India’s civic spirit, still safely housed

A common force that often reshapes the world—people’s determination to be self-defined and self-governed—is at play in India today. On Sunday, the country will inaugurate a new building for the national parliament, but the building itself, intended for civil debates, is already the subject of heated debates. That’s because its design reflects the rise of Hindu nationalism and challenges India’s founding ideals of secular rule and respect for minority religions.

One critic, Shiv Visvanathan, a sociology professor, wrote in the Deccan Herald that the new design “rewrites history and reshapes architecture” with the “majoritarian logic” of the dominant Hindu population. But the new building also has a simple, practical purpose. It replaces a centuries-old building that is dilapidated and poorly equipped. Its cavernous chambers will accommodate more members – which in theory means better representative democracy as India has become the world’s most populous country.

But architecture is never just about use. Through light and structure, buildings can emphasize beauty, perception, listening and integrity. As a visible expression of what the late British political scientist Ben Anderson called the “imagined community” of the nation-state, it projects power and identity.

Sybil Alvarez

"Incurable gamer. Infuriatingly humble coffee specialist. Professional music advocate."

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