Nussbaum discusses Tagore’s vision of India

Martha Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the Law School, spoke about Satyajit Ray’s 1984 film, “The Home and the World,” Thursday evening.

By Jon Catlin

Joined by Martha Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the Law School, students reckoned with the legacy of nationalism and religious violence in South Asia at a film screening of Satyajit Ray’s 1984 film, The Home and the World, Thursday evening.

Set against the partition of Bengal into Muslim and Hindu states, The Home and the World dissects the nationalist movements that sought independence from Britain, as well as the religious and economic rifts between Hindus and Muslims that persist violently in India to this day.

The film is based on the 1916 novel of the same title by Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian composer and educator who became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in literature in 1913.

“[Tagore’s] ideas have enormous pertinence to today’s India. In particular, I think he has enormously fruitful ideas about how we can build a public culture of sympathy and imagination without lapsing into mindless obedience to authority or tradition,” Nussbaum said after the screening.

Sponsored by the South Asian Law Students Association, the event aimed “both to raise awareness of the many political and social questions that Tagore highlighted through his own work, but also to illuminate how these questions still linger in modern day India,” the association’s president, Jalpit Amin, said.

In particular, the film reflects Tagore’s life as an educator and his calls for educational equality and liberation for women at a time when most Indian women were not educated and were severely restricted in public life.

“Tagore proposed a compromise between patriotism and humanity, centered on righteousness and education,” Nussbaum said in her introduction to the film.

A liberal arts education also is vital in addressing modern India’s continuing issues, Nussbaum said.

“We need an education focused on the humanities and the arts, and India, like all other countries, needs to be mindful of this, since technical education is threatening to crowd out these essential studies.”

The event was part of a global celebration of the 150th anniversary of Tagore’s birth. Accordingly, the University recently hosted a conference on Tagore’s contributions to many fields, at which Nussbaum was a keynote speaker.