990s, India sought an upgraded political dialogue with the EU as the West moved up in its foreign policy calculus as a market, source of technology, and foreign direct investment. Brussels no longer had to look at India through the prism of Cold War equations. India had in fact become more interesting because of its economic reforms and liberalization policies. Recognition of India’s growing stature and influence regionally and globally, growing economic interest in a rapidly and consistently growing economy, acquisition of nuclear weapons, steadily improving relations with the United States, and acceptance of India as a potential global player led the European Union to launch in 2005 a strategic partnership with India. India and the European Union have a multilayered institutional architecture with annual summits (since 2000), a Joint Commission, and over 30 sectoral dialogues encompassing political, security, economic, cultural dimensions, some of which still need to acquire a more operational character. Even in 2020 the India–EU relationship continues to be basically driven by trade and economic relations though it now encompasses diverse areas including climate change, energy, science and technology, migration and mobility. The European Union is India’s biggest trade partner and a major source of technology, foreign direct investments, and a major destination for Indian investment overseas. In the 2010s, the European Union and Member States are becoming active developmental partners in the realization of key flagship programs like Clean India, Smart Cities, renewable energy, skills and technology. Growing convergence at the fourteenth India–EU summit (October 2017) reflected convergence on important global issues like a rule-based international order as well as on the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate change treaty, Myanmar and the North Korean imbroglio. The India Strategy Paper 3.0—“Elements for an EU Strategy on India” (2018)—outlines an ambitious roadmap for the 2020s to more meaningfully engage India in building a multifaceted strategic partnership with India.