The Crisis of Secularism in India 9780822388418

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Crisis of Secularism in India


Crisis of Secularism in India

Edited by Anuradha Dingwaney Needham and Rajeswari Sunder Rajan


Duke University Press Durham and London 2007

∫ 2007 Duke University Press All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper $ Designed by Heather Hensley Typeset in Quadraat by Keystone Typesetting, Inc. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication information and republication acknowledgments appear on the last printed pages of this book. Duke University Press gratefully acknowledges the support of Oberlin Shansi for the funds it provided toward the production of this book. Oberlin Shansi is an independent organization which operates on the Oberlin College campus and promotes understanding and communication between Asians and Americans.


vii Preface xi Acknowledgments 1 Introduction Rajeswari Sunder Rajan and Anuradha Dingwaney Needham

I. Secularism’s Historical Background 45 Reflections on the Category of Secularism in India: Gandhi, Ambedkar, and the Ethics of Communal Representation, c. 1931 Shabnum Tejani 66 A View from the South: Ramasami’s Public Critique of Religion Paula Richman and V. Geetha 89 Nehru’s Faith Sunil Khilnani

II. Secularism and Democracy 107 Closing the Debate on Secularism: A Personal Statement Ashis Nandy 118 Living with Secularism Nivedita Menon 141 The Contradictions of Secularism Partha Chatterjee 157 The Secular State and the Limits of Dialogue Gyanendra Pandey 177 Secular Nationalism, Hindutva, and the Minority Gyan Prakash

III. Sites of Secularism: Education, Media, and Cinema 191 Secularism, History, and Contemporary Politics in India Romila Thapar

208 The Gujarat Experiment and Hindu National Realism: Lessons for Secularism Arvind Rajagopal 225 Secularism and Popular Indian Cinema Shyam Benegal 239 Neither State nor Faith: The Transcendental Significance of the Cinema Ravi S. Vasudevan

IV. Secularism and Personal Law 267 Siting Secularism in the Uniform Civil Code: A ‘‘Riddle Wrapped Inside an Enigma’’? Upendra Baxi 294 The Supreme Court, the Media, and the Uniform Civil Code Debate in India Flavia Agnes 316 Secularism and the Very Concept of Law Akeel Bilgrami

V. Conversion 333 Literacy and Conversion in the Discourse of Hindu Nationalism Gauri Viswanathan 356 Christian Conversions, Hindutva, and Secularism Sumit Sarkar 369 Appendix: Chronology of the Career of Secularism in India Dwaipayan Sen 373 Works Cited 397 Contributors 401 Index

vi Contents


This volume is the outcome of a major three-day conference, entitled ‘‘Siting Secularism,’’ held at Oberlin College, Ohio, in April 2002. The conference was hugely attended and the debates, publicity, and reflection that were generated by the issues it raised led us to envisage the production of this volume of essays (written, for the most part, by those who gave the plenary talks).∞ Though conceptualized and planned well in advance of Godhra and postGodhra events, the conference took place in their shadow, giving a particular urgency to the question of secularism in India that was being discussed over the three days in Oberlin. On February 27, 2002, some Muslims, it was alleged, had attacked the Sabarmati Express at the Godhra railway station in Gujarat. The train was carrying Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya, the site of the Babri Masjid–Ramjanmabhoomi dispute. This incident provoked widespread attacks, presented as retaliatory violence, against Muslims in Ahmadabad and other places in Gujarat. Several factors distinguished the communal violence in Gujarat 2002 from earlier riots, including the degree and kind of violence perpetrated against the Muslims; the links between this violence and what was largely viewed as a Hindutva strategy deployed to garner electoral gains; and the state’s participation in this violence. ‘‘Gujarat,’’ therefore, functions as an important referent in what is viewed by many as the most recent crisis of secularism and resonates as the occasion and framework for most of the essays collected in this volume. Of course, the significance of the violence in Gujarat is not restricted to its di√erence from

other instances of communal violence in India or even what it presaged for the future of the Indian polity. For Gujarat, however ‘‘locally’’ one may name it as an event and symptom, is crucially linked to the global situation as well— specifically the events of 9/11 in the United States that have legitimized President Bush’s ‘‘war on terror.’’ Thus, the special urgency of our renewed focus on secularism in India derives from the ways in which Gujarat articulates with present-day local and global politics. Although Gujarat constitutes our point of departure for this volume, other narratives of the crisis of secularism in India point to other symptoms that it is also cognizant of. For example, the Emergency of 1975–77, when, ironically, the term ‘‘secularism’’ first entered the constitution via the Forty-Second Amendment; the Shah Bano case in the 1980s; the anti-Mandal agitation and the Babri-Masjid demolition in conjunction with the Ramjanmabhoomi movement in the 1990s. Indeed, some analyses of the crisis of secularism in India view it as integrally connected to, and a product of, the exclusions, elisions, and contradictions of the o≈cial nationalist imagining of an independent India, in which secularism was conceived as central to the project of national integration; while yet other analyses view this crisis as proceeding not from specific events but rather as inhering in the very concept of secularism. At present, no matter when or where these analyses locate the crisis of secularism, there is a wide consensus that the rise of the Hindu right, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party (bjp), in Indian politics has brought to the fore with considerable force interrogations about the adequacy of the guarantees o√ered by secularism to the safety and rights of minority communities. Gujarat 2002 as the most recent and exacerbated instance of this phenomenon provides both occasion and provocation for examining the ills that beset secularism and the projects connected to it in India. The most recent (April 2004) general elections in India, which installed a Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (upa) at the center, defeating the bjp-led National Democratic Alliance (nda), are viewed by many as providing the crucial breathing space within which a di√erent—perhaps renewed secular—politics may be articulated. However, few are sanguine about this, not least because the communalization intensified by, but not restricted to, the rise of the Hindu right in India is now deeply and pervasively entrenched and is likely therefore to require strenuous and sustained intervention in order to dislodge. One such set of interventions is provided by this volume. For though Gujarat has provided the occasion for the essays here, almost all of them are

viii Preface

future-directed—diagnosing the ills that beset the projects of secularism in India, but providing as well sites for present and future transformations. This volume also sets out to take stock of the theoretical debates around the concept and program of Indian secularism, reflected in the following broad questions: Is secularism the solution it was envisioned to be for the multireligious Indian polity? If not, is it merely an inadequate solution? Or is it, instead, itself the problem? How may it be understood, clarified, and recast to serve the ends of the nation-state? The contradictions in the ideals, policies, and practices of secularism are in urgent need of further understanding, deliberation, and debate. We envisage The Crisis of Secularism as an opportunity for such a retrospect, as well as an opening for productive interventions. Note 1. This volume is not, however, the proceedings of the conference. Almost all the participants have chosen to write entirely new essays, primarily as a result of the crisis produced by the events in Gujarat. Not all the plenary speakers were able to contribute to this volume. Mushirul Hasan, Prasenjit Duara, and Kumkum Sangari are therefore regrettably absent from this collection. We have also included contributions from the following scholars who were not present at the conference: Flavia Agnes, Sunil Khilnani, Sumit Sarkar, and Romila Thapar; Paula Richman invited V. Geetha to collaborate with her.

Preface ix


Without the conference, ‘‘Siting Secularism,’’ it is fair to say, there would be no collection of essays. For making the conference possible, we are indebted to a number of people, departments, and organizations at Oberlin College who contributed funds and indispensable organizational support. We wish to express our gratitude to the following: Oberlin Shansi, President Nancy Dye and members of her sta√, Clayton Koppes, then Dean of Arts and Sciences, and members of his sta√, the Mead Swing Committee, Research and Development Committee, Human Resources, the Multicultural Resource Center, the South Asian Student’s Association, Mudd Library, and the departments of English, history, politics, and African American studies. Among individuals who gave of their time and energy, we want to thank Donna Baxter, the late Rachel Beverley, Eric Carpenter, Deborah Cocco, Nelson deJesus, Menna Demessie, Michael Fisher, Carl Jacobson, Priya Kumar, Lawrence Needham, Shruti Sasidharan, Dwaipayan Sen, Sonali Seth, Kate Shorb, Shahana Siddiqui and Neelam Srivastava, and Mary Tvaroha. We could not have done without the English Department’s administrative assistant, Sue Elkevizth, who handled so many details that it is well-nigh impossible to list all she did. In putting together this volume, Anuradha Dingwaney Needham is grateful, most of all, to Michael Fisher. She also wishes to thank the Research and Development Committee and Nicholas Jones, then chair of the English Department, for providing, respectively, funds for research and student assistants and access to departmental resources. Rajeswari Sunder Rajan is grateful to the English faculty of the University

of Oxford for making available funds for travel and research assistance in the preparation of this volume. Ken Wissoker of Duke University Press provided crucial support, enthusiasm, and encouragement for this project; his assistant, Courtney Berger, has been indispensable in providing answers for a relentless series of queries regarding putting the manuscript together; and we wish to acknowledge Pam Morrison’s help in shepherding the volume through its final stages. We are deeply indebted to the anonymous readers who provided detailed critical commentary and suggestions on our introduction and the individual essays. We are also indebted to Manav Ratti for his assiduous work on the index.

xii Acknowledgments

Rajeswari Sunder Rajan and Anuradha Dingwaney Needham a



he essays in this collection emerge from what have been termed the ‘‘secularism debates’’ in India, the intellectual response to the various crises of the Indian polity following the Emergency and culminating in the Gujarat violence of 2002. While there is broad consensus that there does exist a contemporary ‘‘crisis’’ of secularism, how it is to be interpreted and what, if anything, is to be done about it are matters of vigorous intellectual and political debate. The conflict, very broadly delineated, is between ‘‘communitarians,’’ so called because of their opposition to coercive state secularism, their advocacy of a pluralist and decentralized polity, and their support of autonomy for religious communities; and left-liberal secularists, who support egalitarianism, uniformity of law, and the separation of religion from politics. It is the sharp polarization of their positions—though it should be emphasized that all are united in their opposition to Hindutva hegemony—that has made secularism so divided in its meaning and e√ects. Interpreted as alternatively freedom or coercion, tolerance or intolerance, universal or parochial, pluralist or homogenizing, nationalist or cosmopolitan, liberal or illiberal, according to the politics of its advocates or critics, secularism in India has been a divisive issue—but also, we might argue, one that has therefore not been allowed to lapse into an orthodoxy. Before presenting the issues discussed in these essays as they

relate to the contemporary situation of India, we identify in this introductory essay the symptoms and implications of the ‘‘crisis of secularism’’ that the title of this volume diagnoses, and we unpack some of the meanings the term ‘‘secularism’’ bears—or, more accurately, the functions it performs—in the modern world. This exercise, we feel, is necessary in order to provide not only a specific geopolitical context for the essays but also a theoretical framing that will put them in relation and dialogue with the critiques of secularism that have been launched from other postcolonial locations as well as within the West. As a term, crisis of secularism lends itself to two possible ways of being understood, whose di√erences, but also articulations, serve as an indication of its overdetermined nature. In one interpretation the preposition ‘‘of ’’ operates reflexively, to suggest that the very basis of secularism is jeopardized, beset by forces external to it. These forces, briefly put, are regarded as primarily those of religion. A ‘‘crisis of ’’ secularism (or of anything else) could also suggest a di√erent interpretation, that of a functional breakdown, an inability to achieve its ends: ends that include, in the case of secularism, as we will see, a long list of historical transformations. If the first corresponds to a sense of crisis as defeat, the second identifies it as failure. Broadly—but bearing in mind that this is o√ered only as a heuristic—we might say that in the one case secularism is regarded primarily as a cultural or ideological phenomenon, in the other as an aspect or crisis of the state. Carrying this analysis further, we might observe that the dominant mode of conceiving the crisis of secularism in the first sense is in relation to religion, the adversary with which it is supposedly locked in struggle. This crisis of secularism is signaled by dismay over the evidence of a growing ‘‘deprivatization of religion,’’∞ but also, in some quarters, by the intuited demands of an enlarged conception of the ethical and a√ective life that secularization has failed to meet: both these responses are essentially identified with the Western world.≤ But what we would like to suggest is that, while the logic of secularism is undeniably—even constitutively—defined by opposition to religion, there is also a further sense of the nature of the crisis that it faces today that complicates this dialectic. In particular, the secularism debates that we are tracking in this volume as they relate to the case of contemporary India are at a marked distance from the issue of religion as such. Religion’s role in the modern world has been vastly reconstituted, so much so that religious debates and

2 R. Sunder Rajan and A. D. Needham

conflicts are no longer primarily waged over matters of belief, the true god, salvation, or other substantive issues of faith, as they once were; it is instead religion as the basis of identity and identitarian cultural practices—with coreligionists constituting a community, nation, or ‘‘civilization’’—that comes to be the ground of di√erence and hence conflict.≥ Secularism is therefore interrogated for its usefulness in addressing other issues, without reference to religion (matters in which religion is not expected to be the central alternative that might provide a solution): among these are the problem of achieving the peaceful coexistence of ‘‘di√erent’’ people (whose di√erences are often, but not always, religious), also identified as the problem of ‘‘national unity’’; and the problem of achieving ‘‘real’’ democracy, also identified as the problem of minorities. Secularism, we are suggesting, is a more comprehensive and di√use package of ideas, ideals, politics, and strategies than its representation solely as religion’s Other would lead us to expect. This is particularly so in the postcolonial world where it has been called on to perform multiple functions in the service of nation building. The usual diagnosis of a West that is secular and a non-West that is nonsecular stands therefore in need of some adjustment.∂ The form in which this opposition is increasingly frequently cast is in terms of the secular West versus the religious (read: Islamic) non-West, aka the ‘‘clash of civilizations.’’ The phrase ‘‘crisis of secularism’’ has begun to serve as facile euphemism for the ‘‘ ‘problem’ of Islam,’’ or shorthand for Taliban- the veil- the Rushdie a√air- 9/11. Such a reading is dominant and persuasive even when recast in tones of politically correct self-reproach and postmodern interrogation among intellectuals in the Western academy, as, for example, in the following statement issued at a recent major Euro-American conference on ‘‘ political theologies’’: Imagined to be universal in both relevance and application, the rigid boundaries by which secularist social structures divide the public sphere of political processes from private commitments to the values inculcated by religious and spiritual traditions have proved, instead, a source of mounting resistance on the part of cultures in which the superiority of such structures is not self-evident.

The statement goes on to insist on the urgency of understanding the ‘‘religiously informed resistance to pressures of secularization and culturalpolitical assimilation implicit in the continuing sources of tension between the ‘secular’ West and the developing societies imagined in the West as the ‘beneficiaries’ of globalization’’ (‘‘Political Theologies’’ conference, 3–4).∑

Introduction 3

September 11, 2001, is responsible for the ‘‘urgency’’ with which intellectuals in the West today seek to understand religion in the context of globalization.∏ ‘‘Crisis’’ is the name given to the violence—this violence in particular, Islamic suicide bombing—by which secularism/democracy/liberalism/ reason is supposedly overpowered. Ethnic conflict and terrorism are its respective national and international manifestations. If minorities and countries at the ‘‘receiving end of globalization’’ are viewed—even if sympathetically—as turning to violence in their attempt to ‘‘maintain a distinct sense of identity and particularity over against Western/Enlightenment values and governance structures’’ (‘‘Political Theologies’’ conference, 5), religion is still called on to serve as the distinguishing mark of such minority identity struggles. Even though the globalizing West may be blamed for such a development, it implicitly remains the secular party in this narrative. But the questions we must ask at the present moment are these: how accurate is such a characterization of the contemporary Western world? How complete or thorough has been the secularization of this (undi√erentiated) West? It is true, as a matter of the historical record (and grown into a commonplace observation now), that secularism originated in and is a product of the history of capitalist modernity in the West. (Less attended to is the argument that ‘‘religion’’ itself in its institutional sense, as a self-contained sphere of belief and practices, is a product of the same history.)π But Van der Veer and Lehmann, for instance, produce historical evidence that religion had a significant role to play in the formation of Western nationalisms and o√er the examples of Germany, the Netherlands, and Britain in the late nineteenth century as ‘‘consciously Christian’’ colonial powers (6–8).∫ A number of recent studies arrive at the discovery that ‘‘the world today is . . . anything but the secularized world that had been predicted (whether joyfully or despondently) by so many analysts of modernity’’ (Berger, 9; emphasis in original). In any case, there is a need to distinguish between Europe and America, as Salman Rushdie does in a recent polemical piece issued to warn against Christian resurgence in the United States and Britain: ‘‘Few Europeans today would call themselves religious—only 21 per cent, according to a recent European Values Study, as opposed to 59 per cent of Americans, according to the Pew Forum.’’Ω His explanation for this is historical: ‘‘In Europe the Enlightenment represented an escape from the power of religion to place limiting points on thought, while in America it represented an escape into the religious freedom of the New World—a move towards faith, rather than away from it.’’ He shares

4 R. Sunder Rajan and A. D. Needham

the Europeans’ feeling that ‘‘the American combination of religion and nationalism is frightening.’’ The increasing power and influence of the Christian right in the United States is a generally acknowledged phenomenon.∞≠ What is significant is that this faith has implicitly legitimized itself as an exercise of individual ‘‘moral autonomy.’’ Such is the self-delusion of American liberal society, observes Wendy Brown, that it can view ‘‘Bush’s religiosity . . . as a source of strength and moral guidance for his deliberations and decisions while the devotee of Allah is assumed to be without the individual will and conscience necessary to such ratiocination’’ (‘‘Regulating Aversion’’). Furthermore, the Christian right is usually seen as operating within the sphere of American civil society (the classroom is its most prominent site), and hence as still keeping religion separate from statecraft or politics as such.∞∞ Jeremy Seabrook’s diagnosis of America’s world role contradicts this notion of containment. He proposes that the military and economic power of the United States and its readiness to deploy it globally mean that it has ‘‘itself become a world religion,’’ a di√erent and vastly more momentous matter than simply being religious (or secular). By deploying ‘‘institutionalized terror’’ as a recognizable religious idiom, the United States is ‘‘universally feared for the punishment without limits’’ that it can inflict.∞≤ Karen Leonard opposes the proposition that American imperialism is the same as religious majoritarianism within the nation: ‘‘while Bush and his ilk may have Christian imperatives in their international policy-making, there are plenty of others who are imperialist without the religious tinge (free traders, not religious zealots)’’ (personal communication). This is an important reminder that war and imperialism continue to have valid ‘‘secular’’ credentials in the United States. But while religion may not be a causal factor, it is still the pervasive idiom in which the drama of the putative clash of civilizations is being played out. As Mahmood Mamdani observes, all analyses of political conflict tend to become ‘‘culturalized’’ today: ‘‘It is no longer the market (capitalism), nor the state (democracy), but culture (modernity) that is said to be the dividing line between those in favour of a peaceful, civic existence and those inclined to terror’’ (Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, 18). In such a scenario, it is important to identify the role of the United States as an actively religious player itself, not just that of passive (and secular) victim of the Other’s religious fundamentalism. Despite this, the view of politicized religions elsewhere as the chief threat to a secular Euro-America tends to inform what we might call the global perspec-

Introduction 5

tive on the religion-secularism pairing.∞≥ When we move from the global as the context of the discussion to the nation as its space, the arguments shift their emphasis, inclining toward identifying the limits and uses of secularism within, and to, the nation. The issues are those of nationalism, citizenship, the secular state, and the place of gender and the religious minority in a liberal democracy. Since these are the issues that are most centrally addressed by the essays in this volume in relation to India and the Indian subcontinent, the quick review that follows will attempt mainly to provide a comparative dimension to the discussion. The normative idea of the modern nation as a secular institution is a European one whose origins can be traced to the French Revolution and its establishment of the universalistic principles of the democratic constitutional state, marking a time when ‘‘nationalism and republicanism were kindred spirits’’ (Habermas, 132). When nations in the non-West make claims to secular modernity—which they insistently do—it is not republicanism alone but also national unification that it is meant to promote. Nothing less than the production of the identity ‘‘nation’’ is at stake. Muhammed Ali Jinnah’s speech at the inauguration of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan spelt out his secular vision for the new nation: You may belong to any religion or caste or creed. That has nothing to do with the business of the state. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of the state. We should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in the course of time Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense, as citizens of the state. (quoted in Bolitho, 197)

Almost any postcolonial national leader’s words could be chosen to illustrate similar sentiments, but since Pakistan is usually assumed to have been an Islamic state from its beginnings we thought it interesting to invoke Jinnah’s secular-national ideal for our example. The nation is above and apart from religion; religious belief is a matter of private faith; and this secular spirit will bring into being the ‘‘nation’’ as a viable, homogeneous, governable entity. We might say that this faith remained largely only the aspiration of the postcolonial nation’s political leaders. Jinnah’s pedagogical rhetoric—note also the vexed uncertainties of his address between the pronomial ‘‘we’’ and

6 R. Sunder Rajan and A. D. Needham

‘‘you’’—is typical of such exhortations to the populace. To a large extent this has to do with the nation’s historical and cultural formation. Colonialism was the major force in producing religion-inflected nationalism as a form of anticolonial resistance in the colonies. Surviving largely unchanged, despite the changed circumstances of political independence in the new nations, it has become a potent form of majoritarian religious intolerance.∞∂ In the Indian subcontinent such an o≈cial and elite secular political ideal of the nation has served as a check—others might say it produces a contradiction—to the forces of cultural nationalism on the ground. It is because such an ideology of nationalism is so closely inflected by, and as (a), religion, that Edward Said invoked secularism as the value with which to oppose it, an observation illuminatingly made by Bruce Robbins (26). Said saw secularism as a safeguard against nationalism becoming a ‘‘fetish’’ or ‘‘a kind of desperate religious sentiment.’’ ‘‘The politics of secular interpretation’’ allows one, he maintained, to avoid ‘‘the pitfalls of nationalism’’ (Said, Interview, 232–33).∞∑ Said knew nationalism as intimately as any postcolonial intellectual of our time and his critique of it therefore bears some further scrutiny, as does the key term ‘‘secularism’’ in its service.∞∏ Aamir Mufti has provided such an extended examination of the fuller implications of Said’s secularism. Said’s opposition to nationalism is aligned with secularist arguments, Mufti shows, which are ‘‘enunciated from minority positions’’ (Mufti, ‘‘Auerbach,’’ 107). In many ways comparable to Nehru in his secularism and rational faith, Said, unlike Nehru, did not see nationalism as representing ‘‘a mere transcending of religious di√erence’’ but rather its ‘‘reorientation and reinscription along national lines’’ (Mufti, ‘‘Auerbach,’’ 107). Such a minority skepticism about national belonging leads us to consider a second aspect of the nation in its relationship to secularism, that of liberal democratic citizenship. Secular citizenship has become a fraught question particularly when posed in relation to minorities. Mufti observes that the ideal of the new Indian nation for Nehru was based on a nonidentitarian ‘‘Indianness’’ which would bear (only) the marks of modern citizenship (as Jinnah’s comparable view of Pakistan is), and he draws the following conclusion from this: ‘‘secular nationalism presents a specifically Muslim modernism with the following choice: it can either dissolve itself within that nationalist mainstream, and simultaneously give up any claim to being ‘representative,’ or be by definition (and perversely) communalist, retrograde, and e√ectively in collusion with the

Introduction 7

feudalizing policies of imperialism; in either case it must cease being ‘true’ to itself ’’ (Mufti ‘‘Secularism and Minority,’’ 84). In Nehru’s defense it must be pointed out that he was opposed to all kinds of ‘‘backward’’ looking, as he called it, and was if anything even more scathing in his criticism of Hindu politics. He was conscious of the minority defensiveness that prompted the Muslim League’s demands and condemned the very di√erent aggressive politics of majoritarian religious parties like Hindu Mahasabha.∞π Nevertheless, Mufti’s identification of the logic of secular nationalism as it would impinge on the minority is in a general sense unerring: the justification of ‘‘equal’’ citizenship can too easily pass into a demand for uniformity, and secularism can move quickly from its basis in arguments about national unification to legitimizing the state’s regulation of ‘‘di√erence.’’ We have moved here beyond the basic uninflected definition of the secular state as the institution that guarantees the freedom of religious practice to every individual and community equally in a multireligious polity, to an interrogation of its further logic. (It is important, nonetheless, to insert a quick reminder here that secular citizenship’s o√er of an unmarked identity and political rights to individuals is not one that all members of a minority would refuse as being entirely worthless.) The reality of democracy as a structure that places the majority in a di√erential (dominant) relation to minority groups has led to a reconsideration of questions about ‘‘freedom,’’ ‘‘equality,’’ ‘‘tolerance,’’ and ‘‘pluralism.’’ Peter van der Veer’s caustic observation on the minority question is an argument for attending to the politics of majority rather than that of secularism: ‘‘Regarding the treatment of minorities in a modern, democratic polity, there is not much reason to fear a religious majority more than a secular majority’’ (Imperial Encounters, 20). It is no longer a question of the e≈cacy of the state in making good on its promises but of the implications of its ‘‘spontaneous’’ identification with the majority. In its worst manifestations, majoritarianism will result in the persecution of minorities; but even at its best it will reflect only a liberal concern with ‘‘weaker groups.’’ Talal Asad finds a possible way out of this impasse in William Connolly’s proposal that the idea of pluralism should shift from being ‘‘a majority nation presiding over numerous minorities in a democratic state’’ to ‘‘a democratic state of multiple minorities contending and collaborating with a general ethos of forbearance and critical responsiveness’’ (Asad, Formations of the Secular, 177, citing Connolly, ‘‘Pluralism, Multiculturalism and the Nation-State,’’ 58). In Asad’s exposition, this would then require that minorities be allowed to live,

8 R. Sunder Rajan and A. D. Needham

as individuals and as a collective, ‘‘beyond national borders’’ or the conventional space-time of the secular nation’s boundaries. We must aspire to a condition in which ‘‘everyone may live as a minority among minorities’’ (180). While this line of questioning (and answering) may have emanated from the specific contexts of multiculturalism and its predicaments in Europe and North America, it is being increasingly pressed into service for understanding the Indian nation and is reflected in several of the essays in this volume. It will be apparent that the di√erent histories and locations identified with immigrant minorities and ‘‘national’’ minorities generate a di√erent politics in each case: if the former find themselves having to resist demands to assimilate into the mainstream, the latter are denied their histories of belonging and are called on to o√er proofs of loyalty.∞∫ At the same time we must also bear in mind that ‘‘minority’’ and ‘‘majority’’ used as demographic descriptors of a community can change with migration—Hindus are a minority in diaspora but a majority at ‘‘home’’—and this in turn produces di√erent meanings for religious identitarian politics. With the shrinking of the globe these politics do of course merge and reinforce each other, as we pointed out earlier.∞Ω Our perspective has to broaden beyond national boundaries, once again to take into account the global. The focus in the foregoing discussion on citizenship, constitutional secularism, and minority right provisions in the law brings us to the problem of the nation-state, and to the issues that surround a state-sponsored secularism. Di√erences of view about secular modernity as a ‘‘top-down’’ imposition— whether pedagogic or more actively coercive—spring from not only the actual empirical evidence and the di√erent examples of the nation-states in question that political theorists might draw on but also their judgment about the constitutive nature of the state itself. The state’s intervention can be regarded either as benign, its actions based on persuasion and negotiation, as in Charles Taylor’s discussion of the liberal multicultural state in Canada (‘‘Modes of Secularism’’); or it can be deemed coercive, as in Talal Asad’s perspective on the situation of Muslims in Europe today. Asad explicitly disagrees with Taylor’s ‘‘generous’’ view of the nation-state’s secular project, arguing that ‘‘the nation-state is not a generous agent and its law does not deal in persuasion’’ (Formations of the Secular, 6). The republicanism of France, for example, implies a uniform and normative citizenship that demands social conformity—the complexities of the headscarf a√air illustrate the issues that ‘‘di√erence,’’ that is, minority (Islamic) cultural practices, brought to the fore. Even in the Middle

Introduction 9

East, Asad argues, initiatives for religious reform have to confront the ‘‘ambition of the secular state . . . to regulate all aspects of individual life—even the most intimate, such as birth and death . . . ; all social activity requires the consent of the law, and therefore of the nation-state’’ (Formations of the Secular, 199). In India the role of the state—in secular politics as in other matters—is similarly ambitious. In determining how minorities and, as we will see, women, are accommodated in the nation’s life, the state is less easy to dismiss in contemporary Indian analyses than it is in the Euro-North American liberal democracies. Both confidence in the ‘‘protective’’ role of the state as well as criticism of its failures continue to be expressed in forceful and influential ways by intellectuals in India, especially on the question of constitutional secularism.≤≠ Gender can be instructive in moving beyond thinking about secularism as a problem of religion.≤∞ What does the secular state o√er by way of an emancipatory gender politics? We would argue that a major rationale of constitutional secularism lies in its promise of support to women. O√ering women access to citizenship and political rights is of course liberalism’s major claim to gender justice. The debate on its uses, limits, and contradictions is a complex and extensive one, but there would be agreement about both their necessity and their insu≈ciency, with di√erent emphasis placed on each. In particular the modern state o√ers itself as the alternative to religion and its norms for women according to one definition of secularism (separation of church and state); but according to another it is committed to ‘‘protecting’’ the religious and cultural rights of communities.≤≤ Historically of course religions could not have been expected to enshrine ‘‘rights’’ in the modern sense of the word, and it would be futile to look to their original formulations for such an articulation. It is how presentday communities and institutions—and this includes the state and its legal systems—interpret religion in relation to gender relations and female sexuality, and how they formulate codes of behavior for women, that is of relevance in judging their potential for control over or, alternatively, freedom for women. In general, however, women are only secondary and subordinate members of religion-based communities and, worse, are subjected to severe controls in any fundamentalist resurgence. As the struggle for community or group rights gains momentum, whether women within religious communities stand to benefit equally from them is a question that needs to be

10 R. Sunder Rajan and A. D. Needham

addressed. The struggle for women’s rights at an international level has also tended to reinforce the perception that minority cultural demands oppose women’s emancipation.≤≥ But wherever religions are more rather than less egalitarian, or can be shown to be broadly progressive about gender matters, or where a process of internal reform within religious communities is underway, the state is probably the less desirable agent of change since the impact of internal reforms is likely to be far more e≈cacious and substantial than state intervention. Even though women’s individual rights cannot in any way be denied or diminished —the rationale for liberal equality remains a powerful one—women themselves would prefer religion-supported forms of freedom so that they might then be spared an aporetic shuttle between community and state in their search for justice.≤∂ But it would appear that the conditions of possibility for such reform would have to be created (or at least permitted) by the state, or that state and communities must negotiate to bring about such conditions. Most importantly, whatever accommodation has to be made between the two obviously must involve women’s agency in a clearly ascertainable way. Two issues that have taken on symbolic as well as actual political weight globally in the putative struggle between secular norms and religious patriarchies over women’s freedom are the veil and personal laws. Both show how women’s agency is itself the object of interpretive struggle. The European Human Rights Court at Strasbourg recently (July 2004) gave a ruling that state-run Turkish schools that ban Muslim headscarves do not violate the freedom of religion. In their unanimous judgment, the seven judges said headscarf bans were appropriate when issued to protect the secular nature of the Turkish state. Further, ‘‘In a superficial sense, the ban on headscarves is a violation of the human rights of the individual, but the question before us is: To what extent do Muslim women make independent decisions to choose their mode of dress? There is abundant evidence from the contemporary Muslim world that women are the most oppressed members of Muslim societies’’ (see Ishtiaq Ahmed). The decision is expected to have major implications for other European cases relating to the wearing of the veil. At a time when more and more Muslim women claim to wear the veil as a matter of choice, secular courts feel impelled to deny precisely that claim. The issue of personal law is similarly fraught as it relates primarily to Islam, in conflict with both secular groups within nation-states (including women’s groups) and international human rights movements. In India, how-

Introduction 11

ever, it must be noted that there are four sets of personal laws, belonging to each of the major religions, which further complicates the problem by exacerbating majority-minority tensions over specific issues.≤∑ Since several essays in this volume discuss at length the implications of personal law in India, we will not elaborate further at this juncture. This quick overview was intended to show that secularism is called on to serve varied functions in the nation-state. It does so in a contradictory and variable fashion as it negotiates within a very narrow range of options between cultural nationalism, minority/community rights, liberal individual rights, identity politics, citizenship, and the politics of gender. In India, its own missteps, as much as the unleashing of religious intolerance (or the displacements of other kinds of conflicts, economic and sociopolitical, on religious di√erence), have caused much violence in the form of riots, civil wars, and genocide. In the next section we o√er a brief sketch of the historical background and the contemporary political developments relating to the career of secularism in India and the accompanying narrative of communal violence, as providing a useful context to understanding the issues that this volume raises. A good place to begin an account of secularism in India is with colonial rule, not because either state or religion—or for that matter, religious conflict, or forms of secularism—was nonexistent in precolonial India but because colonial bureaucratic rationality was responsible for the creation of religious and caste identities as political categories, with far-reaching consequences. According to Gyanendra Pandey, communalism was deemed an essential and unchanging feature of Indian society in the colonial understanding of the subcontinent, which drew on Orientalist stereotypes about native people among whom religious self-identification was considered a permanent and fundamental condition. (‘‘Communalism’’ is a specifically Indian usage describing conflict and dissension between religious communities, particularly Hindus and Muslims.) Pandey argues that this representation was a construction that served the British interests of managing and governing colonized Indians and justified the civilizing mediations of colonial rule. The policy of divide-andrule was a master strategy of colonial rule in India, which, by creating dissension and competition between Hindus and Muslims, successfully prevented their alignment against British rule. This representation of natives by religious identification elided the internally di√erentiated character of commu-

12 R. Sunder Rajan and A. D. Needham

nities (based on caste, sect, and other a≈liations, for instance) and their historically changing dimensions as they confronted new contexts and conflicts, not least those brought about by colonialism itself (Pandey, The Construction of Communalism, 6–13, 39–43, 83, 198–210). Colonial knowledges—as reflected in matters like the census, ethnographies, legal codifications, the constitution of communal electoral constituencies, and educational systems—reified communal identities along the axes of religion and caste, as they isolated certain features, customs, and doctrinal prescriptions and not others as applying fundamentally to these identities. Two colonial initiatives are considered significant in ‘‘fixing’’ communities and the di√erences between them: one was census operations organized around religion and caste as the key determinants of Indian society;≤∏ and the other, enabled by census figures, was the installation of separate electorates and forms of representation, a product of the Minto-Morley Reforms (1909), reinforced by the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms (1919) and the Government of India Act (1935) which, in turn, consolidated and politicized competing communal identities. This colonial construction of ‘‘community’’ passed into the self-understanding of the communities so characterized. In the process, heterogeneously formed communities were transformed and infused with an awareness of their implication in wider, more di√use contexts, even as they were drawn into sharpened conflicts with one another. The nationalist movement led by the Indian National Congress had a contradictory relationship with communalism or sectarian politics. (The Congress was subsequently to rule over post-independence India for nearly three decades, though not without contestation and dissent).≤π On the one hand, as we pointed out, secularism was the ideal under which an all-India unity was being sought, while communalism, with its sectarian politics underwritten by competition and hostility among discrete, sharply defined religion- and casteinflected communities, represented an all too potent threat to this unity. In his analysis, Kesavan emphasizes this dimension of anticolonial nationalism when he argues that ‘‘in its origins, the Congress was a self-consciously representative assembly of Indians from di√erent parts of India’’ (Secular Common Sense, 3), with secularism the instrument through which it sought to dissolve particularistic identities. Secularism had been adopted as a strategic means of achieving the first of these purposes by the Congress nationalist party early in its career, in order to, as Kesavan puts it, ‘‘smelt a citizenry from the ore of a heterogeneous population embedded in subjecthood’’ (Secular

Introduction 13

Common Sense, 2). Sumit Sarkar has similarly argued that ‘‘Indian nationalism had to seek a fundamentally territorial focus, attempting to unite everyone living in the territory of British-dominated India, irrespective of religious or other di√erences.’’ The Congress therefore attempted to accommodate all kinds of religious di√erences (Sarkar, ‘‘Indian Nationalism and the Politics of Hindutva,’’ 273).≤∫ Despite its many weaknesses, in this respect at least secularism, Kesavan says, ‘‘did what good political ideas do: it worked’’ (Secular Common Sense, 10). On the other hand, sections of the nationalist movement inherited and used to their advantage the colonial predilection for organizing politics via recourse to communal identities, as they do today to secure electoral gains. They also tapped into the evolving construction of Hindu and Muslim communities as these transformed themselves, or were transformed, from primarily regional or local phenomena into wider supraregional or supralocal phenomena under the pressure of the unifying drive of the colonial state. O≈cial (that is, Congress-controlled) nationalism found it strategically necessary, in other words, to wear ‘‘two faces’’ and to speak in two di√erent, even opposing idioms—a ‘‘modernist’’ idiom, secular and democratic in its emphasis, which purportedly transcended the politics of religious (and caste) communities; and an idiom invoking precisely those sectarian politics (organized, for instance, around deeply emotive and divisive issues like the cowprotection movement or the Hindi-Urdu controversy) that nationalism had sought to neutralize and transcend (Pandey, The Construction of Communalism, 209, 162). In o≈cial nationalism’s recourse to a politics organized around caste and religion, the ‘‘community’’ whose claims and interests resonated most powerfully was upper-caste, male, and Hindu. While the obvious reason was the community’s majoritarian status, other ideologies were also at play. As G. Balachandran notes, for early nationalist discourse, Hinduism as a ‘‘great tradition’’ and ‘‘its history as constructed in the nineteenth century’’ could be deployed to enfold local/regional identities within a larger, more encompassing all-India identity (88). And inasmuch as o≈cial nationalism’s ideologues and leaders were predominantly Hindus, their recourse to idioms, values, and beliefs steeped in Hinduism was predictable and also meant that the terms of national self-identifications tended to privilege Hindu identifications over those of other communities. Even Gandhi conceptualized free India in terms of a Ramrajya. Often, of course, it was electoral realpolitik that determined the

14 R. Sunder Rajan and A. D. Needham

prominence of Hindu agendas and beliefs. For the Congress base in the provinces and its provincial committees were often made up of strident Hindu factions. As this base expanded and was brought into the fold of the national party, even moderate and overtly nonsectarian leaders did not hesitate to endorse these factions’ agendas and beliefs. Indeed, secularism as the ideology through which an all-India unity was sought, when reformulated for the Indian context, is seen by many to participate in what is characterized as the ‘‘majoritarian emphasis’’ of o≈cial Indian nationalism. Such an understanding is confirmed by Upendra Baxi, who defines India as a ‘‘Hindu-secular state’’ (‘‘The Constitutional Discourse on Secularism,’’ 231). The partition of the subcontinent in 1947 has been regarded as a product of the divisiveness and hostility caused not only by the cumulatively reified religious and cultural di√erences put in place by colonial policies but also by ‘‘the confident assumption held by the majority of the Congress leadership that national solidarity was inherently a quality of India’s [Hindu] cultural heritage’’ (Balachandran, 100). Predictably, this generated fear and defensiveness among Muslims. At the same time, the drive for a separate nation among Muslims increasingly made some Hindus feel that an overtly communal organization like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was most likely to be their defender. In turn, Partition generated significant reversals: the Congress turned its back on separate electorates and reserved seats for any minority based on religion and faith and reneged on its earlier promise of making Hindustani written in the Nagari and Persian scripts into the national language, nominating instead Hindi written in Devanagari (Shefali Jha, ‘‘Rights versus Representation’’; Pai, 2076; Kesavan, 9). Partition made secularism a particularly fraught political idea at the time of the framing of the Constitution, leading to acrimonious debate in the discussions leading up to the Preamble to the Constitution (1946–1950).≤Ω (The actual term ‘‘secularism,’’ in fact, had to wait until 1976 to enter the Constitution.) From the beginning its definition and the values and actions it was supposed to exemplify were a√ected by divergent positions, exemplified by the Nehru-Gandhi opposition. Nehru’s idea of secularism sought a strict separation between religion and politics, while Gandhi’s religion-inflected idiom advocated ‘‘tolerance’’ and pluralism, as opposed to rationalist secularism, as a means of promoting the harmonious coexistence of di√erent religions and religious communities in the Indian polity. But secularism provided at least the necessary reassurance to minorities ‘‘at [this] critical moment in

Introduction 15

our history,’’ as Kesavan says: ‘‘it held the pass and helped buy time’’ (Secular Common Sense, 10). In independent India, the secularism ideal has had to encounter and adapt to the reality of electoral politics. The increasing recourse to communal identities and agendas in post-independence Indian society and politics is of course by now a well-worn lament among commentators. Secularism has been defined by and embedded in not only these calculations of electoral politics but in a complex of related issues having to do with shifting modalities of caste relations, subcontinental and international politics, the major economic restructuring beginning in the 1980s, and most of all the rise to power of Hindu political parties, all of which have led to a series of impasses in the secular narrative of independent India. Although sectarian tension between groups defined by religion and culture has been a part of India’s colonial and post-independence history, a new phase of sectarian politics was inaugurated in 1994. For most of the following decade the Bharatiya Janata party (bjp) ruled as the majority party in the coalition government at the center. With bjp’s filiative links to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (rss) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (vhp)—the three are defined as the ‘‘political,’’ the ‘‘organizational,’’ and ‘‘social’’ parties of the Sangha parivar—‘‘majority communalism,’’ through its commitment to a Hindu Rashtra (or nation), became an ideological and intimate part of the state apparatus and a legal means through which conflict between groups was addressed. For at the heart of the rss, which is the founding party of the rss-vhp-bjp combine, is the belief in a homogeneous Hindu identity and culture as coterminous with the nation, India, in which Muslims and Christians remain foreigners and outsiders until such time as they give up their religious di√erence.≥≠ Furthermore, the rss has been deeply invested since its inception in the ‘‘myth’’ of a ‘‘continuous thousand-year struggle of Hindus against Muslims as the structuring principle of Indian history’’ (Tapan Basu et al., 47, 2). When, therefore, the bjp leveled the charge of ‘‘pseudo secularism’’ against the actions of the judiciary and state under Congress, its primary target was not the inconsistencies and contradictions that are part and parcel of Indian variant of secularism in general but rather the policies that were designed specifically to protect minorities and their rights. Embracing formal equality, the bjp insisted that its own ‘‘positive secularism’’ entailed ‘‘Justice for all, appeasement to none’’ (1998 bjp election manifesto). The insistence on its

16 R. Sunder Rajan and A. D. Needham

own brand of secularism was intended to mark the bjp’s disavowal of a theocratic state, since that is how Pakistan is represented. But its presumption of democracy as ‘‘the rule of the majority,’’ and therefore of Hindus, blurs the line between a theocratic state and one that aspires to the rule of the majority in this way. The dominant Hindu community did not have to embrace the idea of a ‘‘state religion’’ under the bjp: India was de facto a Hindu nation state. The bjp’s animus against conversion (the attacks by the rss and Bajrang Dal, which is vhp’s youth organization, on Christian churches and missionaries, and its support of anticonversion legislation), its advocacy of a Uniform Civil Code and the removal of Article 370 (which grants special status for Kashmir), and most recently the attack on minorities in Gujarat gave indication of the shift of the bjp-led Indian government toward an overtly Hindutva agenda. Meticulous, ideologically determined e√orts have gone into the formation of the Hindutva movement (characterized by the Sangha as a ‘‘spontaneous mass movement in search of a Hindu identity’’). While these e√orts range from the ‘‘massively organized public events’’ like ‘‘riots, demonstrations, processions, media spectacles’’ to the less public but carefully coordinated organizational ones through which the Sangha has successfully created several interrelated organizations as their a≈liates (Ludden, ‘‘Introduction,’’ 16; Tapan Basu et al., 59–60), the most insidious work has been directed toward education and thereby to the slow, clandestine transformation of the mind. Indeed, teaching has been central to the ideological agenda of the Sangha. (Romila Thapar’s essay in this volume addresses how the teaching and writing of history has been annexed to the Sangha’s ideological agendas.) Communalism, we have been suggesting, is neither new nor restricted to the Sangha parivar, inscribed as it was, even if often implicitly, within some of o≈cial Indian nationalism’s self-definitions. Nor can we restrict the violence we associate with communalism, rendered especially visible during ‘‘riots’’ that break out periodically, to the Sangha parivar alone. India’s postindependence history is, after all, marked with riots from 1947 on, of which the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi in 1984 can be linked back to Congress. Nonetheless, as most analyses concede, the violence in Gujarat against Muslims in 2002 was of a di√erent order from numerous earlier events of the kind generally coded as ‘‘communal violence.’’ The state’s refusal to check Hindu groups on the rampage made it an example of what Upendra Baxi describes as ‘‘regime-supported’’ rather than ‘‘regime-tolerated’’ violence. These attacks

Introduction 17

were entirely consistent with the agenda that lies at the heart of Hindutva, which the bjp as the Sangh’s political party sought to realize. For what Gujarat shared with the other longer processes of ideological mobilization that have gone before it was precisely the e√ort to reimagine and reconstitute India as a Hindu nation. In this e√ort, Gujarat was made to serve as the ‘‘testingground’’ for ‘‘measuring the tolerance-level of the Indian polity by the fathers of the new nation’’ (Tanika Sarkar, ‘‘Semiotics,’’ 2872). Whether all this constitutes the defeat of the idea of a composite multireligious, multiethnic polity that secularism was meant to underwrite is di≈cult to assert in absolute terms. What the last decade or so has brought to the surface much more starkly is a definite shift in the way overt appeals to a majority identity and identification have been made to work e√ectively. In the fourteenth Lok Sabha elections held in March 2004, a Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (upa) came to power at the center, defeating the bjp-led National Democratic Alliance (nda). Many commentators read this as ‘‘a decisive vote against communalism,’’ and as the Indian people’s ‘‘rea≈rmation of a commitment to pluralism and secularism’’ (Roy, ‘‘Darkness’’; but see also Chenoy and the All India Christian Council’s press statement of May 14, 2004). Others, however, soberly recalled the Congress Party’s record of involvement in earlier instances of communal violence. The di√erences between the bjp and the Congress in this matter were worth noting, however, as in Rajagopal’s analysis: that while ‘‘it is true the Congress sought votes on communal grounds,’’ this was so ‘‘more often from Muslims and lower castes, and seldom o≈cially on the Hindu platform,’’ and while both the Congress Party and bjp abetted communal riots, the Congress ‘‘always localized the impact of communal violence,’’ whereas the bjp ‘‘invariably tried to nationalize it’’ (Rajagopal, ‘‘The bjp’s Publicity E√ect’’). The Center for the Study of Developing Societies, as part of its National Election Study (nes) 2004, conducted a post-poll survey whose findings led one commentator, Abhay Datar, to question whether the Congress victory was indeed the ‘‘unequivocal verdict for secular politics’’ that it was held to be. ‘‘Majoritarian sentiments,’’ he says, are still in evidence in the sharply polarized opinions expressed by Muslims and Hindus when it comes to assigning responsibility for the Gujarat violence which is ‘‘perceived through a communal lens.’’ What’s more, there is considerable support, and not only among Hindus, for a ban on religious conversion and on interreligious marriages. For him, this sits oddly with what he calls ‘‘commonly held modernist opin-

18 R. Sunder Rajan and A. D. Needham

ions on secularism.’’ Simultaneously, and in contrast with the Hindu right’s agendas, there is support for ‘‘separate civil codes for each religion,’’ and for protection of minorities’ interests and rights. But this vies, in turn, with the belief that ‘‘democracy is about the majority community doing what it likes.’’ What emerges from Datar’s analysis, then, is a picture of (religious) communities enclosed within their own separate spheres, allowed to live and let live, but without any substantive interaction or active engagement across their di√erences. This is an impoverished, passive notion of tolerance that is itself undercut by the view that democracy is an arena reserved for the majority to do ‘‘what it likes.’’ Referring, in particular, to the Indian electorate’s rejection of the nda’s economic policies—‘‘pro-rich, pro-corporate, pro-liberal[ization]’’ (Bidwai)— as the driving force in its defeat, Datar suggests that inasmuch as the ‘‘voters preferred to think of their mundane and material interests, disregarding a call to stick to religious identity,’’ secularism ‘‘triumph[ed].’’≥∞ And it is ‘‘this version of secularism that provides a stronger guarantee against communalism.’’ What’s more, secularism’s ‘‘triumph’’ in this instance can be construed as going hand in hand with democracy’s (if, that is, we define democracy as the workings of a numerical majority), whereby numerically large, economically oppressed or marginalized classes, dissatisfied with the results of India’s economic liberalization reforms, asserted their right to dispatch a government they saw as callously uncaring of the concerns of its ordinary citizens, composed largely of the urban and rural poor.≥≤ But this electoral reversal, significant though it undeniably is, is not by itself a guarantee that the kinds of communal/religious identifications the Hindu right has been so successful in mobilizing will now simply disappear.≥≥ The Hindu right’s ideological hegemony, even under the current dispensation at the center, is not to be taken lightly. But if this hegemony has been constructed through sustained e√ort and intervention, there is hope that a counterhegemonic e√ort can equally well commit itself to a similar e√ort and intervention. Indeed some of this e√ort and intervention can be said to have already begun, by sections of civil society and activist civil society groups. Aiyer and Malik have remarked on civil society’s significant role in supporting democracy, in particular the ‘‘watch-dog role’’ that it performs by calling the state to account when minorities have been under assault as, for example, was the case in Gujarat 2002. The nature of this intervention is constituted by the interactions between civil society and the state, and the support of the con-

Introduction 19

stitutional provisions and policies that articulate minority rights under the banner of secularism (Aiyer and Malik, 4707–09).≥∂ These are some of the possibilities that we turn to in considering the future of secularism in the concluding section of this introduction. Before presenting the issues discussed in these essays, it would be useful to draw attention to the particular, not to say peculiar, nature of India’s o≈cial secular policy. In the West secularism historically sought the separation of the spheres of state and religious authority, broadly to correspond to the domains of public and private life. The Indian state has chosen to interpret secularism di√erently: it has undertaken the charge to ensure the protection of all religions. It therefore makes a huge investment in matters of religion, unlike any nation in the West—for example, by administering religious trusts, declaring holidays for religious festivals, preserving the system of di√erent personal laws for di√erent communities, undertaking the reform of religious law, having secular courts interpret religious laws, and so on. This raises the problem of where the boundaries of state secularism are to be drawn.≥∑ But equally it is the exacerbated expectations of secularism as political ideology and civic practice that have led to the inflation of its significance in the Indian context. Secularism was intended to achieve several ends in the new nation: to serve as a means of unifying the recently partitioned and hugely heterogeneous nation; o√er religious freedom and the protection of the state to the number of sizable minority religious communities who constituted it; reform Hindu practices, particularly caste discrimination; and set the nation on the path of ‘‘modernization’’ and ‘‘progress.’’ However, the last two items on this agenda never really took o√ with any momentum. Though secularism is primarily berated today for being a ‘‘modernizing’’ force, the modernizing project has never been carried through in India through secular ideologies with the energy it was in Turkey, for example. As for secularism’s relation to caste, the two opening essays in this collection discuss it primarily in terms of a ‘‘road not taken.’’ The issue most relevant to secularism today is therefore that of minority rights. Whether secularism should be called on to promote minorities’ rights as one of its functions, and conversely, whether minority rights is best served by secularism, is a question perhaps specific to India. Mukul Kesavan argues that ‘‘the protection of minorities should be derived from larger positions on citizenship and the rights it implies. Otherwise secularism stops being a guide

20 R. Sunder Rajan and A. D. Needham

to political action’’ (15). The constitutional provision through which minority rights are secured is that of equality. Equality, in this context, has been amenable to at least two di√ering, though not necessarily mutually exclusive, interpretations: formal equality would require that all religious communities be treated the same, whereas substantive equality is anchored in a recognition of structural and institutionalized inequalities in society that require ‘‘remedial’’ provisions for the victims of these inequalities so as to bring about a level playing field that would ensure their full and equal participation in social, economic, and cultural rights (Chandhoke Beyond Secularism, 62; see also Crossman and Kapur, 62–68). Whether minorities should be given special treatment by the state was and continues to be a matter of bitter conflict in the political arena. The Constituent Assembly debates record the strong sentiment of several members that the recognition of community-specific political rights for religious minorities violated the core principles of secularism (though community-specific social rights were acknowledged to be necessary and correct); as a consequence separate electorates for minorities was ruled out (Bhargava, ‘‘India’s Secular Constitution,’’ 118–23). Predictably, whenever ‘‘secularism’’ has meant providing for substantive equality for religious minorities, it has drawn the ire of Hindutva ideologues. These provisions are regarded as ‘‘appeasement’’ of minorities and create a backlash in the form of retaliatory violence. But Upendra Baxi has demonstrated how selectively the Hindu right has drawn on examples of inconsistencies that mark state and judicial interventions in the sphere of religion, ignoring or disregarding those on behalf of the majority Hindu community (‘‘The Constitutional Discourse of Secularism,’’ 218–19). And in actual fact, upper-caste male Hindu dominance in administration and the professions has systematically discriminated against minorities and lower castes and kept them in a state of prolonged underdevelopment. Although secularism in India is predominantly expressed thus in terms of state doctrine—not always in opposition to an ‘‘Indian’’ way of life that is generally regarded as pervasively and deeply religious, but in tension with it≥∏ —there have also been and continue to be significant traditions of popular tolerance, rationalism, secular humanism, and attitudes skeptical and ironic about religion, which are not reducible to the forms of elite or cosmopolitan secularism that are routinely attributed to the influence of Nehru and/or a deracinated modernity: in other words, what we might call an ‘‘indigenous’’ secularism, as belief and practice. It is fairly common to refer to Buddhism,

Introduction 21

Kabir, Akbar’s Din Ilahi, Dara Sikoh, Ram Mohan Roy and Brahmo Samaj (reformist Hinduism), Ambedkar and Periyar in this context: a medley of names and influences that are broadly ‘‘secular’’ in spirit.≥π Hinduism itself, it is often claimed, is marked by ‘‘tolerance,’’ or at least by eclecticism, heterogeneity, decentralization, assimilation, and syncreticism—in marked contrast to present-day Westernized and nationalist Hinduism.≥∫ But it is not only the past, and not only the ‘‘folk,’’ who give evidence of such a counterreligious strain. The work of a modern poet like Arun Kolatkar signals the profound resonance of a skepticism that is marked with compassion and even what we might call, paradoxically, faith.≥Ω But there is much work yet to be done on establishing or forging the connections between this indigenous secularism which is part of the intellectual traditions of India and its ways of life, and o≈cial secularism as political ideology. As we explained at the start, this volume emerges from what are called the ‘‘secularism debates’’ in India today, and as such expresses a diversity of views. We have also identified the many issues relating to law, democracy, citizenship, and nationalism that secularism addresses in the Indian context and that find representation in this collection of essays. At the same time it is only fair to give some warning about the limits of a volume like this one. Despite its crisis, secularism bears a normative status within and as constitutive of a modernity that remains the context from which we perform our critique. The critique of secularism is therefore obliged to be self-reflexive, an insider job by secularists themselves. In the contemporary academy it would seem that few exercises of this kind are performed by the professedly religious.∂≠ Or at least the discourses of the ontotheological and the postsecular today inhabit other spaces than that of the historical, social science, and cultural critiques of secularism such as this one. Writing about a conference on religion that he had convened in Capri, in 1994, Derrida defined the (limits of the) participants’ position thus: ‘‘We are not priests bound in a ministry, nor theologians, nor qualified, competent representatives of religion, nor enemies of religion as such. . . . But we also share a commitment to Enlightenment values.’’ Derrida called this an intellectual attempt to think religion ‘‘within the limits of reason alone’’ (46). Something of those limits operate in the same way among the essays assembled here, even as a critique of secularism. Religion, in these essays as well as in the broader discourse which con-

22 R. Sunder Rajan and A. D. Needham

stitutes them, is primarily addressed in terms of historical explanation or as a sociology of religion.∂∞ Such analyses do not envisage religious beliefs and practices as ‘‘pure’’ alternative to secular modernity. The ‘‘religious’’ is a concept that encounters a notable impasse in the work of contemporary postcolonial intellectuals who attempt to go beyond respectful or wistful acknowledgment of this ‘‘other’’ knowledge. Gayatri Spivak, for example, grapples, via Kant, with the demands of both reason and critique on the one hand and the ‘‘transcendental’’ on the other, seeking to preserve (only) the ‘‘letter’’ of secularism while yielding to the ‘‘spirit’’ of the religious (as we understand her invocation of Kant’s ‘‘e√ects of grace’’ to mean)—and ends with the humanities in the university as a training in and for such a ‘‘detranscendentalized’’ religion (‘‘Terror’’). We have failed to do justice to this powerful and courageous argument; but even this scant paraphrase will suggest that her turn to the humanities functions as a refusal of religion as a spiritual alternative. The avoidance of religion in these terms in the endeavors of postcolonial intellectuals is not to be confused with the response of ‘‘sanitized secularists who are hysterical at the mention of religion’’ whom Spivak derides, rightly, as being ‘‘quite out of touch with the world’s peoples’’ and of having ‘‘buried their heads in the sand’’ (‘‘Terror,’’ 102). On the contrary, there is an exemplary move among some of them to acknowledge the religious as a subaltern and/or populist aspiration, an autonomous ‘‘life world,’’ not only or always oppositional but also complementary/alternative to secularism and the state. Among these, Dipesh Chakrabarty is notable for his attempts to theorize religion as subalternity—but always within the aporetic enclosure of the discourse of modernity which forbids its full and desired realization.∂≤ Thus, while he criticizes the failure of Marxist colonial and postcolonial historians of India to understand ‘‘the place of the ‘religious’ in Indian public and political life’’ (‘‘Radical Histories,’’ 753), and the inability of even the Subaltern historians to engage in a ‘‘democratic’’ dialogue with the subaltern (because their conversation would never permit the latter to convince the former of the ‘‘existence of ghosts and spirits’’ [757]), he is unable to himself perform reparation for these failures. At the close of his essay, he takes recourse to a plea to rescue religion from its fascistic anti-Enlightenment identification in Europe so that ‘‘we’’ may be free to creatively fabricate ‘‘new forms of life’’ (758). Such self-imposed limits to his enterprise do not merely reflect the intellectual’s historical helplessness to engage subaltern, other knowledges, as he claims, but mark also the scrupulous integrity of this

Introduction 23

refusal.∂≥ But as a discourse on religion, these gestures contribute little to the contemporary secularism debates beyond a (sometimes sentimental) admiration for the Other of religion, and the familiar angst of the intellectual for whom it lies forever beyond comprehension. We have dwelt at such length on the issue of religion in order to o√er some explanation, within a broader intellectual framework, for its absence in the discussion of secularism in these pages. That said, we now turn to the essays themselves. The historical analysis undertaken in the first two essays of the opening section of this volume (‘‘Secularism’s Historical Background’’) is o√ered as a corrective to the dominant definition of secularism endorsed by Indian nationalism as well as in our usual understanding of secularism’s major function in the multireligious state as that of a homogenizing nationalist force. Interrogating the significance assigned to religion to the virtual exclusion of the ‘‘question of caste,’’ Shabnum Tejani’s essay (‘‘Reflections on the Category of Secularism in India: Gandhi and Ambedkar at the Round Table Conferences, 1931’’) focuses on one historical moment in what came to be defined as secularism: 1931–32, when the Round Table Conferences were held in London to map the constitution for a future independent India. The debates at the conferences made clear that religion and caste were both implicated in the arguments for and against separate electorates in particular, and those regarding the modalities of just and fair representation of minority interests more generally. Tracking the positions of the opposed parties, Tejani argues that these debates were, in e√ect, about ‘‘the place of social di√erence in the context of the emergent nation’’: whereas for one group ‘‘the communal or minority question . . . was one for nationalism to overcome,’’ for the other this question was inextricably tied to the place the minorities would have in the future nation. In the following essay, ‘‘A View from the South: Ramasami’s Public Critique of Religion,’’ Paula Richman and V. Geetha also highlight the inextricability of issues of religion and caste through their discussion of E. V. Ramasami, leader of the Self-Respect movement in the predominantly Tamil-speaking region of India. Ramasami viewed secularism, they suggest, ‘‘less as a political ideal and more as a desired social good.’’ Furthermore, he argued that inasmuch as Hinduism could be seen as endorsing caste hierarchies and inequalities, a critique of caste necessarily entailed a critique of religion. Thus, tolerance perceived in Gandhian terms as ‘‘freedom of all religions’’ made no sense to

24 R. Sunder Rajan and A. D. Needham

him. A proponent of a ‘‘rationalist, egalitarian, secular world view,’’ Ramasami drew also from a ‘‘pre-history’’ of rational thought located in Buddhism. Buddhism’s ‘‘rational-ethical core’’ was greatly valued by its various adherents, especially in the 1880s. (Tejani similarly suggests that Ambedkar’s interest in Buddhism was preeminently ‘‘secular,’’ connected as it was to an ethics of Dalit emancipation.) For Ramasami reason was pugattarivu, or ‘‘the intelligence that is born out of discernment.’’ Richman and Geetha remark that this intelligence, unlike the reason of the Enlightenment, is not ‘‘singular’’ but rather ‘‘emerges out of experience.’’ It signals objectivity, a critical stance and dissent from prevailing orthodoxies. Sunil Khilnani, in the third essay in this section, similarly locates a selfreflexive, ‘‘rational-ethical core’’ to Nehru’s ethics, constituting something like a ‘‘faith,’’ which provided ‘‘a non-religious bedrock’’ for his morality and deeply influenced his political philosophy and behaviour (‘‘Nehru’s Faith’’). At a time when Nehru’s investment in a liberal, secular, Indian polity is in considerable disrepair, and the proponents of ‘‘Nehruvian secularism’’ the object often of virulent critique, Khilnani’s essay seeks to recover that aspect of Nehru’s thought which seems to have much in common with what, following from the accounts of Tejani and Richman and Geetha above, can be called a ‘‘minority’’ strain within the contemporary discourse of secularism. Ashis Nandy’s ‘‘Closing the Debate on Secularism: A Personal Statement,’’ which leads the next section (‘‘Secularism and Democracy’’), criticizes secularism of the Nehruvian kind because it is ‘‘insu≈ciently grounded in culture, particularly vernacular culture.’’ The values that have protected religious minorities in India, he believes, are quite other than those derived from European rationality: those of ‘‘tolerance,’’ also named ‘‘hospitality’’ or ‘‘convivencia’’ (a term derived from the exemplary instance of Moorish Spain). In other words, ‘‘there has arisen a contradiction between democracy and secularism.’’ It is this perception that informs the two following essays in this section as well, though its implications are understood and dealt with di√erently. Nivedita Menon (‘‘Living with Secularism’’) agrees with Nandy that secularism and democracy are at odds with one another. She too locates secularism in a rarefied realm, that of ‘‘the state and its institutions, and the rational contractual associations of civil society’’ (emphasis added). But she makes no commitment to his faith in the popular practices of tolerance. On the contrary she insists on the ‘‘overwhelming participation of the ordinary citizens in the targeted violence against Muslims’’ in Gujarat.

Introduction 25

Menon’s analysis draws on Partha Chatterjee’s distinction between civil and political society in India. ‘‘Democracy,’’ the behavior of the majority population, operates on the terrain of political society. For secularism to e√ectively counter the Hindu right’s strategies of communalization, Menon argues, it has to learn to function in this political society. Chatterjee’s own essay in this volume, ‘‘The Contradictions of Secularism,’’ returns to the vexed point that ‘‘democracy itself is no guarantee of secularism.’’ Through an extended analysis of a controversy regarding unauthorized madrasahs (Muslim religious schools), Chatterjee raises the issue (one that has preoccupied him in his earlier work, especially ‘‘Secularism and Toleration’’) of reform as something that needs to undertaken internally, from within the minority community. Chatterjee suggests that those best positioned to represent the community in negotiating the terms of both reform within the community itself and (its interaction) with the state are political representatives who are themselves Muslims, and who thus ‘‘straddle both the government and community, outside and inside.’’ They enjoy considerable support from their Muslim constituents, but as ‘‘political representatives’’ in the left parties, they can also speak to the state government and represent and negotiate minority interests with the government. For him, the ‘‘real democratic space where the interventions must be made is in the local and the vernacular.’’ Several of the essays in this volume—in particular, those by Chatterjee, Pandey, Prakash, Bilgrami, Baxi, and Agnes—return us to a challenge that has been with us from the outset: the place of religious and minority di√erence in the Indian polity. These essays engage anew with this challenge in terms of both ‘‘majority’’ and ‘‘minority’’ communities marking the sites for transformation and reform through critiques of existing political structures and ideologies—not least, the ‘‘nation’’—and suggesting thereby the means through which change can be accomplished. For both Gyanendra Pandey and Gyan Prakash the very structures and politics that have produced the categories ‘‘majority’’ and ‘‘minority’’ constitute the problem to be addressed rather than acceded to. For, as Pandey points out (‘‘The Secular State and the Limits of Dialogue’’), Chatterjee himself recognized (in ‘‘Secularism and Tolerance’’) that these categories have been produced and maintained by dominant political discourse. Thus, while Pandey too emphasizes the sphere of the political or politics as the place where negotiation of minority di√erence takes place, for him the question of representation remains a fraught one. The concept of a ‘‘dialogue’’ between the state and the minority community must recognize, he

26 R. Sunder Rajan and A. D. Needham

notes, the unequal nature of the parties involved. His recommendations focus on uncoupling the ‘‘state’’ from the ‘‘majority’’ (‘‘mainstream’’) and from the ‘‘nation.’’ Echoing William Connolly, Pandey argues instead for ‘‘the recognition of all communities—secularists, modernists, conservatives, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, working people, or middle classes—as minorities, with no place for an unquestioned, and permanent majority.’’ Gyan Prakash’s essay, ‘‘Secular Nationalism, Hindutva, and the Minority,’’ begins in an emphatic way by identifying the challenge of Gujarat to lie in revisioning ‘‘the place of minorities in the nation’s body politic,’’ and not in the relationship between secular politics and religion. Going further than Nandy and Chatterjee, he joins Aamir Mufti in questioning the relegation of the minority to the margins of the nation. For him, any conversation on secular politics will have to be ‘‘not amongst an assumed center of majority of the nation, but rather from the point of view of those defined as minorities in order to rework the structure that produces di√erent valuations of culture and power.’’ Prakash’s and Pandey’s arguments derive their force from a theoretically and politically resonant conception of the ‘‘minority’’ position as the site from which transformation will emanate.∂∂ The essays in the next section,‘‘Sites of Secularism’’—the sites being education, the media, and popular cinema—move into an examination of both secularism and Hindutva as ideological forces shaping everyday perceptions as well as conflict and crisis in India. It is the nation—its identity and its production—that is at stake in these representational sites. Romila Thapar’s essay ‘‘Secularism, History, and Contemporary Politics in India’’ shows how and why ‘‘history’’ has become a site of struggle between contending forces in India. Hindutva ideologues, supported by the bjp government at the center, produced revisionary history textbooks for use in schools, employing a ‘‘sledge-hammer history reducing everything to a single reading.’’ The past was being used, she shows, ‘‘not only to politicize history in order to support a particular ideology, but to then use such history for political mobilization.’’ In her view, this kind of selective and propagandistic version of the past threatens ‘‘the idea of India as a democratic, secular society.’’ Arvind Rajagopal finds in an emergent ‘‘Hindu national realism’’ a major threat to secularism. The phrase is a description of a relatively recent phenomenon, that of ‘‘the masses attributing the causes of collective action to objective events recorded in television and print news.’’ The impact of the media is thus ideological in a particularly insidious way. Rajagopal provides a close

Introduction 27

reading of the ‘‘split media,’’ the di√erences between English-language newspapers and vernacular newspapers, respectively assumed to be ‘‘secular’’ and ‘‘communalist’’ in their news coverage, a contrast also reflected in the Congress party’s distinctively di√erent manifestoes in English and Gujarati before the Assembly elections. Rajagopal’s analysis finds that the media (national television, in particular) are an important technical means for Hindutva’s production of a national identity, especially significant during a period of crisis and rapid change. Two essays address popular Hindi cinema. Shyam Benegal’s ‘‘Secularism and Popular Indian Cinema’’ focuses on the ways in which ‘‘nationalism’s aspirations and anxieties (particularly around religious di√erences) are represented, managed or contained in cinema at di√erent historical moments.’’ Benegal finds that the representation of religious di√erences and of minority communities (especially Muslims) is responsive to the imperatives of secular nationalism. Minority figures are almost always rendered in a sanitized and typical fashion, and seldom as other than marginal except in the genre of ‘‘Muslim socials.’’ By way of contrast, ‘‘New Cinema’’ marked a break in such practices of cinematic rendition, taking on more complex social subjects, including minority subjects as protagonists, which were dealt with ‘‘realistically.’’ Ravi Vasudevan’s essay (‘‘Neither State nor Faith: The Transcendental Significance of the Cinema’’) departs from this understanding of popular Hindi cinema as continuous with secular nationalism’s representations of minority communities and subjects. By focusing on early films like Phalke’s Shree Krishna Janma, Shantaram’s Shejari (Neighbors), historicals like Sohrab Modi’s Pukar, and popular Hindi cinema’s deployment of the star performer (for example, Raj Kapoor and Nana Patekar), Vasudevan argues that Hindi popular cinema articulates an alternative site of meaning making, with respect to secularism representing ‘‘a space beyond bounded [caste- or religiondetermined] identity,’’ than that privileged by the state or faith. In so doing, Hindi popular cinema operates as a powerful competitor to the state’s representations of secularism. Hence the anxiety of the state associated with the potential power of cinematic narratives, which enjoy a ‘‘mass constituency.’’ The essays in the last two sections deal with what have become the most crucial and controversial sites of crisis for secularism in India: personal law and conversion. India has a dual law structure: uniform criminal and civil laws, but separate personal laws for di√erent religious communities. The

28 R. Sunder Rajan and A. D. Needham

Indian Constitution approves a Uniform Civil Code (ucc) applicable to all citizens irrespective of their religion, but it exists at present only as a Directive Principle.∂∑ Personal law, since it is envisaged as a means of securing community identity and respecting religious di√erence, operates therefore within rather than despite a constitutional commitment to secularism. Following the Shah Bano case in 1986, the Bharatiya Janata Party (bjp) has made the ucc a prominent issue on its agenda. Conversion is a similarly fraught issue: while constitutionally the freedom to ‘‘profess, practice and propagate religion’’ is a fundamental right, conversion is resisted by the Hindu right as constituting a threat to Hinduism. Upendra Baxi’s essay (‘‘Siting Secularism in the Uniform Civil Code: A ‘Riddle Wrapped Inside an Enigma’?’’), which opens the section on secularism and personal law, is framed by the question ‘‘What pertinence may the ucc have for the discourse concerning ‘secularism’?’’ Reform of personal law is not the sole panacea for women’s oppression that it is often taken to be. Besides, personal law is only one of several structures of operative laws that regulate the lives of Indian women, and not necessarily the most intimate— among them ‘‘local’’ laws (lex loci) and ‘‘communitarian’’ laws. Baxi’s project of ‘‘Reading Shah Bano’’ in this essay is an attempt to restore her as ‘‘an actually existing figure of resistance.’’ Her wish not to be seen as a ‘‘napak aurat’’ (impious woman), taken together with her (seemingly contradictory) actions in approaching the secular courts for redress, signal, in his reading, her radical desire ‘‘to pioneer the shari’a in feminist ways.’’ Flavia Agnes (‘‘The Supreme Court, the Media, and the Uniform Civil Code Debate’’) criticizes the role of the courts and the media in making the ucc debate controversial, by examining the judicial pronouncements and the media coverage in three recent cases, including Shah Bano. She finds that in every case the court included gratuitous references to the need for a ucc and made ‘‘veiled or direct insinuations’’ against Muslim law—which the media were only too willing to (mis)represent. Not only is the ucc not a ‘‘magic wand’’ for achieving gender justice, its invocation is often antiminority in its import. Agnes then traces the afterlife of the Muslim Women Act of 1986. Originally viewed as a regressive legislation, in the courts it has turned out to be a boon to divorced Muslim women, giving them maintenance in the spirit of shari’a— and hence without provoking a political backlash. Agnes ends with a call for the acknowledgment of ‘‘Muslim women’s agency’’ in fighting for the reform of ‘‘their’’ personal laws.

Introduction 29

In ‘‘Secularism and the Very Concept of Law,’’ Akeel Bilgrami locates the problem of personal law within an abstract and general problematic: ‘‘Can culture and religion provide grounds for exemptions from a secular liberal nation’s laws?’’ Staging an argument between the secularist and the multiculturalist, he rehearses the philosophical arguments underlying the ‘‘very concept of law,’’ as that which must be uniform or not exist at all as law (although the ‘‘secularist’’ may allow exemptions to this rule on ‘‘pragmatic’’ considerations). On the other side is the multiculturalist’s argument that ‘‘laws are for people’’ and therefore their religious sentiments must be taken into account to formulate exemptions from a general law if need be. Bilgrami ends with a question: can (Muslim) personal law in India best be understood in terms of the secularist’s ‘‘pragmatic’’ reasons, or the multiculturalist’s ‘‘principled’’ reasons? This framing of personal law as a question of the law has di√erent but equally significant implications from framing it within the minority rights question that is its usual context. Together these three essays provoke a fresh look at the personal law question from theoretical, historical, judicial, and activist perspectives. In the last two essays, on conversion, a similar inquiry is set in motion. Gauri Viswanathan, in ‘‘Literacy and Conversion in the Discourse of Hindu Nationalism,’’ suggests that the Hindu right’s bizarre suspicion about the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s work on development and literacy can be attributed to its convoluted association of both these activities with Christian missionary work, and of the latter with the conversion of (usually poor and lower-caste) Hindus. To see conversion solely in this light, however, forecloses on its potential uses in a plural society as a form of ‘‘intersubjective communication.’’ Secularism tends to view freedom of religion only as ‘‘freedom from religion,’’ or religious freedom only as ‘‘a euphemism for conversion.’’ Hinduism in particular finds literacy threatening because, itself a faith that does not require the mediation of the written word, it fears that ‘‘access to language [may contain] the potential to introduce worldviews at variance with those a≈rmed by the community.’’ And because literacy is embedded in this cultural context, education’s implementation as a fundamental right has been resisted by the secular Indian state. Sumit Sarkar (‘‘Christian Conversions, Hindutva, and Secularism’’) rebuts two of the assumptions that underlie the ‘‘common-sense’’ suspicion about Christian conversions—one, that Hinduism is an open and nonproselytizing religion and the other that Christianity is an alien religion and its missionaries are ‘‘agents of imperialism’’—by turning up historical evidence that doesn’t 30 R. Sunder Rajan and A. D. Needham

support either of these suppositions. He also questions the sentimental valorization of Hindu-Muslim unity or ‘‘synthesis’’ in precolonial India, or the homogenizing of all di√erences in the service of a bland ‘‘national integration.’’ The liberal position, acknowledging di√erence but also respecting it, is the more di≈cult but necessary alternative. Because secularism in India has meant mainly ‘‘anti-communalism’’ rather than having any positive valence as a ‘‘rationalist’’ position (Sarkar overlooks E. V. Ramasami’s Self-Respect movement, however), it tends to be associated with national unity as the supreme value. Sarkar demands that it represent instead a ‘‘set of human values’’ that would abjure state-sponsored violence like Gujarat’s. It is appropriate to let Sarkar’s words bring the volume to a close. The end and purpose of all the essays, even if less explicitly expressed than in his, is to find ways to end the violence: this is a post-Gujarat work in that sense. There will not be only one way to do it, and ‘‘secularism’’ is no longer that way: the expectation that it (or any single force) would be the mantra with which to fight communal violence or check majoritarian religious or cultural nationalist domination was always a misplaced one. Can one return to simplicities? It is tempting to do so, and there is much appeal in a provocative piece like Dipankar Gupta’s ‘‘Limits of Tolerance: Prospects of Secularism in India after Gujarat’’: ‘‘It is time that the language of secularism is recast in the language of intolerance instead. . . . There are . . . the known laws against murder, mayhem and arson. These constitute our secular foundations, not sentimental goodwill, nor the pious formulations of religious liberals.’’ But we know that secularism is not reducible to a law-and-order solution, and there is no reason why laws should ever be suspended against violence, secularism or no secularism. At the same time, the new government’s proposal to pass a law against communal rioting would seem to indicate that collective religious violence has in fact been implicitly viewed in a special category apart from (ordinary?) criminal violence. The genocidal violence of Gujarat is the most recent and serious crisis of secularism. The essays in this volume respond by revisioning secularism and its modalities: secularism posesses too much energy for it to be only dismissed as useless or obsolete (even Nandy’s repeated announcements of its ‘‘death’’ are impassioned obituaries). This is therefore a sober work but not a pessimistic one. Among the actual empirical ‘‘working’’ examples of a ‘‘new’’ or democratic secularism are Flavia Agnes’s account of the Muslim Women Act and Partha Chatterjee’s of the madrasah issue in West Bengal. In the first Introduction 31

we see a successful reconciliation of gender and minority rights, long considered to be constitutively at odds with each other, in the other of social reform emerging from within the community itself. Neither need be regarded as an isolated or merely fortuitous outcome; instead they serve as an indication of how things might be regulated in terms of what Pandey and Prakash envisage as minorities’ rightful place in a democracy that is not simply the rule of the majority. The question of minorities brings secularism close to multiculturalism, a resemblance it always bore in the Indian version. Bilgrami’s essay marks how the multicultural approach to personal law is what applies in India’s secular context. In e√ect both terms have to be merged into a practice of religious pluralism of the kind Gauri Viswanathan recommends in her essay. Agnes’s emphasis on the agency of Muslim women in asserting their rights, and Upendra Baxi’s repeated injunctions to not let the question of ‘‘women themselves,’’ or real women, slip away in our discussions of law, are the result of and contribute to the realization of the centrality of women and their struggles to our understanding of secularism. Not only are women themselves minorities (and in the foregoing cases minority women) but as a recent analysis argues, ‘‘the paradigm of gender discrimination has contributed greatly to current understandings of social inequality,’’ so much so that its strategies ‘‘can be made to examine the impact of discrimination on minority communities, and design interventions that consider their specific needs’’ (Aiyar and Malik, 4711). Nivedita Menon’s reflexive take on secular civil society interventions is clearly on target, as we see how various recent activist initiatives, legal as well as developmental, begin to bear fruit as they learn, in the aftermath of Gujarat, to engage with issues on the ground—with ‘‘political society,’’ in other words. Like Menon, Rajagopal too learns, and in turn o√ers lessons, from the ‘‘field,’’ and these require attention to the demotic idiom, literally the ‘‘vernacular’’ and spatially what Chatterjee calls the ‘‘local.’’ Through a somewhat di√erent take on the local and demotic, Vasudevan locates in popular Hindi cinema—long feared by the state for it capacity to interpellate the masses—a potentially rich, alternative site for the processes of secularization.∂∏ The national election results also o√er cautious hope—not necessarily in terms of a triumph of ‘‘secularism,’’ or even a definitive defeat of Hindutva politics, but at least of a secularization of the polity for whom issues other than religion-identified ones are growing paramount. At the same time, Raja32 R. Sunder Rajan and A. D. Needham

gopal and Thapar most obviously, but also Sumit Sarkar, insist on the need for vigilance about the ‘‘realism’’ of Hindu nationalism. Even as it loses political clout, Hindutva’s appeal grows in other fields, particularly as narratives of the Hindu past produced via political rhetoric, in school textbooks, and through television serials or cinema take hold of the popular imagination. The historical exercises carried out in the essays by Tejani, Richman and Geetha, and Khilnani have important lessons for the present: they bring caste to the forefront, as a question left out of the secularism discourse but having deep political and ethical consequences for how we think about those antithetical terms, religion and reason. Here Richman and Geetha’s account of the E. V. Ramasami’s Self-Respect movement resonates interestingly with Viswanathan’s reading of conversion. Richman and Geetha: ‘‘Ramasami’s insistence that dissent and challenge of religious faith must be protected by the rule of law, rather than overseen in a generalized permissive sense, poses instructive dilemmas for our understanding of secularism.’’ This equally well describes conversion’s dilemma for secularism. We would also do well to be reminded of Ramasami and Nehru in their exercise of ‘‘reason’’ as a deeply felt resource against religious superstition and caste irrationalities in the one case, and passionate religious intensities in the other. This volume leads us to conclude that it does not seem as if we can do without secularism in India yet, but that we need other resources as well to take us into the violence-free society we envisage, nationally and globally. Gayatri Spivak gives us a key to understanding the concept and its limits, hence also its precise value: ‘‘Secularism is too rarefied, too existentially impoverished to take on the thickness of a language. It is a mechanism to avoid violence that must be learned as mere reasonableness. It is as thin as an ID card, not as thick as ‘identity’ ’’ (‘‘Terror,’’ 106). Hence the explorations this volume undertakes into the analogues and constituents of secularism: reason, ‘‘mere reasonableness,’’ rationalism, pluralism, tolerance, law, multiculturalism, minority rights, democracy, liberalism, addressed from a variety of perspectives. This collective endeavor, the work of many hands, was needed for such an undertaking. Notes Acknowledgments: Rajeswari Sunder Rajan would like to thank the following: Joy Wang for research assistance; Manav Ratti and Priya H. Kumar for sharing ideas and material; Priya again, and Karen Leonard, Arvind Rajagopal, Anupama Rao, and Kaushik Sunder Rajan for their criticism and suggestions. Anuradha Dingwaney Needham would like to acknowledge Introduction 33

Michael Fischer’s indispensable support and suggestions, as well as Dwaipayan Sen’s and Shahana Siddiqui’s help with tracking down hard-to-find research materials. 1. This thesis about the ‘‘deprivatization of religion’’ has been most persuasively and exhaustively argued and documented by José Casanova. Casanova builds on the observation that religion’s influence in the public world and in the realm of politics is growing in the modern world. His book focuses on instances of religious resurgence in the Christian world even though, as he puts it delicately, ‘‘the public resurgence of Islam has been one of the main developments thrusting religion back into public view’’ (Casanova, 10). Globalization is one of the chief factors Casanova diagnoses as contributing to the deprivatization of religion: ‘‘Under conditions of globalization religions will tend to assume public roles whenever their identity as universal transsocial religions is reinforced by their actual situation as transnational religious regimes’’ (225). 2. Secularization, the process of ‘‘disenchantment’’ that Weber diagnosed as an aspect of capitalist modernity in the West, prompts the intellectual’s nostalgia for religion and its ‘‘intensities.’’ William Connolly’s essays in Why I Am Not a Secularist are consolidated into a critique directed at the existential aspects of the secular life. After identifying its ‘‘cynicism,’’ its intolerance in public life, its failure to provide for the individual’s need for reverence, ethics, and ‘‘viseral intersubjectivity,’’ he pronounces that ‘‘the historical modus vivendi called secularism is coming apart at the seams’’ (Connolly, 11, 19). 3. The distinction we are making resembles Derrida’s separation of religion in its ‘‘essence’’ from religion as it is ‘‘at present’’ (his emphasis). The latter is the focus of his essay and involves asking: ‘‘What is it doing, what is being done with it at present, today, today in the world?’’ (71) 4. A comparison of the national election results in India and the United States in 2004 can tell us something about this reversal. It is, after all, the Indian electorate which voted out the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party–led coalition, and the American people who reelected George W. Bush despite (we will not say ‘‘because of ’’) his representation of Christian ‘‘moral values.’’ A proper analysis of these outcomes will of course have to be multifactorial (further into this introduction we attempt such an analysis of the Indian elections); but in a broad, striking way, this contrast makes the point that not all nations in the non-West live in a perpetual miasma of religious values. What it tells us about the United States is a more complex story which we cannot hope to fully analyze here. 5. The conference ‘‘Political Theologies: Globalization and Post-Secular Reason’’ (June 24–26, 2004) was organized by the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (asca, University of Amsterdam) and the Harvard Center for the Study of World Religions (cswr), in Amsterdam. The conference statement appears in the brochure produced on the occasion. 6. Islam is not so simplistically regarded only as a ‘‘problem’’ for the West today by all intellectuals, of course. Derrida, for example, warns against the too-simple recourse to thinking of the ‘‘return of the religious’’ simply as Islamic fundamentalism (45–46) and

34 R. Sunder Rajan and A. D. Needham

urges the need to understand the ‘‘surge’’ of Islam by its ‘‘exterior’’ dimensions: in his memorable phrase, in the context of ‘‘globalatinization,’’ or ‘‘tele-technoscientific capitalism’’ (52–58). In the 1970s there was also the deep interest that French intellectuals, most notoriously Foucault, took in the Iranian revolution. Janet Afary and Kevin Anderson analyze Foucault’s ‘‘distinctive political and theoretical positions’’ on the event, including his perception that this was a new ‘‘revolutionary model,’’ and his controversial acclaim of the ‘‘political spirituality’’ and ‘‘creativity of Islam’’ in Iran under Khomeini. 7. Anthropologists of religion, Talal Asad most notably, have insisted that the universal terms in which we refer to ‘‘religion’’ today disguise its specific Eurocentric provenance (Genealogies of Religion, 27–54). Contemporary historians of religion speculate that ‘‘the modern understanding of religion . . . is very di√erent from what medieval Christians would have regarded as such, and this is still more the case for Muslims, Hindus, and other non-Christians’’ (Van der Veer and Lehmann, 4). Derrida goes further and insists: ‘‘The history of the word ‘religion’ should in principle forbid every non-Christian from using the name ‘religion,’ ’’ since outside the Christian West religion is an ‘‘omnipresent reality’’ (72). More recently, Etienne Balibar has challenged the ‘‘theological asymmetry’’ among the religions of France with a similar argument: ‘‘the idea of a ‘private’ religion, located essentially in one’s heart of hearts, all the more true the more ‘invisible’ it is (like the church of the same name), is a Christian theological idea (St. Paul’s ‘circumcision of the heart’), to which Judaism and Islam oppose the idea of social community of mores and rules’’ (363). 8. They question the common ‘‘social science view’’ of the European nation-state, which is that it depended on processes which required the replacement of older social and religious systems by the secular spirit of ‘‘scientific inquiry’’ and a homogeneous culture (5). 9. However, while secularism may have taken stronger root in Europe than in America, the roots of religion go deeper still, according to Etienne Balibar’s analysis of the contemporary French situation: ‘‘It is worth recalling here . . . with Jean-Luc Nancy (‘Laïcité monothéiste,’ Le Monde, January 2, 2004), the theological background of the idea of laïcité . . . France has in fact lived for two centuries under a regime of ‘catholaïcite’ (Edgar Morin’s very apt pun). From the perpetuation of Christian holidays in the republican calendar to the state management of the religious heritage, the ‘national’ culture is largely defined as Christian, and more precisely as Catholic’’ (363). 10. The rise of Moral Majority and similar groups is usually explained as a ‘‘Christian backlash’’ resulting from a series of ‘‘secular’’ judgments by the United States Supreme Court, beginning with Engle v. Wade in 1962, which ruled that prayer in the classroom was unconstitutional, and followed by Roe v. Wade in 1973, which legalized abortion (Boyer, 64). 11. More broadly, in José Casanova’s analysis of Christianity’s role in the contemporary Western world, the church confines its influence to the public sphere, seeking only to

Introduction 35

reinvent itself as a ‘‘free religious institution of civil society’’ (220). It is to the sphere of society and the life of the individual within it that religion ‘‘returns’’ in the modern West. In his view these forms of modern public religion are ‘‘both viable and desirable from a modern normative perspective’’ (7); Christianity in these instances is not inherently oppositional to Enlightenment values. 12. Seabrook develops the metaphor: there is not only America’s God-like military power, terror, and professed ‘‘compassion,’’ and its meting out of rewards and punishments to other nations, but also the myth of the ‘‘almighty dollar . . . that commands the faith of the whole world,’’ the stories of economic ‘‘miracles’’ and the ‘‘magic of the markets,’’ the world’s worship, America as ‘‘earthly paradise.’’ 13. This has been helped by such recent incidents in Europe as the bombing of the train station in Madrid (March 2004) and the murder of the Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in Amsterdam (November 2004). 14. Van der Veer’s example of the cow, which became in nineteenth-century India ‘‘a symbol of the Hindu nation threatened by ‘outsiders,’ ’’ illustrates this well. Cow protection became ‘‘the focus of political action against both the British and the Muslims’’ (257, emphasis added) then, but it continues to remain a volatile issue into the present. The British have departed but the Muslims remain. 15. Said’s hard line on nationalism is of course susceptible to charges of elitism, the embrace of the authority of reason, and cosmopolitanism (see Robbins’s rebuttals of these charges, 27–30), and his hard line on religion has been described as a ‘‘blind spot,’’ a sign of the ‘‘limits of his imagination’’ (Hart, 39). 16. We can see how toward the end of his life Said began to think more and more of secularism in realpolitik terms, as an actual political solution, much as it operates in the South Asian context, rather than as only a kind of critical attitude, as it is in his earlier work. See, for example, ‘‘Dignity, Solidarity, and the Penal Colony.’’ 17. See, for example, the chapter ‘‘Communalism and Reaction’’ in his autobiography (Nehru, Autobiography, 458–72). 18. Even though it is the case that Muslims in India are there by choice. True, this is not necessarily an expression of patriotic loyalty, even less an a≈rmation of India’s superiority to Pakistan, but it is a revealing indication that religion is not the only form of identity borne by individuals or communities. Other kinds of filiation and a≈liation— kin, village, language, neighborhood, livelihood, land, and ties less tangible than any of these—link people to places. This is poignantly illustrated in the film Naseem (dir. Saeed Akhtar Mirza, Hindi, 1996). One of the protagonists of the film, an old Muslim man, sorrowing at Hindu-Muslim riots in 1993, tries to give his young granddaughter Naseem a simple explanation for his reason to stay on in India after Partition: her grandmother could not have borne to abandon the tree in the backyard of their house in Agra, he says lightly. 19. As professional women resident in the West, we have experienced the unsettling disjuncture between our present workplace politics and our early experience of growing up

36 R. Sunder Rajan and A. D. Needham

as ‘‘secular’’ liberals in post-independence India. When confronted by ‘‘Hindu’’ cultural student organizations on our university campuses, we experience distinct unease about the space allowed for what is ‘‘liberal multiculturalism’’ in the West but has more disturbing implications when (some, at least, of ) these organizations establish connections with Hindutva politics in India. 20. Of these the Nobel economist Amartya Sen is the most distinguished example. Sen has presented the case for secularism in India with long and reasoned arguments, as much for a broad international readership as for Indians (see, especially, his ‘‘Secularism and its Discontents’’). Rajeev Bhargava is the Indian social scientist who has presented the case for Indian constitutional secularism with the most optimism (see, especially, his ‘‘India’s Model’’). Sunil Khilnani’s Idea of India has led to a resurgence of interest in and legtimacy for Nehruvian secularism (see, especially, 176–81, and also his ‘‘Nehru’s Faith’’ in this volume). 21. The question of gender has to take into account the structurally anomalous position of women, captured in Spivak’s succinct phrase: ‘‘Woman in di√erence, outside in the machine’’ (Spivak, Outside in the Teaching Machine, 241). 22. Given also the colluding patriarchies of state and religious communities, the view of the state as above and outside social structures is only normative, not actual. As Etienne Balibar reminds us, speaking of the veiling issue in French schools, ‘‘We must not lose sight of the tragic character of a situation in which young women, somewhere between childhood and maturity, become the stake of a merciless struggle for prestige between two male powers which try to control them, one on behalf of patriarchal authority wrapped up in religion, the other on behalf of national authority wrapped up in secularism’’ (359; emphasis in original). 23. Cultural relativism—the belief that ‘‘no universal legal or moral standard exists against which human practices can be judged’’—has been described by Radhika Coomaraswamy, the un Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, in a recent report as ‘‘the greatest challenge to women’s rights and the elimination of discriminatory laws and harmful practices.’’ She recognizes the force and validity of local opposition to international norms of women’s rights: its causes include the histories of colonialism experienced by many parts of the non-Western world, the feeling of siege in societies targeted by Western imperialism (especially following the events of September 11, 2001), and the vulnerability of minority communities seeking to safeguard their perceived cultural rights. But it is nevertheless the case, as she wryly points out, that ‘‘it is only with regard to women’s rights, those rights that a√ect the practices in the family and the community, that the argument of cultural relativism is used’’ ( Coomaraswamy, 17–18). On the relationship of fundamentalisms to issues of gender (in)justice, see also the essays in Moghadam, ed., Gender and National Identity. 24. The Shah Bano case (discussed at greater length in the essays by Baxi and Agnes in this volume) describes the most well-known instance of such a gendered predicament in recent Indian history.

Introduction 37

25. Four religious communities, the majority Hindu, and the minority Muslim, Christian, and Parsi communities, have their own personal laws (other religious groups such as Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, and tribal and scheduled castes are subsumed under Hindu law). No one is exempt from or may opt out of a religious identity (Indians may choose, however, to be married under a nondenominational Special Marriage Act). Personal laws operate in matters relating to inheritance, marriage, divorce, maintenance, and adoption, which are regarded as ‘‘personal’’ issues, understood to be matters that relate to the family or ‘‘personal’’ sphere. 26. The repercussions of census operations undertaken by colonial authorities continue to be felt in contemporary Indian politics, as recently, in fact, as the first week of September 2004, when the census o≈ce released the First Report on Religion Data emerging from the Census of India, 2001. The Hindu right seized on this report to reinforce fears regarding a rising Muslim population. For critical assessments of both the Hindu right’s triumphalist response, and the report itself, see Alaka Basu, Rajalakshmi, and Chaturvedi. 27. Although we focus on the Indian National Congress, which, as the party that came into power at the center, enacted most of the policies that characterize the dominant nationalism of this time, there were other parties representing the claims of various groups, including the Khilafat Movement, the Muslim league, the Hindu Mahashabha, the Akali Dal, who were also involved in defining nationalism. With regard to opposition against the Congress while it was in power, we should note especially, as Kaushik Sunder Rajan reminded us, ‘‘the incubation of Hindutva ideologies, Dravidian/ federalist movements, land reform movements (Naxalbari etc.); the latter two in particular were very active by the late 60s’’ (personal communication). 28. ‘‘By contrast,’’ Sumit Sarkar says, ‘‘thoroughgoing projects of agnostic secularization remained a relatively minor strand,’’ so much so that ‘‘ ‘secular’ in India . . . has meant, principally, ‘anticommunal’ ’’ (‘‘Indian Nationalism and the Politics of Hindutva,’’ 273). 29. Shefali Jha identifies three positions, of which two opposing ones acquired particular prominence—one that sought a strict separation of religion and state, and the other that sought to ‘‘evolve a characteristically Indian secularism’’ by opposing state neutrality with respect to all religions and advocating in its stead ‘‘equal respect for all religions’’ (‘‘Secularism in the Constituent Assembly Debates,’’ 3176). The Constituent Assembly finally settled for a document marked by inconsistencies and contradictions that are seized on by secularism’s progressive and reactionary critics today to argue against its adequacy. A fair sampling of these can be found in Bhargava, ed., Secularism and Its Critics. 30. Significantly, Aamir Mufti, as we note in the second section of this introduction, makes an analogous charge relating to Nehru’s secular nationalism in his ‘‘Secularism and Minority.’’ 31. As a dark counterpoint to Datar’s point, consider the Moor’s comment on secularism’s triumph toward the end of Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh, a novel otherwise substantially about the failures and limits of secularism. Realizing that his father, Abraham Zogoiby, is an even more powerful leader of the Bombay underworld than Mainduck (Raman

38 R. Sunder Rajan and A. D. Needham

Fielding—Bal Thackeray’s stand-in), the Moor notes: ‘‘The Muslim gangs had been united by a Cochin Jew. The truth is almost always exceptional, freakish, improbable, and almost never normative, almost never what cold calculations would suggest. In the end people make the alliances they need. They follow the men who can lead them in the directions they prefer. It occurred to me that my father’s pre-eminence . . . was a dark, ironic victory for India’s deep-rooted secularism. The very nature of this intercommunity league of cynical self-interest gave the lie to Mainduck’s vision of a theocracy in which one particular variant of Hinduism would rule, while all India’s other people bowed their beaten heads’’ (331–32). 32. In a related fashion, Yamini Aiyer and Meeto Malik argue for the urgent need to relocate an understanding of minority rights in the economic rather than simply the cultural and religious sphere, an understanding that is geared to address, in other words, the acute socioeconomic deprivations Muslims su√er from. They note that the constitutional definition of secularism, on which the Indian state and civil society organizations rely in their arguments for minority rights, by prioritizing cultural rights of Muslims, has ‘‘fallen short of recognizing and actively addressing the issue of [their] socio-economic rights’’ (4709). 33. For the vhp ‘‘represents a powerful social movement . . . has a mass base . . . organizational strength . . . [and an] ideology [that is] subtly infiltrating institutions,’’ as Pratap Bhanu Mehta had noted in an analysis written after the Gujarat violence, in 2002. From this Mehta concluded that it would be ‘‘complacent to assume that an electoral defeat for bjp will be a major reversal of fortune for vhp; that it will diminish in strength if it stops receiving the patronage of power.’’ The vhp’s strength flows from the fact that ‘‘its conception of India has more tacit currency than we care to admit’’ (‘‘An Uphill Struggle’’). 34. The Maharashtra State elections in 2004, where the Congress-NCP combine defeated the bjp-Shiv Sena combine, illustrate, for several commentators, the crucial anticommunal role civil society groups played in urging people to vote against communalism. Similarly, reports about the Supreme Court’s order in August 2004 to reopen the more than four thousand cases (dealing with the Gujarat 2002 riots), which had earlier been summarily closed by the police and state judiciary, viewed this order as a product of the patient and concerted e√ort of a variety of civil society groups (‘‘The Civil War on Sa√ron,’’ Tehelka, October 30, 2004; ‘‘Shut and Open Case,’’ Hindustan Times, August 19, 2004; The Telegraph, August 19, 2004). In 2004 an All India Secular Forum was convened ‘‘to assist and promote activities which enhance secular and democratic values.’’ Its report stresses the importance of the interregnum: ‘‘The defeat of the bjp has given us some breathing space to gear up our activities, it is an important reprieve, which can be used to make our networks stronger, to streamline and broaden our activities.’’ It is envisaged as a ‘‘federation’’ of di√erent organizations working toward similar ends, ‘‘with a fine balance between the central and local initiatives and responsibilities.’’ 35. The Indian state’s involvement in running temples and religious endowments ‘‘raises questions about the nature of Indian secularism and the prudence of government pol-

Introduction 39

icy,’’ writes Pratap Bhanu Mehta. In Andhra Pradesh alone the department of endowments ‘‘controls 70,000 personnel and claims to run approximately 33,000 temples and religious endowments,’’ while ‘‘Tamil Nadu has what amounts to a parallel civil service for temple administration.’’ Mehta argues that ‘‘there is something amiss when a secular state gets into the business of appointing priests, regulating pujas and taking over temples,’’ though there may have been some justification for it in the early years of independence when matters like temple entry had to be legislated (Mehta, ‘‘Secularism at Stake’’). The Supreme Court, on the other hand, has held in a recent judgment that ‘‘management of a temple has nothing to do with religion, it is a secular task and should be conducted in the same manner as the administration of any other institution.’’ (The judgment was a response to a petition brought by the president of the Guruvayoor temple protection committee and a Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader challenging the appropriateness of Marxist ministers of the Kerala government nominating members to the temple committee.) (Editorial, ‘‘Secular Spirit,’’ The Telegraph, April 25, 2005). 36. The following example, taken almost at random from an Indian daily newspaper, is not unusual: headlined ‘‘Space Science in the Lord’s Hands,’’ the report goes on to describe how ‘‘Indian space scientists placed miniature replicas of the rocket that is set to blast o√ tomorrow morning from the Sriharikota spaceport and the two satellites it would carry at a shrine to the god for his blessings. The replicas were taken to the sanctum sanctorum of the reigning deity of the Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanam and ordained as priests chanted Vedic hymns’’ (G. S. Radhakrishna, The Telegraph, May 5, 2005). 37. Amartya Sen invokes many of these in his essay ‘‘Secularism and Its Discontents.’’ 38. In a magazine article titled ‘‘The Invention of the Hindu,’’ Pankaj Mishra o√ers the following version of the religion of the ‘‘Hindus’’: ‘‘Religion to them was more unselfconscious practice than rigid belief; it is partly why Indian theology accommodates atheism and agnosticism. Their rituals and deities varied greatly, defined often by caste and geography; and they were also flexible: new goddesses continue to enrich the pantheon even today. There is an AIDS goddess which apparently both causes and eradicates the disease. At any given time, both snakes and the ultimate reality of the universe were worshipped in the same region, sometimes by the same person. Religion very rarely demanded, as it did with many Muslims or Christians, adherence to a set of theological ideas prescribed by a single prophet, book, or ecclesiastical authority.’’ 39. Kolatkar’s prize-winning poem Jejuri is about a small temple town in Maharashtra; in his Marathi poem Bhijki Vahi, he invokes the Bhakti saint Tukaram. The following poem from Jejuri, frequently anthologized, su≈ces for an introduction: A Scratch what is god and what is stone the dividing line if it exists is very thin at jejuri

40 R. Sunder Rajan and A. D. Needham

and every other stone is god or his cousin there is no crop other than god and god is harvested here around the year and round the clock out of the bad earth and the hard rock that giant hunk of rock the size of a bedroom is khandoba’s wife turned to stone the crack that runs right across is the scar from his broadsword he struck her down with once in a fit of rage scratch a rock and a legend springs (28) 40. The contributors to this volume are among those who have dealt with aspects of religious belief in India in significant ways. Gauri Viswanathan’s Outside the Fold is a major extended scholarly investigation of religious experience in recent times. But Viswanathan’s emphasis on conversion primarily as a form of dissent leads her into historical analysis rather than an exploration of religious subjectivity. Ashis Nandy has spoken of the need to distinguish religion as ‘‘faith’’ from religion as ideology but so far as we know has not investigated the operations of faith in any great depth (Nandy, ‘‘The Politics of Secularism and the Recovery of Religious Tolerance,’’ 70). In a recent magazine article he has clarified his own position vis-à-vis religion thus: ‘‘I am a child of modern India and a non-believer myself. It has taken me many years to turn a traitor to my class—the urban, western-educated, modern Indian—and to learn to respect the people who have sustained Indian democracy using their tacit theories and principles of communal amity. That has not turned me into a believer but forced me to rediscover, study and rea≈rm these theories and principles in my work during the last 20 years’’ (‘‘A Billion Gandhis’’). The formulation ‘‘I am not a believer, but . . .’’ is a fairly representative one among those engaged in writing about these issues in India. 41. For an important work of this kind, see Parita Mukta, Upholding the Common Life, which shows the influence of the songs of the medieval woman poet Mira in many parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan today. 42. See also Bhatnagar et al., who explore the ‘‘subaltern traditions of Meera’’ as proof of the ‘‘lived relevance of the Meera tradition to the religio-political idioms in postcolonial India’’ (45).

Introduction 41

43. This is important to mark because it sets Chakrabarty’s stand apart from some problematic positions taken by intellectuals in India on religious issues. In a discussion of the appropriation of the Hindu goddess for social movements, Sunder Rajan has argued in an earlier essay that elite intellectuals’ support for religious symbols in the absence of personal religious conviction—whether as a capitulation to these symbols’ perceived appeal to the ‘‘masses,’’ or as a show of identification with them—constitutes, quite literally, bad faith (‘‘Hindu Goddess,’’ 333). 44. To realize how di≈cult, if not impossible, such an undertaking is likely to be, how much it will be resisted, we need only recall the debates at the Round Table conferences of 1931–32 that Tejani analyzes, when the views and agendas of representatives of minorities were refused or displaced in the interests of ‘‘national unity’’ as conceived by majority interests. 45. Directive principles are constitutional injunctions, viewed as policies to be kept in abeyance and implemented in the fullness of time. 46. Mukul Kesavan’s remarks on how ‘‘Islamicate culture’’ has been ‘‘instrumental in shaping Hindi cinema as a whole—not just some ‘Muslim’ component in it’’ are relevant. Indeed, Kesavan locates in Hindi cinema—‘‘the unpartitioned homeland of the people of al-Hind’’—a significant mediating function until ‘‘the secular kingdom comes’’ (‘‘Urdu, Awadh and Tawaif,’’ 256).

42 R. Sunder Rajan and A. D. Needham

Shabnum Tejani a

Reflections on the Category of Secularism in India Gandhi, Ambedkar, and the Ethics of Communal Representation, c. 1931


iscussions on the place of the religious community in Indian society have turned on the opposition of ‘‘secularism and communalism’’ and of ‘‘modernity and tradition.’’ Recently—and particularly since the rise of right-wing Hindu movements—leftleaning intellectuals have rallied around the secular ideal, asserting the need for the ‘‘secular’’ to confront the ‘‘communal’’ (P. C. Chatterji; Bidyut Chakrabarty; Esteves; Amartya Sen, ‘‘Secularism and Its Discontents’’; Panikkar). However, in these debates, secularism and communalism have become reified and overdetermined categories, existing outside any relationship to the particularities of the historical contexts from which they emerged. Consequently, they have become locked into an implacable binary relationship which has been unhelpful in understanding conflict between Hindu and Muslim communities and its historical relationship to the construction of Indian nationalism.∞ Scholars have pointed to the namecalling that has become associated with discussions on politics and religion, or secularism and communalism in India (Bhargava, ‘‘Religious and Secular Identities’’). Those accused of bringing religion into politics are called communalists, those seen as pandering to religious minorities are branded as pseudo-secularists, and those charged with wanting to introduce Western (secular) modes of governance and

ethics are pilloried as Macaulayites. The debate has been circumscribed by its own categories. Part of the reason for this is the way in which secularism has been fundamentally implicated in narratives of modernity. As history marched forward, common sense, after Kant and Hegel, predicted that so would the secularized individual emerge, unfettered by ascriptive identities. In this sense, modernity marked the ultimate stage of history, signified also by the emergence of public, civic, and privatized religious identities, liberal democracy, and the nation-state (Partha Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought, 1–35, and ‘‘Two Poets and Death’’; Dipesh Chakrabarty, Habitations of Modernity, 80–97). This trajectory of human development and social transformation was to pave the way for all other nations and all other peoples, and the categories of nation, liberal democracy, and the secular individual that emerged in the philosophical debates of post-Reformation Europe were to be transported wholesale across the globe. But it was a trajectory that implied an understanding of humanity that was fundamentally ahistorical. The debates in India have been locked into the binary oppositions of secularism/communalism, politics/religion, and Macaulayism/authenticism because of the ways in which these categories have been treated both as ahistorical, and simultaneously bound to the stages of history. It is precisely because of this that it becomes possible for commentators to argue that secularism in India is ‘‘discontented’’ (Amartya Sen), or even that it is ‘‘dead’’ (Nandy, in his essay in this volume).≤ In this essay, I focus on one historical moment, the Round Table Conferences that took place in London in 1931–32, the purpose of which was to draw up a constitution for a future independent India. It was during the course of these conferences that Gandhi went on his famous ‘‘fast unto death’’ in protest at Ambedkar’s attempt to have untouchables recognized as a minority community along the same lines as Muslims and Sikhs. This period is of particular significance because it reflects competing ideas about the legitimate place—the citizenship—of the ‘‘community’’ and the ‘‘minority’’ within what it meant to be Indian, at a time when such ideas were still largely malleable. The debates during the conferences characterize the dilemmas of formulating a liberal democracy for people who had historically been represented, and in turn came to represent themselves, as determined by the ascriptive identities of sect and caste. Notions of fossilized communities, a majority ‘‘Hindu’’ population, as well as liberal democratic ideals, had existed side by side in India for much of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth (Ludden, ‘‘Orientalist Empiricism’’; Dirks). It was these notions that laid the

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ground for the debates in 1931, and out of these that a particular idea of secular nationalism, or indeed, secularism, emerged in India. The preoccupation with ‘‘religion’’ in the debates on secularism has meant that the discussion has been almost wholly devoid of any attention to the question of caste. Yet a close study of a moment such as that of 1931–32 will show that the distinction between so-called religious issues and those of caste is a false one. In fact, the politics of secularism in India, structured by the imperative of creating a democratic majority, was fundamentally reliant on the co-optation of untouchables into an upper-caste Hindu identity (S. Sarkar, Writing Social History, 358–90; Ilaiah; Nigam). Thus, in taking the example of the Round Table Conferences, I want to make two points: first, that secularism in India was not about ‘‘religion’’ as much as it was about the dilemmas of democracy; and second, that to treat secularism as a predetermined category elucidates nothing about its meaning in the context of India. Rather than being distinct from the categories of community and caste, nationalism and communalism, liberalism and democracy, Indian secularism emerged at the nexus of all of these. It was therefore a relational category arising out of a series of specific historical negotiations. As such, it had meanings that were modern, in the sense that they were contemporaneous with such negotiations elsewhere, but they were not universal in that they were closely tied to the historical context out of which they emerged and did not replicate the narrative of history as staged in the West.≥ Framing the Terms of the Debate: Constitutional Reform in 1909 Colonial knowledge had long represented Indian society as fundamentally divided by caste and sect. India was thus not seen as a society of individuals but of communities (Washbrook; Inden). Institutions such as the Census sought to classify and document these communities and had placed the innumerable castes under the category of ‘‘Hindu’’ (Cohn; Appadurai). This, as well as the ways in which upper-caste Hindu social reform movements of the nineteenth century had recast India as the land of the Aryans, with Muslims and Christians as foreign interlopers, was central to the identification of Hindus as a majority community (Ranade; Jones; O’Hanlon, Caste, Conflict and Ideology; Partha Chatterjee, ‘‘History and the Nationalization of Hinduism’’).∂ This picture of a society comprised of caste and community, of majority and minority, well in place by the late nineteenth century, underpinned all debates

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around constitutional reform that would take place in the twentieth. This is particularly evident in the debates that resulted in the reforms of 1909, which in turn framed the language in which all future constitutional arrangements would take place. It is for this reason that I begin with some attention to this earlier period. Preliminary e√orts at representative reform had been made in 1892 and had been along territorial (municipal) and not communal lines. Upper-caste, Western-educated lawyers and publicists had been the main beneficiaries of these measures, being returned to elected o≈ce in numbers vastly disproportionate to their ratio in the population. Well-placed Muslims, as well as colonial o≈cials, saw these reforms as misguided and inappropriate since they had resulted in the election of men grossly unrepresentative of Indian society. That the men from these classes had gone on to represent their own interests seemed to lend credence to the imperial idea that there could be no ‘‘general’’ interest in India, only sectional interests. Any future reforms, it was determined, would have to take this into account. The first concerted attempt at constitutional reform in India took place in 1909 (M. N. Das; Wasti; P. Singh). The Morley-Minto reforms, named after the viceroy and the secretary of state for India who instituted them, came on the backs of three sets of events. First, the social and political upheaval that had followed the Partition of Bengal in 1905, led in large part by a narrow contingent of Western-educated Brahmins, had prompted colonial o≈cials to seek a counterbalance in the loyal and conservative sections in society—the landlords and the Muslims. Second, constitutional gradualists within the Indian National Congress, exemplified by the likes of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, continued to push the colonial government on its promises of electoral reform. Minto, in his role as the new viceroy, saw the need to be responsive to these political demands. Third, uneasy about the prospect of electoral reform which had worked against them in 1892 and would presumably continue to do so, a deputation of prominent Indian Muslims met with Minto in October 1906 to state their case that in any further electoral reform Muslims should, on account of their status as a minority in India and their historical significance to Indian society, be considered an electoral category in their own right. The Morley-Minto reforms are, in fact, best known for their institution of a separate or ‘‘communal’’ electorate for Muslims. It is widely recognized that during this period a corporate Muslim identity was formalized in Indian politics. Consequently, 1909 has been given a prominent place in much of the

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scholarship not only on Muslim identity formation (Shaikh) but also in its display of ‘‘communal’’ or ‘‘separatist’’ sentiment (Robinson), as a step on the path to Pakistan (M. N. Das; Page). However, at the outset of the discussion around council reform in 1906, the term ‘‘communal’’ was not one used solely in reference to confessional communities but also included nonreligious corporate interests such as landlords, tea planters, jute farmers, as well as commercial and educational bodies (Wasti). Strikingly, all ‘‘communities,’’ regardless of relative size, were deemed equally constitutive of Indian society. In current debates, and indeed by 1909, ‘‘communal’’ was taken to mean the political organizing of a ‘‘religious’’ community to the furtherance of its own ends, and often in the most hostile and violent of ways. Its meaning is heavily imbued with negative connotations: to be communal came to mean being irrationally attached to the premodern, subnational identities of caste and religion, and not the modern civic identities of class and occupation. It was this shift in meaning—from the consideration that communities or communal bodies were a constitutive part of Indian society to one where their interests were considered ‘‘particular’’ and outside the priorities of nationalism —that was to have profound implications for how future debates would be framed. The argument in favor of electoral representation along communal lines was twofold. On the one hand, a sense of realpolitik meant that in order to o√set the potentially destabilizing e√ects of political unrest, the colonial government needed to shore up what were seen as the more loyal and conservative elements in society. On the other, the profession that the purpose of colonial rule was to educate and enlighten Indian society to reflect the values of Britain, to school an as yet unprepared population for self-government, meant that reform in line with the principles of Western liberal representative democracy was requisite (U. Mehta). However, colonial o≈cials felt it inappropriate to introduce such forms of representation immediately. India, so the argument went, was not yet ready for the kind of representative democracy enjoyed by its rulers. Constitutional reform in a society so profoundly divided by caste and religion could not be geared to the representation of the individual. Reform had surely to be ‘‘progressive,’’ but it must also be ‘‘appropriate,’’ and in line with the ‘‘requirements’’ of Indian society.∑ A constitution for India should therefore seek to reflect rather than alter the traditional institutions of India. After the failures of 1892, Minto concluded that ‘‘the multifarious groups . . . which make up the people of India can be represented in the fullest

The Category of Secularism in India 49

sense of the word only by persons who actually belong to them’’ (Minto to Morley, March 21, 1907; emphasis mine). Separate electorates were conceived as a potential leveler, initiating marginalized communities such as the Muslims and the landlords, whose interests had hitherto been largely unrepresented, in the ways of liberal democracy. The separate electorate would function by allowing a double vote. Members of a communal body, say the zamindars of Sindh, would be allowed to cast their vote both in a general electorate and for a representative taken only from their own body. They were intended as a temporary measure: by balancing interests, these electorates would work to create a level playing field. Once the position of backward communities had been raised, their members would not in theory feel it necessary or be bound to represent only the interests of ‘‘their’’ communities. The measures that were instituted in 1909—license to vote in general and separate electorates for Muslims and other communities to be determined within the di√erent regions—were not very di√erent from those that had been proposed in the preceding years. But by 1909 the question of representation had shifted from being a qualitative one about what it meant to be a ‘‘community’’ in the Indian context to being a quantitative one, where ‘‘minority’’ came to be defined in strictly numerical terms. At the outset of the debates, the discussion had emphasized the integral importance of communal interests in the definitions of an Indian representative system. It asserted not only their legitimacy in a potential constitution but also that they were an essential, foundational part of one. In this sense, the reforms had been about recognizing a certain parity among communities and the right of each to be heard. By 1909 this had all changed. In the complex back and forth of the debates it had become possible to entertain the idea that communal interests, specifically those of Muslims, could be taken care of outside one main representative structure and were no longer seen as necessarily constitutive of it. The proposals for the separate electorate for Muslims had been met with tremendous resistance from an upper-caste elite. By October 1909 it was stated that ‘‘[the] special representation of Muhammadans was only claimed and only conceded on the ground that so important a minority required protection’’ (confidential note on the new Legislative Councils, Appendix II on Muhammadan Representation, John Morley Papers, vol. 34). Thus it could be argued that ‘‘[where] they are in a majority [i.e., Punjab, Bengal, Sindh, and the North West Frontier Provinces] no special measure of protection is required’’ (Appendix II on

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Muhammadan Representation, John Morley Papers, vol. 34). It became possible to talk about Hindus needing ‘‘protection’’ from Muslims in regions where the latter’s population was numerically greater; issues of ‘‘backwardness’’ and relative social power and access to it, issues which had contributed to earlier discussions, were all lost.∏ Muslims had made the argument for separate electorates as a way to circumvent the weakness inherent in their poverty of numbers. However, rather than recognizing Muslims as a community on par with Hindus, the upshot of the reforms was to render the Muslims a minority circumscribed within this very logic of numbers. In addition, the perception on the part of the educated Hindu middle classes that representation for Muslims on councils in greater proportion than their percentage in the population was ‘‘excessive’’ and ‘‘at the expense of ’’ Hindus, associated the communal electorate, and the term ‘‘communal,’’ with divisive, denationalizing, and parochial ideas. Ambedkar and the Argument for Untouchable Representation, 1917 After 1909, the minority question became practically synonymous with the Muslim question. The other recognized minorities of India, the Jains, Sikhs, and Christians, were, from the vantage point of the colonial government and the newly emerging culture of representative politics, numerically and politically insignificant. But the set of communities in whose general ‘‘backwardness’’ government had expressed concern were the non-Brahmins and untouchables. The colonial state had long recognized the degraded conditions under which untouchables lived and saw this inhumanity as an integral part of the unchristian values of Hinduism. In the early part of the nineteenth century, o≈cials had begun a system of grants-in-aid to Christian missionaries to impart Western education. Moreover, the administrations of the di√erent presidencies introduced small pieces of legislation over the course of the second half of the nineteenth century which sought to ameliorate the backward condition of these communities. However, legislation was limited and generally only supported the removal of legal barriers to education and employment rather than actively promoting an anti-untouchability program (Nath). Particularly after 1858 and the pronouncement by Queen Victoria that the new regime would maintain a policy of noninterference in native custom and religion, o≈cials were reluctant to take any steps to undermine untouchability for fear of provoking the accusa-

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tion from upper-caste sections that they were ‘‘interfering’’ in the essential tenets of Hinduism. The conflict over Untouchable representation, especially around the question of whether they were an integral part of Hinduism, was seen first during the debates that prefigured the Council reforms of 1909. In 1906, the Aga Khan wrote a letter to Lord Minto in which he argued that the relative proportion of Muslims in British India to Hindus was greater than indicated in previous census reports. For all intents and purposes, the Depressed Classes were not Hindus and should not be regarded as such in any future constitutional arrangements: ‘‘The Mahomedans of India number according to the census taken in the year 1901, over sixty-two millions or between one-fifth to one-fourth of the total population of His Majesty’s Indian dominions, and if a reduction is made for . . . those classes who are ordinarily classified as Hindus but properly speaking are not Hindus at all, the proportion of Mahomedans to the Hindu majority becomes much larger’’ (quoted in Nath, 43). In support of the Aga Khan’s suggestion, the colonial government proposed the creation of constituencies on the basis of caste. This drew vociferous opposition from upper-caste Hindus who argued that the caste system was already in decline and that to make it the bedrock of an electoral arrangement would serve only to fossilize hierarchy and not undermine it. Consequently, the proposal was withdrawn and the reforms only provided separate electorates for those communities for whom they had been initially intended, Muslims, landlords, commercial bodies, and so on. However, the commissioner of the next census in 1911, E. A. Gai, took up the question of the definition of ‘‘Hindu.’’ He wrote to his provincial superintendents that ‘‘the complaint has often been made that the census returns of Hindus are misleading, as they include millions of people who are not really Hindus at all’’ and suggested that these groups should be listed in a separate table (Nath, 46). Bhim Rao Ambedkar returned from his education in Britain and the United States in 1916 and very quickly established himself in the eyes of the colonial state as a principal spokesman for untouchables. He formulated a radical philosophy that was anticaste and presented this as part of an argument for separate representation for untouchables before the constitutional Reforms Committee in 1919 (Keer; Gore; Omvedt, Dalits and the Democratic Revolution). The Montagu-Chelmsford Report of 1918 had undertaken to safeguard the interests of Depressed Classes, and it was Ambedkar’s memorandum that elucidated the full potential of their being able to be defined as a minority. Ambedkar argued that the British were faced with the task of creating 52 Shabnum Tejani

institutions of representative government.π The successful realization of such a project, he wrote, would be founded on an accurate understanding of the nature, structure, and composition of Indian society, and the constitution would have to be appropriately tailored to these particularities. Interestingly, Ambedkar’s perspective on the structure of Indian society closely reflected that of European scholars and colonial o≈cials: India was a society divided along lines of caste and community and the boundaries of these communities were water-tight, allowing no ‘‘endosmosis,’’ no mobility, between them. Indian society was made up of groups—Hindus, Mohammedans, Christians, Parsees, Jews—that were set in their own ‘‘like-mindedness.’’ Except for the Hindus, members of these groups could be understood as perfectly likeminded with respect to one another. But the case of the Hindus was a little di√erent: ‘‘the significant fact about the Hindus is that before they are Hindus, they are members of some caste.’’ Thus, between two Hindus of di√erent castes there was conflict arising from their inherently di√erent-minded caste positions. In the final analysis, Ambedkar argued, Hindus divided themselves into touchables and untouchables: ‘‘untouchability is the strongest ban on the endosmosis between them. Their complete isolation accounts for the acuteness of the di√erence of like-mindedness.’’ He warned that it would do no good to ignore the very real divisions of caste society if indeed representative politics had any hope of being broadbased and popular rather than narrow and elitist. Territorial constituencies would be entirely inappropriate for they were properly representative only of secular and material interests. The secular divisions of landlords, laborers, free traders, and protectionists did not accurately represent the fault lines in India. The injustice that would be committed by instituting territorial elections would be that while ‘‘it may not leave unrepresented the interests of the members of minor groups, [it] leaves them without any chance of personal representation.’’ In a society such as India it was imperative that people were represented by members of their own communities. A high-caste Hindu, for example, could campaign on a platform of protecting Untouchable interests, and since caste Hindus made up the majority population, the candidate would easily succeed in the election. Once elected, however, what guarantee was there that he would work against the interests of his own caste and make Untouchable interests central to a progam of social reform? Likewise, what would prevent caste Hindus from electing a token Untouchable, a stooge who would work not in the interests of his community but of the Hindu majority? The premise of democratic government was that each member of society The Category of Secularism in India 53

should have the opportunity to realize her potential. But if a government could not properly represent the needs, aspirations, and interests of all its people, then it could not function as a democracy. Territorial constituencies, Ambedkar argued, in failing to guarantee that the candidate elected would represent the true interests of minority communities, failed to create a popular or genuinely democratic government. The way to address the problem of representation for ‘‘those minorities that cannot otherwise secure personal representation’’ was to reserve seats in the general electorate, or to grant communal electorates. Those who held that communal representation undermined the unity of the nation took an approach that was overly simplistic. The premise of this position was that untouchability could be treated as a social issue, and constitutionalism as a political one. But the social and the political were inseparable and could not be ‘‘worn one at a time as the season demands.’’ Ambedkar argued that open competition ‘‘is as it should be if all were equally free to fight,’’ but ‘‘to educate the untouchables by Shahtras [Shastras] into pro-touchables and the touchables into anti-untouchables and then to propose that the two should fight out at an open poll is to betray signs of mental aberration or a mentality fed on cunning.’’ Indeed, it was this approach that would tend to ‘‘develop the personality of the few at the cost of the many.’’ This was precisely the argument made by Muslims in 1909. Ambedkar and Gandhi at the Round Table Conference, 1931 The Round Table Conferences held in London in the early 1930s drew together representatives from di√erent parties—the Hindu Mahasabha, the Liberals, untouchables, Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians, and European commercial classes, and Gandhi as the sole representative of the Congress—with a view to resolving the place of minority communities in a future constitution for what was still being called Dominion India. In 1930, Ambedkar argued along many of the same lines that he had in 1919. He, like Jinnah, had been disillusioned by the Nehru Report of 1928. The Report had maintained that untouchability should be abolished by the position of untouchables being ‘‘raised socially and economically’’ and indicated that ‘‘the only e√ective way to do this is to give them educational and other facilities for this advance and to remove all obstacles in the way of this advance’’ (All Parties Conference, 59–60). It dismissed any question of separate electorates for the Depressed Classes as it did for all minority groups, on the grounds that they were deemed ‘‘bad for the growth of a national spirit.’’∫ Ambedkar argued that this was disingenuous

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since the Indian intelligentsia, while it spoke in the name of the country, in the name of nationalism, was populated by upper castes and ‘‘has not shed the narrow particularism of the class from which it is drawn’’ (Ahir, 9). In fact, the central questions that faced the Depressed Classes in 1930, he claimed, were ‘‘how will Dominion India function? Where will the centre of power be? Who will have it?’’ And, most importantly, ‘‘will the Depressed Classes be heirs to it?’’ (Ahir, 8). If the possibilities of democracy were to become a reality, any constitution for India had to be appropriately designed for the particularities of caste society. A constitution that ignored these realities, Ambedkar said, would be a ‘‘truncated one and a total misfit to the society for which it is designed’’ (Ahir, 9). He argued that the problem of the Depressed Classes would ‘‘never be solved unless they get political power in their own hands’’: At every successive step taken by the British Government to widen the scope of representative Government the Depressed Classes have been systematically left out. No thought has been given to their claim for political power. I protest with all the emphasis I can that we will not stand this any longer. The settlement to our problem must be a part of the general political settlement and must not be left over to the shifting sands of the sympathy and goodwill of the rulers of the future. (Ahir, 9–10)

This representation would be achieved through reservation of seats in legislative and judicial bodies, as well as in the civil and military services, and by election, not nomination. He advocated that they be recognized as a minority community much in the same way that Muslims were. The Lucknow Pact of 1916 had made a commitment to separate electorates for Muslims and recognized them as a historically important community, over and above their numerical importance. Subsequently, Gandhi had also agreed for these provisions to be extended to the Sikh minority but insisted that recognition for minorities would not extend further than these two communities. Gandhi vehemently opposed the idea of separate electorates for untouchables on the grounds that they were part of the organic unity of Hinduism. He held that the institution of untouchability was a heinous one, but to constitute them as an interest group would represent a ‘‘vivisection’’ of Hinduism (for Gandhi’s views on untouchability, see Dalton; Gandhi, Collected Works, 46:302– 3). But Ambedkar made it very clear that untouchables should not be considered a subset of Hinduism but a minority in their own right:

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If Moslems and Sikhs are to be recognised [as a separate entity for representation in the legislatures], then their case and my case are so analogous that I think it is not a question for discussion at all. . . . It may be said that the Depressed Classes are Hindus and therefore need not be recognised separately as [a] separate political entity. But in answer to that I say that the customs and manners of life in India and amongst the Hindus are such that Moslems, Sikhs [and] Christians are notionally more near the Hindus than the Depressed Classes. They are all touchables to the Hindus; but we are untouchables. (Moonje, October 2, 1931)

Gandhi and the Congress also opposed constitutional recognition for other communities such as the Indian Christians and Anglo-Indian commercial communities. Sir Hubert Carr, the representative of the latter group, registered surprise at Gandhi’s position: ‘‘The attitude of Mahatma Gandhi of not recognising anybody else except the Sikhs and the Moslems . . . has taken us by surprise. I hope my community will be similarly recognised.’’ Carr reasoned that his community desired ‘‘to make our own contribution to the political growth of India.’’ The problem, however, was that ‘‘in a general electorate we will not be able to make a common appeal to the vast masses of voters’’ (Moonje, October 3, 1931). The discussion turned on which communities were historically important and unique enough to be deserving of separate representation—the argument made for Muslims and Sikhs to justify their special status. Opposition to Carr’s demand was based on the idea that the Anglo-Indian commercial community was made up of mere sojourners and was therefore not deserving of such recognition. In addition, Gandhi stated that the Minorities Committee was in fact the wrong venue for Carr’s proposal because ‘‘we are here concerned with the communal question, . . . and not commerce’’—a telling statement that revealed the central fault line of the debate (Moonje, October 3, 1931). For Gandhi, the question of communal representation was a ‘‘religious’’ and not a ‘‘political’’ one: it was particular to confessional groups and could not extend to groups with secular interests. For Ambedkar, however, Carr’s claim in this forum was perfectly legitimate since for him communal representation was a constitutional and therefore a deeply political question: ‘‘I cannot understand how their claim can be ignored. . . . In the Belgium constitution there is a special provision for a domiciled community’’ (Moonje, October 3, 1931). The Christian claims for representation reflected other weaknesses in Con56 Shabnum Tejani

gress opposition to Ambedkar. Their representative in London, Panir Selvam, argued that Christians were neither being given separate recognition nor were they allowed to participate as Hindus: ‘‘Christians as a community want separate electorates in spite of letters and resolutions received by Mahatma Gandhi to the contrary. I had a conversation with Mahatma at Tanjore on Brahmin Non-Brahmin controversy. I was sharply told by Mahatmaji that I being a Christian should have no concern with it. Thus, although originally Hindus, we are treated as [a] separate community’’ (Moonje, October 3, 1931). Selvam argued, therefore, that if Christians were treated as a separate community in the cultural life of India, they should likewise enjoy the legislative and electoral implications of this separateness. He maintained that Gandhi had agreed that only Sikhs and Muslims would have separate representation. However, this was not, in fact, the reality, for in regions where Hindus were a numerical minority—in the North West Provinces, Sind, Punjab, and Bengal— they had been promised constitutional protection of their position. And if the argument in favor of protection for Muslims was made on historical grounds, ‘‘Christianity in India is older than Islam.’’ Why, he argued, ‘‘should we alone be excluded from the scheme of protection?’’ (Moonje, October 3, 1931). Selvam’s pointed criticisms highlighted the central issue: if Muslims and Sikhs were to enjoy special provisions, what made the Congress deny the claims of the Depressed Classes and other communities? Gandhi’s answer was the Lucknow Pact. Separate electorates had been promised, and it was now a point of principle not to retract this position. However, Jinnah knew that not all Hindus supported Gandhi in this. He turned to Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, Congress member and leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, and asked him if he recognized the Muslim claim for special recognition. To this Malaviya replied that he was in fact ‘‘opposed on principle to recognise special claims in the National Government’’ (Moonje, October 3, 1931; emphasis mine). The contrast Malaviya made between ‘‘special claims’’ and those of the ‘‘National Government’’ rendered the former a representative of smaller fragmentary interests, and the latter of general interest and for the common good. However, Malaviya’s compatriot, the prominent Hindu Mahasabha leader from the Central Provinces and Berar, B. S. Moonje, stated that ‘‘Hindus in Punjab and Bengal are minorities and require the same protection’’ (Moonje, October 5, 1931). It became quickly clear to those representing minority communities that if a serious proposal for electoral provisions for Hindus in provinces where they were a numerical minority was on the table, the defense for separate electorates only for Muslims and Sikhs stood on shaky The Category of Secularism in India 57

ground. Thus Jinnah stated that he supported separate electorates for Depressed Classes, as did the Aga Khan, and the representatives of Christians, Sikhs, and Anglo-Indians. Muslims claimed that their social and economic backwardness entitled them to separate electorates with reserved seats even in provinces such as Punjab and Bengal where they were in a numerical majority. These claims, however, had drawn a great deal of criticism. Gandhi vocalized much of this dissatisfaction that centred on the injustice of a proposal which sought to institute a numerical majority as a statutory majority: ‘‘I hate the idea of a majority asking for statutory protection and separate electorates.’’Ω But, he went on, constitutionmaking did not have to wait for the communal question to be resolved and should certainly continue: ‘‘Solution or settlement of [the] communal problem should not be a condition precedent or a bar to the settlement of purely constitutional issues. If we fail utterly to come to communal settlement still constitutional-making must go on and should not be impeded in any way by anybody’’ (Moonje, October 7, 1931). The dichotomy in the positions held by Gandhi, Malaviya, and Moonje on the one hand, and Jinnah, the Aga Khan, Ambedkar, and representatives of other minority communities on the other was that the former had accepted the idea of separate representation for Muslims and Sikhs by way of a concession. For them, the communal or minority question had nothing to do with the question of nationalism but it was one for nationalism to overcome. For the latter, the resolution of these questions was at the heart of the problem. It was the place that minorities would have in India that was at stake. How this was resolved was critical, for it would represent a statement about the very nature of what it meant to be ‘‘Indian.’’ Fundamentally, this debate was about the place that social di√erence would have in the context of an emergent Indian identity. As the wrangling in Minorities Committee came to a grinding halt in August 1932, British Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald put forward his solution to the problem in the form of the Communal Award. Muslims, Sikhs, Europeans, and Christians were all to receive separate electorates. The Depressed Classes would receive separate electorates in the provinces in which they were most populous but would also be allowed to vote in general constituencies. The justification for this ‘‘double vote’’ was in order ‘‘to avoid electoral arrangements which would perpetuate their segregation.’’∞≠ Gandhi had earlier warned that if untouchables were granted separate electorates he would ‘‘resist with [his] life’’ until they were withdrawn (letter to Sir Samuel 58 Shabnum Tejani

Hoare, secretary of state, March 11, 1932, Collected Works, 49:190–91). He was not going to allow Hinduism to be fractured in this way: ‘‘the mere fact of ‘Depressed’ Classes having double votes does not protect them or Hindu society from being disrupted. . . . I sense the injection of a poison that is calculated to destroy Hinduism and do no good whatsoever to [them]’’ (Gandhi to Ramsay Macdonald, September 9, 1932, Collected Works, 51:31–32). To Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel he spoke of the gravest of his fears: ‘‘The possible consequences of separate electorates for harijans fill me with horror. . . . The separate electorate will create division among Hindus so much so that it will lead to bloodshed. Untouchable hooligans will make common cause with Muslim hooligans and kill caste Hindus. Has the British Government no idea of all this?’’ (August 21, 1932, Collected Works, 50:469). In dismay at the Communal Award, Gandhi began his famous ‘‘fast unto death’’ on September 20, 1932. Intense pressure was put on Ambedkar from around the country to withdraw his claims, which he ultimately did. The resulting Poona Pact ensured that untouchables were retained within a general electorate of Hindus (Kumar; Mandal). Under the Communal Award untouchables were accorded seventy-eight seats in the legislature along with the double vote—the right to elect their own candidates through a separate electorate as well as vote in the general electorate. Under the Poona Pact untouchables were granted 148 seats with 18 percent reserved for Untouchable candidates in the central legislature. However, the key point was that elections would take place through joint electorates. These provisions were maintained in the Government of India Act of 1935, and then in the final constitution. Aftermath and Conclusion The possibilities represented by the Minorities Pact and the Communal Award died a quick death in the face of Gandhi’s fast for unity. Ambedkar accused Gandhi of ‘‘preaching Caste under the name of Varna,’’ and of political opportunism: ‘‘he is afraid that if he opposed [caste Hindus] he will lose his place in politics’’ (‘‘Annihilation of Caste,’’ Appendix II: ‘‘A Reply to Mahatma,’’ 93– 94).∞∞ Indeed, the unity gained was a paltry one. In arguing that provisions for Depressed Classes would fragment both the unity of Hinduism and the unity of the nation, Congress had e√ectively reiterated the idea of a majority population. This process was intimately tied to the Muslim question. That Muslims would have constitutional protection as a minority was never in dispute, but the implication was that this was an unfortunate reality. Congress could not The Category of Secularism in India 59

retreat from the promise of parity in representation that they had given Muslims in the Lucknow Pact of 1916. In time perhaps Muslims would see themselves as Indian and these safeguards would not be necessary. But the Muslim question was a communal question and the same could not be true for untouchables. After all, how could India be a nation of minorities? Where then was the unity? Where then would be the nation? For the most extreme nationalist opinion, the exigencies of keeping untouchables within the fold had everything to do with the numerical advantage this would give them vis-à-vis Muslims. For the rest, it had to do with an acceptance of a formulation of unity that insisted on public sameness and private di√erence. Since the 1909 reforms, through the Khilafat period and the movement for regional autonomy of Muslim majority provinces, Muslims had fought against being relegated to a simple minority, consistently making the argument for their parity with Hindus. Perhaps the greatest irony of this episode in the 1930s is that while untouchables sought to be recognized as a minority, they were appropriated into a majority; and Muslims, who had fought for recognition over and above their numbers as a minority, were forced to be exactly that. Nationalism, it seemed, needed Muslims to be a minority and untouchables to be Hindus. In 1930, Ambedkar had been against the redistribution of provinces along Hindu and Muslim lines. But his criticism of Gandhi and of Congress nationalism after the Poona Pact had been bitter, and by the 1940s his position had changed. Just as MacDonald’s Communal Award had been necessary to safeguard communal interests because social reforms had failed to break down barriers of caste and community, he argued, so Pakistan represented the failures of Indian nationalism. Ambedkar saw a parallel between the right of Indians to freedom from British imperialism and the right of a minority to resist the aggressive nationalism of a majority: The Hindu Nationalist who hopes that Britain will coerce the Muslims into abandoning Pakistan, forgets that the right of nationalism to freedom from an aggressive foreign imperialism and the right of a minority to freedom from an aggressive majority’s nationalism are not two di√erent things; nor does the former stand on a more sacred footing than the latter. They are merely two aspects of the struggle for freedom and as such equal in their moral import. (‘‘Pakistan and the Partition of India,’’ 7)

In post-Partition India, this liberal democratic nationalism that Congress had fought so hard for—a nationalism that dictated that a communitarian politics 60 Shabnum Tejani

was necessarily communal and anti-national—changed its name to secularism.∞≤ This slippage in terminology is significant and comes out of the experience of Partition. Pakistan, a state created ostensibly along lines of religion, was seen by the nationalists who were left behind as the most extreme result of the politics of communalism. India was to be a secular modern democracy that was not ever again to be balkanized by the regressive, obscurantist communal agenda of a minority. Nehru, the new prime minister of India, made this amply clear: In the past we have unfortunately had communal troubles on a large scale. They are not going to be tolerated in the future. So far as the Government of India are concerned, they will deal with any communal outbreak with the greatest firmness. They will treat every Indian on an equal basis and try to secure for him all the rights which he shares with others. . . . Our State is not a communal state, but a democratic state in which every citizen has equal rights. The Government is determined to protect these rights. (‘‘This Unhappy Land of Five Rivers,’’ speech broadcast from New Delhi, August 19, 1947, in Independence and After)

It is this link between the politics of communalism and nationalism and ideas of minority and majority that rests at the heart of the question of secularism in India. In 1956, just two months before his death, in a public ceremony and along with a large number of his followers, Ambedkar converted to Buddhism. In 1935 he had announced that he would ‘‘not die a Hindu’’ and his conversion twenty years later marked the end of a long quest for an alternative identification for himself and his community. That one so committed to liberal democratic ideals should ultimately embrace religious conversion as a solution to the oppression of Dalits appears paradoxical. Ambedkar had been a staunch advocate of constitutional solutions to these problems. However, following Gandhi’s fast at Yeola and the defeat of separate electorates for untouchables, Ambedkar rejected legislation as a means to deliver them from their subjection. In the period after the Poona Pact he felt that as long as the secular state was dominated by caste Hindus, Dalits would never be able to secure their dignity and human rights through such measures (Viswanathan, Outside the Fold, 236). In Buddhism he saw the potential for what social and political reform had failed to provide. For Ambedkar, Buddhism was a religion for the world. He saw in it a system of ethics—rational, egalitarian, and secular—that could be embraced by individual and society alike (Fuchs). It was precisely this character of worldly rationality, the emphasis on the will and judgment of the The Category of Secularism in India 61

individual over the doctrinal and ritualized ordinances of a community, that Ambedkar believed could provide the basis for a renewed moral code in society. Ambedkar’s emphasis on the secular ethics of Buddhism militates against a reading of his conversion as a spiritual epiphany (Viswanathan, Outside the Fold, 225). It is equally limiting to understand it, as some have done, simply as a strategy contrived to mobilize the Dalit community outside the hierarchies of Hinduism on the one hand and the strictures of Communist Party politics and Marxist ideology on the other (Omvedt, Dalits and the Democratic Revolution). Ambedkar spent the years following the disappointment of 1932 in the realization that legislation alone would not change the nature of social power in India. He began a study of di√erent religious traditions to determine which would be the most appropriate to counter the particular experience of caste subjugation and to provide the framework for a society where all could live in dignity and respect. He rejected Christianity and Islam at the outset, arguing that they were ‘‘foreign’’ religions and would ‘‘denationalize’’ untouchables (Queen, 52). Ambedkar was more willing to consider Sikhism with some seriousness, but, it seems, only on account of its identity as a ‘‘home grown’’ tradition. That someone who had been so excoriating about the exclusivity of mainstream nationalist ideologies of belonging could so readily accept categories of ‘‘home grown’’ and ‘‘foreign’’ should give us pause. A fuller discussion of the implications of his position on the legitimacy of di√erent communities’ claims to citizenship is beyond the scope of this essay but has been eloquently explored elsewhere (Viswanathan, Outside the Fold, 234–39). Ambedkar chose Buddhism as against other religions arguing that it was based on ‘‘reason’’ and not ‘‘revelation’’ (Fuchs, 253). He represented the Buddha’s message as open: there were no inaccessible truths that had to be accepted without question or mediated by interpreters. Thus, he argued that to the extent that its premises could be tested by the individual, it was a religion that was in accord with science. Furthermore, Buddhism contested any idea of divinity: the Buddha never claimed the status of a prophet or that he was infallible (Fuchs, 253–54). It was the focus on the agency of the individual that Ambedkar felt made Buddhism a deeply egalitarian religious system. His ‘‘discovery’’ of Buddhism came through his rewriting of its main tenets in The Buddha and His Dhamma (1957). Ambedkar’s interest in Buddhism was preeminently secular, focused on the provision of an ethics of Dalit emancipa-

62 Shabnum Tejani

tion. In his reading of its main precepts he consistently directed the emphasis away from the metaphysical toward the worldly. He rejected, for instance, the existence of a soul and the idea of rebirth. He argued that karma locked the poor into having to take responsibility for their condition rather than placing this on existing social and political structures and those who upheld them. In a strikingly similar analysis to the concurrently emerging theory of liberation theology in the Latin American Catholic Church, Ambedkar rewrote the idea of su√ering, arguing that it was caused less by human attachment to the illusions of the world than by the pursuit and exercise of power by one person or class over another. He called the acceptance of sorrow a ‘‘gospel of pessimism’’ (Viswanathan, Outside the Fold, 229) and maintained that while one should recognize the existence of su√ering, equal importance should be placed on its removal (Fuchs, 255). Finally, nibbana (nirvana), he said, was not the perfection of the soul in another life but the ‘‘kingdom of righteousness on earth.’’ The Buddha’s enlightenment was, simply put, the realization of the plight of others (Queen, 57). By removing the spiritual and metaphysical elements from Buddhism, Ambedkar sought to secularize. He shunned the esoteric otherworldliness of religions, as well as their orthodoxies, doctrines, and dogmas. Buddhism was precisely what other religions were not: a rational ethic for life. Ambedkar saw Buddhist dhamma therefore not so much as a religion but as ‘‘right relations between man and man in all spheres of life,’’ a guide for human relationships (Fuchs, 258). In the specific context of India, he identified Buddhism as providing the basis for an enlightened democracy (Viswanathan, Outside the Fold, 232). Ambedkar’s determinedly secular, that is, worldly, reading of Buddhism as providing new possibilities for dismantling caste hierarchy specifically and remaking social relations more broadly was a forceful indictment of the failure of secular nationalism. It is also a striking reflection of the emergence of the term ‘‘secularism’’ in mid-nineteenth-century England. As a protest movement and a political theory, secularism maintained an avowed distance from all things ‘‘religious’’ or extratemporal. This necessitated a theory of moral conduct, usually associated with religion, by an appeal to the philosophy of ethics (Waterhouse, 348). The term was originally coined in 1851 by George Jacob Holyoake, who wanted to create an ethic for everyday life that was neither hostile to religious traditions nor bound by them. In seeking to transpose the moral values of a religion into the pragmatics

The Category of Secularism in India 63

of day-to-day conduct and in rewriting the precepts of the traditions themselves, Ambedkar, it would seem, was not very di√erent. However, the attempt to secularize religion raises the question of how valuable the categories of ‘‘religion’’ and ‘‘politics’’ continue to be. Martin Fuchs has argued that Ambedkar looked to Buddhism as a ‘‘post-religious religion, a religion that transcends religious distinctions . . . and also a religion which overcomes the cleft between religion and politics’’ (261). Ambedkar’s questions so soon after independence continue to be as pressing today as they were fifty years ago. A contemporary political scientist, Rajeev Bhargava, recently asked the question somewhat di√erently. In reflecting that ‘‘the divide between the ‘secular’ and the ‘religious’ is somewhat of an institution in our country,’’ Bhargava asked if it was not possible to take the spiritual and ethical elements common to all religions and transpose them into a secular (worldly and nondoctrinal) framework for behavior. More specifically, he asked if there cannot be a ‘‘spiritualised, humanist secularism’’ (‘‘Religious and Secular Identities,’’ 341). Ambedkar and Bhargava are separated by two generations and approach the questions of religion, citizenship, social di√erence, and hierarchy from different ends. One sought to secularize religion, the other seeks to spiritualize politics. Nevertheless, their attempts to recover from nationalism another basis for a just democracy in India and to disrupt the binary between secularism and religion remain a measure of the monumental inadequacy of the formulation of secularism as it has existed in India since independence. Notes I would like to thank John Parker, whose editorial comments have improved the overall quality of this essay. 1. There are four distinct strands to the debate on secularism in India. First is the classic enlightenment model (Amartya Sen). Second is the ‘‘soft Hindu’’ position (Madan; Nandy, ‘‘The Politics of Secularism,’’ in Secularism and Its Critics). Third is the ‘‘hard Hindu’’ position (Talreja). Fourth is the attempt to move beyond the oppositions of religion and secularism in which the current debates have been mired (Bhargava, ‘‘Religious and Secular Identities’’). 2. There is a growing body of scholarship that has sought to question these oppositions and step outside these categories (Partha Chatterjee, ‘‘Secularism and Tolerance’’; Jalal, ‘‘Exploding Communalism’’; Dipanker Gupta; Nigam; van der Veer, Imperial Encounters; Jha, ‘‘Secularism in the Constituent Assembly Debates’’; Asad, Formations of the Secular). 3. Much recent scholarship has disrupted the implied universalism in modern categories. Scholars of Europe and America have demonstrated the ways in which these categories have their own genealogies within the West itself (Mendus; Asad, Genealogies of Religion;

64 Shabnum Tejani

Casanova; McMahon). Others working specifically on South Asia have shown the different ways in which people made meaning of modern categories in their own contexts (van der Veer, Nation and Religion; Partha Chatterjee, Texts of Power and ‘‘Two Poets and Death’’; Jalal, Self and Sovereignty; Dipesh Chakrabarty, Habitations of Modernity; Nag). 4. This should not give the impression that the representation of Hindu as upper-caste and Aryan went uncontested. Non-Brahmin movements in late-nineteenth- and earlytwentieth-century Maharashtra for example, developed trenchant critiques of Brahminism and rejected upper-caste attempts to appropriate them as ‘‘Hindus’’ (Omvedt, Cultural Revolt in Colonial Society; O’Hanlon; Zelliot; Naito). 5. Correspondence with Morley on the question of Council reform, March 21, 1907, Home Dept., Public Branch, Calcutta (hereafter Minto to Morley, March 21, 1907), MSS Eur 573, John Morley Papers, vol. 32 (October 1906–August 1907), Oriental and India O≈ce Collections (oioc), British Library. 6. I elaborate on this argument in ‘‘A Pre-History of Indian Secularism,’’ 186–235. 7. The following rendition of Ambedkar’s argument is taken from his ‘‘Evidence before the Southborough Committee on Franchise,’’ 249–63. 8. The Report stated that separate electorates ‘‘make the majority wholly independent of the minority and its votes and usually hostile to it. Under separate electorates, therefore, the chances are that the minority will always have to face a hostile majority which can always, by sheer force of numbers, override the wishes of the minority. . . . Extreme communalists flourish thereunder and the majority community, far from su√ering, actually benefits by them. Separate electorates must therefore be discarded completely as a condition precedent to any rational system of representation. We can only have joint or mixed electorates’’ (All Parties Conference, 30). 9. However, he also said, ‘‘I can reconcile myself to weightage. . . . [and] to residuary powers being vested in provinces.’’ And despite his di≈culties accepting the statutory majority demand, he vowed to ‘‘be knocking at the doors of the Hindus to accept the Muslim demands’’ (Moonje, October 7, 1931). 10. See ‘‘General Appreciation of the Communal Award,’’ statement of the prime minister, para. 7, Home/Poll file no. 41-4 and K.W. 1932, serial nos. 1–37, National Archives of India, New Delhi. 11. Ambedkar called the Poona Pact Gandhi’s ‘‘vindication’’ of caste and lambasted him in a speech entitled ‘‘Annihilation of Caste’’ which he wrote for the 1936 Jat Pat Todak Mandal of Lahore. He was ultimately prevented from delivering the speech on account of its criticism of the caste system (‘‘Annihilation of Caste,’’ 37–80). Ambedkar prepared two appendixes to go with the speech: Appendix I: ‘‘A Vindication of Caste by Mahatma Gandhi (a reprint of his articles in the Harijan)’’ (pp. 81–85); and Appendix II: ‘‘A Reply to Mahatma’’ (pp. 86–96). 12. Dipesh Chakrabarty has recently made a similar point, arguing that the Indian word for a pristine form of liberalism is ‘‘secularism’’ (Habitations of Modernity, 81).

The Category of Secularism in India 65

Paula Richman and V. Geetha a

A View from the South E. V. Ramasami’s Public Critique of Religion


hile debates at the national level presented secularism as the ostensible solution to Hindu-Muslim conflict in India, a di√erent view of secularism had already emerged in Madras Presidency during the decades before Indian independence. The most influential spokesman for this view was E. V. Ramasami (1879– 1973), public intellectual and high-profile leader of the SelfRespect movement in the predominantly Tamil-speaking region of India.∞ Since the 1920s, he had successfully articulated a rationalist, egalitarian, secular worldview in social life and political discourse.≤ His views were widely propagated, first through the Self-Respect movement and, later on, through the Dravidar Kazhagam, an association which was formed in 1942, when the Self-Respect movement and the older liberal Justice party (the premier non-Brahmin party in old Madras) merged.≥ By this point, his arguments had acquired a sharp edge, as the future Indian nation-state appeared an imminent possibility. The concerns that animated Ramasami’s unique perspective on secularism di√ered from those that engaged the attention of prominent nationalists such as Gandhi, Nehru, and Patel. The Hindu-Muslim tangle, and the need to create a workable political and social peace between the two communities, framed nationalist debates on secularism. In fact, the Indian National Congress

saw itself as having greater and superior claims on the nation-to-be since, unlike the Muslim League, it did not view itself as religiously partisan and did, after all, represent the commonweal. To Ramasami, however, the question of secularism appeared pressing from an altogether di√erent perspective. Ramasami understood secularism less as a political ideal and more as a desired social good. He did not define secularism’s salience in the context of attempting to create a transcendent national unity. Nor did he engage with, or even consider convincing, the truth claims of an ‘‘always already’’ secular nationalism in its tirades against religious partisanship or communalism. Instead, Ramasami articulated his secularism through a public critique of quotidian religious beliefs, ritual, and hierarchy which, he firmly believed, sustained—and were sustained by—the caste system. He saw his critique of caste and religion as inextricable; everyday interactions between members of di√erent social ranks gave form, resonance, and a sense of inevitability to beliefs about purity and pollution.∂ It would be a mistake to assume that Ramasami’s misgivings over the nationalist resolution of the secular question emerged only in response to nationalist deliberations on the matter. Indeed, Ramasami’s secular critique of religious belief and behavior emerged much earlier. It played a formative role in the Self-Respect movement, which he and a valiant band of fellow publicists had espoused with immense success since the 1920s in the Tamil country. With eloquence and energy, they had argued, reasoned, persuaded, cajoled, and challenged vast numbers of people into a serious reexamination of the content of Hindu puranic texts, beliefs, rituals, and customs in light of the entrenched power of Brahmins and lack of access to power among nonBrahmins in south India.∑ In the late 1940s, however, when the Constituent Assembly debates were in progress, Ramasami’s views acquired a special urgency and relevance. Ramasami viewed the evasions in Constituent Assembly deliberations on matters such as the future of minorities and lower castes as signs of nationalist reluctance to face the complexities of ensuring equality and justice in a hierarchical and segmented society. The Assembly wanted to end untouchability, the most visible and obvious symbol of the indecencies of the caste order, but its abolitionist intentions were more strategic than principled, since several Assembly members preferred not to pursue the argument against birth-based discrimination to its logical conclusion: a comprehensive indictment of caste. For to do so would challenge the ideological basis of caste

A View from the South 67

society, with its complicated discourse of dharmic prescriptions and prohibitions, as well as karmic sanctions. Few wished to go that far. So, varna dharma (one’s code for conduct, as prescribed for the caste into which one is born), which is believed to legitimize untouchability as well as other acts of discrimination and humiliation, against not only the untouchables but all castes considered low and impure, escaped sustained critical scrutiny. On the other hand, religious freedoms—presumably including the freedom to practice and insist on the practice of varna dharma—were explicitly guaranteed by the Assembly’s ‘‘secular’’ commitment to a tolerance of all faiths. Ramasami found this situation extremely problematic. He did not trust the liberal guarantees of a constitution that avoided condemning what seemed to him the enabling principle of social injustice—the religious ethos that mandated and valorized it. He demanded warily: ‘‘In the laws made by the Constituent Assembly, the following guarantee must be ensured: that in free samadharmic India [an India where rights are held in common and not determined by the accident of birth], birth-based divisions, such as brahmins, shudras, panchamas and harijans and the ideas that justify them shall cease to exist, in fact shall not be allowed to exist’’ (Anaimuthu, 1:810, as cited in Geetha and Rajadurai, Periyar).∏ Such principles did not win acceptance and thus the constitution did not damn caste. It must be remembered that this happened in spite of the fact that Dr. Ambedkar, the anti-caste radical and untouchable leader, argued valiantly for annulling all forms of discrimination. Furthermore, Ramasami’s righteous anger, sharply articulated objections, and acerbic criticism did not attract serious critical attention on a pan-Indian scale then or even later. Almost all his speeches and writings were published in Tamil, in Self-Respect and Dravidar Kazhagam newspapers, so Congress ideologues outside the Tamil country remained largely unaware of his views. Congress leaders within the Tamil country chose largely to ignore Ramasami’s substantive arguments, doing little besides indulging in often superficial polemical sparring. In addition, Ramasami’s sardonic tone, uncompromising logic, and passionate denunciation of nationalism as a form of false consciousness did not win him friends at a time when the new Indian nation was self-consciously conceptualizing and framing a top-down identity. Today, however, when the secular ideals of the constitution appear imperiled, the concept of ‘‘nation’’ is undergoing multiple forms of critique, and sociopolitical life appears increasingly captive to what is alleged to be a ‘‘Hindu’’ religious idiom (even though its version of Hindu tradition has been shorn

68 Paula Richman and V. Geetha

of complexity and variation), Ramasami’s apprehensions regarding the future of secularism in Hindu caste society appear not only reasonable but also prophetic. This essay examines the nature and consequences of Ramasami’s secular critique of religious belief and caste hierarchy. First, we consider the roots of Ramasami’s beliefs, explore his central ideal of ‘‘paguttarivu,’’ and analyze the status of dissent in his stance. The remainder of the essay analyzes two controversies in which Ramasami’s secular critique of religion played a major role in Tamil public debate: the adoption by the Indian National Congress in Karachi of a secular-based Bill of Rights in 1931 and the Dravidar Kazhagam attack on worship of Ganesha in 1953. The first event provoked Ramasami into launching a comprehensive assault on secular nationalism. The second dramatized his belief in the enlightening power of dissent and encouraged viewers to consider alternative ways in which civil society could be constituted. The Utopia of Reason, Paguttarivu, and Dissent Ramasami’s secularism brought together multiple traditions of critique, including the anticlericalism associated with the Enlightenment in Europe, the beliefs of free thinkers such as Bradlaugh and Shaw, and recent interpretations of the Buddha’s teachings. What scholars often refer to as a single event, the European Enlightenment, was actually a complex process with varying consequences in di√erent localities. Enlightenment thought generated a set of interrelated ideas—on the powers of reason, the desirability of equality and freedom, the importance of justice, the perfectibility of humankind, and the need for secular (rather than divine) authority in governance. These ideas, disseminated widely and in various forms, challenged the conceptual apparatus that justified the divine right of kings and thereby transformed how the state was imagined. Enlightenment ideas of the luminosity of reason took on distinctive forms as they crossed continents. In nineteenth-century colonial India, English education arrived along with an evangelism that sought to undermine the foundations of Hindu and Muslim beliefs.π A rapidly developing culture of reading rooms and debating societies enabled a serious reappraisal, as well as ‘‘rediscovery,’’ of received religious doctrine and practice. To this period belong both the revivified (and transformed) traditions exemplified in the practices of the Arya Samaj as well as the dissenting radicalism of Jyotiba Phule’s

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Satyashodak Samaj (for Arya Samaj, see Jordens and Jones; for Phule, see O’Hanlon, Caste, Conflict and Ideology). For a subsequent generation, travel to Britain for education led to an adoption of a specific brand of secular worldview. Jawaharlal Nehru is a case in point. His faith in science, democracy, and planning was learned in English schoolrooms. The early Muhammed Ali Jinnah’s secularism too was acquired in a like manner. Secular ideals reached Indian homes in other ways as well. In the Tamil country, for instance, two intellectual traditions emerged in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, as a consequence of a popular and vigorous dissemination of certain aspects of Enlightenment thought. One was rationalist, sometimes atheistic, and fed by a healthy optimism in the prospect of human progress. The second admired the power of rational thought but found a prehistory and an ethical location for it in the Indian past, especially in the teachings of the Buddha. The first tradition of critique drew freely on missionary criticisms of Hindu superstitions and priestly privilege, but through them it articulated a rational, rather than evangelical, rejection of Hindu beliefs. It also looked to the freethinkers of late Victorian and Edwardian England for inspiration: Charles Bradlaugh, Bernard Shaw, and later to Bertrand Russell. Rather selfconsciously, it sought a genealogy for its own views in rational thought from all across the Western world, especially the French philosophes Montesquieu and Voltaire, among others. The publicist Munisamy Naicker, who lived and wrote in the second half of the nineteenth century and appears to have been most prolific during its last decades, best represents the first tradition of critique in the Tamil country. An enthusiastic adherent of rationalism, he founded the Hindu Free Thought Union, which later merged with the National Secular Society, apparently a branch of the National Secular Society of Great Britain. He also ran two extraordinary journals in the 1880s: in Tamil, Tattuva Vivesini and in English, The Thinker (Lokabiraman). The second tradition too accepted the salience of certain missionary criticisms of Hinduism and the liberating e√ects of rational argument and analysis. But it also responded to another form of antiquarian inquiry, turning the powers of reason to the ‘‘discovery’’ of hitherto unheeded spiritual truths. Research on Buddhism by English and European Orientalists convinced several in the Tamil country that they possessed their own rational prehistory, which owed little to the many strands of Hindu belief and ritual and instead represented an autonomous strand of inquiry and practice. Pandit Iyothee

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Thass, the great Dalit Buddhist scholar and publicist, and P. Lakshmi Narasu, who wrote widely on Buddhism (besides lecturing on free thought), represented the second strand of critical secular thought in the Tamil country. Although Buddhism was variously interpreted, its rational ethical core appeared to its diverse adherents in the 1880s its most singular characteristic.∫ Both its spirit of thoughtful inquiry (expressed in its respect for prajna, wisdom) and its ideal of compassion (karuna) distinguished it from merely profane denunciations of religion and vaguely ‘‘Buddhist’’ expressions of spiritualism.Ω Ramasami’s secularism drew from both contemporary and Buddhist discourses, but his ideas were inflected with an energetic originality. He possessed a keen ability to discern the play of power and authority in everyday Tamil society—in those beliefs and habits which structure transactions with one another, the social world, and the ‘‘gods.’’ His use of the term ‘‘reason’’ was characteristic of his mode of translating concepts. He translated it into Tamil as paguttarivu, ‘‘the intelligence that is born out of discernment.’’ This intelligence, unlike the reason of the Enlightenment, is not singular. Paguttarivu, instead, emerges out of experience, yet a person can use paguttarivu to stand back from one’s own context and examine it critically.∞≠ Thus, although in any given moment the claims of reason are far superior to those of religious thought, that moment would necessarily be superseded by another, which would give rise to a stronger and more confident reason. In other words, every generation lags behind its own successor and no single thinker or idea could claim exclusive and eternal truth for their own. Paguttarivu represents an active rather than a reflective intelligence and one which trusts only those claims for which evidence can be produced, either empirically or logically. Exercising paguttarivu does not occur e√ortlessly—one has to desire it. As Ramasami often pointed out, to discern does not mean to accept the claims of the rational but to practice rationality by deploying one’s powers of reason in the interest of knowing. Ramasami declared that unless one learned to discern, analyze, and understand one’s social and existential predicament, one could not hope to be entirely free. In his view, only a discernment that trusted no claims but sought to know through its own prowess could free men and women from the mental bondage which a√licted them. Because this bondage originated in the supernatural tales designed to maintain priestly power and religious beliefs nurtured in fear, only paguttarivu could release one from their thrall. In contrast to both religious ascetics and Indian nationalists, Ramasami upheld the

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claims of self-knowledge and self-respect over and above both spiritual liberation (moksha) and modern political freedom (swaraj). For unless one acquired the ability to hold onto one’s dignity and to respect oneself, one was sure to sink into a passive acceptance of one’s fated place in the social order. Freedom thus made sense only to one who realized his or her own vocation for it. Paguttarivu was employed suitably in Ramasami’s own practice, where he indulged in a fierce critique of power and privilege in caste society. In easily accessible, humorous, and colorfully idiomatic language, Ramasami urged listeners not to accept religious beliefs and practices because they were authorized by the supposed will of God (or gods), justifications found in allegedly sacred scripture, or the guidance of Brahmins. Instead, according to Ramasami, a belief or practice deserved respect only if it enhanced the knowledge and self-respect of every group in society, aiding them to reach their full potential as human beings. Hand-in-hand with Ramasami’s call to evaluate religious claims according to the laws of reason came his rejection of the ranked hierarchy of the caste order, which defined Brahmins as the most pure and other groups lower in the hierarchy as impure. Priestly privileges, the secular authority enjoyed by Brahmins in modern times, the manner in which Brahmins worked to retain their supremacy in an age of democracy—all these were revealed and condemned. Ramasami insisted that listeners look closely at claims of Brahmin superiority, which he saw as resting on a foundation of self-interest that animated brahminical defenses not merely of their own authority but also of Hindu beliefs and practices. Other castes were then forced to accept these defenses as valid, since Brahmins cleverly declared that they alone were the chosen custodians of scripture and their rights as interpreters were singular and supreme. Other castes were not only doomed to ignorance but their labor, which secured for Brahmins their wealth and privilege, was relegated to a low status. This component of his critique led Ramasami to an all-out assault on the notion that Brahmins could function as spokesmen for all Hindus. Nor did he respond with anything but scorn to the demand that the secular state protect the privileges of Brahmins on the grounds that those privileges constituted religious freedoms which must be safeguarded. Finally, Ramasami rejected outright the claim that Brahmins could play the role of gatekeepers in civic and social matters. They had arrogated to themselves the right to decide who should or should not use public spaces (includ-

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ing temples), who should marry whom, and how such marriages ought to be performed. In contrast, Ramasami urged instead that such privileges be turned over to the people involved to decide. For example, early in his career, he participated in campaigns to allow all castes the choice to enter Hindu temples. He also promoted ‘‘Self-Respect Marriages,’’ solemnized not by the sacred authority of a priest but by the members of the couple’s community, led by a respected elder (Ramasami, Self-Respect Marriages). Ramasami saw caste hierarchy, with the Brahmin presiding over it, as essential, rather than incidental, to Hinduism: varna dharma, religious myths that upheld caste hierarchy, the power of Brahmins, and the inferior status enjoined on castes lower in the caste hierarchy were all bound up with each other. It was thus useless to separate this complex system into its components to retain some and reject others. Hinduism was inherently flawed and could not be reformed. Instead, it would have to go. For Ramasami, paguttarivu had a definite role to play in disturbing this system. Individuals, using paguttarivu, would reject abusive power, injustice, ignorance, and superstition to arrive at a sense of the good, the universal, and the desirable. But those opposed to the power of Brahmins and committed to a more egalitarian state of things could not rest with a negative critique of what they disdained. Rejecting a social order that rested on Manudharma (codes for conduct of each caste, as attributed to Sage Manu) was not merely an exercise in given moral consent.∞∞ Moral reasoning had to go beyond its own analysis and help in the cultivation of a new ethic: of mutuality, reciprocity, and comradeship. As valuable as reason, these virtues would serve the individual, as well as the new civil society that he or she wished to inhabit. Ramasami’s vision of the greater common good thus emerges in his definition of his new ethic, which he identified with the term ‘‘samadharma,’’ using the word to refer to rights that would be held in common by all. Significantly, samadharma was a term that Ramasami borrowed from Buddhism.∞≤ For people to attain that state of fine discernment which the practice of samadharma required, however, an entire apparatus of governance be established. First, non-Brahmins, in proportion to their population in society, needed representation in the legislature, and hence they deserved access to education to gain knowledge and experience that would enable them to serve in public o≈ce. Only then would they be able to challenge the authority of scripture, use the power of paguttarivu and science to improve society, and legislate a new civil society for themselves based on the secular values ex-

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pounded by the Self-Respect movement. Second, relationships between castes must rest solely on reciprocity and respect. Considerations of high or low, touchable or untouchable, male or female—none of these should structure social relationships. Third, the nodal points of caste identity—endogamous marriage, notions of feminine purity that undergirded notions of caste honor, bans on interdining, division of laborers into lower and higher ranks—had to be identified and the system subverted. As alternatives, Ramasami advocated intercaste marriage, female autonomy and independence, and cultivation of laboring, rather than caste, consciousness. Ramasami’s constituency was the large and heterogeneous non-Brahmin public. He drew followers from practically all sections of society. Some of his most passionate supporters were from the untouchable castes, and a considerable number of them were women. Many born into Hindu families embraced aspects of the Self-Respect creed with relief and enthusiasm. Yet his antireligious polemic, directed as much against religion in general as against his own, stirred up debates in other religious communities as well. Several Muslim thinkers, for instance, contributed regularly to Self-Respect journals and debated the merits or otherwise of their own customs and beliefs (More, 109–20). Christian notables were embarrassed by his criticisms of caste in the church and were not always happy with the discontent he stirred in the poorest of their flock. Yet he continued to urge Dalit Christians, whom he enjoined to practice birth control, to think about the continuing dynamic of poverty and low status that accompanied them into a religious tradition supposedly devoid of caste. Not everyone who responded to his speeches felt equally comfortable with all his arguments. The so-called upper castes among the non-Brahmins were not too enamored of his consistent defense of Dalit claims to equality. Richer non-Brahmins were unhappy when he wedded to self-respect a socialist ethic. Others could not accept his creed of atheism or demurred at his iconoclasm, while accepting his criticisms of Brahmins. Yet almost all of them felt that there was much truth in his critiques of social and political hypocrisy. Ramasami impressed them with his persistence and devotion to his cause, which was, as he often said, ‘‘to stand the caste world on its head.’’ Some of Ramasami’s ideas became so widely accepted in the Tamil country that they passed into the realm of popular political exchange and common sense. People there thought his critical civic response to religion made sense. Unlike those who expounded some bland ethic of tolerance, he demanded the

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right to dissent and to make of that dissent a compelling secular philosophy. Ramasami’s expression of dissent in the face of faith and scriptural authority emerged in the public sphere on many occasions. In the remainder of this essay, we examine two examples of such dissent and consider why Ramasami’s views never acquired the pan-Indian resonance they deserved. The Karachi Bill of Rights When the Indian National Congress met in Karachi in 1931, it produced a document that it called its Bill of Rights. Two sections of the bill are crucial to our discussion of conflicting definitions of secularism. Ramasami expressed outrage at the inclusion of each of the two sections in the bill on the grounds that they undermined the government’s ability to discipline and limit religious inequalities. Section 14 of the Bill of Rights declares that the state should not interfere in religious matters. Section 17 states that the (future) Indian government should not wound the susceptibilities of any of its citizens who profess opinions or creeds di√erent from those of other citizens. From Ramasami’s perspective, Sections 14 and 17 could enable the state to refrain from taking action to end unprincipled religious practices—including the discrimination authorized by the caste system—precisely because Vedic texts trace the divine origin of caste distinctions to a dismemberment of the primordial divine being. Consequently Section 14 could, in e√ect, help to perpetuate caste privilege or, at least, provide aid to those who sought to perpetuate it. Section 17 created other kinds of obstacles to eradicating caste. For instance, how would the state respond in cases where two competing religious ideas or practices or two opposed social ideals were at stake? As Ramasami quite reasonably asked, ‘‘if there were to ensue a clash of rights [such] as between Hindus and Mohammedans, brahmins and adi dravidas [the group that upper caste Hindus considered impure], whose rights would be considered sacrosanct and on what basis?’’ (Anaimuthu, 348; trans. in Geetha and Rajadurai, Non-Brahmin Millennium, 465). In other words, when di√erent religious and social communities disagreed about a religious practice or belief, how would the government adjudicate such a conflict without ‘‘wounding’’ the religious sensibilities of either group? Furthermore, Ramasami saw little chance for non-Brahmins to benefit from the rights set out in the 1931 bill, since Brahmins could always claim that they had absolute religious authority to decide any issue dealing with Hinduism. Ramasami knew that Brahmins would oppose any change that decreased

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their status or made them share power with those lower in the caste order. If the government agreed not to interfere in religion, then the Bill of Rights would guarantee the continued dominance of Brahmins and the continued subjugation of non-Brahmins. Ramasami also found troubling the bill’s lack of specificity about what constituted religious views worthy of protection. For example, he questioned whether it was possible to distinguish between authentic spiritual teachings and those that developed simply as custom and then became enshrined in religious books. How was one to extricate the meaning of a religious doctrine or practice from the various injunctions that Brahminical interpretations had attached to them? For Ramasami, a right that deserved protection ought to be self-validating. In other words, it ought to be based on a fundamental and universal ethical principle, not mere custom or presence in a Brahminical text. Consequently, he refused to accept the idea that all religious rights should be equally ‘‘tolerated’’ (read: unquestioned). Such ‘‘toleration’’ went against his deepest beliefs about the transformative power of knowledge and the mental slavery caused by superstition. Finally, a right had to be considered in the context of its origins and justification. Ramasami accordingly raised a number of questions designed to encourage careful discernment: ‘‘Are these rights guaranteed by religion? Rights enjoined by the shastras? Or else [have] these rights come about as a result of experience, out of custom and habits? Or are they rights which guarantee ‘nationhood’ or are they natural and universal rights?’’ (Anaimuthu, 348; trans. in Geetha and Rajadurai, Non-Brahmin Millennium, 465). Ramasami felt it was crucial to assess the validity of religious ideas according to their inherent social and ideological logic, rather than simply accept them because they appeared in sacred texts. If, for example, the idea that certain people were ‘‘polluting’’ had been developed to uphold the special privileges of Brahmins, why should he ‘‘tolerate’’ Brahmin contempt for people of lower caste? Likewise, if religious authority sanctioned the persistence of social customs such as consecrating young women to temples as dancers, after which they all too often slid into sexual exploitation, why should he be prohibited from attacking such customs? In such a case he felt it was only right that the state adopt his viewpoint, which, after all, was rational, progressive, and in keeping with what he took to be universal tenets on the subject of the dignity of women. Thus Ramasami viewed Sections 14 and 17 of the Bill of Rights as liable to protect the status quo and thereby prevent minority groups from e√ecting a

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redress of the power imbalance in society. If the post-independence state refrained from dismantling caste hierarchy, since Brahmins were increasingly successful in their attempts to monopolize access to education, so-called untouchables would find it di≈cult to discern how much their poverty and low status derived from religious scriptures that the state refused to contradict. Women too needed the freedom to discover that their subjugated condition in a male-dominated society persisted because their new nation, whose freedom they had fought for alongside men, had forbidden attacking the religious scriptures that justified wifely submission to husbands’ authority. In e√ect, Ramasami viewed Sections 14 and 17 as creating obstacles for oppressed people who sought to enlist the state as ally when they attacked the religious texts responsible for their low status. Members of Congress who supported the Bill of Rights did not, however, see thinkers like Ramasami as the target audience for the bill. Indeed, most historians would disagree with the interpretation that Sections 14 and 17 were intended to carry out the work that Ramasami feared they would do, namely, prevent caste mobility. Instead, the specific wording of these sections was a response to a set of conflicts and negotiations between moderates and extremists within Congress, between Congress and the British, and between Hindus and Muslims in north India. In the period leading up to the 1931 meeting in Karachi, polarization within Congress expressed itself most clearly in attitudes toward Bhagat Singh, the activist who popularized the slogan ‘‘Inquilab Zindabad’’ (Long Live Revolution). He believed that only revolutionary action could win Indian independence and that only socialism could end poverty. Involved in killing a police o≈cer in 1928, in 1929 he and two associates threw a bomb into the Central Legislative Assembly in Delhi, after which they gave themselves up for arrest. The ‘‘extremists’’ in Congress (largely people with socialist ideas) lauded Singh as a hero in the fight for freedom, while others, following Gandhi’s argument against violence, even of the righteous sort, rejected Singh’s violent methods. Singh’s trial, an exceptionally unfair one, led to a death sentence. On February 27, 1931, the Privy Council in London declined the petition to stay his execution. On March 24, Singh died on the gallows at Lahore jail (Times of India, March 25). Congress extremists, who saw his hanging as proof of British perfidy, wanted to respond by stepping up the scale of violent resistance. At the time, relations between British o≈cials and Congress were ex-

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tremely tense. Because the British had not granted India dominion status in 1929, the Civil Disobedience Campaign began with the Dandi Salt March in 1930. Indians were on edge when Gandhi and Viceroy Irwin met to work out some kind of agreement. Gandhi met the viceroy with a list of demands, which included the redress of police excesses against protesting nationalists, repeal of the salt tax, and so forth, but he did not insist that Bhagat Singh be pardoned. Later on, while discussing the results of his talks with the viceroy with his fellow congressmen, he clarified that his delegation had striven to address the question of Bhagat Singh: I said about Bhagat Singh: ‘‘He is undoubtedly a brave man but I would certainly say that he is not in his right mind. However, this is the evil of capital punishment, that it gives no opportunity to such a man to reform himself. I am putting this matter before you as a humanitarian issue and desire suspension of sentence in order that there may not be unnecessary turmoil in the country. I myself would release him, but I cannot expect any Government to do so. I would not take it ill even if you do not give any reply on this issue.’’ (Collected Works, 45:200)

By the time the Gandhi-Irwin Pact was announced on March 5, prospects for Singh to escape execution looked slim. Gandhi had hoped the government would act nobly and wisely in this regard, but it did not. Those in Congress sympathetic to Bhagat Singh had hoped for British leniency toward him as acknowledgment of the validity of Congress demands. They felt betrayed by the talks’ outcome; distrust of Gandhi and the British grew.∞≥ Conflict between Hindus and Muslims had also escalated shortly before Congress met in Karachi. In Kanpur, Congress volunteers called for a citywide hartal (strike) in protest of Singh’s execution, but some Muslim shopkeepers opened their shops that day. Violence erupted and hundreds died in the aftermath. With the tensions between Congress and the Muslim League growing stronger every day, incidents like the Kanpur riots were taken by many Muslims as evidence that the Hindu majority could not be trusted to value their welfare. Congress viewed it as crucial to demonstrate its commitment to protecting the safety of Muslims and their rights to their own religious beliefs and practices. Moreover, in light of the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, the question of Indian representation in the governance of British India was likely to be debated; congressmen did not want to alienate potential Muslim supporters. Gandhi, in fact, went so far as to claim that the whole question of quotas for minorities was meaningless and that if he had his way, he would

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give away everything within his power to Muslims in order to demonstrate the good intentions of Congress, a position that many found untenable. Thus a great deal was riding on the outcome of the Karachi Conference at the end of March in 1931. Congress moderates knew that the execution of Singh had been a serious blow to extremists and could undermine Congress unity. Afraid to be perceived as insu≈ciently militant in fighting the British, moderates wanted to show that they intended to take initiative in the freedom struggle. To satisfy extremists calling for a revolutionary change in society, Congress announced plans for a socialist state in post-independence India.∞∂ In addition, the riots in Kanpur foregrounded Muslims fears that, in postindependence India, they would find their religious rights under attack and would have no legal means to protect themselves. To assure Indian Muslims that they would be safe after the British left India, Congress wanted to go on record as committed to freedom of religion. Part of the motivation for including Sections 14 and 17 in the Bill of Rights appears to have been to allay such fears and assure Muslims that they had a continuing stake in Congress longterm goals. Gandhi, who introduced the resolutions at Karachi, clearly had them in mind when he commented: Religious neutrality is another important provision. Swaraj will favour Hinduism no more than Islam, nor Islam more than Hinduism. But in order that we may have a State based on religious neutrality, let us from now adopt the principle in our daily a√airs. Let not a Hindu merchant hesitate to have deserving Muslims as his employees, and let every Congressman make religious neutrality his creed in every walk of life. (Collected Works, 45:373)

Whatever Ramasami saw as the potential consequences of the Bill of Rights, Gandhi viewed them as ensuring religious neutrality, rather than preserving caste hierarchy. Gandhi was, however, aware of the problem of competing rights and held that competing religious claims had to be adjudicated ultimately in a court of law. In other words, religious claims were not and could not be viewed as selfjustifying or capable of overriding laws prohibiting caste discrimination. As he noted in the course of a conversation with those who sought his reading of rights, The authority of the Vedas and the other Shastras will not be denied but their interpretation will not rest with individuals but will depend upon the courts of A View from the South 79

law in so far as these religious books will be used to regulate public conduct. Conscientious scruples will be respected, but not at the expense of public morals or the rights of others. . . . The law will not tolerate any arrogation of superiority by any person or class whether in the name of custom or religion. (Collected Works, 46:363)

Yet Gandhi’s assurances did not go far enough, nor did they take fully into account the multiple factors involved. His words reveal his confidence that the law will take care of everything, as if it always functions in a completely neutral way. As became all too clear during the Indian emergency of 1975, for instance, human beings control the law. The law is itself interpreted and applied by human beings with their own agendas; hence the legal system need not produce the kind of respectful outcomes that Gandhi envisioned. Ramasami’s concerns had as much to do with the attitudes of civic actors as with the state. He wished the state to go further than tolerance; he wanted it to endorse and protect the right to dissent in civil society—to grant it a legal and formal status. He was aware that law courts could procrastinate for years on matters of urgent social import. In the meantime, he wanted a≈rmation of his right to voice his own dissent, including views that attacked caste. The conversations that did not take place between Ramasami and principled members of Congress (including Gandhi) signify an eloquent absence. To this day, we reap the ill-e√ects of this silence. Attack on Worship of Ganesha The distinction between secularism as the right to practice one’s own religion and the right to subject religious beliefs to critique grows even clearer if we examine Ramasami’s attack on worship of Ganesha in 1953. The event developed into a public debate over atheism versus theism, but at its heart are diverging definitions of secularism. Ramasami’s main opponent was C. Rajagopalachari (1878–1972), Gandhi’s ‘‘southern lieutenant,’’ veteran Congress politician, and at that time chief minister of Madras Presidency (R. Gandhi; Waghorne; Richman, ‘‘Epic and State’’). Conservative, nationalist, pious, and yet committed to a secular India, he responded to Ramasami’s protest in a way designed to prove the ‘‘untruth’’ of Ramasami’s views. Ramasami hoped to create a ‘‘teachable moment’’ through political dramaturgy. In May 1953, he announced he would launch a public protest against Hindu superstition. He asked his followers to gather on May 27 to break terracotta images of Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Lord Shiva. Since arti80 Paula Richman and V. Geetha

sans fashioned these clay images from the earth’s soil, Ramasami suggested reducing them to earthen rubble once again—to demonstrate that the god was but clay. Most Hindus believe that, as soon as the murthy (image) of the deity they worship has been ‘‘enlivened’’ through ritual consecration, the spirit of the deity can be invoked to dwell in the image.∞∑ Ramasami wanted to ‘‘disprove’’ that the image was sacred and to demystify the power invested in such notions. His choice of a symbol to break neatly represents his atheist stance that nothing divine exists in a murthy of a deity and those who believe that a god inheres in a clay vessel are fools. Yet his actions raise two key questions: why the god Ganesha, and why at this particular time? After all, he had preached his creed for over three decades and his iconoclasm was well-known. By choosing to attack the worship of Ganesha, Ramasami invoked a symbol with a set of meanings closely bound up with orthodoxy and Hindu nationalism. Ganesh is seen as the deity who overcomes obstacles; he receives credit for helping devotees through life’s most trying circumstances, including finding a proper spouse for one’s child, completing a journey safely, passing exams, and so forth (Courtright). Equally significant, earlier in the century, the fiery Maharashtrian nationalist Bal Gangadhar Tilak had popularized public worship of Ganesha. Ganesh pujas in western India led to displays of spectacular forms of piety, which Tilak and his followers used to proclaim a militant nationalism that was self-consciously and exclusively Hindu in its expressions (Cashman). Thus Ramasami picked a uniquely dramatic symbol to stage his attack on Hinduism, religious nationalism, and the political party in power. His timing too was significant, for he had chosen the date with care: Vaishka Purnima, the day of the full moon that marked the Buddha’s birth. Ramasami had long held that he and his followers were engaged in a revolutionary task that had, hitherto, been undertaken only by the great Buddha. Like him they saw themselves as committed to revolutionizing the way human beings view themselves and the society around them. Ramasami (and Ambedkar) believed that the Buddha was an exemplar in his advocacy that one should reason on the basis of one’s own experience rather than act on the basis of the prescriptions in religious texts. Though his opponents mocked his attempt to place himself in the lineage of the Buddha, Ramasami was serious in claiming the ancient revolutionary thinker as his forbear. And on this occasion, he also enacted his protest in the context of a pan-Indian celebration of the Buddha’s life and teachings.

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A committed group of Buddhist adherents who sought to revive a Buddhist community in India had joined the Maha Bodhi (Great Knowledge) Society, the premier Buddhist organization in the country. The name of the association refers to the tree under which the Buddha meditated and subsequently attained prajna, ‘‘highest wisdom.’’ On the day that Ramasami publicly and dramatically claimed his group’s intellectual kinship with Buddhist thought, local chapters of the Maha Bodhi Society in Madras, Bombay, and elsewhere celebrated Vaiskha Purnima Day. Prime Minister Nehru spoke eloquently at a public ceremony in Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment (Indian Express, May 28, 1953). Newspapers also carried, along with accounts of these celebrations, stories detailing Ambedkar’s plans to work for a revival of Buddhism in India (Rodrigues, 219–40). Ramasami thus inserted his act of defiance into a context that was by its very definition opposed to Brahminical privilege, textual rigidity, and spiritual arrogance. The Buddha had disciplined his mind and attained prajna, a state of self-realization won through his relentless pursuit of knowledge. By choosing the day of the Buddha’s birth to enact his rejection of what he deemed superstition and false knowledge, Ramasami staged a civic drama that was something of a morality play. He sought to persuade through example and to entreat people to the practice of reason. As it turned out, however, his act provoked an altogether di√erent response among many. Rather than convincing people to pursue reason over religious belief and logic over superstition, the event ended up motivating many Hindus to perform the very rituals that Ramasami wanted them to abandon. This was largely the result of the manner in which Rajagopalachari cleverly and willfully appropriated Ramasami’s exhortations to wisdom. Announcing that ‘‘E. V. R[amasami]’s campaign is a blessing in disguise because it will encourage religious acts,’’ Rajagopalachari advised people to visit their local temple and worship Ganesha at the exact time that Ramasami and his followers planned to smash images of Ganesha. In fact, Rajagopalachari made what one might call a nonsectarian appeal, urging: ‘‘People of all faiths must make it a day of prayer’’ and ‘‘pray that the land should be saved from atheists [nastikas], that faith in Him [God] should grow among the people’’ (Indian Express, May 27, 1953). When it came to questions of religion and government, Rajagopalachari did not seek to polarize Hindus against either Muslims or Christians. (Both minorities constituted a significant numerical presence in the Madras area.) Instead he pleaded for all ‘‘believers’’ [astikas]

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to align themselves against what he viewed as a small group of provocateurs whose acts would ‘‘wound’’ the sensibilities of anyone with faith in divine beings.∞∏ At another level, Rajagopalachari’s comments signaled a Gandhian response to Ramasami’s protest. In a conflict, the Mahatma often called for a day of prayer. Gandhi’s declaration of a countrywide day of prayer against the repressive British Rowlatt Bill is only the most famous of many such examples (Gandhi, My Experiments in Truth, 457). Gandhi also insisted that one must love one’s opponent and do one’s utmost to help the foe realize the truth. Rajagopalachari made it clear that he desired that ‘‘wisdom [prajna] and compassion [karuna] should come to those that lack them.’’ So when he asked people to respond to Ramasami’s ignorance with acts of devotion, he was asking the faithful to extend the quintessential Buddhist virtue of karuna to the benighted Ramasami, so that he could, in time, attain the state of prajna that Ramasami wished on others! Rajagopalachari’s speech skillfully appropriates Buddhism to his purpose, disengaging it from the radical context that Ramasami and Ambedkar favored for it. His very word choice claims a secular, rather than a Hindu, rationale by invoking those virtues which belong to what he clearly perceived as the larger civilizational traditions in the subcontinent, such as concern for others and the search for highest knowledge. In response to Rajagopalachari’s entreaties to guard theism, elaborate displays of devotion took place. One Ganesha temple mounted festival celebrations complete with devotional songs (bhajans) and the recital of Tevaram, a beloved bhakti text. Many private employers and organizations sponsored special pujas. Although this was not a festival day in the Hindu liturgical calendar, in some neighborhoods a special ritual oblation (abhisheka) was carried out, along with elaborate pujas. Hundreds of devotees flocked to temples that day. The events of May 1953 were replete with ironies. For one, Ramasami’s protest provoked a flurry of devotionalism, the opposite of what he intended. On the one hand, it could be argued that the rituals which were performed only proved his fears correct: that people would cling to their beliefs rather than subject them to rational scrutiny; that they would prefer to follow ritual and scripture rather than take responsibility for assessing the practice of ritual. The notion of prajna that Ramasami embraced was not a desired virtue by those who worshipped. Instead, Rajagopalachari claimed prajna for belief in god and the truths of theism. So, according to this interpretation, Rama-

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sami proved right after all: what he had set out to criticize proved itself worthy of his continuing critique. On the other hand, after this event Ramasami’s protests shifted in focus, becoming simultaneously more theatrical and harder to subvert. In 1956, for example, he announced plans to burn pictures of Rama on the Madras beach. In 1971, he and members of the Dravidar Kazhagam held a Superstition Eradication Conference that made national news. It culminated with people hitting a huge image of Rama with leather sandals. In between these two events, his protests against the imposition of Hindi in the Tamil country won him a much larger and broader following than he had earlier (S. Ramasamy). His eversharper insights into the dynamics of public drama separated his early attack on Ganesha worship from his later, less vulnerable protests. In 1953, Rajagopalachari had seized control over his Ganesha event; subsequently Ramasami staged protests in which the message inhered in how he scripted the drama rather than in the response of others to the drama. For example, in 1953, in order to preempt his protest, the government decided to arrest Ramasami shortly before he was due to burn pictures of Rama on the Madras beach. Yet Ramasami had planned on his arrest and therefore used the process leading up to it in order to articulate and rea≈rm the point he sought to make, while the actual burning played a minor role. On the days prior to the event, in the Tamil country he received front-page newspaper coverage, in which he orchestrated articles that explained in great detail exactly why people should reject the divinity of Rama. In addition, the newspaper covered objections from members of Congress and then Ramasami’s refutation of their criticism. By the time of his arrest, Ramasami had deftly used the press to broadcast his views and their rationale. Following his release after a few hours of imprisonment, he proclaimed the event a major success: mainstream press coverage reached far more readers than those who regularly read the Dravidar Kazhagam’s newspapers (Indian Express, August 2, 1956). At another level, Ramasami’s choice of symbols shifted between 1953 and 1956. Rather than the Buddha or the beloved Shaivite figure of Ganesha, he focused more on Rama as a symbol of Aryan domination. Since a large majority of non-Brahmin Hindus in the Tamil country were staunch Shaivites and there are relatively few Rama temples in the southern region, this shift led to less outright rejection of his views. In fact, the further into the postindependence period one moves, the more general support one finds in the

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Tamil country for the view that members of high castes in northern India have continued to dominate and take advantage of peoples of the south. And today, Ramasami’s criticisms of the dangers of devotion to Brahmin-led Hindu nationalism seem notably prescient. Conclusions Ramasami’s insistence that dissent and challenge of religious faith must be protected by the rule of law, rather than overseen in a generalized permissive sense, poses instructive dilemmas for our understanding of secularism. In India, secularism has more or less come to mean tolerance, a value that one cannot really a√ord to abjure in today’s context, when governments collude with hate groups to maim and kill non-Hindus. Yet this tolerance, while piously upheld in public utterances and formally endorsed in courts of law, has not fostered critical public conversations about religious and theological di√erences. Seldom does one encounter debates that consider how one can live with people with whom one disagrees, with ideas that provoke one’s sense that something is drastically wrong, with memories that speak of irreconcilable ‘‘others.’’ Ramasami’s political practice, his commitment to enhancing dissent that would counter collusion between religion and state, his faith in the value of submitting all issues to discerning examination—all these remain useful contributions to civic debate. He sought for himself the right to disagree with matters of religious belief and likewise extended this right to all. He had great trust in conversations and polemic, and in fact the grand historical success of his movement lay in this—that he did not seek to vanquish his opponents but to engage them in arguments. Ramasami’s secularism is informative in another sense as well. It provides a point of focus for all those who, whether religiously observant or not, see the dangers of religious authority colluding with economic and political power. Even today in Tamilnadu, members of nearly every religious community recall Ramasami as someone who had the courage to condemn the hypocrisy practiced in the name of religion by those who sought to maintain their own political and cultural privileges. Given the recent events in Ayodhya and Godhra, one wonders whether Ramasami’s own lucidly conceived protests against religious beliefs and practices would even be allowed to occur in India today. Whether he smashed terra cotta images of Ganesha or pelted large e≈gies of Lord Rama with leather sandals, he always believed it his fundamental right—indeed, his duty—to reveal the unholy alliances between re-

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ligious privilege, national politics at the center, caste hierarchy, and oppression of individuals at the bottom of the social order. Notes 1. During the colonial period, the British divided India into three presidencies: Bengal, Madras, and Bombay. What is today Tamilnadu, Kerala, Andhra, and large parts of Karnataka was then part of Madras Presidency. After the post-independence linguistic reorganization of states, the majority of Tamil speakers lived in Tamilnadu. To avoid confusion, henceforth in this essay we use the phrase ‘‘in the Tamil country’’ because it straddles both historical periods. 2. Substantive studies of E. V. Ramasami [Naicker] in English include Chandrababu; Diehl; Geetha and Rajadurai, Non-Brahmin Millennium; Irschick; Saraswathi; Richman, ‘‘E. V. Ramasami’s Interpretation’’; and E. Sa. Viswanathan. 3. The Dravidar Kazhagam considered itself nonpolitical—that is, it proclaimed it was not interested or concerned with electoral politics but preferred instead to agitate around socially relevant and urgent issues. On the eve of Indian independence, younger leaders of the dk, such as C. N. Annadurai, argued that this position could prove untenable in free India and that non-Brahmins and other so-called lower castes would need to participate in political life. This disagreement led to the founding of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (dmk) in 1949. Subsequently, internal disagreements within the dmk, centred on the issue of leadership, led to further splits and thus were formed the AllIndia Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in the early 1970s and the mdmk toward the end of the 1990s. 4. Ramasami expounded these ideas throughout his life in an astonishing number of newspaper articles, pamphlets, and speeches, many of which were subsequently published in collections of his thought. His articles appeared in Tamil serials such as Kudi Arasu, Paguttarivu, and Puratchi. V. Anaimuthu and K. Veeramani each compiled a selection of his Tamil writings. Readers limited to English will also find some topical collections of his writing, published by the Periyar Self-Respect Propaganda Institution, such as Golden Sayings of Periyar, and Man and Religion. The government of Tamilnadu also produced its own anthology for the centenary of Ramasami’s birth, The Revolutionary Sayings of Periyar. It is crucial to keep in mind that the English translations can never convey the power of his word choice and rhetoric in Tamil. The translations sometimes come across a bit flat in English, but they seldom came across that way in Tamil. 5. For analysis of Ramasami’s views on religion, see Geetha and Rajadurai, Non-Brahmin Millennium, 302–49; Richman, ‘‘E. V. Ramasami’s Interpretation’’; and Diehl. 6. All citations from Ramasami begin with the source in Tamil, followed by the source in English. Whenever possible English sources are cited in this essay. Ramasami’s writings are well-known and easily accessible in Tamil, but this essay’s goal is, through English, to make his view of secularism known to non-Tamil readers. 7. Ironically, ‘‘Hinduism’’ as encountered by Voltaire also played a role in fueling the

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intellectual ferment of the Enlightenment. As Ludo Rocher shows in Ezourvedam, what seems to have been a Jesuit-written spurious text designed to act as a stepping stone to convert Tamils to Christianity was interpreted by Voltaire as a rationalist critique of Christianity. 8. Iyothee Thass wrote more than ten books in Tamil, several going into multiple editions. For an account of his views, see Geetha and Rajadurai, Non-Brahmin Millennium, 42–72. P. Lakshmi Narasu’s book deeply influenced Ambedkar, who wrote a preface to the third edition, released in 1948. Buddhism also won followers in what is today Kerala; Sanoo (233–35) notes that M. C. Joseph edited a journal titled Yuktivadi (Rationalist). Joseph, Ambedkar, and Ramasami treated Buddhism as essentially a system of beliefs, with little attention to lived practice. One reason why Ramasami was so disillusioned with Buddhism when he encountered it in Burma was that he saw that it included many rituals he considered as superstitious as Hindu rituals. 9. Theosophy is a prime example of such vaguely ‘‘Oriental’’ forms of spiritualism. 10. Periyar’s self-reflexive use of reason is evident in almost all his public addresses. For specific examples, see the host of essays in the original Tamil in V. Anaimuthu’s collection (vol. 2, part VI, 1049–1129). Also see Geetha and Rajadurai, Non-Brahmin Millennium, 323–27, for a description of the Self-Respecters’ uses of reason. 11. By this point, The Laws of Manu (trans. Buhler) had become a symbol for both Ramasami and Ambedkar of Brahminical prescriptions designed to denigrate non-Brahmins. Both men, at di√erent points in time, encouraged their followers to burn copies of the text. 12. The term ‘‘samadharma’’ was liberally used by Buddhist writers and scholars and was present in the Self-Respecters’ lexicon from the early 1930s. The Buddhist origins of the term may be traced to the manner in which men like Lakshmi Narasu and others deployed it. For instance, in an address delivered to the South Indian Buddhist Association, he distinguished the ‘‘samadharma’’ preached by the Buddha from the dissembling Hinduism of the Brahmins (Kudi Arasu, 29.3.1931, trans. in Geetha and Rajadurai, Non-Brahmin Millennium, 422). M. Singaravelu, the great labor and communist leader from Madras, interpreted samadharma to mean ‘‘ownership in common’’ and noted that while he drew on the Buddhist meaning, he had also reinterpreted it (Puratchi, 4.3.1934, trans. in Geetha and Rajadurai, Non-Brahmin Millennium, 421). 13. Headlines of Times of India, March 26, 1931, read ‘‘Mr. Bose leading left wing faction’’ and ‘‘Gandhi threatening to retire from politics.’’ Gandhi’s arrival in Karachi was greeted with ‘‘Down with Gandhi’’ and ‘‘Long Live Bhagat Singh.’’ 14. Times of India, April 1, summarizes some of the rights enumerated by Congress, in addition to free profession and practice of religion: a living wage for workers, less land revenue, adult su√rage, and cuts in military expenses. 15. The issue of whether the divine dwelled in image was a hotly contested issue in religious debate. Many Christians (especially missionaries) and some Muslims accused Hindus of being idol-worshippers. Yet many Hindus argued that the divine was in everything and that venerating an image only provided an opportunity to localize the divine for the

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sake of worship. Thus Ramasami’s position on the issue here has a long and polemical history in religious controversies during the colonial period. 16. In many self-proclaimed secular states, the only approved religious action allowed in public spaces is that which is ‘‘nondenominational’’ in form; Rajagopalachari’s call to astikas had the same tone. Rather than calling on Hindus per se, he asked all who believe in God to show their solidarity against atheists.

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Sunil Khilnani a

Nehru’s Faith


eligion,’’ Nehru wrote to Gandhi in 1933, ‘‘is not familiar ground for me, and as I have grown older, I have definitely drifted away from it. I have something else in its place, something older than just intellect and reason, which gives me strength and hope. Apart from this indefinable and indefinite urge, which may have just a tinge of religion in it and yet is wholly di√erent from it, I have grown entirely to rely on the workings of the mind. Perhaps they are weak supports to rely upon, but, search as I will, I can see no better ones’’ (Selected Works, 5:473). What gave Nehru—a man whose political career spanned a long history of expectation, achievement, and disappointment and took in the highest and lowest points of India’s twentieth-century history—‘‘strength and hope’’? What were the ‘‘workings of the mind’’ on which he grew to rely, on which he rested his faith? In speaking of Nehru’s faith, my intentions are not merely historical. I wish to recover ‘‘faith’’ ’s primary meaning: trust or confidence, unshakeable belief or conviction—meanings that do not necessarily imply a religious sense. It is crucial to do this, at a moment when our ideas of faith are in danger of becoming unnecessarily restricted. When religion is being held up as a unique source of faith, we need to remind ourselves that there are other firm foundations upon which we can build moral and ethical projects, in both private and public life. If secularism, as we have re-

cently been told, has multiple meanings, so too does faith. In our own recent history, there is perhaps no better practical instance of the e√ort to find a nonreligious bedrock for morality than that of Nehru himself. Unusually for a politician, Nehru was a man of deeply held moral convictions: he believed in the moral life as sustaining not just private life but also as necessary for the living of any kind of political life. Yet he never placed his faith in religion. Famously, he wrote in his Autobiography of how what he called ‘‘organized religion’’ filled him ‘‘with horror . . . almost always it seemed to stand for a blind belief and reaction, dogma and bigotry, superstition and exploitation’’ (374). If he was critical of organized religion, he did on the other hand have sympathy for the ethical and spiritual dimensions of religion. As Nehru wrote while in Ahmadnagar jail, ‘‘Some kind of ethical approach to life has a strong appeal for me’’ (Discovery of India, 12), and that ethical approach, and its sources, he discovered in the disciplined exercise of his mind. Reason was not merely an instrument by which to accomplish goals: through reasoning, moral ends and goals were themselves determined, and by reasoning for oneself one took responsibility for one’s commitments and moral beliefs. This, I will suggest, captures the meaning of Nehru’s faith: reason, and the processes of reasoning, are the greatest resources we have through which to create and sustain our moral imagination. I would like to suggest further that Nehru’s overriding importance for us at this point in our great democratic experiment rests not in his obvious historical significance in India’s national story; rather, it lies in his intellectual and political understanding, in his struggles, not always successful, to try to base public life on a reasoned morality. It has of late become fashionable to attack reason. In many intellectual circles, reason is portrayed as an ill e√ect of the Enlightenment, a banner marking the imperium of Western theories and assumptions, an imperium oblivious to cultural di√erences and diversities. The rise of postmodernism and the expanding claims of contemporary religion are by no means directly connected; but they are also not entirely unlinked. At a time when our universities are being encouraged to produce postgraduates with degrees in astrology, it may seem misplaced to o√er a defense of reason. The political landscape today seems to have become the territory of the nonrational: populated by new claims to selfhood—couched in terms of religion, nation, tribe, culture—ready to use violence to assert their desires. Reason seems somehow disarmed.

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In the face of this, we need to find ways to reassert a faith in reason. This will mean first and necessarily having to see reason in a more complex light, not as a smiling rationalism or belief in human perfectibility. ‘‘Perfection,’’ Nehru wrote, ‘‘is beyond us for it means the end, and we are always journeying, trying to approach something that is ever receding. And in each one of us are many di√erent human beings with their inconsistencies and contradictions, each pulling in a di√erent direction’’ (Discovery of India, 496). It is precisely because of this—our human contrariness—that we need a capacity like reason to help find a way out of the dark, both individually and collectively. A faith in reason comes not from a sense of the simplicity of the human mind and its motivating passions but from a regard for its mysteries. Nehru’s own understanding of reason was complex and subtle, more so than is recognized either by his advocates or by his critics; and it was forged in circumstances that resonate with our own: in times when reason seemed in retreat, not at the helm—in the 1930s and 1940s, as fascism was ravaging Europe and religious chauvinism was splintering India. Self-proclaimed Nehruvians, who have tried to subsume his thinking under such phrases as ‘‘the scientific temper,’’ and equally those who criticize Nehru for what they have called his ‘‘rational monism,’’ both miss what is truly distinctive about Nehru’s thinking. Nehru’s faith in reason did not lead him to an easy belief that history was on the side of reason: he was without the rationalist’s faith that reason’s historical triumph was guaranteed. He saw it, as we ought to, as a fragile intellectual project; and in relation to a life, it represented the attempt to hold within a mind the range of considerations on how to live. Nehru certainly recognized the instrumental power of reason. In its two most materially powerful forms, as scientific reason (the project of trying to bend the natural world to human purposes), or as social reason (the project of trying to use human institutions—above all, the state—to remake society), reason was a tool for altering the natural and human worlds, for better or ill. Yet this tactical aspect did not exhaust the resources of reason. Reason could be used to sustain raw power, Nehru saw, but it could also be used as a way of creating an ethics, sustaining a moral imagination. He saw too that reason was not a Western import—there was a long and refined Indian history of reasoned argument, about ethical life and action. The act of reasoning about history and experience was a way of discovering moral truths: through such testing and questioning, personal identity was shaped, and moral commitments were discovered. To put it di√erently, moral commitments and beliefs

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had to be argued for, they had to be held up to the harsh light of history and experience. They could not be taken for granted, accepted simply because laid down in religious edicts or texts, or sanctioned by traditions. It was precisely because morality was accessible to reason that it was possible to bring others over to one’s beliefs—by hearing and acknowledging opposing views, and by o√ering one’s interlocutors reasons to believe, by convincing them. Nehru lived through some of the darkest periods of twentieth-century history, perhaps of human history: the First and Second World Wars, the Holocaust, the atom bomb, the Partition of India. For someone as sensitive as he was to the historical past, this inevitably shadowed his sense of what was prospectively humanly possible. Tagore and Gandhi both in later life ended with pessimistic and fatalistic views about the human future. Tagore, in his late essay ‘‘The Crisis in Civilization,’’ gave elegant vent to his pessimism, while Gandhi’s fatalism was visible in his growing distance, in the last years of his life, from the political sphere and his withdrawal to a realm of private moral experimentation, in order to test and strengthen his faith in God. Nehru’s destiny was quite other: he was hurled into the ruckus of politics. Put in command of a state, he had to act—during and after Partition—in circumstances where violence and hatred had burst known bounds, and reason fled the scene. What kept him going was a conviction that even in the darkest times, intellectual inquiry—‘the workings of the mind’ as he had put it—reasoning through the gloom, could not be given up: the true failure of faith, the real moral collapse, would be to give up one’s faith in reason. If it is unusual to consider political leaders from this point of view, that is perhaps because we have become too accustomed to thinking of them simply as professionals pursuing a career—their declared ideology or beliefs may be of interest, but their moral character rarely intrigues us. We have come to assume that a politician is e√ective to the extent that he or she is singleminded in the pursuit of power, that he should be adept at criticizing others, never himself. But anyone who chooses the political life has a moral and intellectual responsibility to be self-critical, to examine coldly his or her own commitments and choices. That morality might have a place in the political life is perhaps an unhinged thought today, when politics has become a profession rather than a vocation. Yet in the absence of such a perspective, Nehru’s career makes little sense: what makes him interesting as a politician, what sets him apart, is his constant probing of how to combine the moral life with the political life. He was a deeply considered person: by some way the most complex whole-cloth politician that India has ever had. 92 Sunil Khilnani

If Nehru was unusual as a politician in the depth of his moral commitments, it is necessary also to see how he was entirely ordinary, in ways that Gandhi for instance was not. Gandhi was unique: he developed extraordinary qualities of character, intensities of self-denial that seem almost freakish. Nehru was not like that: he was, in an important sense, like any one of us—teeming with human appetites, often bewildered by life’s choices, selfdoubting, indecisive, short-tempered, needy, sometimes downcast. Unlike Gandhi, he set himself no superhuman moral feats. But like Gandhi, he possessed a remarkable steadfastness of faith: his own faith. Nehru tried to use, to the utmost, that capacity all of us have: the capacity to reason. From the late nineteenth century onward, all Indian thinkers and political figures faced a fundamental problem. How to discover or devise some coherent, shared norms—values and commitments—that could connect Indians together under modern conditions, that could define a public sphere for Indians? This wider and deeper theme of our intellectual and political history has too often been subsumed within the story of nationalism—as the search for what could unite Indians in terms of a common identity. Yet, as the question to which nationalism was a response has receded, as we are faced with the fundamental and routine questions of political life lived anywhere and at anytime—how can we create and sustain a moral public life?—we need to recover this other history, to reconstruct its shape. What we find in Tagore, in Gandhi, in Nehru (as well as in many others: I have chosen to focus on these three because they lend themselves most clearly to the argument I wish to make), in their self-criticisms as well as in their critical debates with one another, is a search for a modern morality. They sought principles and practices through which Indians could engage in the public political life to which they were now, through the presence of a state, necessarily condemned and committed. Tagore, Gandhi, Nehru: each represents an important moment in the making of a tradition of public reason—the creation of an intellectual space which allowed morals and ethics, and the political choices these entailed, to be debated, revised, decided on. At its best moments, the arguments and ideas generated quite exceeded the bounds of nationalism or nationalist thought: by which I mean that their intellectual ambitions were much greater than those who think merely in terms of a narrow Indian nationalism or identity, however defined. They asked large questions and demanded ambitious answers. When thinking about moral Nehru’s Faith 93

questions, they did not ask: ‘‘What should an Indian do?’’ or: ‘‘What should a Hindu or a Muslim do?’’ Rather, they asked what should a moral being do, what was it right for any human with moral capacities to do? Yet, alongside this universalist impulse, they were also compelled to keep a vivid sense of the contextual and conjunctural constraints they and their compatriots faced: the presence of a colonial state, as also the grip of tradition, limited the room for action. But it did not limit the pursuit of more capacious perspectives. Interestingly, and unusually if one looks at contemporary academic political and ethical thinking (which tends to divide between the supremely abstract and the minutely particular), their thinking characteristically struggled to combine universalist ambitions with a vivid sense of specific contexts in which one had practically to act. No doubt Tagore, Gandhi, and Nehru represent a broad and diverse set of positions, and they frequently disagreed. But together, they are the most notable examples in our history of the e√ort to invent a modern ethics for Indians and India. Their intellectual energies in part drew on and were directed toward a common predicament, a commonly felt set of challenges: how, in what form, can a moral and integrated life be lived under modern conditions, where political power is concentrated in the state, but where beliefs are multiple and diverse across the society? What was the relationship between morality and personal identity? How could public norms of morality be agreed on? Where, to what sources, should one turn in order to devise moral forms of public action? What could ensure that the institutions of modern politics—the state—would pursue moral ends by moral means? It is the driving presence of this quest in their thinking which marks out all three as more than merely nationalist thinkers: as men who tried to find the basis for a universalist morality and politics. All three saw the extent to which politics was going to become increasingly important in India: how it was becoming the dominant medium of public life. And all three, even as they intervened and acted in the realm of politics, dreaded the prospect that the expansion of politics would corrupt public life by reducing it to the cynical pursuit of material gains—with disastrous consequences. All three thinkers understood that in a world where religion was declining (as in the West) or (as in India) where religious faith existed in multiple forms, where no one particular religion or belief system could claim universal allegiance, no shared morality could be assumed present. In the absence of a generalized and common religious faith—either because such

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faith had declined, or because it existed in plural forms—religion in its traditional sense could not claim a universal status, and moral beliefs were relativized. This was fertile territory for conflicts. New, shared moral vocabularies and commitments had to be invented: and this could only be done through public, reasoned debate—through procedures that could identify areas of shared, overlapping moral commitments (for example, to equality of treatment) and which could extend these. If we treat these thinkers as remarkable merely within the context of Indian history, we do them and ourselves an injustice. Their arguments, both in their content and in the way they conducted them, address more general problems —not least, the problem of how to construe the relation between political power and the presence of multiple faiths. We tend to assume that universalist claims and ideas are a feature only of Western theories. In fact the various, di√ering universalisms of the twentieth century generated by the Indian tradition of public reason are arguably better tuned to today’s disjointed world: they are more sensitive to the claims of diversity in the construction of a moral public life. I have so far assumed commonalities between Tagore, Gandhi, and Nehru, in order to locate them in a single tradition of what one might call public reason. I want now to suggest some of the ways in which they disagreed with one another, and so to bring out what was distinctive about Nehru’s faith. What sets Tagore and Gandhi apart from other Indians who wished to root public morals in religion was their recognition that no religion taken in its traditional sense could serve as the basis of a universal faith or morality. So, Gandhi’s own intellectual itinerary involved a strenuous dismantling and reassembly of religious traditions: the result was a profoundly unconventional ethical sense, one that cannot be understood in terms of the grammar of traditional forms of Hinduism. By opening himself to Islam, Christianity, and the folk traditions of Hindu devotion, he created his own moral vocabulary, profoundly respectful of existing religious faiths even as it moved beyond these. Tagore, in creating what he called his ‘‘poet’s religion,’’ one that was ‘‘neither that of an orthodox man of piety nor that of a theologian,’’ looked outside and beyond religious traditions to forge his spiritual faith—which he described as ‘‘the Religion of Man’’: a humanist faith in the capacities of man, and a belief in the transcendent powers of art and aesthetics. Where Tagore and Gandhi clashed was in their di√ering valuations of the

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role and force of reason, a di√erence brought out clearly in their exchange over the Bihar earthquake of 1934. Tagore thought Gandhi profoundly mistaken in his readiness to explain to his countrymen that the earthquake was a ‘‘divine chastisement’’ for persisting with the sin of untouchability. Taking clear sides in the age-old debate about theodicy, Tagore wrote: ‘‘we can never imagine any civilized order of men making indiscriminate examples of casual victims, including children and members of the untouchable community, in order to impress others dwelling at a safe distance who possibly deserve severer condemnation’’ (Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, 158). As Tagore saw it, Gandhi’s view sanctioned a kind of terrorism on the part of the divine order, of religion. When it came to explaining the natural world, Tagore was firm that reason and science had priority. In this particular respect, Tagore certainly gave greater scope to reason than Gandhi did—though Gandhi himself could also subject tradition and reason to the sharpest scrutiny and criticism. This shared regard for reason placed Tagore closer to Nehru than to Gandhi. Nehru, writing from Ahmednagar jail to Krishna Kripalani shortly after Tagore’s death, observed that ‘‘no two persons could probably di√er so much as Gandhi and Tagore!,’’ even though both had drawn ‘‘inspiration from the same wells of wisdom and thought and culture.’’ There is no doubt that in terms of personal ties and intimacy, Nehru was far closer to Gandhi than to Tagore: for Nehru, Gandhi was—even more than a father figure— something like a surrogate mother. Intellectually though, the proximities were reversed: ‘‘Spiritually I was, I suppose, far nearer to Gurudev,’’ Nehru wrote on hearing news of Tagore’s death, ‘‘I loved his love of life, and all things beautiful; with him, I was a Pagan’’ (Selected Works, 11:688, 689, 671). But Tagore had a sharp sense of the limits of science and scientific inquiry. The fact that science dealt in statistics and numbers, that its logic was probabilistic, meant that the domain of moral questions escaped it: moral questions required certainty, not probabilistic answers. For Nehru, on the other hand, the moral life was a pursuit, which had to allow testing and revision, through the exercise of reason, with reason encompassing diverse aspects of human life, whose limits he drew out and worried over throughout his life. Perceiving the limits of reason did not lead Nehru to abandon it. On the contrary, it drove him toward an expanded view of reason, toward using it to open up moral problems. He did this through the steady ‘‘workings of the mind’’ and of the pen—through practice. Often in his personal life, Nehru needed something like faith or certitude 96 Sunil Khilnani

to sustain him: anyone who has spent close to ten years of his life in prison would need some such mental and psychological fortitude. In the mid-1930s, while in jail in Dehra Dun and Almora, he was hit by bouts of depression. His wife, herself isolated and ill, increasingly found faith in religion; his daughter was away in school; his mother was bedridden with a stroke; and he was without his father, in the past his bulwark in troubled times. He was angered by Gandhi’s methods—of fasting and the suspension of civil disobedience— and bitterly critical of the Congress leadership. His sense of isolation and helplessness seemed total: in his diary, he wrote: ‘‘I grow lonelier than ever. The home that father had built up so lovingly is going to pieces. . . . I am losing most footholds I had’’ (Selected Works, 6:310). Again, during his second long period in jail, in Ahmadnagar Fort during the early and mid-1940s, his mood grew dark. As the bombs fell in Europe, the freedom struggle and civil disobedience seemed to have run into the sands, and his own family life seemed to unravel, his sense of frustration was palpable: ‘‘In the mind where there was once certainty, doubt creeps in’’ (Discovery of India, 7). Yet, even during these periods of personal and psychic crisis, he did not turn to the certitudes of religion to sustain his belief or faith—and it was at every step a hard-won refusal. Instead, he found refuge in writing: the mannered selfanalysis of the Autobiography in the mid-1930s, or his major work of the 1940s, The Discovery of India. When Nehru found himself intellectually stranded, doubting, or confused, his response was to articulate his confusions and through this to arrive at clarity: for long, this took the form of writing—letters, manuscripts, diaries; in later years, pressed for time, he turned to speechifying, and to his fortnightly letters to chief ministers. The prolixity of a Nehru or of a Gandhi has a particular meaning: one senses a constant e√ort to explain and reason out views. Nehru’s writings and speeches are the trace of his e√orts to reason— with himself and with others, in private and in public. It is hardly a coincidence that each of these figures who helped define the tradition of public reason in twentieth-century India, Tagore, Gandhi, and Nehru, was a great letter writer, engaging his correspondents in dialogue and debate. Perhaps it was one of Nehru’s tragedies that, with the death of Tagore and then Gandhi, he was bereft of great interlocutors, of intellectuals who could really challenge his core beliefs. To reason about one’s moral beliefs is a more strenuous, troubling process than merely to use reason as a means to achieve particular ends. This sense of Nehru’s Faith 97

e√ort required to choose one’s moral principles is often visible in Nehru. Take for instance Gandhi’s commitment to nonviolence: could this be a supreme principle? Writing in jail, entrapped by the violence embodied in the modern state (‘‘In prison one comes to realize more than anywhere else the basic nature of the state: it is the force, the compulsion, the violence of the governing group’’), Nehru subjected Gandhi’s principle to scrutiny (Selected Works, 6:487). Those not fortunate to have Gandhi’s faith, Nehru confessed, are ‘‘troubled by a host of doubts . . . [which relate to ]. . . . the mind’s desire for some consistent philosophy of action which is both moral from the individual viewpoint and is at the same time socially e√ective’’ (Autobiography, 538). Could the principle of nonviolence make sense in politics? After all, the life of the politician is lived in constant contact with violence and the instruments of violence: ‘‘Violence is the very life blood of the modern state and social system. . . . Governments are notoriously based on violence,’’ including the more covert, subtle violence of ‘‘false propaganda, indirect and direct through education, Press etc, religious and other forms of fear, economic destitution and starvation’’ (Autobiography, 541). ‘‘Neither the growth of reason nor of the religious outlook or morality,’’ Nehru wrote, in a passage which bore the influence of the German American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, ‘‘have checked in any way this tendency to violence’’ (542). Did it make sense, then, in opposing a state—or in thinking about how one might use the powers of a state should they fall into one’s hands—to abjure violence simply as a tenet of faith? Nehru was here wrestling with the problem of how to wield power in a moral way (a problem he remained sensitive to throughout his life: many years later, when asked by André Malraux what was the greatest challenge he faced, Nehru famously replied, ‘‘to build a just society by just means’’; he could equally and perhaps more accurately have said, ‘‘to run a just state by just means’’). Could what was moral at the individual level become a principle of political and social action? Could it dictate the nature of collective action? Nehru examined Gandhi’s commitment to this by playing him o√ against Niebuhr, who thought not. Nehru seemed to incline toward Niebuhr’s position—that a gap existed between individual morality and collective morality, so that one could not extrapolate from the one to the other—only to come down more on the side of Gandhi: ‘‘But the means cannot be ignored for, quite apart from the moral side, they have a practical side. Bad and immoral means often defeat the end in view or raise tremendous new problems. And, after all, it is the means that a person adopts and not the

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ends that he declares that enables us to judge him truly. . . . Ends and means are indeed so intimately connected that they can hardly be separated’’ (Autobiography, 549). Even when it came to a principle so fundamental to Gandhi’s morality as that of nonviolence, Nehru felt it necessary to reason through the argument: he refused to accept Gandhi’s principle of nonviolence simply as a dogmatic principle or matter of religious faith: he insisted on subjecting it to close intellectual scrutiny, testing it against examples. Such self-critical awareness often characterized Nehru’s struggles to determine moral commitments. On the vexed question of how to handle one’s opponents, he and Gandhi exchanged thoughts in the early 1930s when Gandhi’s activism against untouchability was winning him enemies—especially among the orthodox Sanatanists, who launched an abusive campaign against Gandhi. Nehru, writing from prison in 1933, noted how weak was the capacity of one’s opponents to tolerate di√erences of opinion; interestingly though, he also recognized something of this brittleness in himself. ‘‘Under great strain all tolerance disappears, and their [the Sanatanists’] intolerance at present is a sign of the great strain you are putting on them,’’ he wrote to Gandhi. ‘‘It is all very well for the likes of Sapru and me . . . to talk pompously and in a superior way of our tolerance in matters of religion when neither of us has any religion worth talking about. . . . But touch either of us on some particular subject and you will find the raw side and there will be little of tolerance then. Who is more intolerant than you are in certain matters? The fact is real tolerance hardly exists; what goes under the name of tolerance is indi√erence. What we do not value we make a virtue of tolerating in others.’’ I cite this as an example of Nehru’s reflexivity, his willingness to probe the bases of his moral values, and to admit where the ground might be shaky. Moral principles had to emerge from and connect to the world as it is. Moral reasoning was also practical reasoning: not the discovery of abstract principles but continuous self-conscious reflection on experience and history. ‘‘The necessities of today,’’ Nehru wrote, ‘‘will force us to formulate a new morality in accordance with them. If we are to find a way out of this crisis of the spirit and realize what are the true spiritual values today, we shall have to face the issues frankly and boldly and not take refuge under the dogmas of any religion,’’ (Autobiography, 550). Put abstractly, Nehru’s life, understood as an intellectual project, is an attempt to bring together, to reconcile, the claims of instrumental reason with those of moral reason. In the realm of policy and political action, there are examples too of how

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Nehru chose to deliberate and reason through an argument before adopting a course of action—and at times this involved going entirely against his own instincts. Perhaps the most well-known and instructive case concerns the demand, from the early 1950s, for linguistic states and for the reorganization of the internal units of the Union. Although in earlier days a supporter of the idea of linguistic states, after Partition Nehru feared that any redrawing of India’s internal boundaries along such lines would further endanger the country’s unity. He asserted as much in the early sessions of the Constituent Assembly. But, over a period of several years, in the face of demands (often violent) as well as arguments, he came to revise his views on the matter. Nehru often has been criticized for being dilatory and evasive on this subject; in fact, by temporizing and by refusing to give in immediately to impassioned popular demands, by allowing positions to be stated and gradually revised, he enabled a more satisfactory solution to emerge—one that actually strengthened the Union and that has endured remarkably well. Unlike Tagore or Gandhi, Nehru found himself in command of a state, the most powerful structured concentration of modern instrumental reason that exists. The choices and responsibilities that came with wielding such power brought with them for Nehru a certain quality of nemesis, as Arnold Toynbee once pointed out. ‘‘It is more blessed,’’ Toynbee wrote, ‘‘to be imprisoned for the sake of one’s ideals than to imprison other people, incongruously, in the name of the same ideals. Nehru lived to have both experiences.’’ It was the painful sense of the potential arbitrariness of power, and of the need to justify its uses, that urged Nehru toward a reasoned public morality. Others might have turned to religion to find sources for such a morality. Nehru did not. This too stemmed from his understanding of the character of the modern state, when it had to operate in a society with diverse and deeply held beliefs. Alongside his understanding of the sweep of history was also his own personal experience, his all-too-intimate acquaintance with the workings of the state, the prisoner’s experience of the irrationality and arbitrariness of political power. He knew fully the power of the ruler because he had felt it so severely as one who was ruled. One argument, abroad in various forms today, asserts that as India becomes more democratic, as the political process becomes more inclusive, India’s democratic institutions and the state needs must become more faithbased. Now, there are two fundamental political lessons that can be gleaned

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from the historical experience of Europe. First, there is something disastrous in all attempts to define the character of the state in terms of the claims of religious faith: to endow the state with a religious identity. Second, the citizenbody cannot ever safely give up its powers to a small number of political agents for more than short periods of time: political power must be made accountable through the institutions of democracy. The relationship between these two lessons—the lesson of democracy and the lesson of the nonreligious state—is today in the throes of a particularly di≈cult torsion all over the world. Nehru was one of the few Indian intellectuals who, through his study of the European historical experience, saw the vital importance of these two lessons: that democracy is the only acceptable standard of political legitimacy for the modern state; and that if this is linked to faith, the consequences will be catastrophic. Most importantly, he was also one of the rare Indian intellectuals who had studied not only European but also Indian history: and he was able to relate his reading of European history to his own reasoned understanding of the pattern of Indian history—in particular, to his insight that the distinctive configuration of power and belief or faith which all large-scale political entities in India had adopted was one where political power kept a distance from the beliefs of society, and interfered only minimally. Nehru was a politician without religious faith but in possession of the deepest moral sense. He tried to develop a morality without the fallback of religion, and while having to act under the compulsions of wielding power. It was his moral faith, at least as much as his ideological commitments, which sustained his political action. The Indian political scene is today dominated by a paradox. We observe plenty of politicians who profess to have religious faith; yet we find it di≈cult to get any sense of moral depth to their characters, any sense of moral struggle or self-questioning over their actions, policies, or choices. They seem to view politics and the capture of state power as ends in themselves: theirs is a purely instrumentalist understanding of both reason and faith. This hollowing out of the moral content of faith is symptomatic of a deeper and more startling development in the domains of faith and religion. Philosophers and intellectuals at the end of the nineteenth century, surveying the role and future place of religion, tended to assume that religion, matters of faith, would increasingly become private matters: religion was being driven inward.

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In fact, quite the opposite has occurred: religion and faith today no longer refer to an inner space of contemplation and private struggle but to an outer realm of conflict and commotion. The interiority of religion—the di≈cult inward interrogation out of which morals and ethics emerge—has been all but lost. Religions today merely aspire to capture the space of public morality, to define the parameters and content of public life. It is important to see that Nehru’s sense of the place of religion, and of the need to keep it separate from the state, was not based on some hopeful prospective view about secularization. He did not see secularization as the ineluctable dynamo of history’s movement, resulting in the elimination of religion through, for example, economic development. Such a view of religion as an epiphenomenal product of more fundamental forces—as a dependent variable—may to have some extent captured Nehru’s views in the 1930s when he was most influenced by the ideas of Marxism; but it does not describe his views in the last two decades of his life. For anyone of Nehru’s historical intelligence, one clear lesson of the Partition of India was to drive home the ineliminable force of religion in Indian society, its deep-rootedness—something that Nehru already had learned at the individual level through his engagement with Tagore and Gandhi, as well as with colleagues like Maulana Azad and Rajaji. Nehru’s views about religion and the state were not based on a prospective optimism about the evanescence of religion but rather on a retrospective, historically based pessimism about its persistence—and the dangers this posed if it should ever be linked to that most powerful modern form of instrumental reason, the state. It was an insight based on an understanding of the historical experiences of both Europe and India. Today, as we survey the shattered nationalisms of the Balkans, as we feel collapsing about us the ruins of Arab nationalism, as we see the precipice on which nations like Indonesia balance, it is more important than ever to see the force of what Nehru understood. It is exactly religion’s persistence, its fulsome presence as we stumble into the new century, that, far from undermining or disproving the force of Nehru’s views on the subject, exactly underline their relevance and resonance for us today. On this particular point, he just was right. Each generation inevitably exploits its claim to historical condescension toward those who came before them. Indeed, there are many things that we can rightly claim to know and understand better than earlier generations did,

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and than Nehru may have done. But on this particular point, he saw better than our political and intellectual elites do today. We may disagree with him over his economic choices or his conduct of foreign policy; we may not like his style or aspects of his personality; but we must be able to separate between those elements of his ideas and understanding that do retain their cognitive validity and force, and those that do not. That is a fundamental intellectual responsibility we all owe to our past. Ultimately, the power and meaning of Nehru’s life does not lie in the mere fact of his contingent acquisition of political power—his biographical good fortune; its importance for India and Indians lies in the intellectual and political understanding he worked out. It was his ability to comprehend the alien political experience of Europe, to interpret how it was relevant to India, and to assimilate it into the Indian experience, which bestows on him a continuing, indeed surpassing, importance. A figure like Gandhi can stand as a powerful moral exemplar to us; but his greatest skills were tactical—he o√ered little with which to think about the central problem which India faces today: how to reconcile the presence of the modern state and the forest of belief which India contains. Gandhi’s morality was an embodied one: it was expressed through superhuman feats of willpower, it required his physical presence, both to perform the actions and to explicate them through his self-commentary. With Nehru, it cannot be said of his life that it was a spectacular moral performance. But he did leave a legacy of reasoning, and of intellectual and political understanding, on whose recovery depends the continuing viability of the Indian project. Our history shows how the political life can be lived, both morally and reasonably, in full faith. Note This essay was originally delivered as the Thirty-fourth Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture, at Teen Murti House, on November 13, 2002.

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Ashis Nandy a

Closing the Debate on Secularism A Personal Statement


he Gujarat riots of 2002 should make us openly admit what we all secretly know but cannot publicly acknowledge—that the theory and practice of fighting religious and ethnic strife, armed with the ideology of secularism, has not helped us much, not at least in South Asia. Nothing seems to have changed since the violent days of 1946–48, when the first genocidal riots based on the Hindu-Muslim divide took place in South Asia—from the complicity of political parties to the partiality of the police and the administration, from touching but e√ete resolutions demanding action, passed by the usual suspects, to sane words of advice from well-known universities abroad, now fortified by a galaxy of Western scholars of South Asian origin eagerly trying to remote control the backward and the poor toward a better future. The only thing that has changed is the level of brutality, which has now risen high enough to acquire pornographic dimensions. Today, we seem to be back to square one. There are some remarkable similarities between the Partition riots of 1946–48 and the Gujarat carnage, especially in the way the violence spread to villages in the interior of Gujarat and almost the entire urban middle class was won over by the rhetoric of hatred. This is a wrong context in which to examine the vicissitudes of the Indian experiment with secularism. But I will do so nonetheless, because

it is doubtful that anything worthwhile can be built in this part of the world unless the rubble of dead categories occupying public space is cleared up first. That is not an easy task in a recipient culture of knowledge, though somewhat similar doubts have arisen recently about secularism in sections of the Western knowledge industry too. ‘‘The historical modus vivendi called secularism,’’ asserts the political theorist William Connolly ungraciously, ‘‘is coming apart at the seams’’ (Why I Am Not a Secularist, 19). Similar conclusions can be teased out of the works of three other important political theorists apparently married to secularism—Richard Falk, Paul Ricoeur, and Charles Taylor in recent years. Perhaps the arguments against secularism will now begin to acquire some respectability in the former colonies as well. Against this background, I revisit the domain of secularism and its politics in India. First of all, saying that secularism is in decline is an empirical statement and can be defended and attacked on empirical grounds. Whether one should say it in public is a di√erent issue. I have said so to explore other ideas that may work better in the tropics. However, I have also added that the record of secularism was not disreputable in the first three decades of independent India when, paradoxically, it was not explicitly present in the constitution.∞ It is the record of the ideology after the expansion of political participation and the acceleration of the process of secularization that is dubious. Those who like to think that my primary objection to secularism is cultural will surely not accuse me of believing that the contradiction between secularism and culture did not exist twenty-five years ago (‘‘An Anti-Secularist Manifesto’’). Strangely, when I first expressed my doubts about the e≈cacy of secularism twenty-five years ago, it was already a cliché among activists and scholar-activists. There was a consensus in India that secularism was not in the best of health in the country and there was much lamentation on that count. That consensus survives. It also cuts across ideological boundaries and disciplines. There is little di√erence on the subject between Asghar Ali Engineer and Lal Krishna Advani, Triloki Nath Madan and Achin Vanaik or, for that matter, between the functionaries of India’s main political parties. The di√erences that exist and have led to bitter debates in academic circles are about the reasons for and the possible responses to this decline. Before turning to these causes and responses, please allow me a word on the angry responses to my three earlier essays on secularism (‘‘An AntiSecularist Manifesto,’’ ‘‘The Politics of Secularism and the Recovery of Re-

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ligious Tolerance,’’ and ‘‘The Twilight of Certitudes’’). My writings seem to arouse more hostility when they coincide, accidentally or otherwise, with something that many feel tempted to say, pushed by the insistent realities of life, but do not, for reasons of political and academic correctness. Because they have to fight within themselves the conclusions they have drawn, they feel disturbed, guilty, and complicit when someone else brings them to the fore. Many criticisms of my writings, whether by worthy scions of metropolitan India or by living symbols of academic respectability elsewhere, act as forms of exorcism. Sunil Khilnani is so o√ended by criticisms of the concept of secularism because he himself considers secularism a ‘‘withered concept’’ and his commitment to secularism is what psychoanalysts call counterphobic (The Idea of India). The second reason for discomfort has little to do with my position. Any plea for nonmodern, traditional, or people’s knowledge in public life arouses the fear that such knowledge might lead to large-scale displacement or uprooting in the domain of intellectual work, that the familiar world of knowledge might shrink, if not collapse and, in the new world that may come into being, there would be less space for the likes of us. What Sigmund Freud says about the inescapable human fantasy of immortality—our inability to visualize a world without us—applies in this case, too. Many of us are haunted by the question ‘‘What will be my place in a nonsecular or nonmodern world?’’ India’s newly empowered urban middle class just cannot conceive of a good society without its ideas and itself at the helm. Now, to the causes of and responses to the decline of secularism. The standard diagnosis preferred by Hindu nationalists is that secularism has failed because, as practiced by their political opponents, mainly the Gandhians and the Leftists, secularism has meant the appeasement of minorities. The Hindu nationalists feel that Indian secularism, in practice, has been always biased against the Hindus. Particularly after independence, the kinds of reforms introduced in Hindu society—say, through measures like the Hindu Code Bill—have never been attempted in the case of other religions. What the Hindu nationalists want is genuine secularism, as opposed to the pseudosecularism of most other parties but mainly of the Indian National Congress and the Leninists. This might look like unalloyed hypocrisy, but it is also a clever political ploy designed to corner political opponents. One random piece of evidence is that, today, only the Hindu nationalists have been left pleading for a uniform civil

Closing the Debate on Secularism 109

code. Almost all other mainstream parties oppose it. India must be the only country in the world where the ethnonationalists plead for a uniform civil code, their opponents oppose it. But then India is the only country where the ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, leading what some might call the world’s largest fundamentalist formation, can boast that all its founding fathers (Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Keshav Hegdewar, and Balakrishna Munje) were nonbelievers or half-hearted believers. Only about fifteen years after its establishment could the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, the rss, find a believing Hindu to head it in Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar. Indeed, the bible of the formation, Hindutva by Savarkar, flaunts its author’s atheism in a number of places and Savarkar’s hagiographers have to hide the fact that he was a nonbeliever. Nor have the bjp and its main ideological allies ever rejected secularism.≤ (That itself should have made at least some thinkers suspicious of the concept.) The policies and actions of the Hindu nationalists may often have not been secular, but a part of their soul has always been. Nathuram Godse’s last testament in court, in which in a number of places he accuses Gandhi of flouting the canons of secular statecraft, is an example (May It Please Your Honour). The testament attacks Gandhi for burdening the young Indian nation-state with an irrational, nonsecular, ideological baggage that includes items like soul force, fasting, and nonviolence—a position that most modern Indians would love to endorse but are too embarrassed to do (Nandy, ‘‘Final Encounter’’). The opponents of Hindu nationalism, not finding any intellectually meaningful response to these anomalies, pretend that they do not exist or paper over them with the help of what they think are trendy, imported theories of fundamentalism and religious extremism but in reality are a set of clichéd slogans from the 1930s. The other diagnosis of the failure of secularism, which many liberals venture, holds that secularism would have flowered in India but for recalcitrant, nasty politicians and a biased law-and-order machinery. The usual solution to the problem, o√ered by the lovable innocents who venture the diagnosis— from the historian Mushirul Hasan to the sociologist Dipankar Gupta to the journalist Praful Bidwai—is that if the ungodly in the administration and policy elite can be eliminated, secularism would work in its pristine form. Heavier doses of the same medicine is the only possible remedy for the ailment called religious violence. I would love to agree with this diagnosis. Only I am ornery enough to suspect the premise that, after adequate exhortations from academic pulpits

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or newspaper columns, South Asian politicians, police, and bureaucracy will suddenly, like some characters in popular Bombay films, have a spectacular change of heart and begin to behave like obedient schoolchildren. To expect politicians to jeopardize their political survival by not mobilizing on ethnoreligious grounds, or the coercive apparatus of the state not to play footsy with politicians in power, is like expecting academics to ignore the latest intellectual fashions and be propelled solely by the lure of de-ideologized empirical truths. Nor do I see the urban middle-class movements going far by themselves. Third, there is a variation on the second position that claims that the Indian state and a sizable section of its functionaries have never been entirely secular and wholeheartedly implemented secular policies. They have made compromises all the way. For instance, instead of being irreligious, they have tried to get away with equal respect for all religions. This was bound to lead to disaster sometime or other, and we face that disaster today. Academic boy scouts like Dipankar Gupta are cocksure that what India needs today is a tough dose of ‘‘secular intolerance.’’ Once again, I wish I could sympathize with this formulation. My belief is that states in South Asia usually muddle through a series of crises on a day-to-day basis. The kind of agency and coherence often imputed to these impersonal entities is usually a projection of our inner needs and anthropomorphic fantasies of a parental state; such feelgood attributions are a tribute to our trusting nature rather than to political acumen. State formation and nation building have been criminal enterprises everywhere in the world and, if I may reread R. J. Rummell’s data on the basis of new data on genocides, of some two hundred million killed in genocides in the twentieth century, only a fraction were killed in religious violence and a huge majority killed by their own governments (see Death by Government and Power Kills). Of those killed by states, a large majority—at least two-thirds, according to my rough calculation—was killed by secular states. The true heroes of secularism in the last hundred years have been Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, and Pol Pot. To trust the modern state to ensure religious tolerance, even when that state is secular, is a form of innocence that the existential psychoanalyst Rollo May would have certainly found ‘‘inauthentic’’ (Power and Innocence). Finally, there are the scholars who believe that something is drastically wrong with the idea of secularism itself, particularly in societies that do not share the

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experiences of Europe, do not have sharp interreligious boundaries or churchlike structures. These societies have for centuries lived with immense religious diversities and memories of colonial domination exercised by secular states. In such societies it matters that the concept of secularism is insu≈ciently grounded in culture, especially vernacular culture, that the concept makes virtually no sense to the common run of citizens. The picture gets even more fuzzy in complex, multireligious, non-Western societies where the citizens enjoy democratic rights and, hence, the ability to bring their preferences —including, horror of horrors, their Oriental prejudices, stereotypes, and other scandalous irrationalities, their ill-educated selves and terribly underdeveloped political awareness—into the public sphere. In that awareness, secularism has either no place or only a superficial presence. If you allow me the right to my own cliché, these are societies that enjoy the luxury of electing their political leaders periodically but alas, to the chagrin of their progressive academics, not the right to elect their people. In the tempests in teapots that periodically strike Indian academe, the last group of scholars are accused of supporting the most retrograde elements in society, though it is quite likely that many in the group do not like their own prognosis. In India, two critics of secularism, Triloki Nath Madan and Partha Chatterjee, have by no means jettisoned the idea of secularism. Claims that they have done so are illiterate, if not dishonest and motivated.≥ They might even be happy if their prognosis is proved wrong. Their main crime is that their diagnosis of the future of secularism in Indian public life can be said to be bleak. In the case of Chatterjee, even that is not the whole story. He merely argues that secularism in its present form is politically unviable; he feels he has a treatment for his patient. Both Madan and Chatterjee are like doctors who, after detailed pathological tests, feel called on to inform the patient’s relatives that the patient’s days might be numbered. However, it is customary in the rat race called the global academic culture to shoot those who pronounce a concept or a theory a terminal case. Madan and Chatterjee are being accused not only of being bad clinicians but also of having homicidal intentions toward their patients. My case is di√erent. I have given a pathologist’s report and declared the patient incurable. I have said that secularism has had a reasonably good life and has done some good to the society but has now exhausted its possibilities. I may not have pleaded for euthanasia but I have said that it is time to give up on the patient and look toward a new generation of concepts. And I have said

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all this with a touch of glee, without obediently shedding tears for secularism. Being part of a small religious minority in India, I have always begrudged the patronizing, arrogant Brahminism that has tinged South Asia’s academic secularism. And the grudge shows. My critics have reasons to be bitter that I do not want to save my skin under their expert guidance, by declaring my allegiance to the textbooks and rituals the benevolent guides have borrowed for my benefit from Europe’s past. Nor do I want to establish my credentials as a progressive by being a docile, housebroken member of a minority who has certifiably correct ideas and, hence, deserves the protection of the Indian state. Fortunately, irrespective of my personal likes and dislikes, secularism in India is unlikely to flourish, at least in the near future. It might have staged an academic comeback in the Indian haute bourgeoisie, as a form of reBrahminization and as a form of spontaneous resistance in some sections of modern India to the growing communal violence, but that has little to do with its political career. The only way secularism can stage a political comeback is by ensuring the dominance of the English-speaking middle class in Indian politics. This may seem feasible in the very long run, given the steady growth in size and prominence of the class in India, but it is obviously impossible in the foreseeable future. Once again, this is an empirical not normative judgment. Here my critics have got it wrong. It is not the incompatibility of secularism with Indian culture—important though that is—but the political nonsustainability of secularism at moments of increasing political participation that has prompted me to look for alternatives. There are many alien practices with which the Indians have learned to live. Many have learned to say thank you; others use toilet tissue or play cricket. In the case of secularism they do not feel obliged to learn. Mukul Kesavan recognizes this but cannot admit it. To protect his familiar world, he stretches the meaning of secularism to include in it all forms of noncommunal attitudes, in the manner of the medieval geographer who concluded that the best map of a country had to be as large as the country (Secular Common Sense). The alternatives to secularism I have explored might not be as good as secularism. Achin Vanaik, the Sikh Samurai never at a loss for words, has argued at ridiculous length that the alternatives I have advanced are inferior or inadequate (Communalism Contested). He has wasted his breath. I am perfectly willing to accept that, not only because I believe that those staying in the tropics prefer and deserve only the second-rate but also because, living in a

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democracy, we have no option but to build on the second-rate that the majority prefers. Yes, the main argument is that there has arisen a contradiction between democracy and secularism. Secularism may once have been an emancipatory idea but for too long it has had a built-in principle of exclusion, and it is the excluded, living with their infantile, retrogressive ideas, forming parts of a tacit normative framework informing everyday life, who have resisted religious and ethnic violence in India.∂ Imperfectly, I am sure, because these ideas too are associated with principles of exclusion, but at least these, as parts of a tacit normative frame informing everyday life, are more accessible to the public. Among these are old-fashioned neighborliness or rather principles of neighborliness, the principles of hospitality encrypted in the various religious traditions, and the persistence of community ties.∑ My weakness for these ideas has come not merely from my own research and association with human rights groups but also from studies of resistance at the ground level. It is also influenced by about three decades of exposure to empirical data, most of them produced by avowed secularists. It is not my fault that these secularists fear their own data and experiences. (Asghar Ali Engineer typifies this fear. The data he has amassed over the last thirty years say one thing, he himself says something else. In one incarnation he speaks for secularism; in another, he works for a liberation theology in Islam, trying hard at every step to forget that liberation theory in its home ground, South America, is explicitly nonsecular and has openly tried to defy the conventional European and North American insistence on the separation of religion and politics [see, for instance, Richard Falk].) Nor are my formulations disjunctive with available comparative data on resistances to ethnoreligious strife. For instance, research on the non-Jewish Germans who rescued Jewish victims in Nazi Germany shows that the qualities that distinguished the rescuers from the passive witnesses and the complicit were strong religious beliefs, family, and community ties—none of the three in short supply in South Asia— however archaic and unfashionable they might look to many (Eva Fogleman). Some believe all this to be unnecessary. They insist that we a≈rm, even more aggressively, the ideology of secularism from our salons in metropolitan India, classrooms, and academic seminars, and through middle-class, urban movements. They expect their shrillness and stridency to clinch the issue. Strangely, even in these instances, to give teeth to their ideology, ideologues of secularism routinely fall back on Sufi and Bhakti poetry, medieval saints like Kabir, Lalan, and Shah Latif, the Baul singers of Bengal and the Charans of Rajasthan, and names from history like Ashoka, Akbar, Dara Shikoh, Mohan114 Ashis Nandy

das Karamchand Gandhi, and Narayan Guru, none of whom drew their principles or values from the ideology of secularism. There are three interrelated reasons for this strange contradiction—why, to propagate secularism, the secular Indians have to constantly invoke the nonsecular. First, the older icons of secularism like Jawaharlal Nehru have begun to rust and no longer wield their old charisma; many have been forced to search for new heroes who would make some sense to ordinary citizens. Second, secularism has become the last refuge of the intellectually lazy, of those who refuse to confront the logic of their own political and cultural choices. They are afraid to ask why they themselves have been forced to return to the past and to persons who consistently and openly used religion in public life to work for a more humane society. The other side of the picture is that secularism, by itself, has proved to be a relatively sterile source of social creativity, at least in India. (This last reason is important. It explains why the secularists avoid like plague each other’s writings when approaching or appealing to the common citizens and why such writings end up becoming the stu√ of freestyle wrestling in academic arenas.) I have reluctantly concluded that if the secularists in South Asia themselves cannot produce a single secularist to exemplify the application of secularism in real life and have to depend almost entirely on nonsecular heroes who have never heard of secularism, I must take seriously these ‘‘icons of secularism’’ and decipher the analytic frames they used and then build on them. By doing so, I believe that I have taken the secularists more seriously than they have done themselves. In sum, here too I have done what I have always done when analyzing large-scale social pathologies. I have built on what creative, successful resistance against such pathologies has done and said it has done over the centuries, rather than on the ideological baggage secular fundamentalists have thrust on it. I am perfectly willing to revise my ideas in the matter and reembrace secularism, but only when someone shows me that it can do better in the hot and dusty plains of India than the ‘‘inferior’’ ideas of those who have successfully fought sectarianism in the past. By retrospectively and glibly calling their resistance to communalism secular we have not only shown contempt toward their theoretical apparatus—and toward their theology of tolerance—but have tried to distance these social activists and thinkers from ordinary Indians and have brought them close to our world, to make them acceptable and respectable in our circles. If we had not done so, we would have noticed that the resources these Closing the Debate on Secularism 115

persons mobilized to become symbols of tolerance—and, I hasten to add, hospitality—are still available to large sections of South Asians. The high culture of democracy in modern, metropolitan India today has as its substratum a deep fear of the people and a vague, anxious suspicion that much of the citizenry might not need vanguards, experts in multiculturalism, or ideologically driven, politically correct, Orwellian thought police. But saying so is obviously an unpopular stance; it smacks of class betrayal. How can there be a healthy, humane Indian polity where the concepts and categories that characterize the mainstream, global, middle-class culture become superfluous or secondary? Where will we and our respectable friends in respectable universities then be? Hence, the other prescription the spin doctors of secularism infrequently talk of but frequently end up recommending—greater use of the coercive apparatus of the state to ram the ideology of secularism down the throat of the Indian citizenry and to promote an even more systematic use of the ideology as a principle of exclusion (see, for instance, Sumanta Bannerji). Naturally, they have to insist that any theory transparent to a majority of Indians and not fully transparent to India’s Westernized academe and middle-class journalists and to their North American and West European mentors has to be rejected as a return to medieval times. If for that reason we have to declare secularism as the one human concept that is outside time and space, outside history and geography, we will of course have to do so. In an open society, who am I to deny anyone the right to fight for secularism to the last Muslim, Christian, or Sikh? Notes This is a revised version of a note originally meant for presentation at the symposium ‘‘Siting Secularism’’—whatever that means—at Oberlin College, April 19–21, 2002. However, I made a di√erent presentation there, in response to the nature of the debates going on in the symposium. An earlier, briefer version of this essay was published in the Little Magazine, August 2002. 1. Though the constitution was always secular, secularism as an ideology entered it for the first time during the Emergency in 1975–77 when civil rights were suspended by Indira Gandhi. 2. In one of the most inane judgments since independence, the Supreme Court of India has virtually equated Hindutva with Hinduism, which neither Savarkar, who invented the term ‘‘Hindutva,’’ nor the rss has dared to do. Justice J. S. Verma, who delivered the judgment, has in recent years claimed, more than once, that the politicians have misused his judgment, without admitting that the judgment has given a suspect political ideology the status of a religion. See, for instance, ‘‘My Verdict Was Misinterpreted.’’ 116 Ashis Nandy

3. See, for example, Khilnani’s The Idea of India, which accuses Madan of pleading for majoritarian rule, then recommends Madan’s book, which specifically argues against majoritarian rule, and then goes on to argue in the same breath that Madan seems to plead for minoritarian rule in the form of a Brahminic polity. Even more comic is the argument of those who pompously declare that my distinction between religion as faith and religion as ideology is not empirically sustainable. Why, when the distinction is empirically derived and the authors themselves cannot produce an iota of evidence to sustain their argument? Why, when that distinction is used by many religious leaders and political thinkers in the South? Why, when even many researchers committed to secularism routinely use the di√erence, without naming it, to explain the political use of religion? See also my ‘‘The Twilight of Certitudes.’’ 4. Nandy et al., Creating a Nationality, and Nandy, An Ambiguous Journey to the City, chap. 4. See also Nandy, ‘‘Time Travel to a Possible Self,’’ and ‘‘A Report on the Present State of Health of the Gods and Goddesses in South Asia.’’ 5. Following the criticisms of a number of friends, but primarily Gustavo Esteva, I have started using the term ‘‘hospitality’’ rather than ‘‘tolerance,’’ but only when talking of the idea or goal of interreligious amity. For I am also aware that competitive mass politics can at best ensure tolerance, not hospitality. The anthropologist Nur Yalman has recommended I use the expression convivencia to cover both the normative and the political. As we know, it was a term associated with Moorish Spain—arguably the only truly multi-ethnic, multi-religious polity Europe has produced during the last thousand years—and simultaneously invokes the concept of conviviality Ivan Illich uses. See, for instance, María Rosa Menocal, The Ornament of the World, and Ivan Illich, Tools of Conviviality. It is sometimes argued that the term convivencia is a retrospective coinage. I do not know why that should matter in the hot and dusty plains of India. It disconnects us as e√ectively as ‘‘hospitality’’ does from the baggage that the term ‘‘secularism’’ carries.

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Nivedita Menon a

Living with Secularism


riting about secularism in the wake of Gujarat 2002, one is forced to face an issue that for decades remained unrecognized and obscured—and to face it now is to confront our darkest fears about the future of democracy in India. The most dramatic manifestation of this issue was the landslide victory of the Narendra Modi-led bjp within eight months of the state-sponsored communal massacre of Muslims, in what was one of the most closely monitored and publicly scrutinized elections ever to be held in India. The Election Commission worked overtime to ensure that voting lists were complete and to enable large numbers of displaced Muslims to cast their vote. In addition, several citizens’ groups from di√erent parts of the country teamed up with local groups to tour the constituencies during the election. Despite the general climate of intimidation and terror under which Muslims were living at the time, the community’s voter turnout was high, because they saw the election as the only weapon they had. In the seventeen constituencies that have more than 20 percent Muslim population, the voting turnout was close to 63 percent (Yadav, ‘‘Patterns and Lessons’’). The way Modi and the bjp projected it, the only issue in this election was ‘‘Gujarati pride.’’ Despite every attempt by the Congress to make the issue of ‘‘governance’’ central, everything came back, again and again, to this—an endorsement of the Modi government’s blatantly expressed goal of driving

Muslims out of Gujarat, and its express intention of establishing Hindu Rashtra in the state. The overall voter turnout was about 62 percent, and the electorate did endorse this goal, overwhelmingly, bringing the bjp back to a two-thirds-plus majority in the legislative assembly, with about 50 percent of the votes (Yadav, ‘‘Patterns and Lessons’’). An even more disturbing fact: in the thirteen of twenty-five electoral districts that were a√ected by violence, accounting for 66 percent of the votes, the bjp was brought back with 91 percent of the total votes cast (A. Prakash).∞ The People vs. Secularism? The question is stark—can secularism in India survive the functioning of democracy? All too often, secularists find themselves depending on nonelected institutions—the Supreme Court, the Election Commission, the army —to protect secular values. Until the Supreme Court declined to rule on the issue, the Ayodhya imbroglio hung on the thread of a one-point reference made to it, to decide on whether a temple stood on the site of the demolished Babri Masjid. In a situation in which there is no agreement among trained historians on how to interpret the archaeological evidence, the expectation was that a ‘‘neutral’’ third party, judges trained in law, would be better equipped to decide on the truth. The problem is that what is at stake is not really the ‘‘truth’’ at all but contested notions of the Indian nation, as is clear from the current excavations by the Archaeological Survey of India, the debate over the meaning and implications of which revisit all the old positions on the Right and Left. It seems the excavation of the long-awaited ‘‘truth’’ has only complicated matters further. Is the structure that has been excavated a temple at all, and if it is, does that prove it had been demolished to make way for the mosque, or did it merely fall to pieces over time? And even if it does represent a temple that had been demolished, what should we, as a democratic society, do with that information? In other words, we cannot resolve such questions outside the murky realms of democratic functioning. Again, it was the chief election commissioner, J. M. Lyngdoh, who played the role of the savior in the Gujarat election, straightening out the mess in a forthright and courageous way, with a public espousal of atheism and an uncompromising commitment to secularism not seen in India for a very long time. However, it was not so very long ago that an earlier chief election commissioner, T. N. Seshan, used these very same powers in an elitist, though impeccably secular, manner.≤ His guidelines for ‘‘clean campaigns’’ displayed, as

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Yogendra Yadav puts it, a ‘‘managerial perspective’’ that assumed that a technological fix could solve social and political problems. Yadav argues that the kinds of reforms undertaken by Seshan—photo identity cards, restricted hours for campaigning, a ban on wall-writing, and so on—all displayed a total lack of comprehension of political reality in India and were based on ‘‘middle class fantasies’’ of clean politics that would e√ectively marginalize the poor and powerless even further and impoverish democratic functioning (‘‘Electoral Reforms’’). This perspective reflects, says Yadav, ‘‘an impatience with the messy realities of politics . . . contempt for the ordinary citizen, hatred of their rustic leaders, faith in modern technology and the legal system’s capacity to set things right.’’ It is, in short, ‘‘an ideological mask of I-love-democracybut-hate-politics’’ (‘‘Electoral Reforms,’’ 60). The role of the army must also be noted; it is routinely expected to restore order when the state police are clearly partisan, as in Gujarat in March–April 2002. But after all, police and army intervention in place of political solutions is precisely what, as part of the democratic rights movement, we challenge in other parts of the country. Of course, faced with public massacres, we have no option but to expect and insist on state intervention, but we need to distinguish between a radical political practice that seeks to redefine the very terrain of politics, and the kind of fire-fighting exercise that we find ourselves caught up in all the time. Surely our political practice has to go beyond simply dealing with the day-to-day crises generated in a patriarchal/sexist/ communal/casteist society? What is our long-term agenda to challenge the very terms set by this framework? Two quick clarifications might be necessary at this point. One, by radical political practice I mean a practice characterized chiefly by a relentless focus on the everyday as opposed to the restricted goal of changing or controlling state institutions. To focus on the everyday is to attempt to transform hegemonic common sense and relations of micropower, to recognize that this is a continuous and endless project, and to privilege multiplicity over ‘‘correct’’ answers. Or as Foucault puts it, ‘‘Believe that what is productive is not sedentary but nomadic’’ (xiii). Radical political practice assumes, in short, that critique is uncompromisingly continuous, which idea I will recur to throughout this essay. Two, the term ‘‘secularism.’’ Locating secularism as it has developed in the Indian context, we may distinguish between secularism as a value (of nondiscrimination, acceptance of di√erence, mutual respect) and secularism as a

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principle of statecraft. I hold that we can continue to call ourselves secular in the first sense while mounting a critique of the practice of secularism by the Indian state.≥ To return to the question being addressed in this section—is it the case that the state in India is (nominally) secular while the people are communal? While the role played by institutions of the Gujarat government in the recent carnage cannot be emphasized enough, we cannot underestimate the significance of the overwhelming participation of ordinary citizens in the targeted violence against Muslims. No one who visited Gujarat at that time or later can be una√ected by the knowledge that the polarization was complete, that the violence took on the form of a celebration of bloodlust, a carnival with mass participation. The emphasis on organized Hindutva forces, necessary though it is, if it remains exclusively directed to them, misses out on the culpability of ordinary people. Here, for instance, is one account—a rather ordinary, representative account—of the violence. A friend heard it from her Hindu relative who lives in Anand. As the relative watched from her balcony, a Muslim baker’s shop below her house was being looted. She could see small children of two or three years, toddling out with loaves of bread—‘‘They looked so sweet,’’ she said. She also noted that only that one shop was looted and burned to the ground, all the adjoining ones belonging to Hindus. In other words, she was well aware of the reason why that shop was targeted. Nevertheless, she added, ‘‘But you know, that shop-owner used to be very rude, he wasn’t at all nice to his customers.’’∂ This is what is chilling—that the ordinary language of middle-class daily life can justify an injustice of this magnitude, that images of toddling children can continue to retain their everyday valence even under such grotesque circumstances. Here, then, is the paradox of our times—the emerging contradiction between ‘‘the people,’’ on whom democracy must depend, and the ethical ambitions of any kind of counterhegemonic politics. A sense of this contradiction is evident in many instances of feminist politics—a striking illustration being the dilemma over whether the new sexual harassment committees being set up in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Vishakha judgment should be elected or nominated.∑ Since the Supreme Court guidelines place the responsibility of forming committees on the employer, nominations cannot but reflect the interests of those in power. However, elected membership results in other kinds of problems—since sexual harassment arises in a context of widely prevalent misogyny, sexism, and

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patriarchal attitudes, election can return candidates who reflect precisely that value system.∏ The general attempt in many cases, therefore, has been to maintain some balance between elected and nominated members—that is, to try to mitigate some of the uncontrollable negative e√ects of democracy. Another instance is the feminist campaign to get legislation passed that criminalized the selective abortion of female fetuses. As feminists we must attribute ‘‘free will’’ to women choosing to terminate a pregnancy, but not to women who choose specifically to abort a female fetus. We assume that no woman would of her own will selectively abort a female fetus, and that when she does so, she is being manipulated implicitly or explicitly by patriarchal forces. The understanding seems to be that decisions to abort taken in other circumstances, based on any other consideration than the sex of the fetus, reflect the woman’s ‘‘free will,’’ unmediated by social or cultural pressures. However, almost all decisions to abort are shaped by factors like the stigma of illegitimacy, lack of social facilities for childcare, economic constraints, and so on. Under such circumstances, too, decisions to abort are no more reflective of a woman’s autonomy than her decision to abort a fetus because it is female. Nor are such decisions less determined by the constraints of a patriarchal society. So when we, as feminists, try to stop the practice of selective abortion of female fetuses, we are in e√ect, working on an understanding that only some choices are valid, that others are not acceptable within the frame of our values, however freely they might appear to be taken. In both cases, the issue is that of democratic functioning versus a greater value in our terms. In each case we take the side of state regulation or regulation by authority over ‘‘freedom to choose.’’ The contradiction we have not adequately confronted in this kind of situation is that between (a) the requirement of democracy that the autonomy of the individual citizen, her ‘‘right to choose’’ among options, be asserted and protected and (b) the understanding of counterhegemonic politics (what I have called radical politics) that the operation of hegemonic power-laden values makes ‘‘choice’’ a problematic issue. Simply put, the problem that democracy poses for a counterhegemonic politics—feminist, secular, or any other—is that what it considers to be the correct values are not hegemonic in society. The functioning of democracy therefore can produce results that are opposed to our ethical vision. This contradiction revolves around the notion of the autonomous rights-bearing citizen who embodies ‘‘free will’’—the subject of a democratic constitution. Constitutions must assume a subject who is

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rational and freely choosing—precisely in this recognition lies the democratic potential of constitutionalism. This subject could be the individual or, in postcolonial nation-states, also the community. Given the trajectories followed by our histories of colonialism, constitutions in societies such as ours attempt to maintain the delicate balance between liberal expectations of individual rights and the particular space that communities have come to occupy in our polities. Whatever the balance struck, the very premise of constitutionalism is that of autonomy, the possibility of agency. Within this framework, the role of the state and the law is central in ensuring that individual and community can exercise the optimum autonomy compatible with social stability and social justice. However, when we turn to feminist, left, or secular politics, we are faced with a subject who is yet to emerge as an autonomous agent. The objective of this kind of politics is precisely to uncover the ways in which agency is both constituted and subverted by existing structures of power, to disclose the autonomous subject obscured by ideological, cultural, and economic practices. From this perspective, its subject (the peasant, the worker, the woman) is a√ected by various oppressive practices in such a way that when she acts, she does not, in fact, exercise her autonomy or free will. This is so in two senses. At one, more obvious, level, free will is actively constrained by coercion. At another, more subtle level, what appears to be free will is produced by the operation of structures of power that reflect hegemonic notions of right and wrong, of common sense, and of permissible solidarities. Radical politics needs to find its way within this complex articulation of ‘‘agency’’ and ‘‘structure.’’ In the context of sexual violence and desire, for example, what is women’s agency? As one feminist puts it: ‘‘Women’s positioning in the social moment of sexual harassment is . . . contradictory. While imbued with agency and the capacity for creative responses, we are also constrained by cultural discourses of gender which frame our very desire’’ (Ring, 129). In other words, if our very agency, desire itself, is already framed by hegemonic discourses, the challenge is not simply to free that agency or to expose that structure. In the context of secularism, we find this dilemma ironed out in familiar statements about Adivasi-Muslim conflict being ‘‘really’’ about conflicting class interests of impoverished Adivasis and money-lending Muslims. In such an understanding, when Adivasis/Dalits succumb to Hindutva propaganda about Muslims, they are failing to recognize their true interests, they are being manipulated by upper-caste Hindutva propaganda.

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But radical politics cannot a√ord this comfortable narrative. It has no option but to engage with the idea that we are both free and unfree simultaneously. The task of counterhegemonic politics, therefore, is both to enable the subject to act—to exercise that will constrained by power structures—as well as to demonstrate that the will is truly free only when the structures that ‘‘frame our desire’’ (as Ring puts it) are exposed and dismantled. In other words, the freely acting subject is the goal, or the final objective, of counterhegemonic politics, not its starting point, for in the present such a politics has to work with agents who are produced by the e√ects of power. The crucial factor that radical politics assumes, an assumption that constitutionalism, or the formal discourse on democracy, cannot make, is the operation of hegemony, which I here understand in the Gramscian sense as the production of common sense by oppressive structures of power. The contradiction here is between two notions of ‘‘unfreedom.’’ One, the notion of a will constrained by power, and, two, that of a will produced by power. The recognition of the latter aspect of ‘‘unfree’’ will is central to left, secular, or secular politics, for it must assume that those subjects of our politics who do not recognize their own interests and act in ways that further oppress themselves are not really free. The operation of hegemony works to make them imagine that they are freely choosing options that go to reinforce their oppression. However, the impasse arises precisely from the fact that while constitutional practices can free the constrained will, they can only a≈rm the will produced by the operation of hegemony. In other words, as long as no coercion of a visible and explicit kind can be established, the operation of democratic practices will, indeed must, a≈rm an action as freely taken. I suggest that the reason why radical politics tends to turn to the state so insistently is precisely because democracy, with its assumption of the rights-bearing citizen endowed with ‘‘free will,’’ poses a problem for it until the values it holds to be crucial are hegemonic in society. Until then, the state and its institutions are expected to override democracy and bring about social transformation from above.π Civil and Political Society I find suggestive here the distinction that Partha Chatterjee makes between civil society and political society in postcolonial democracies (‘‘Beyond the Nation?’’; ‘‘Community in the East’’; ‘‘Introduction’’). ‘‘Civil society’’ according to Chatterjee, is constituted by the institutions of modern associational life and is marked by modernity, while ‘‘political society’’ is a domain of mediating institutions between civil society and state and is the sphere of democracy. 124 Nivedita Menon

There is a contradiction between ‘‘modernity’’ and ‘‘democracy’’ in his terms —what characterizes non-Western modernity (that which marks postcolonial societies) is precisely the hiatus between the two, that is, between civil society, composed of a small section of ‘‘citizens,’’ and political society, composed of ‘‘population.’’ Population groups, unlike citizens, are not the product of rational contractual association but rather are the target of the ‘‘policy’’ of the legal bureaucratic apparatus of the state. The civil society of citizens, on the other hand, shaped by the normative ideals of Western modernity, excludes the vast mass of the population, toward which it assumes a ‘‘pedagogical mission’’ of enlightenment (‘‘Beyond the Nation?’’ 31–32).∫ Political society—parties, movements, nonparty political formations— channels popular demands on the state through a form of mobilization that is called democracy. ‘‘The point is that the practices that activate the forms and methods of mobilization and participation in political society are not always consistent with the principles of association in civil society’’ (Chatterjee, ‘‘Beyond the Nation?’’ 32). Democratic aspirations, in other words, often violate institutional norms of liberal civil society. However, precisely because this is so, if we accept this understanding, then it is clear that the struggle to reclaim and produce meaning will have to be waged in this uncomfortable realm, that of political society. Secularism in India, it seems to me, has functioned almost exclusively in ‘‘civil society’’ understood in this way. The a≈rmation of secularism has been through the state and its institutions, and by the rational contractual associations of civil society—for instance, schools and universities, the English media. Take for example, the recent controversy over the rewriting of history textbooks. The Hindu right–directed project of rewriting standard history textbooks produced in the 1970s by historians of worldwide repute follows the explicit agenda of redressing what is claimed to be a distortion of the past. In this redressing, the declared aim is to valorize ‘‘Hindu’’ achievements and to present the ‘‘Hindu’’ community as one that has existed from time immemorial, one that has always been and continues to be egalitarian. This community that is evoked is a homogeneous one that basically looks like the nineteenth-century, North Indian, upper-caste version of Hinduism, with all its taboos and beliefs presented as eternal but with caste inequality carefully excised. The other aspect of this project is the assimilation of all religions other than Christianity and Islam into the fold of Hinduism, and the location of these ‘‘outside India,’’ forever alien and inimical to Hindu civilization. On the other side in this controversy are historians and social scientists Living with Secularism 125

ranging from left to liberal persuasions, but who would broadly identify themselves as secular, who lay emphasis on the need to recognize society as historically constituted, in terms of underlying structures rather than manifest appearances, and for whom, therefore, power relations and conflict over power cannot be ignored while writing history. They reject the Hindu right’s project, therefore, as a distortion of social reality. What is significant is that the textbooks that the Hindu right wants to do away with have been in use for several decades. Generations of students have read them and learned history the secular way. And yet, every college teacher knows that the majority of students who come into her class in the first year of the undergraduate course invariably tell the story of India the way ‘‘they’’ tell it: that there was a Golden Age of Hinduism, when women were respected and educated; that the Muslim invasions destroyed an egalitarian society; that ‘‘India’’ has existed since the ‘‘Vedic Age.’’ Tourist guides at historical monuments all over the country retell this story in various ways, alleging the previous existence of temples at almost every monument built by ‘‘Muslim’’ rulers. In other words, secular history had dominated the academy and intellectual circles (civil society), Hindu communal history, the streets and common sense (political society). In reading ‘‘political society’’ in this way, I unhitch Chatterjee’s notion of ‘‘political society’’ from its link in his argument to the ‘‘welfare’’ function of government. I find that his more recent explications of ‘‘political society’’ that emphasize this function reduce the initial potential he o√ered for understanding a hitherto untheorized realm. In ‘‘On Civil and Political Society in PostColonial democracies’’ Chatterjee outlines four features of political society (177). Two of these are significant—that many of the mobilizations in political society make demands on the state that are founded on a violation of the law, and that such demands are made on behalf of a collectivity, not as individual citizens. However, the two other features that he outlines, while they may have been true until the 1980s, fail to capture the changing nature of political society since the liberalization era of the 1990s, when the state withdrew more and more from its ‘‘development’’ obligations. These two other features are (a) that mobilizations in political society make demands for governmental welfare in the form of ‘‘right’’ and (b) that agencies of the state and ngos deal with these people not as citizens but as population groups deserving welfare. Certainly demands from political society are made in the form of demands for rights, but no longer in the form of demanding ‘‘welfare,’’ nor do govern-

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ment agencies assume that they ‘‘deserve welfare.’’ ngos, too, no longer conform to the 1980s picture of ‘‘voluntary agencies’’ working on behalf of the poor—there are powerful ngos in civil society that make demands on behalf of ‘‘legitimate’’ citizens, pitting their interests against those of political society, for example, ngos that demand the ‘‘right’’ of citizens to clean air and safety of property (which involves, say, removal of slums and closing o√ common thoroughfares through middle-class residential colonies, which are in use by neighboring working-class settlements). Recently, an ngo was formed in Delhi on the issue of ‘‘blackmail’’ by auto rickshaw drivers who were on strike demanding that fares be raised. This ngo issued advertisements in English newspapers addressing commuters and lobbied with the government to ensure the protection of the ‘‘rights’’ of the middle-class clientele who use auto rickshaws. In short, ‘‘political society’’ in Chatterjee’s sense is better understood today as a problem for civil society’s conceptualization of democracy and development, rather than as the target of that development. This point will emerge with greater clarity later in this essay. I would, therefore, relocate ‘‘political society’’ as the realm of struggles that functions with an alternative common sense—alternative, that is, to the common sense of civil society. It seems to me that the kind of political practice with the capacity to challenge the hegemonized will—radical politics in short— can be carried out only in political society understood in this sense, not in civil society, the domain of constitutionalism. Of course, the problem with ‘‘political society’’ understood in this way is that the activities here would not necessarily conform to our understanding of what is ‘‘progressive’’ or ‘‘emancipatory.’’ They could be struggles of squatters on government land to claim residence rights (which would include illegally tapping electricity lines, for example), but they could as easily be the e√ort of a religious sect to preserve the corpse of their leader in the belief in its resurrection or the decision of a village panchayat to kill a woman accused of adultery.Ω The point is not to romanticize and valorize this realm as ‘‘subaltern.’’ Indeed, ‘‘political society’’ in this sense is inhabited by many new kinds of loci of power and new elites. The point, rather, is that any project of radical democratic transformation would have to engage and collide with the ideas, beliefs, and practices in this sphere. It cannot remain in the rarefied realms of ‘‘civil society’’ where in fact the struggles of both the ‘‘unauthorized’’ squatters and the religious sects would be dismissed as uncivilized. From the point of view

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of constitutional norms, the large gray realm of survival strategies of the urban poor can only be dismissed as simply ‘‘illegal.’’ To learn to function in ‘‘political society’’ is to develop new strategies to counter those of the Hindu right. For example, a recent study (Religious Demography of India) sponsored by the government-run Indian Council of Social Science Research says that ‘‘Indian religionists’’ (Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists) may become a minority in India in fifty years.∞≠ The deputy prime minister, L. K. Advani, writes in the preface that the information in the book is essential to maintain the integrity of India’s borders: ‘‘Active and alert societies keep a keen eye on the changing demographic trends within themselves’’ (Santwana Bhattacharya). It is an alarming text; the shadows of potential ethnic cleansing hang over it. The secular response has been prompt, scholarly, and well informed. These responses have focused on the suspect credentials of the writers (physicists, not demographers), on the doubtful methods used to extrapolate this argument from census data, on the conflation of several internally di√erentiated religious communities into ‘‘Indian religionists,’’ and so on. Broadly, the response has tried to counter the picture presented by this report, of galloping Muslim and Christian populations, following the protocols of social scientific scholarship.∞∞ While this is necessary, secularists need to address the issue at a di√erent level too. For as Advani’s preface makes clear, the agenda is political, not academic. If we (secularists) dwell only on the formal academic level, we will be making the same mistake we made in addressing the temple issue—that is, treating the question as if it can be resolved solely in the field of civil society, through archaeology, demography, and other scientific methods of understanding society. The real fears that the report evokes are not explicitly laid out, and they are irrational, unavailable to any logical or social scientific reasoning—‘‘our borders’’ threatened by a growing fifth column of Muslims, the loss of majority status, leading to unnamed dangers to ‘‘Indian religionists’’ (read Hindus). Recognizing this, it worries me that most democratic and secular arguments contesting this picture have attempted to deflect the fear rather than confront it. They have restricted themselves to factual corrections and reinterpretation of data. Essentially they have been trapped into o√ering reassurances that there is no way Muslims and Christians will outnumber Hindus, ever. Surely we need to ask another, more aggressive question of our own instead—so what if Hindus become a minority one hundred years from now,

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or a decade from now, or a year from now? Surely our argument should be about ensuring democratic institutions such that it will make no di√erence to your status no matter the size of your community of birth. We need to hammer home the point in a variety of ways that democracy cannot recognize ‘‘majority’’ and ‘‘minority’’ as produced by birth. Our second strategy needs to address a related bogey, that of conversions. Here we face not only the Hindu right but also those democratic sections that are influenced by the argument that only ‘‘genuine’’ conversions should be permitted, not such conversions as are brought about by ‘‘fraud and coercion.’’ Going by the bjp’s last election manifesto, fraud and coercion refer to ‘‘promises of social or economic benefits’’ but many opponents of the bjp too would endorse this interpretation. Genuine religious conversion, on the other hand, is understood to involve the spiritual transformation of an individual, on the basis of ‘‘knowledge,’’ both of the person’s ‘‘own’’ religion as well as of the one to which she converts. Informed choice, in other words. Interesting notion, considering that one’s original religion is hardly the best illustration of ‘‘choice.’’ But, of course, the real reason for the Hindu right’s obsession with conversion has nothing to do with religion. The creation of a birth-based political majority is crucial for the project of Hindutva and for its definition of Indianness. If ‘‘others’’ turn into the majority, the easy coinciding of Hindutva and the nation falls apart. When Ambedkar decided to leave the Hindu fold along with large numbers of Dalits, who felt the most threatened? Not the orthodox Hindus, who thought it was good riddance. It was Savarkar and the modernist Hindutvavadis who reacted most sharply, understanding fully the importance of numbers for a modern politics of Hindutva. Hence their ever-increasing horror stories about galloping Muslim and Christian populations. Here we need to overturn the terms of discourse by relocating ‘‘religion’’ in the space of modern democracy. We need to ask—why is religious conversion essentially di√erent, in a democracy, from other kinds of conversion? When rival companies bid for candidates o√ering higher salaries and better perks, inducing them to convert from one employer to another, why is that not fraudulent? When political parties attempt to convert voters by wild promises, when Naxalites are wooed back into mainstream society by the state, when political ideologies—of the market or of Marxists, of feminists or of the Hindu right—attempt to convert with promises of redemption and threats of various kinds, both material and spiritual—why are all these not fraudulent? If by

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conversion we mean a total change of identity, I might point out that this is what a perfectly ordinary marriage involves for most women—change of name (in many communities even the first name), place of residence, way of life, and, in general, a complete restructuring of their sense of self. Our argument here should be that it is fundamentally antidemocratic to force people to retain any identity against their will, and especially one assumed by the very act of being born; nationality, caste, religion, or even sex. The possibility of change is central to democracy. We have no option but to respect a decision to change any identity for a perceived better future— whatever our opinion may be about whether that change will bring about the desired result. That’s the problem with democracy.∞≤ A third strategy could be more polemical. We could ask, for example, what are the reasons for the increase in the number of Muslims and the decrease in that of Hindus? Should emigration of Hindus (especially educated Hindus) to the West be stopped till the population stabilizes? These kinds of polemical questions could force into the open the political agenda of the Hindu right and expose the long-distance nationalism of its diasporic supporters. In all these cases, by no means an exhaustive list of strategies to pursue, our attempt is not to delineate the most rational, objective, and true argument. We try, rather, to enter the discourses circulating in both civil society and in political society on di√erent terms. By taking on what the Hindu right presents as a nightmare scenario, as a normal possibility, and turning the questions back to them, we would be taking the fight and the debate to the streets, to political society, away from the venues that the Hindu right restricts secularists to, where only academic protocols matter. Secularism and the Modernizing Nationalist Project Any project to reimagine secularism and to relocate the struggle for secular values in the messy realm of political society would have to recognize that secularism in India goes far beyond the state-religious community relationship. I have argued elsewhere (in ‘‘State/Gender/Community’’), extending the insights of Partha Chatterjee and Ashis Nandy, that secularism in India served the purpose of mediating three key aspects of the anti-imperialist and modernizing project of the Indian elites: (a) bourgeois democracy, which here was about the interrelations among communities, individual citizens, and the state at di√erent levels; (b) the capitalist transformation of the economy

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through the creation of the mobile unmarked citizen; and (c) social justice, to the extent that equality in a formal legal sense (for example, through the abolition of untouchability and caste discrimination) was necessary for the first two. In other words, secularism has been the term that has stood in for the entire modernizing project of the Indian elites and would be inadequately grasped if it were understood in terms of the state-religion relationship alone (Menon, ‘‘State/Gender/Community’’). Secularism in India cannot be understood in isolation from political economy imperatives any more than ‘‘bourgeois property rights’’ can be understood in isolation from liberal democratic concerns. It is in this framework that we must read the apparently disparate and contradictory practices of the ‘‘secular’’ Indian state. Secularism in India simultaneously posits the separation of religion from the public arena as well as the need for the state to regulate religious practices. Thus sometimes the state decides on nonintervention (declaring certain areas of jurisprudence, for instance, personal law, to be the prerogative of religious communities) and sometimes on intervention (such as by ensuring financial accountability of religious trusts). The critique of the state from a secular position has been, therefore, both that it does not intervene enough (as in its reluctance to enact a Uniform Civil Code) and that it intervenes too much (as when the Rajeev Gandhi government enacted the Muslim Women’s Act, superseding the Supreme Court judgment on Shah Bano). In other words, the state is expected to be both the neutral arbiter between communities as well as the agent of social justice within communities. These tensions are evident in the constitution as well, which ends caste discrimination and ensures temple entry, for example, while simultaneously protecting the right to freedom of religion. This second aspect of the state’s self-perceived function—intervening within religious communities to bring about equality—is not associated with secularism in the classic sense; indeed, in the classic sense, ‘‘religious’’ is precisely the opposite of ‘‘secular,’’ it is what is outside the scope of secularism. This peculiar feature of Indian secularism can only be understood if it is understood to be part of a modernizing, nationalist project to build capitalism. It then becomes equally important to note that such a project also intimately tied secularism to a notion of ‘‘development’’ that is predicated on the large-scale sacrifice of sectional interests in the greater interest of the ‘‘Indian citizen’’—this citizen referring only to the denizen of civil society. We cannot

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reimagine secularism today without coming to terms with the violent histories of subordination and repression that have produced the secular citizen. Consider the massive displacements of populations in irrigation, power, and defense projects. As had already been extensively documented by the 1980s, this ‘‘development’’ has benefited specific sections of society and specific regions of the country.∞≥ The highly centralized, capital-intensive, and hightechnology-based development model adopted by the Indian elites requires the homogeneous subject constructed by the discourse of citizenship. It is from the point of view of ‘‘civil society’’ that it seems necessary and progressive to dislocate laboring communities for development projects. A striking illustration is the report of the Dhebar Commission on Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes, set up in 1960, on the basis of which successive governments of Kerala formulated policies on tribals. A. Damodaran argues that three strands of thinking underlie the report—that tribes of India need to be weaned away from their traditional habitats toward alternative life support systems, that they need to be trained in nonconventional vocations, and that they should be rapidly ‘‘acculturised’’ and ‘‘modernised.’’ It is the faithful application of such policies that has resulted in the marginalization of these communities, not deemed fit to exist except as ‘‘insignificant cogs of a monolithic state’’ (Damodaran). The powerful Adivasi rights movement in Kerala has grown out of resistance to this marginalization, and the recent incident in which Adivasis ‘‘illegally’’ occupied Muthanga forest, resulting in police firing, is a classic example of mobilization in ‘‘political society’’ terms failing to meet the standards of legality set by ‘‘civil society.’’ From the point of view of the leader of the Adivasi Gothra Sabha, C. K. Janu, the occupation of the forest was an attempt to ‘‘recreate an autonomous village life.’’ The Gothra Sabha, she said in a statement issued after her release from prison on bail, was ‘‘in the process of evolving a plan for eco-restoration of the area the forest department had turned barren through its ‘industrial forestry’ ’’ (press release, April 13, 2003). Paradoxically, such communities are also to be dislocated from their traditional ways of life in order to mitigate the long-term ecological consequences of unbridled capitalist development. For instance, those creating national parks for the protection of forests and wildlife hold forest communities living there for centuries responsible for the destruction of forest cover, rather than the depredations of forest products companies and encroaching urbanization. The boundaries of these parks administered by the government therefore mandate that these communities are deemed trespassers, and their in132 Nivedita Menon

habitants are thus dispossessed from their lives and livelihoods (Rangarajan and Saberwal). Similarly, the continuous process of dispossessing the urban poor in order to build the modern city is impeccably couched in the language of rights and has increasingly, since the 1990s, been initiated by the courts. The spate of judgments by the ‘‘Green’’ bench of the Supreme Court through the 1990s ordering the closure of ‘‘polluting’’ industries have simply thrown out of work, without any attempt to rehabilitate, thousands of workers, some of whom have been in secure employment for over three decades. When there were mass protests over the court orders, the Supreme Court justified its decision by asserting that ‘‘health is more important than livelihoods.’’∞∂ Clearly, the health of the workers was not an issue, nor the need to compensate them for working for years in hazardous and polluted conditions. ‘‘Health’’ here referred to health in civil society versus mere livelihoods in political society. These kinds of moves are attempts by ‘‘civil society’’ to transform India in the image of a ‘‘developed’’ country, and within this framework the values that are cited are the rights of ‘‘citizens’’—defined generally, but in practice delimited strictly to those located inside civil society—to clean air and protection of the environment. The lives and practices of the laboring poor cannot but fail the tests of legality and constitutionality set by civil society. There are other implications if, as this section has argued, secularism in India must be recognized as not only about the state-religious community relationship but as one strand of a modernizing capitalist agenda. We would then have to think more carefully about the tendency on the part of left-wing politics and scholarship in India to see ‘‘communalism’’ as hand-in-glove with ‘‘globalization,’’ the latest incarnation of capitalist expansion. On the contrary, forces of globalization can work against those of the religious right— for instance, corporate India has spoken out strongly against the communal violence in Gujarat, urging a return to normalcy so that foreign investors can be wooed back. Sections of the English media that have been most hardhitting against the Gujarat events are also among the strongest voices in favor of globalization and consistently approve of anti-poor measures such as ‘‘cleaning up’’ Delhi by banning begging, removing hawkers and vendors, and so on. In Iran, the island of Kish became a free-trade zone in 1989, and since then, the strict rules regarding clothing and intermingling of sexes have been relaxed for both domestic and foreign tourists. The two sentiments—proglobalization and pro-secularism—are perfectly compatible with each other. Or at least, there is no necessary incompatibility between them. Living with Secularism 133

Community and Caste Identity and Secular Politics The secular nation was predicated on another crucial, perhaps central exclusion—consider the provocative statement made by the Dalit intellectual Chandrabhan Prasad, ‘‘the British came too late but left too early.’’ The conquest of India by the British, he states baldly, ‘‘gave the Dalits a breathing space.’’ Prasad wonders ‘‘how some people think that during the time of Akbar the great’’ India was a ‘‘perfectly secular society’’ when ‘‘ ‘we’ had to carry an earthen pot hung around our neck to spit, and announce our entry to the mainstream village, lest others get polluted even by our shadow.’’ In Prasad’s history of India, then, the ‘‘secular’’ nation was always upper-caste. Everything that is critical of ‘‘secular’’ politics need not, in other words, be simply ‘‘communal.’’ So completely does the opposition of secular/communal shape theorizing on Indian politics that the active presence of actors who constitute themselves outside this polarity often fails to be seen independently of it. For example, the Bahujan Samaj Party’s (bsp) alliance with the bjp in Uttar Pradesh is too easily read as opportunistic support for Hindutva when it is more centrally about the politics of caste—the Dalit bsp’s need to secure allies against the dominant Backward Caste (predominantly Yadav) parties of that state, which also are opposed by the bjp, with its largely Bania-Brahmin support base. We have to recognize that ‘‘secularism’’ has been implicitly marked as Hindu upper-caste and modernized upper-class all along. This is as true for secular political movements as for the state—for example, the women’s movement has been criticized for tending to assume the Hindu upper-caste woman to be the norm (Agnes, ‘‘Redefining the Agenda of the Women’s Movement’’). This recognition might enable us to see that the energy expended in producing the supposedly unmarked ‘‘Indian’’ citizen hid from us two kinds of countercurrents—one, subaltern voices (Dalits, Adivasis, laboring populations) asserting or attempting to assert their identities and needs in di√erent ways, and two, majoritarian voices, such as those of Hindutva. Both these countercurrents are located in ‘‘political society’’ while high secular discourse occupied ‘‘civil society.’’ The reinvention of secular politics therefore requires, it seems to me, the recognition, assertion, and reappropriation of various kinds of identities hitherto assumed to be irrelevant, or, rather, assumed necessary to render irrelevant, in a modern democracy. It has been assumed that secularization of society requires the gradual disappearance of all identities other than that of ‘‘the citizen’’—indeed, that

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secularization will be accompanied by this process. If, however, we come to terms with the fact that the unmarked Indian citizen was in fact implicitly marked in the ways discussed above, there seems to be no way out but to reappropriate the various identities, particularly community identities, that simply functioned underground all the while we thought they were gone. Indeed, many of the political developments of the last decade in particular are incomprehensible without a framework that gives visibility to community and caste identity. The move that the women’s movement has made since the late 1980s, away from the demand for a Uniform Civil Code and recognizing several other kinds of initiatives, some involving reform within communities, is an indication of the recognition, among other factors, of the inescapability of community identity, and a rejection of the homogenizing, codifying drive of the modern nation-state.∞∑ Similarly, it would be fruitless to try to understand the current impasse on the Women’s Reservation Bill (aiming to reserve one-third of seats for women in Parliament) only in terms of feminism and patriarchy. The resistance to it from Dalit and Backward Caste parties can only be understood in the context of the transformation of the Indian polity by lower-caste assertion through the 1980s. A blanket one-third reservation for ‘‘women,’’ it is argued, will simply turn the clock back to the pre-1980s situation when Parliament was predominantly upper-caste. Hence the demand for ‘‘quotas within quotas,’’ that is, further reservation for Backward Caste and Muslim women within the one-third.∞∏ In both cases, the universal unmarked Woman, subject of the secular women’s movement, becomes problematized by other identities. Let me narrate an incident at the Asia Social Forum in Hyderabad in January 2003 that dramatically captures both the inescapable need to come to terms with community identity as well as the problems inherent in the attempt.∞π One of the events was a panel discussion on religious fundamentalisms, with three speakers, from India, Pakistan, and Malaysia. The organizers, a citizens’ forum formed in the aftermath of the Gujarat violence, invited these speakers on the basis of their long history of activism for democratic rights and against religious fundamentalisms in their countries. Just before the session began, the speaker from Pakistan (a self-professed atheist) complained privately to some of the organizers that she found it troubling that whenever religious fundamentalism was to be discussed, it had to be Muslims who would have to speak on Islam, as if other religions did not have this problem. Only then did

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it strike any of the organizers that all three speakers happened to be Muslim. The chairperson of that session tried to recover the situation by stating at the beginning that the fact that all the speakers were Muslim should not be misunderstood, and that the rest of the sessions would in fact be focusing on the politics of Hindutva. At this, there was a very visible walkout by a section of the audience, which later said it found it outrageous that the religious identity of speakers should be considered relevant at all. Everyone concerned in this incident, from organizers to speakers to audience, including those who walked out, would have no hesitation in describing themselves as secular. What was at issue was the question of the community identity of self-professed secularists—its relevance, its significance. What this incident suggests to me is that it is increasingly becoming impossible to avoid the recognition that we carry our community identities whether we want to or not, whether we have rejected them or not. For many of us who never considered ourselves to be Hindu or Muslim or Christian, it is a di≈cult process of coming to terms with this identity. But the fact remains that we were always legally Hindu and Muslim and Christian, governed by Hindu and Muslim and Christian personal laws. This is not an identity we can choose to take on or deny—this is an identity that we bear despite ourselves, it hangs from our names, our practices, the way we speak Indian languages. It is possible to forget we have a caste only if we happened to be born uppercaste—a Dalit would perforce imbibe that identity with her mother’s milk. In the context of communal violence, particularly the kind of targeted, fascist violence that took place in Gujarat, it becomes all the more necessary to accept the implications of the fact that people were targeted as Muslims and they were targeted in the name of Hindus. Volunteers from all over the country who went to relief camps in Gujarat often faced the question—what is your religion? Some tried to avoid the uncomfortable question by answering—what does it matter, we are all humans. Not surprisingly, such people were immediately identified as Hindu. No Muslim in those circumstances would have tried to hide his or her identity from people whose Muslim identity was precisely the reason they were reduced to the status of detritus in relief camps. Indeed, there were many volunteers who felt the urgent need to assert precisely their Hindu identity, in order to demonstrate penitence for what had been done in their name, and to show that the politics of Hindutva was contested from within. Here I wish to distinguish my position carefully from another, similar kind of argument about religious identities within a secular polity. In a thought-

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provoking comment on the absence of what she calls the Hindu left, Ruth Vanita points out that Hinduism may be the only religion in the world today that apparently does not have a left. Ruth argues that secular leftism in India contributed to a process of constructing all things Hindu as inherently backward and regressive, thus pushing reformist, originally left-of-center Hindu organizations such as the Ramakrishna Mission and Arya Samaj into the arms of the Hindu right. She urges the need to make a distinction between an authoritarian Hindu position and a libertarian Hindu position and suggests that liberal and leftist Hindus should ‘‘begin to acknowledge their Hindu identity and speak in defence of Hindu heritage’’ (Vanita, 81). While I agree with the broad thrust of Vanita’s argument, I must make clear my di√erences. There is a commonly made conflation evident in her argument that I think we need urgently to address. To ‘‘acknowledge Hindu identity’’ is not the same thing as ‘‘speak[ing] in defence of Hindu heritage.’’ We need to make a distinction between religious belief and religious/caste community identity. Vanitas’s call to ‘‘speak in defence of Hindu heritage’’ may be possible for believers who are also secular. This category itself is so typically Indian— ‘‘secular believers,’’ that is, believers who also hold on to the idea of sarva dharma sama bhava. This injunction to treat all religions with equal respect is applied not only to the sarkar (government); it is applied also to public (people).∞∫ But while secular believers may do so, defending Hindu heritage is not an option for the many who have left their religious beliefs behind, or who, because of the oppression they have faced because of their caste identity, see nothing to defend in Hinduism. Where community identity is asserted in order to engage with ‘‘Hindu heritage,’’ as, say, Girish Karnad does, or Vijay Tendulkar, that engagement is critical, and rarely a ‘‘defense.’’ On the other hand, to own up to the community identity of ‘‘Hindu’’ is a di√erent act altogether, because this identity, as I have pointed out, is inescapable. This formal legal identity is intrinsically part of being an Indian citizen, and it is worth repeating that our religious community identity is also a regional, caste, and linguistic one. For secular people to assert their religious community identity is a crucial act of defiance today—but this assertion would have to reconstitute that identity, to use it to challenge the homogenized communities being posited, and to make alternative claims. Such an assertion would say, for instance—I reject the politics of Hindutva as a Hindu and a nonbeliever, it does not speak for me, or, I reject it precisely because it cannot speak for me as a non-Hindu, or as a Dalit. Or I reject the politics of Islamic

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fundamentalism as a Muslim and a secularist. Such a voice can add a powerful new dimension to the struggle against the politics of majoritarianism and religious fundamentalism. Living with Secularism, Living with Communalism When the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992 the shock in the secular ranks was matched by the confidence that this was only a matter of a short sharp battle. Over ten years down the line, with Gujarat behind us, we look back on that shock as well as that optimism with disbelief—why were we taken so o√guard? And why did we think it was such an easy battle to win? Why, to begin with, had we not even realized that there had been a battle raging? These are the questions this essay has reflected on. The recent general election (May 2004) that routed the bjp-led nda alliance has certainly been a shot in the arm, but it would be a mistake to understand it simply as a vote against communalism or against globalization. While the state results seem to simply add up in the end to the Lok Sabha results, in fact the states of India have di√erent dynamics and political configurations, reflected in the contests in each state separately. Thus, the final tally does not necessarily reflect a countrywide trend. Further, di√erent considerations come into play during national and local elections. It is noteworthy that a mere three months after the Congress won the Lok Sabha seat from Junagadh in Gujarat, the bjp swept the municipal corporation elections, capturing thirty-five of the fifty-one seats.∞Ω It would be a gross oversimplification, therefore, to derive any one lesson from the overall result of the general elections, not that this has ever stopped the election analysis industry. What one can say with confidence, however, is that the politics of Hindutva is alive and well, even thriving. Indeed, some sections of the Hindu right have taken away from the election results the lesson that their defeat proves that the people have rejected the ‘‘dilution’’ of Hindutva by the bjp, much as votaries of economic reforms have argued that the vote is not against reforms but for reforms, and against the benefits of reforms being restricted to a small section. I use the term ‘‘living with’’ secularism to suggest something that is ongoing, rather than something that has been achieved; a secularism that, over fifty-five years down the line, is, and will always be, in the process of becoming. At this stage in the history of people living in the landmass currently called India, to live with ‘‘secularism’’ is to live with ‘‘communalism.’’ To live with secularism is to recognize its implication in statist and authoritarian

138 Nivedita Menon

discourses and to unhinge it, twist and turn it, to rework it into our everyday practices. That reworking will have to confront the uncertainties of democratic functioning and to dirty its hands in the mire of political society. Above all, to live with secularism is to question the fixity of national borders, to recall the past and present implication of what is today called India with other parts of Asia. What would it mean for secularism, to teach and learn the history of South Asia rather than of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh? To live with secularism is to imagine the ghosts of centuries past and future silently breaching the borders of our nation-states. Notes 1. Yogendra Yadav argues that the election was, in psephological terms, merely a ‘‘routine’’ one and that the bjp simply ‘‘recovered its strongest support base in the country’’ for the third consecutive term. He cites post-poll surveys conducted by the Center for the Study of Developing Societies (csds) to suggest that for voters the predominant considerations in this election, as in any other, were livelihood and developmental issues. However, on the basis of information from his own article, I am unconvinced that we can take lightly the fact that 22 percent of all voters mentioned the communal violence as a decisive consideration, that 55 percent of all voters (including those who voted for Congress), agreed that the ‘‘post-Godhra riots were necessary to teach a lesson to antinational elements,’’ and that there were substantial gains for the bjp in riot-a√ected constituencies. 2. Seshan later joined the bjp, but at the time he was cec there was never any suggestion of impropriety or partiality. 3. I owe this point to a discussion with Aditya Nigam. 4. Thanks to Sriranjini for the story and a disturbing discussion. 5. In 1997 a landmark judgment of the Supreme Court (Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan) laid down guidelines for all employers to follow to protect women from sexual harassment. 6. For instance, in 1999 in Jawaharlal Nehru University (Delhi), a male candidate who contested elections to the Gender Sensitisation Committee against Sexual Harassment campaigned on the platform that he would protect the rights of ‘‘falsely accused’’ men, and won. 7. The argument made in this section is a brief statement explored more fully in my recent book, Recovering Subversion: Feminist Politics beyond the Law. 8. I think it may be necessary here to clarify, since Chatterjee’s argument has been so persistently misunderstood, that ‘‘civil society’’ and ‘‘political society’’ in this sense do not refer to some empirical reality that critics can ‘‘prove’’ to be otherwise, by adducing facts that show ‘‘civil society’’ to contain elements of ‘‘political society,’’ for example. The distinction is a heuristic device used to illuminate and focus on a trend that Chatterjee has identified in Indian democracy (and postcolonial societies in general). As Alan Ryan puts it in his classic work on social science method, referring to Durkheim’s

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adapting the word ‘‘anomie’’ to cover a cluster of symptoms of social disorder: ‘‘Under these circumstances, it would be absurd to complain that he had called the symptoms by the wrong word, for of course, the word meant no more and no less than those symptoms he had attached to it’’ (7). 9. Both of these are examples used at di√erent points by Chatterjee to illustrate his argument. 10. This report was published while the previous bjp-led nda was in government. 11. The entire debate is available in the September 25, 2003, edition of South Asia Citizens’ Wire, at 12. Some of these strategies have been mobilized in my ‘‘All Ye Faithless.’’ This is not the place to go into the issue of conversion itself, in all its philosophical and ethical dimensions, though it is very tempting to do so. One point I must make, however. The argument above, relocating religion in modern democratic practices, is similar to Gauri Viswanathan’s, who urges seeing conversion ‘‘not as violence but rather as movement and fluidity’’ (Outside the Fold, xv). At the same time, it is necessary to recognize that, paradoxically, conversion is in fact a means of fixing identity, of halting the fluidity of identities. It enables one moment of movement, but only to reconfirm polarized identities—with conversion you wipe out the possibility of being male-female or ‘‘Mohameddan Hindus’’ (Viswanathan quotes Ashis Nandy’s reference to the two hundred thousand Indians who referred to themselves thus in the Gujarat census of 1911 [xxii]). You convert from one identity to another. Conversion thus becomes a way of preventing or ending indeterminacy. 13. See Pranab Bardhan; the collection of essays in Economic and Political Weekly (Special Issue on Development and Displacement), June 15, 1996; and Lokayan Bulletin March–April 1995. 14. See The Order That Felled a City: A Citizens’ Report on the Politics of Pollution and the Mass Displacement of Workers in Delhi, Delhi Janwadi Adhikar Manch, February/March 1997. 15. For a detailed discussion of this shift, see my ‘‘Women and Citizenship.’’ 16. See my ‘‘Elusive ‘Woman.’ ’’ 17. The Asia component of the World Social Forum, the worldwide platform against corporate globalization. 18. To use that other delicious Indianism pointed out by Arundhati Roy, the distinction in Hindi between sarkar (government) and public (people); see ‘‘Public Power in the Age of Empire.’’ 19. ‘‘Municipal Win Perks Up Modi,’’ Telegraph, July 21, 2004.

140 Nivedita Menon

Partha Chatterjee a

The Contradictions of Secularism


t is not easy for us to apply the cold logic of analytical reasoning and talk dispassionately about the prospects of secularism in India. It is not a time of normal politics in South Asian countries. In some, Afghanistan for example, civil war and external military intervention have uprooted previously existing political structures. Politics there is still being transacted through warfare and it is too early to tell whether stable foundations are being laid for a new political order. We are told that in Pakistan there is a grim struggle between a general who wants to lead his country into membership of the exclusive club of liberal democracies and diehard fundamentalists who want to create their own brand of Islamic society. There is enough reason for us to believe that the real story of contemporary Pakistan is far more complicated than that. In Nepal, a bizarre massacre in the royal palace has been followed by virtually full-scale war between security forces and Maoist rebels. In Sri Lanka, there appears to have been a new breakthrough in bringing peace to a country torn by prolonged and violent ethnic conflict. But such hopes have been dashed so often in the past that it would be rash to predict that there will be normal politics in Sri Lanka in the near future. Even Bangladesh, where religious conflict in the political arena is rare, saw a spate of attacks on the minority community following the parliamentary election held in October 2001; fortunately, timely intervention by

civic and political groups managed to contain the damage. In several parts of northern and western India, however, and in Gujarat in particular, attacks on the minority community reached such a horrifying scale of organized violence that the very idea of a constitutional state guaranteeing the physical safety of all its citizens has been put under threat. I do not believe that I am being unduly alarmist in suggesting that a new element has now entered the arena of what is being regarded as legitimate politics in India. It is the idea, now being voiced not from the extremist fringes but from the very center of representative institutions, that the constitutionally guaranteed rights of minorities must be negotiated afresh in the political domain. This has put the question of secularism in India in a new, emotionally charged context. There is one more element that has become relevant. Following the events of September 11, 2001, the United States has adopted a new imperial role in world politics by claiming to conduct a worldwide war on terrorism. This is not the place for me to analyze the connection between the so-called war on terrorism and the utterly cynical pursuit of what the Bush administration thinks to be the American national interest. But there have been at least two immediate consequences for the politics of secularism in South Asian countries. One is the new legitimacy that has been given to legal instruments that curtail civil liberties on the grounds of national security and the fight against terrorism. In India, for example, new laws have been passed for detention without trial and expanded methods of surveillance. The results of long years of struggle by the civil liberties and democratic rights movement were nullified at one stroke. Spokesmen for the government were able to claim with aplomb that if liberal democracies like the United States and Britain could have new laws to fight terrorism, why can’t we? The second, and more subtle, e√ect comes from the new complex of meanings that has suddenly congealed around the term ‘‘terrorist.’’ Faced with repeated questions, American political leaders continue to insist that the war on terrorism is not a war on Islam. And yet, given the utter lack of political clarity or consistency about the meaning of terrorism, accompanied by the cynical pursuit of realist political goals by the United States, most people have drawn their own conclusions about who can be called a terrorist in these tumultuous times. There is a new ring of legitimacy, for instance, to the recent accusation made by Madhav Govinda Vaidya, spokesman of the Rahstriya Swayamsevak Sangh (rss), who said, at a press conference in New Delhi on March 27, 2002, ‘‘All Muslims may not be terrorists, but most terrorists are Muslims’’ (reported in Anandabajar Patrika [Calcutta], March 28, 2002). There was a time when such a remark would 142 Partha Chatterjee

have been dismissed as absurd. Not any more, because it now appears to have a global sanction. Even Atal Behari Vajpayee, then prime minister of India, in a speech at the conference of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Goa, said roughly the same thing. There is much in our present situation, therefore, to make us feel outraged, angry, and agitated. Nevertheless, I accept that we, as professional social scientists and analysts, have a responsibility to continue the debates over secularism within the accepted forms of scientific discourse. To do this, I have chosen to move away from the battlefields of Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Gujarat to the relatively calmer regions of eastern India. My intuition is that by focusing on a place like West Bengal, ruled for the last twenty-five years by a communist-led Left Front government, we might be able to talk usefully about the conditions for a democratic politics of secularism. I want to concentrate in particular on ways of handling what I think are the contradictions within the politics of secularism in India. In an essay, ‘‘Secularism and Toleration,’’ published some years ago, I had identified what seemed to me two contradictions of the politics of secularism in India. First, although a significant section of Indian political leaders shared the desire to separate the domains of religion and politics, the independent Indian state, for various historical reasons, had no option but to involve itself in the regulation, funding, and, in some cases, even the administration of various religious institutions. Second, even as sections of Indian citizens were legally demarcated as belonging to minority religious communities following their own personal laws and having the right to establish and administer their own educational institutions, there was no procedure to determine who was to represent these minority communities in their dealings with the state. The politics of secularism and communalism has gone through a turbulent history in India in the last two decades. But I do not think these two contradictions have been overcome or resolved. I continue to hold that the conditions for a more democratic politics of secularism cannot be created unless we grapple with these contradictions. The task is by no means easy, as I will show by discussing a recent episode from West Bengal that was labeled by the media as the ‘‘madrasah controversy.’’ On January 19, 2002, speaking at a public meeting in Siliguri, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, chief minister of West Bengal, said that there were many madrasahs (Muslim religious schools) not a≈liated with the West Bengal MadraThe Contradictions of Secularism 143

sah Board where antinational terrorists, including operatives of the Pakistan intelligence agency, were active. These unauthorized madrasahs would have to be shut down. This remark, however, might not have had the e√ect it did if a major incident had not occurred in Calcutta three days later. On January 22, 2002, in the early hours of the morning, two motorbikes drove up in front of the American Center in Calcutta. The policemen on security duty there were changing shifts at the time. Suddenly, the pillion riders on the motorbikes pulled out automatic rifles and began to shoot. The policemen were apparently so taken aback by this unexpected attack that they were unable to respond. After forty seconds during which the two riflemen fired more than sixty rounds of bullets, the motorbikes sped away leaving five policemen dead and several others injured. The incident immediately made international headlines and the first presumption was that it was another attack by Islamic terrorists against the United States. It later transpired that the attack had been launched by a criminal gang based in Dubai, seeking revenge for the death of one of its associates in an encounter with the police. But the criminal network overlapped with that of suspected Islamic militants operating in di√erent parts of India. One of the first suspects arrested in connection with the killings was a mathematics teacher of a madrasah in North 24-Parganas, from a place about thirty miles north of Calcutta. He was said to be a member of simi, the banned Islamic students’ organization. Another madrasah teacher, said to be a Bangladeshi national with connections to the Pakistani intelligence services, was arrested in Murshidabad district. On January 24, speaking to the press in Calcutta, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya clarified his earlier remarks and said, ‘‘Certain madrasahs, not all madrasahs —I repeat, certain madrasahs—are involved in anti-national propaganda. We have definite information on this. This cannot be allowed.’’ Four days later, at a public meeting at Domkal in Murshidabad, he said that all madrasahs would have to seek a≈liation with the Madrasah Board. ‘‘We will not allow una≈liated madrasahs to run here,’’ he said. He instructed the district administration to carry out a survey of all madrasahs in Murshidabad and report on the number of students, teachers, boarders and sources of funding (The Telegraph [Calcutta], January 29, 2002). The chief minister’s comments, as reported in the press, immediately sparked o√ a controversy. It was alleged that by suggesting a police surveillance of madrasahs, the chief minister had maligned the entire Muslim community of West Bengal. If there were specific allegations against particu-

144 Partha Chatterjee

lar institutions, the o√enders should be punished, but why should an entire system of minority educational institutions be tarred with the same brush? At a demonstration of madrasah students in Calcutta, an apology was demanded from the chief minister. The students said that madrasah teachers were being harassed and that an atmosphere of witch-hunt had been created because of ‘‘misinformation and poor understanding’’ of the system of madrasah education. It was reported that the Urdu press was comparing Bhattacharya not only with Hindu right-wing leaders like L. K. Advani and Bal Thackeray but also with ‘‘Musharraf, the military dictator of Pakistan’’ (Times of India [Calcutta], January 31, 2002). The protests came not only from those who claimed to speak on behalf of Muslim organizations or from the opposition political parties but also from partners of the ruling Left Front. Several Front leaders said that the chief minister’s remarks sounded alarmingly like those of bjp leaders in Delhi and that this would send wrong signals to the minority community in the state. In fact, an emergency meeting of the Left Front was called on February 6 to clarify the government’s position (Times of India, January 30, 2002). On January 31, the state Minority Commission organized a meeting of Muslim intellectuals and academics at which Mohammed Salim, the cpi(m) minister for minority a√airs, explained that the chief minister had not made a blanket allegation against all madrasahs and that there was not going to be any witch-hunt. In fact, he praised the initiative taken by community leaders to set up madrasahs: ‘‘These institutions are a national asset. It is laudable that some individuals or organizations have reached remote rural areas to spread some sort of education even before the government could open a school there.’’ But he defended the chief minister by saying that the government must take steps against ‘‘anti-national and communal forces along the Indo-Bangla border as the area has become a second front for anti-Indian forces. Terrorism is not religion-specific. There will be a crackdown irrespective of whether it is a madrasah, mosque, temple or club’’ (Times of India, February 1, 2002). Nevertheless, there continued to be reports that Muslims were agitated about what they regarded as an unprovoked accusation against an entire community of complicity with terrorism. They alleged that several teachers of madrasahs had been picked up by the police after the American Center killings and later released because nothing was found against them (Times of India, February 2, 2002). The police, it was alleged, was proceeding on the

The Contradictions of Secularism 145

basis of certain preconceived and unsubstantiated stereotypes. There were even reports from several places in the border districts of North 24-Parganas and Nadia that communist party members belonging to the minority community were alarmed that the chief minister’s remarks sounded so much like those of the bjp home minister, Advani. ‘‘Such statements from the chief minister will only encourage the terrorists as they will get a fertile ground among the irate Muslims to spread their organization,’’ said Waris Sheikh, who had been with the communist party for forty years (Times of India, February 3, 2002). On February 4, a surprisingly large rally organized in Calcutta by the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind once again demanded a public apology from Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, this time calling him an agent of the United States and Israel (Times of India, February 5, 2002). The matter had clearly gone too far. It was announced that the chief minister had called a meeting of Muslim organizations and intellectuals on February 7 where he would explain his position (Ganashakti [Calcutta], February 5, 2002). He also claimed that his remarks in Siliguri had been misquoted by the press and even by the cpi(m) party newspaper Ganashakti. At a meeting of the Left Front on February 6, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya was apparently roundly criticized by partners of the Front and even by the former chief minister, Jyoti Basu (Times of India, February 7, 2002). By this time, a strategy to handle the fallout appears to have been worked out. The crucial move was to separate the issue of terrorism from that of madrasah education. It was explained that neither the chief minister nor the government had ever suggested that all madrasahs were involved in terrorist propaganda or recruitment. Only when there was specific evidence of such involvement would the government move against particular organizations or individuals, and that too according to the law. The issue of madrasah education was a completely separate matter and the press had misrepresented the chief minister’s remarks on this subject by tying it to the question of terrorism. As far as madrasah education was concerned, the Left Front government in West Bengal had done more than any other government in India. Biman Bose, the chairman of the Left Front, explained that in the nearly two hundred years from 1780, when the Alia Madrasah was founded in Calcutta by Warren Hastings, to 1977, when the Left Front came to power, a total of 238 madrasahs had been set up in West Bengal with government approval. Since 1977, in twenty-five years, this number had more than doubled. In 1977, the government expenditure on madrasah education was Rs.500,000; in 2001, it was

146 Partha Chatterjee

Rs.1150 million, an increase of more than two thousand times. The entire financial responsibility, including salaries of teachers and supporting sta√, of madrasahs a≈liated to the state Madrasah Board was borne by the government. Students graduating from a≈liated madrasahs in West Bengal were entitled to admission to all universities and all professional courses. This was unprecedented in independent India (Ganashakti, February 7, 2002). On February 7, the chief minister met a gathering of Muslim leaders and intellectuals, including writers, journalists, teachers, doctors, and imams of mosques. He admitted that his words as reported by the media might have caused confusion and anxiety; he was prepared to share the blame for this and expressed his regret. He reiterated that antinational elements were active in the state but clarified that such activities were not confined to madrasahs. Just as there were fundamentalist Hindu organizations, so there were outfits like the Lashkar-e-Taiba that were involved in antinational and terrorist acts. He had never suggested that all madrasahs were under a cloud of suspicion. There was no legal obligation for madrasahs to seek the approval of the government, and there was no law by which the government could close down private schools, no matter who ran them. ‘‘The constitution guarantees minorities the right to run their educational institutions,’’ he said. ‘‘Christian missionaries and Hindu organizations are also running their own schools.’’ But the question of modernization of the madrasah curriculum was an urgent issue. The government had appointed a committee headed by Professor A. R. Kidwai, former governor, to look into the matter. ‘‘We will try and persuade the unrecognized madrasahs to revise their curricula so that modern subjects could be introduced along with religious studies. We will urge them to join the educational mainstream.’’ He urged Muslim community leaders to think seriously of ways to educate Muslim children so that they had better skills for entry into professional employment and did not become isolated from the rest of the nation. At the end of the meeting, the imams of two leading mosques said that a lot of tension had been created in the preceding days over the chief minister’s remarks. Some of that communication gap had now been bridged (February 8, 2002, issues of The Telegraph, Anandabajar Patrika, Ganashakti, and Times of India). The media in general interpreted the chief minister’s clarifications as a climb-down forced on him by the adverse reaction both within and outside the party and the Left Front. Several commentators alleged that a courageous initiative to tackle the problem of Islamic fundamentalism from within the

The Contradictions of Secularism 147

parameters of secular politics in India had been stymied because of the relentless pressure of the minority vote bank. Two interesting organizational changes were also reported. First, it was suggested that in view of the misunderstanding and controversy, the a√airs of madrasah administration would be taken out of the charge of Kanti Biswas, the school education minister, and given to Mohammed Salim, the minority a√airs minister. It was said that Biswas had taken a hard line on madrasah reform and was pushing for the conversion of government-supported senior madrasahs, which provided religious education, to high madrasahs which followed a strictly secular curriculum. ‘‘Why should the government pay the salaries of teachers who provide religious education in madrasahs when it did not do so in other religious schools?’’ Biswas had apparently asked (Times of India, February 12, 2002). The other significant change was within the cpi(m) party daily Ganashakti. The chief minister had alleged that his remarks had been misrepresented even in the report published by the party newspaper. Dipen Ghosh, senior trade unionist and former member of Parliament, was asked to relinquish his position as editor of the daily and on February 25 Narayan Dutta, a relatively inconspicuous member of the state committee, was appointed in his place. Reconstructing the controversy, both the possibilities and the constraints of a secular state policy on religious minorities in India become apparent. The Left Front in West Bengal, and the cpi(m) in particular, has always proclaimed, with justified pride, that in spite of having a large Muslim minority and a long history of communal conflict until the 1960s, the state has seen undisturbed communal peace in the last twenty-five years. With the exception of a brief outburst, controlled quickly by prompt administrative and political action, in 1992, following the Babari Masjid demolition and attacks on Hindu temples in Bangladesh, there has been no communal riot in West Bengal under Left Front rule. According to most observers of elections in West Bengal, the Left has consistently won the greater part of the Muslim vote. The parties of the Left, and once again the cpi(m) in particular, have recruited leaders from the minority community in several districts. It is likely that many of these young leaders were attracted to the parties of the Left because of their image as secular, modern, and progressive organizations. Although the issue of modernization of madrasahs suddenly appeared in the public limelight because of its association with the question of terrorism, there is reason to believe that the cpi(m) leadership had been engaged with

148 Partha Chatterjee

the issue for some time. Alongside the extension of government financial support to madrasahs a≈liated to the Madrasah Board, the Front also initiated in the 1980s a process of change by which the high and junior high madrasahs—some four hundred in number—came to follow the same curriculum as regular secondary schools except for a single compulsory course in Arabic. In fact, the point was made during the recent controversy that high madrasahs in the state had significant numbers of non-Muslim students as well as teachers. They also had more female than male students, reflecting the fact that many Muslim families felt more comfortable sending their daughters to madrasahs than to regular secondary schools. Teachers were recruited through the same School Service Commission that chose teachers for all other secondary schools. The hundred-odd senior madrasahs, also a≈liated to the Madrasah Board and financially supported by the government, followed a revised curriculum in which about two-thirds of courses consisted of English, Bengali, physical and life sciences, mathematics, history, and geography and about one-third of courses on Islamic religion and law. It was alleged that senior madrasahs had become an anomaly because they did not prepare their students adequately for either the religious or the secular professions. There were fewer and fewer students, those wanting a religious education preferring to go to one of the many private madrasahs outside the Madrasah Board system (Milan Dutta, ‘‘Madrasar birudddhe prachar: Age satyata jene nin,’’ Anandabajar Patrika, January 29, 2002; The Telegraph, January 30, 2002). There was a renewed initiative now to further modernize the madrasah curriculum. A committee had been set up with Professor A. R. Kidwai as chairman, to look into the matter. Kidwai himself, in an interview given during the controversy, suggested that traditional Yunani medicine and modern Arabic might be introduced into the madrasahs to make their curricula more suitable for new employment opportunities (Anandabajar Patrika, January 29, 2002). Nonetheless, it remains a fact that the involvement of nona≈liated madrasahs with the activities and propaganda of militant Islamic groups began to worry the party leadership even before the American Center killings. It was not merely because there were police intelligence reports suggesting such involvement. The Muslim leaders of the party themselves became aware of the impact that fundamentalist propaganda was producing in Muslim neighborhoods. A striking example was provided by Anisur Rahaman, a cpi(m) minister, in an op-ed article in Ganashakti on January 29, 2002. Entitled ‘‘Fasting for

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Laden’’ (‘‘Ladener roja’’), the article describes the leader’s visit to a Muslim village where he is told that people were observing a fast. Surprised, because the month of Ramadan was a long time away, he asks the villagers what the fast was for. The villagers explain that they were praying for the safety of Osama bin Laden, who had been made the target of attack by the imperialist Americans. The meeting that the minister had come to address began late in the evening after everyone had broken the fast. The rest of the article is a summary of the speech of a certain Rahman Chacha, a village elder, who makes several arguments, having to do with political ethics as well as tactics, on why Muslims in India had no reason to support bin Laden. The fact that these arguments were presented in the voice of a nonpolitical ‘‘wise man’’ of the community and not in that of the communist minister himself is interesting. But the most striking thing about the article was its recognition of the impact that a few ‘‘hot-headed and thoughtless young men’’ were having on many ordinary Muslims. The most contentious issue, of course, was that of the private madrasahs that everyone agreed were growing rapidly in number. No one really had a good estimate of how many khariji madrasahs there were not a≈liated with the Madrasah Board. Many said there were ten times as many private madrasahs as there were state-supported ones. It was widely argued that private madrasahs were popular because they o√ered food and often board and lodging to their students. As Mohammad Salim, the cpi(m) minister, said, ‘‘Children whose families cannot a√ord a square meal would prefer these madrasahs which provide them food, shelter and some sort of education’’ (Times of India, February 1, 2002). The point was made repeatedly that madrasahs were never the first choice considered by Muslim parents, at least for their sons. They would always prefer the regular secondary school if they could a√ord it. The religious professions did not have much attraction for most young Muslims who went into them only because the alternative was low-paid and unskilled manual work. Even those who spoke so loudly about the right of minorities to run their own schools did not send their own children to madrasahs. Private madrasahs were coming up because there was a social need that the state had been unable to fill; the community was stepping in where the government had failed. How did the private madrasahs raise their funds? Community leaders insisted that charity was a religious duty for Muslims, and many took that obligation seriously. Most private madrasahs ran on money and food collected from families in the neighborhood. Yes, there were also a

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few large Islamic foundations, even some that received funds from international foundations based in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and these sometimes made grants to private madrasahs. A few private madrasahs in West Bengal possessed large buildings and provided free boarding to three or four hundred students each; such resources could not have been raised locally. But the administrators of these madrasahs resented the suggestion that this was tainted money. All grants, they insisted, were legal and had to be cleared by the relevant ministries in Delhi (The Telegraph, February 1, 2002). What about the content of the courses taught at these private madrasahs? There were some sensational stories in the mainstream press that quoted from some of the primers that allegedly glorified jihadi warriors and demanded that the civil code be replaced by the shari’a (Anandabajar Patrika, February 1, 2002). But once again, it was clear that most Muslim representatives, irrespective of political loyalties, had a low opinion of the quality of education o√ered by the private madrasahs. Their complaint was that the state-supported schools were few and not necessarily better run, and alternative secular private education was too expensive. The West Bengal debate brought forward an important fact that seems to me crucial in judging the conditions for a democratic politics of secularism. The issue could not be successfully posed as one of a secularizing state versus a minority community seeking to preserve its cultural identity. Although the tendency was powerful, it did not win the day. There were several interventions that made the point that the question of social reform was one that was emerging from within the Muslim community itself. The latter tendency too was by no means decisive, but it was there. Not only that, it was strongly influencing the question of who represents the minority community. The issues were well brought out in an article by Mainul Hasan, a cpi(m) member of Parliament from Murshidabad (‘‘Madrasah shiksha: bartaman samay o Muslim samaj,’’ Ganashakti, February 6, 2002). After going through the history of madrasah education and the recent changes in curricula, Mainul Hasan disputes the argument that private madrasahs were growing because there were not enough secondary schools. Speaking as an insider, he argues that a major reason for the initiative within the community to start madrasahs was to provide jobs to Muslim young men. Most madrasahs were set up as a result of local community initiative, often with the support of political parties. It was possible to raise funds from within the community through charitable donations (zaqat, fitra, etc.). Most madra-

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sahs ran on shoestring budgets. But they provided employment to educated Muslims who would teach in private madrasahs, become maulvis in mosques, and lecture round the year at religious congregations. These were necessary, even if not very lucrative, functions, and Muslims with a smattering of education had few other opportunities open to them. The rest of the article is a strong plea for further modernization of madrasahs. No Muslim could claim that modern education was not necessary. On the other hand, everyone was agreed that private madrasahs did not provide modern education. Why then should not the government come forward to start modern madrasahs that were not ‘‘factories for producing mullahs’’? The Muslim community should not only support this policy but also actively contribute, even financially, to the setting up of madrasahs that o√er modern education. Finally, the question of subversive propaganda and terrorism. Mainul Hasan takes the clear position that administering the law and protecting the security of the country is the government’s responsibility. It was childish, he says, to claim that the community and not the police would act against organizations that were involved in subversive activities. Rather, the duty of the community is to provide the necessary context within which the government can make correct policies and implement them properly. Suppose, he says, an imam of a mosque is liked and respected by the community; he has been leading the prayers for many years. It then turns out that he is actually from Bangladesh and does not have the right papers to live and work in this country. No one can dispute the fact that his status is illegal. But it may be that the correct policy would be to persuade the authorities to help him get the right papers. This the community must try to do, but it cannot insist that the state should not act when there is a violation of the law. Who represents the minorities? The question was raised directly in the debate over madrasahs. After the chief minister’s meeting with Muslim intellectuals and madrasah teachers, complaints were heard in party circles over the ceremonial recitation from the Quran at the meeting (The Telegraph, February 12, 2002). Why should a meeting with representatives of the Muslim community inevitably mean a meeting with imams and maulanas? The answer clearly was that there were few organized forums in the public sphere outside the religious institutions that could claim to be representative of a community that was marked as a religious minority. Why was that the case in West Bengal,

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where a fifth of the population is Muslim and where there is a growing Muslim middle class? Because, as several Muslim professionals explained, community organizations tended to be dominated by men from the religious occupations who were suspicious and resentful of those Muslims who had successfully made it into the urban secular professions. The overwhelming majority of Muslims in West Bengal were rural and poor; urban middle-class Muslims were not able, and perhaps did not wish, to represent them. As one Muslim bureaucrat remarked, ‘‘The uneducated or semi-educated lot is intolerant, fanatical and dangerous.’’ It was not uncommon for professional Muslims with liberal opinions to be targeted for vilification by communal organizations. As a result, such persons usually chose to stay away from community organizations altogether, leaving them to the unchallenged sway of men flaunting their religious credentials. As one correspondent writing to a leading Bengali daily put it, almost 20 per cent of all students in regular secondary schools in West Bengal are Muslims. Yet it is the private madrasah question, involving only a few thousand students, that agitates the political circle. ‘‘How much longer will political leaders succumb to the imams and put a lid on reforms within Muslim society?’’ she asked. Muslim politicians in state and national politics were invariably educated in mainstream institutions and were often in the secular professions. Yet every time there is a debate over reform in Muslim society, it is the imams who are listened to as representatives of the community. ‘‘The principal obstacle,’’ she claimed, ‘‘in the fight against Muslim fundamentalism and religious bigotry is the silence of the growing educated and enlightened section of Muslim society’’ (letter by Fatema Begum, Bagnan, Howrah, in Anandabajar Patrika, February 28, 2002). The question then arises: what are the appropriate institutions through which the debate over change within minority communities can be conducted in a secular polity? Ever since independence, while the modernizing state in India has often sought to change traditional social institutions and practices by legal and administrative intervention, an accompanying demand has always been that the minority religious communities must have the right to protect their religious and cultural identities, because otherwise they would be at the mercy of a majoritarian politics of homogenization. The Indian state, in general, has largely stayed away from pushing an interventionist agenda of modernization with respect to the institutions and practices of minority communities. This, in turn, has produced a vicious campaign in recent years from the Hindu right wing accusing the Indian state and the parties of the center

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and the left of ‘‘pseudo-secularism and appeasement of minorities.’’ Even in the case of West Bengal, as we saw, the suggestion that private madrasahs might come under government regulation provoked enough of an outcry from those who claimed to represent the Muslim community to force the government to make what many saw as a climb-down. The alternative, to work for reform from within the community institutions, is seen by most potential reformers as too di≈cult and infeasible. Once again, even in the case of West Bengal, we have seen that factors of class, occupation, and ideological orientation stand in the way of liberal middle-class Muslims from engaging in community institutions. There is, however, a third possibility which, it seems to me, is shown even within the context of the recent West Bengal debate. It is not a dominant tendency, but it has become a distinct presence. This reformist intervention takes place not exclusively within the legal-administrative apparatus of the state. Nor does it take place in the nonpolitical zone of civil society. Rather, it works on that overlap between the extensive governmental functions of development and welfare and the workings of community institutions that I have elsewhere called political society. This is often a zone of paralegal practices, opposed to the civic norms of proper citizenship. Yet there are attempts here to devise new, and often contextual and transitory, norms of fairness and justice in making available the welfare and developmental functions of government to large sections of poor and underprivileged people. There are claims of representation here that have to be established on that overlapping zone between the governmental functions and the community institutions. I see in the West Bengal case an attempt to pursue a campaign of reform through the agency of political representatives rather than either through state intervention or through civil social action. Those political representatives of the left parties in West Bengal who are Muslims usually have large popular support among their Muslim constituents because of their promise, if not ability, to deliver benefits such as jobs, health, education, water, roads, electricity, and so forth. But as political representatives of the minority community, they do not necessarily relinquish their right to speak on the internal a√airs of the community, if only because the community institutions are also tied into the network of governmental functions. As Mainul Hasan pointed out, even the private madrasahs had to be set up with the active involvement of local political leaders. This is the zone where a di√erent mode of reformist intervention can take place that straddles government and community, out-

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side and inside. It can potentially democratize the question of who represents the minorities. Once again, let me reiterate that what I have brought up in this essay is only the hint of a di√erent modality of secular politics. I am stressing its significance as a potential, but I must not exaggerate its actuality. As a student of Hindu-Muslim relations in Bengal in the twentieth century, I have lived far too closely with the massive evidence of communal violence there to have rosy ideas about any sort of innate secularism of the Bengali people, whether Hindu or Muslim. Indeed, I often worry about the complacency of many left and liberal persons who think that the communal question has been somehow resolved in West Bengal and Bangladesh. On the other hand, I do think that there is a deeply democratic implication of the massive political mobilization that has taken place in rural West Bengal in the last three decades. It is well known that democracy itself is no guarantee of secularism, since electoral majorities can often be mobilized against minority communities: we see this only too well in the case of Gujarat. On the other hand, it is also true that protected minority rights give a premium to traditionalists and even fundamentalists within the minority communities unless the question of who represents them is allowed to be negotiated within a more e√ective democratic process. I see something of this process going on in West Bengal’s political society. But the other point that has been also emphasized in this controversy is the limit set by the parameters of global politics on political possibilities inherent in the local situation. The trends in global politics initiated by the United States following the events of September 11, 2001, have put new constraints on political society in most of the world. The imperial privileges that are now being asserted in carrying out the so-called war on terror, the arrogant disregard for established international laws and procedures, the abrogation of the civic rights of both citizens and foreign residents in the name of homeland security, and, above all, the global spread of the ubiquitous and infinitely malleable concepts of ‘‘the terrorist’’ and ‘‘those that sympathize with terrorism’’—labels that can be attached to almost any individuals, groups, ethnicities, or nationalities whose political desires happen to draw the ire of ruling regimes and dominant powers—can only have a negative impact on popular politics. As I have frequently pointed out, political society is not like a gentleman’s club; it can often be a nasty and dangerous place. When violent and hateful mobilizations in political society can draw their legitimacy from

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the cynical deployment of state violence by those who claim to speak for the free societies of modernity, the less glamorous projects of patient, humane, and democratic social transformation are liable to come under severe strain. One only hopes that while it is the former that is making most of the news today, history is being made through the latter endeavors. Note Closing address delivered at the conference ‘‘Siting Secularism,’’ Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, April 21, 2002.

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Gyanendra Pandey a

The Secular State and the Limits of Dialogue


he concept of secularism has in our times been somewhat detached from its filiation with the process of secularization and the expansion of the secular (as opposed to ‘‘sacred’’) dimension of public life.∞ It has come instead to be linked more and more to the idea of the recognition and acceptance of di√erence. The question of secularism has been posed as a question of pluralism, or of tolerance between diverse religious and cultural communities. In a more robust formulation, it has been represented as being about the possibility of ‘‘interreligious understanding’’ which, as T. N. Madan writes, ‘‘is not the same as an emaciated notion of mutual tolerance or respect, but also [about] opening out avenues of a spiritually justified limitation of the role of religious institutions and symbols in certain areas of contemporary life’’ (314). Underlying the politics of secularism, then, is a question of communication and understanding, a notion of giveand-take and compromise, between social groups identified by religion, race, or culture. This essay is concerned with an investigation of the conditions in which this parleying and communication is supposed to occur. Recent political theory has been much occupied with a consideration of the conditions of possibility of political conversation between people who may have very di√erent notions of the good life and the social and political institutions necessary for its real-

ization. What are the grounds on which people with very di√erent values and commitments can still communicate, interact, and arrive at commonly acceptable procedures (if not decisions) in the domain of the state? The matter of secularism has been a part of this larger inquiry, one that has moved to a pivotal position in the context of a new recognition of the explosive mix of populations inside and outside Europe and North America. ‘‘Either the civilized coexistence of diverse groups, or new forms of savagery,’’ as Charles Taylor puts it. ‘‘Secularism in some form,’’ he goes on to say, ‘‘is a necessity for the democratic life of religiously [and, one might add, culturally] diverse societies’’ (‘‘Modes of Secularism,’’ 46, 48). It is this concern that has lent a special importance and appeal to the kind of ‘‘overlapping consensus’’ that John Rawls put forward as the basis for political conversation between groups with di√erent and even incommensurable views on many fundamental issues.≤ In India, as elsewhere, the renewed debate on secularism has revolved around the necessity of dialogue between diverse communities in a liberal, democratic regime. In the pages that follow, I want to say a little about each of the italicized terms in this sentence. The emphasis on ‘‘dialogue’’ (between Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and others) is an old, and persistent, feature of Indian political discourse. In particular instances, the proposition has been advanced in the form of a call for negotiation between these groups, although this latter term (‘‘negotiation’’) seems to have been less favored than ‘‘dialogue’’ or ‘‘conversation’’ in the vigorous academic exchanges of the last decade or so (see, particularly, Bhargava, ed., Secularism and Its Critics). There is, however, in my view, an important di√erence between these terms. A failure to appreciate this di√erence may easily lead to a failure to understand that the conversation we are concerned with is a political conversation, and that the state is (or at least has been) at the very center of it. In some versions of liberalism, a ‘‘dialogue’’ refers to any talking, simple conversation as it were, between individuals and groups. This is not, however, what the ‘‘political’’ implies. ‘‘Negotiation’’ comes closer to the heart of the matter. People with very di√erent kinds of commitments and interests have to make concessions: and these negotiations are almost always between unequals. It is necessary to point to that dimension of such dialogue or negotiation that rests on some element of force. Inequality means that this element of (unequal) force is central to the dialogue. Open violence—that is to say, actions that are recognized as violence—is in this sense only the extreme form of

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something that is always present in negotiations between di√erent classes, communities, and sexes. It is important to note too that the participants in such negotiations, the state among them, are recognized only through politics—both in the sense of being parties that are (often) legally or constitutionally recognized, and that of staking their own claims or the claims of interests they articulate. At the very outset, then, I suggest that we add the term ‘‘politicized’’ to the adjectives ‘‘religious’’ or ‘‘cultural’’ that are supposed to describe the communities or groups said to be the parties to the dialogue on secularism. For, until that is its condition, the so-called religious/cultural community—or communities supposedly united by religious or cultural a≈liation—would appear to be rather too di√erentiated and unorganized to enter into this kind of dialogue or conversation in the legal-constitutional domain of the state. Even with that qualification, the ‘‘communities’’ involved in these national political debates are neither seamless nor obviously and easily identified. I ask questions therefore about how they come to be established as historical actors, and about the terms of the political interaction between them. Who establishes the boundaries between communities and posits the absence of boundaries within them? Who nominates the language that is to be the language of negotiations between these di√erent elements of a population? And when is it that this language of ‘‘reasonable’’ negotiation and persuasion breaks down, and something called violence supervenes? In connection with this, finally, I feel the need to query various suppositions about the liberalism of ‘‘liberal-democratic’’ states. Through the sacralization of nationalism, and the identification of nation and state, the nation-states of our time have turned all too frequently to openly illiberal enforcement of particular demands, which are disguised as ‘‘mainstream’’ and ‘‘nationalist.’’ What Talal Asad calls the ‘‘violence of universalizing reason,’’ expressed through the law (Formations of the Secular, 59–60), here transgresses its own pretensions to ‘‘civility’’ and renders its own law irrelevant. It is the burden of my argument that, in many so-called liberal and democratic regimes, the terms of negotiation between politicized religious/cultural communities, and between these communities and the state, have been radically—if quietly— altered at many junctures in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. A recognition of this reversibility of liberal conditions is necessary to any rethinking of the requirements of a politics of secularism, pluralism, or pluralist democracy today.

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A Dialogue on Secularism The Indian discourse on secularism and democracy serves as my example in this essay. The argument for Indian secularism is now built largely on an appeal for communication and tolerance between religiously di√erentiated segments of the country’s population. I begin by pointing to a number of assumptions that underlie this argument: among them, that we are dealing with bounded communities, that the parties to the dialogue as well as their commitments are fairly easily identified, and that the state may be treated as neutral (or even, in the extreme case, irrelevant). All these assumptions bear closer scrutiny, especially since—as I will try to show—they mark in various ways some of the best academic writings on the subject too. Ashis Nandy, one of the most prominent contributors to the academic debate, is perhaps the leading advocate of the view that ‘‘religious communities in traditional societies’’ knew how to live with one another. He suggests by implication that these communities shared a common language and a basic understanding, in spite of the existence of di√erences between them and the scarcely surprising occurrence of periodic conflicts. Nandy has frequently expressed the opinion that state systems in South Asia need to ‘‘learn something about religious tolerance from everyday Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism or Sikhism’’ (‘‘The Politics of Secularism,’’ 336, 338). ‘‘In rural India, where communities have not yet fully broken down . . . ,’’ he writes, ‘‘the ideology of Hindutva [that is, right-wing Hindu militancy and aggression] faces resistance from everyday Hinduism.’’ Hence a cautious optimism: apart from the ideology of secularism, which Nandy doesn’t especially care for, ‘‘there are other, probably more potent and resilient ideas within the repertoire of cultures and religions of the region that could ensure religious and ethnic co-survival, if not creative inter-faith encounters’’ (‘‘The Twilight of Certitudes,’’ 402, 414, 416 n). I have suggested above that we need to keep the adjective ‘‘politicized’’ at hand whenever we talk about religious communities in this kind of context. Nandy would probably claim that his ‘‘everyday’’ or ‘‘traditional’’ religious community is—precisely—not ‘‘politicized.’’ If that were the case, however, he would have to explain what constitutes this community and how it is to take part in modern political dialogue. Who is it that occupies the subject position of the ‘‘everyday’’ Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh in legal-constitutional practice? This is a point to which I will return. Partha Chatterjee also works with a fairly sharp state/community distinc-

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tion in his writings on secularism. The ‘‘communities’’ he writes about are seen as being more recent, and more political, articulations than Nandy’s. Nonetheless, they appear as fairly secure and stable entities in the analysis. Chatterjee argues, for instance, that ‘‘the minorities are unwilling to grant to a legislature elected by universal su√rage the power to legislate the reform of their religions.’’ He urges the need to establish ‘‘other institutions which have representative legitimacy to supervise such a process of reform,’’ observing that ‘‘even while resisting the idea of a uniform civil code on the ground that this would be a fundamental encroachment on the freedom of religion and destructive of the cultural identity of religious minorities, the Muslim leadership in India has not shunned state intervention altogether.’’ His prescription for the present is ‘‘a strategic politics of toleration’’ that would ‘‘resist homogenization [of communities] from the outside, and push for democratization inside’’ (‘‘Secularism and Tolerance,’’ 363, 364, 378). In his turn, Akeel Bilgrami, while seeking to distinguish his position carefully from Chatterjee’s and even more carefully from Nandy’s, puts forward his own proposal for dialogue between communities as the way forward for Indian secularism. Noting the pre-1947 Congress’s rejection of the Muslim League demand that the League should represent Muslims, a Sikh leader the Sikhs, and an untouchable the ‘‘untouchable community,’’ he writes: ‘‘Secularism thus never got the chance to emerge out of a creative dialogue between these di√erent communities.’’ What he would want from the state is that it ‘‘bring about reform in a way that speaks to the value commitments of communities whom it is seeking to reform . . . [i.e.,] speaks to them internally.’’ The state needs to provide ‘‘a field of force of internal reasons addressing di√erent communitarian perspectives from within their own internal substantive commitments and unsettling them into awareness of their own internal inconsistencies so as to eventually provide for a common secular outcome, each on di√erent internal grounds’’ (395, 410, 411; emphasis his). There is an interesting echo of Gandhi in several of these arguments, even though none of the writers I have quoted uses the kind of religious language that Gandhi consistently employed. Like all of the above, Gandhi had stressed the importance of conversation as a means toward the resolution of the great political problems of his day. Ideally, these conversations would take place between parties on the basis of an ‘‘absolute di√erence’’ and an ‘‘equality’’ that were the condition of neighborliness and friendship. However, Gandhi proposed di√erent kinds of dialogue as being necessary to political negotiation

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between people placed at di√erent levels in the social-political hierarchies of the actually existing world. He advocated the mode of friendship (mitrata) toward equals, as for example between Hindus and Muslims; of seva (or service) toward subordinates (or, in Gandhian terms, ‘‘unfortunates’’), as in the relations between upper castes and ‘‘untouchables’’—Gandhi’s Harijans (or ‘‘children of God’’); and of satyagraha (or appeal for justice, through noncooperation) toward the dominant, as in the case of the Indian population in relation to their British rulers.≥ The problem with Gandhi’s approach, as I see it, was an all too easy ‘‘fixing’’ of groups of people in a specified place in the social hierarchy—that of equal, dominant, or subordinate, to be met with mitrata, satyagraha, or seva—and the homogenization of whole groups of people in order that they could be thus fixed. Were the Muslims of British India such an undi√erentiated category? Could they be unified into one seamless bloc, allowing ‘‘absolute di√erence’’ and ‘‘full equality’’ between them and the (similarly undi√erentiated and seamless) ‘‘Hindus.’’ And why were they to be treated as equals and not, say, as daridranarayan (God in the form of the poor), which was another Gandhian appellation for the untouchables or Dalits? Again, while there is perhaps greater justification for this, is it adequate for purposes of political negotiation to classify Dalits as unfortunates (daridra, Harijan, part of divinity, subalterns to be transformed through darshan) and nothing else? Who indeed is it who has the right to assign people a place in this amazingly unambiguous hierarchy? Is there not a remarkable arrogance in the Gandhian position not only in arrogating that place to itself but also in declaring that it knows so clearly, so indubitably, and forever, where people belong? How would—and did—Jinnah and Ambedkar, to take only two obvious examples, respond to this? Some of the same kinds of questions might be raised in response to the recent commentaries on the negotiations (or dialogue) necessary to secularism. What marks the boundaries of the identified communities? Who is to represent their voice (or multiple voices), interests, values,‘‘internal’’ reasons? How do we determine that these spokespersons have the status that they claim (of belonging to the community, let alone being representative of it)? Bilgrami has argued that this kind of objection is misplaced. What he is proposing, he stresses, is the idea of ‘‘an emergent and negotiated secularism.’’ For this, we require a ‘‘minimal and descriptive acknowledgement’’ of communities, which can ‘‘giv[e] internal reasons to one another [and presum-

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ably to liberal secularist political forces] in a political disagreement.’’ The possibility of advancing such ‘‘internal’’ reasons in the dialogue arises precisely because ‘‘agents and communities . . . are not monsters of consistency, their desires and values are often [indeed, in a sense, always] in conflict’’ (406, 408, 409). Yet his position begs the question: who names and identifies the communities that are to be involved in the dialogue on secularism or the constitution and arrangements of the modern political community? Why this set, identified in this way, and not some other, identified di√erently? How do we come to live with these notions of a (permanent) Hindu majority, and (similarly permanent) Muslim, Christian, Sikh, and even untouchable minorities? One can see that the state of contemporary politics itself provides a part of the answer. Partha Chatterjee says as much when he speaks of ‘‘minority groups’’ as ‘‘an actually existing category of Indian citizenship—constitutionally defined, legally administered and politically invoked’’ (‘‘Secularism and Tolerance,’’ 375). In other words, a discourse of state, which gives us our constitutional provisions, government policy, and legal practice, also gives us our notions of ‘‘majority’’ and ‘‘minorities,’’ alongside the list of the communities that occupy the domain of national politics. The communities in question, the parties to particular political dialogues, are conjured up to a large extent by this powerful political discourse. It is necessary to note, however, that this privileged discourse is itself the enunciation (or an outgrowth of the enunciation) of particular, powerful classes and communities—which have considerable leverage within the institutions of the state. Besides, there are communities other than these apparently stable religious groups that appear in this same political discourse, even in its more restricted legal-constitutional form: the ‘‘weaker sections of society,’’ ‘‘backward classes (or castes),’’ poor and marginalized groups like the Scheduled Tribes (whom it is necessary to distinguish, politically, from the now politically more prominent Dalits), women, and so on. It is not by accident that we have arrived at the set that is said to make up the (‘‘permanent’’) majorities and minorities of Indian democracy, and hence the parties to the most important national political debates. Nor, as the recent assertiveness and electoral advances of Backward Caste and Dalit parties has shown, is this a stable set. Political parties, associations, and movements are central to the negotiations that produce the particular distribution and hierarchical arrangement of communities that marks contemporary Indian discourse. So, of course, is the state and its legal apparatus.

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It is certainly the case that in situations of massive and long-drawn-out violence (such as many recent civil wars) and general political impasse, the state’s representatives have occasionally opted to talk to what might be identified as the most extreme and best-organized of dissenting political groups (the African National Congress in preliberation South Africa, the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland, the ltte in Sri Lanka, Khalistani, Kashmiri, and ulfa militants in India). Yet it is hardly as clear-cut as all that, even in times of civil war. For there is often a multiplicity of parties involved in any major conflict, as well as many internal divisions and fractions among each of the parties. The identification of ‘‘representative’’ parties and positions is no less complicated in other persistent and di≈cult, if less violently conducted, disputes. Secular feminists have not found it easy to reach agreement on a model uniform civil code, and on rules for opting in or out of it, that would be most suitable for India today. Consider, again, the status of the protests by women, including many Muslim women, in the context of the new Muslim Women’s Act passed by Rajiv Gandhi’s government to defuse what it saw as ‘‘Muslim’’ anger in the Shah Bano case. What would have been the appropriate parties to the debate on secularism at that particular moment? And how do we resolve the question of a quota of reserved seats for women in Parliament, on which upper-caste women members of Parliament and the elected representatives of the Backward Castes and Dalits have taken strongly opposed positions? Let me move from this to another, related question—that of the language of communication between people who live by very di√erent kinds of beliefs and values. Gandhi accepted these latter as di√erent, not to say entirely di√erent, versions of truth (‘‘One person’s truth may appear as another’s untruth’’) and urged everyone to follow the dictates of his or her own truth. He did this in the name of a higher Truth, that of nonviolence and love, which for him formed the basis of all religions and hence of the religious politics he advocated. Ahimsa—nonviolence and love—was to serve as the protocol for relationships, and conversations, among all such political ‘‘antagonists’’ (cf. Skaria). The di≈culty is that some truths (including perhaps that of Enlightenment rationality and modern secularist politics) do not conceive of, or allow, the coexistence of multiple truths in this way, and some (including Enlightenment rationality!) have believed in the need to obliterate other ‘‘truths’’ in order to establish the Truth (on this, see Connolly, Why I Am Not a Secularist). What of those who will not, and perhaps cannot, define God in the nebulous, always

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open way preferred by Gandhi, or accept his proposition about the fundamental identity of all religions? How are conversations to be developed between such groups? This is where the protagonists in the current debate on Indian secularism have returned to the task of urging the state’s intervention in promoting communication, dialogue, and understanding between the religious communities, with the state itself standing in the position of a neutral arbiter. Bilgrami’s is probably the most robust and forthright articulation of the position. ‘‘Internal reform’’ needs to take place on a ‘‘statist site.’’ Unlike Chatterjee, he notes, he has ‘‘made no commitment to . . . intracommunity democratic institutions’’ but insisted rather on the ‘‘necessity for statist reform.’’ The state must ‘‘bring about reform in a way that speaks to the value commitments of communities whom it is seeking to reform.’’ It should provide ‘‘a field of force of internal reasons addressing di√erent communitarian perspectives from within their own internal substantive commitments.’’ (‘‘Literacy, Conversion,’’ 406, 408, 410, 411). Gauri Viswanathan speaks from the same sort of location when she observes that the provisions of the Indian constitution provide no ground for ‘‘religious communication between groups’’ (8). Nandy too continues to hope (against hope) that the state systems of South Asia will still learn something about tolerance from the ‘‘traditional religious communities’’ (‘‘The Politics of Secularism,’’ 338). Chatterjee, who in my view comes closest to Gandhi in conceding the possibility that di√erent parties in this conflict may in fact hold incommensurable positions (‘‘a group could insist on its right not to give reasons for doing things di√erently, provided it explains itself adequately in its own chosen forum’’), nevertheless calls for the institution—presumably by the state—of ‘‘other institutions which have the representative legitimacy’’ to supervise a process of reform within the religious communities (‘‘Secularism and Tolerance,’’ 375, 364). I have underlined the centrality of legal-constitutional arrangements, and of politics more generally, in giving rise to the groups that need to be party to the dialogue on secularism in Chatterjee’s account. This is an important departure from Gandhi’s position, which seems to have been premised on almost natural communities, constituted by birth. On the other hand, Gandhi would seem to have the stronger of the arguments when it comes to thinking about the possibility of dialogue between two incommensurable positions—in the absence, that is, of placing one’s hopes in an impartial state.

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Gandhi responded to the problem of reconciling incommensurable views, as a recent study of his approach puts it, not through an advocacy of democratic negotiation and compromise but by ‘‘working out the politics of neighborliness in myriad singular situations, some of extremely local concern,’’ a move that often led to great frustration among his nationalist colleagues over his ‘‘lack of [a] sense of priorities’’ (Skaria). Pared down to its basics, this invocation of tapasya (self-sacrifice and su√ering) by every individual human body amounts to a search for the truth of neighborliness and the ground for dialogue. Here, I would suggest, relations of dominance, subordination, or inequality are not posited in advance but rather sought to be established, that is, both comprehended and laid down, in the moment of interaction. In this form, the Gandhian formula is perfectly consistent. Yet its utopianism is evident. The Gandhian mantra appears much less feasible as soon as we recognize that not every individual body in the real world can isolate itself in the way Gandhi might have prescribed for tapasya or dialogue. For most individual bodies come as parts of more or less ill-defined and changing constellations of kin, clan, group, age, gender, and class, organized into relations of dominance and subordination that are themselves subject to continuous challenge. Modern states and economies have only underlined and complicated further the fault lines of our individual and collective existences. There is going to be no easy escape from them—which is why the analyst is compelled to return to seeking signs of impartiality, justice, fairness, and patience on the part of the state. Communities and Nations Before we consider the possible response of states and state institutions further, it will help to approach the question of secularism from another direction—that of the ‘‘nation’’ and the communities that it allowed to exist (or willed into existence). In India, secularism made its appearance not only as a concomitant of modernity and nationalism but also as a necessary part of the answer to ‘‘communalism,’’ another modern political development with its own pretensions to nationalism. ‘‘Hindu nationalism was a natural growth from the soil of India,’’ Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in a classic articulation of the secular, modernist position: but—in common with ‘‘Muslim nationalism’’— ‘‘inevitably it comes in the way of the larger nationalism which rises above di√erences of religion or creed.’’ ‘‘Real or Indian nationalism was something

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quite apart from these two religious and communal varieties of nationalism, and strictly speaking it is the only form which can be called nationalism in the modern sense of the word’’ (The Discovery of India, 286; Glimpses of World History, 2:1129–30; emphasis added). In the plural societies of many parts of Asia and Africa, where neither an absolutist nor conquest state had emerged in the early modern period to homogenize religious traditions and cultural practices, the politics of communalism (or what has been called communalism) arose in the colonial period to become a major factor in political debates (for a fuller discussion of the term ‘‘communalism,’’ see my Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India). For all their violent and unfortunate consequences—and these were not trifling—communalisms, no less than nationalisms, had their life in the context of wider debates about the future political community: Indian, Nigerian, Malaysian, Sri Lankan, or other. They acquired their meaning in a contest over the nature of an imagined, national community. What was the character of that community to be? Should it be unitary or federal; what power should the federating units have; what was to be the basis of elections and the delimitation of constituencies? What should be the language (or languages) of the nation, its history, its culture, its flag, and its anthem? What should be its civil code, its marriage and property laws, and the character of its economic development? Should there be special safeguards for minorities and marginalized communities—in education, in public service, in the electoral arena, in the matter of religious and cultural practices? With the establishment of the independent nation-state, that relation to nationalism largely disappears. Nationalism no longer inhabits quite the same kind of vigorously argued, imaginative moment. While the ideals and images, policies and practices of the nation and its state continue to be contested, the nation-state now exists as a powerful and tangible material, intellectual, and spiritual force. It lays down the terms of debate in a way that is rather di√erent, setting out what is politically acceptable and unacceptable, legal and illegal. What emerges in this context are fairly well defined notions of ‘‘good’’ and ‘‘bad’’ community. The nation of course becomes the supreme example of the good (cf. Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments). People may still belong to sundry communities, apart from the nation, but permission to belong and to proclaim such belonging depends to a large extent on the ‘‘lesser’’ community’s conformity or lack of conformity with the current state of the national project

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or, to put it more bluntly, on whether it is seen as threatening to the nation(al) community or not. Members of marginal, subordinated, or politically disadvantaged communities, who were and often continue to be the proponents of ‘‘communalist’’ standpoints and the makers of ‘‘communalist’’ demands, are now formally citizens. At the same time, they are seen as belonging to politically or constitutionally recognized ‘‘minority communities’’ that are preconstituted, unchanging, and in that sense unhistorical. These communities may continue to be participants in political a√airs, but their culture and interests, inclinations, and ‘‘passions’’ are already known from the start. They appear as frozen entities, which are denied the possibility of internal di√erence, political agency, and change, even as they become objects of political manipulation and governmentality in a new way. It may help to pursue the process of this freezing of communities (or ‘‘minorities’’) a little further, for it obviously did not begin with the nationstate. It was in the nineteenth century that propagandists and publicists among the Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, and other religious groupings in India moved to appropriate marginal populations (the untouchables came to be classified as unambiguously Hindu for the first time by Hindu leaders), to purify their communities (‘‘Muslims’’ must not be contaminated by ‘‘Hindu’’ practices, and vice versa), and to establish distinct and separate identities (among religious groupings, most notably in the case of the Sikhs). In this way, notions of an ‘‘all-India Hindu community,’’ an ‘‘all-India Muslim community,’’ and a new ‘‘Sikh community’’ distinct from the Hindus gradually took hold in the later nineteenth century and early twentieth. Partition significantly hastened these processes, and for some time in 1947–48, it was as if great numbers of people all over northern India were marked by nothing but their Muslimness, Hinduness, or Sikhness. Communities like the large peasant caste of Mevs in the Mewati region south and west of Delhi, which had worn their Islam lightly for centuries and were described by observers (and sometimes by themselves) as ‘‘half-Hindu and half-Muslim,’’ came to be treated now as Muslims plain and simple who in the view of many were best dispatched to Pakistan (on this, see my Remembering Partition; and for a detailed treatment of the Mevs, see Mayaram). The ‘‘Hindu’’ and ‘‘Muslim’’ politics and violence of the subsequent decades have exacerbated these tendencies. Even after the experience of Partition, the identification of ‘‘Muslim’’ and ‘‘foreigner’’ was not so readily made in many parts of the country. The anthro-

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pologist David Pocock’s account of a Gujarat village illustrates the point very well indeed. There were four poor Muslim households in the village Pocock studied in the mid-1950s. Two of them were called Vora, the other two Sipai, the former derived from the Shia sect of Bohras, and the latter indicating that some ancestor had been a soldier. One or two pictures in their houses suggested Shia allegiance, but (says Pocock) these Muslims knew nothing of Shia-Sunni or other sectarian di√erences. ‘‘Similarly the Prophet was represented as a holy man, one of many, who was born in India and was the originator of the sect to which they belong.’’ The children were given Muslim names and sons were circumcised, but the families followed customary Hindu rules of property and succession, participated in Hindu ceremonies in the village, and were treated much as a Hindu caste by the other villagers (44). Throughout western India, Bohras and Khojas were recognized as Muslim groups of a special kind: practical businessmen, speakers of Gujarati, well integrated into the local society and culture—more like the Parsis of Bombay than the turbulent Muslims of north and northwestern India (and Pakistan) (on Bohras, see Engineer; on Khojas, see Masselos). Yet sustained campaigns of anti-Muslim propaganda and the major conflicts of the last two decades have nullified the benefits of such exceptionalism too. In March and April 2002, even the rural Muslims of Gujarat, Bohras and Khojas among them, were not spared by the Hindu assailants who spread terror and death among Muslims throughout the state. Thus the forging of entirely new kinds of Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu identity provided the basis for new kinds of struggles for Muslim and Sikh homelands in the middle and later twentieth century (to be matched, in the last couple of decades, by the most ironic of them all—the movement for a ‘‘Hindu’’ homeland in the Hindu-majority country of India). Since the 1980s, arguments have been advanced about how the Hindu majority must unite to avoid being overwhelmed by the minority, how the minority (tied to international forces of various kinds) must not be allowed to hold the nation to ransom, and how it must most certainly no longer be appeased. In India, the immediate context for this was provided by the collapse of earlier constituencies (most notably, perhaps, the alliance between the highest castes and the lowest, along with the Muslims, that had brought the Congress back to power in several elections), and by a new politics of coalitions, ‘‘pragmatism’’ (or realpolitik as it is sometimes called) and a ‘‘make your fortune while you can’’ mentality. In this situation, Hindu right-wing forces—but not

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these forces alone, for the entire political spectrum has shifted to the right, in India as in other parts of the world—were able to generate a heightened rhetoric of ‘‘natural’’ national unity, based now not on a political vision and program for the future but on religious symbols described as the nation’s fundamental heritage. The new commercialization and the much more evident flattening of cultures that came with neoliberalism contributed to this. An increasingly influential group of nonresident Indians, seeking identity and self-definition, now became ardent, long-distance nationalists—fervent supporters of the battle for new Sikh and Muslim homelands and the destruction of a disused (but beautiful) sixteenth-century mosque in Ayodhya—not on the basis of any historical debate or political struggle but rather of the most excessively invested, and reductionist, symbols of nation, community, and religion (for the ‘‘cosmopolitan’’ version of Gujarati asmita [i.e., Gujarati pride, self-respect], see Upendra Baxi, ‘‘The Second Gujarat Catastrophe’’; on Ayodhya, Khalistan, and other such battles, see Gopal; Pandey, Hindus and Others; and Vanaik, The Furies of Indian Communalism). With such support, and the backing of well-entrenched and well-trained police and paramilitary forces, on the one hand, and of major international states on the other, and faced by widely scattered, poor, and very largely unarmed minorities, the parties in power have more or less successfully reinvented the nation-state in a chauvinist Hindu image and successfully cowed down the minorities—except in the border regions of Kashmir and the Northeast. Muslims in India, and increasingly the very small community of Christians too, come under suspicion because of their link to ‘‘foreign’’ (antinational) religions, hence ‘‘foreign’’ (antinational) forces, and more recently in the case of the Muslims to what is widely proclaimed as a worldwide network of terrorism. All of this has substantially altered the world of Indian politics, and with it the conditions of struggle for secularism and democracy. This is best demonstrated through a consideration of the altered inclination of the Indian state. The State of the State A very brief outline of the characteristics of the colonial and postcolonial state may be useful at this point, before we note the dangerous contemporary trend toward the reemergence of colonial conditions within national borders. The colonial state was marked by a clear and sharp distinction between ‘‘subjects’’ and ‘‘citizens.’’ The former, who comprised the vast majority of colonial

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populations and indeed of the population of the world until the middle of the twentieth century, were in the colonial dispensation supposedly being trained for the conferral of citizenship—presumably in the rather distant future. They were, in Foucauldian terms, populations to be disciplined, educated, fashioned, so that they might be infused with increased productive capacity and a greater respect for law and order. The early nationalist states of the postcolonial era announced their arrival by the granting of citizenship rights to all who inhabited their territories, with perhaps just the occasional question mark over the status of marginal individuals or groups. These were classically developmental states, under which the national population was to be made fit (and equal) in a modern world. The focus was very much on education and all round economic growth, as a means to establishing the necessary underpinnings of democracy and modernity. The neoliberal regime of our own time appears to have reverted to a colonial conception of productive ‘‘citizens’’ on the one hand, who provide the elements of enterprise and modernity in our societies, and ‘‘populations’’ on the other, who are lacking in resources, education, and intiative and to that extent unworthy of the privileges accorded to proper citizens. This version of the postcolonial state proceeds to render large sections of the population as fundamentally without rights. However, there is no escape from these populations—unwelcome, and sometimes illegal or barely legal, immigrants; slumdwellers, restless minorities, and so on. They cannot easily be moved out. All that the state can do is to try to ‘‘discipline’’ them in such a way as to maintain, and if possible improve, conditions for the rapid economic advance of the country and its citizens (that is to say, of its more prosperous and privileged classes). This is not a developmental state any more. Terms like ‘‘poverty,’’ ‘‘the poor,’’ and ‘‘economic democracy’’ (or ‘‘economic and social justice’’) have largely disappeared from ruling-class discourse. Nevertheless, while the development or welfare of the people at large seems to matter less and less, legitimacy is still sought and obtained in the name of nation. Trades unions, secessionist movements, and disruptive opposition groups are all quickly pronounced ‘‘antinational.’’ Minorities are targeted for alleged deviation from ‘‘national,’’ and ‘‘modernist,’’ norms. Muslims in India become even more uncertain political quantities than before. Given the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, the Muslims of India have lived since then, and especially at

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moments of strife between the religious communities, under the shadow of the suspicion of harboring loyalties to Pakistan. And the situation has worsened in some ways over the last two decades. For a long period in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the state’s claim to neutrality formed a large part of the argument for the perpetuation of colonial government in Asia and Africa. It is a claim that many postcolonial regimes continued to put forward with even greater insistence, and for a while in democracies like India and Sri Lanka, perhaps with somewhat greater success. This did not long remain the case. In India and Sri Lanka, the state became a much more active (and openly partisan) party to intercommunity conflicts that, once upon a time, it was supposed to have mediated: and while the Sri Lankan regime, almost paralyzed by the war, has pulled back from the brink, there are no such hopeful developments at the moment in India. If communalism refers to a condition of conflict and negotiation between two or more politicized religious communities, the Indian state—or, at least, important parts of the state—have now begun to act rather like a politicized religious community themselves. And the ‘‘communal riot,’’ once thought of as the quintessential expression (and upshot) of communalist politics, has given place to a very di√erent kind of violence. On the partisanship of state forces, let me cite the comment of a senior o≈cer of the Indian Police Service, made in the wake of the anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002. ‘‘Since 1960,’’ he writes, ‘‘in almost all [communal] riots that have occurred, the same picture has been painted in the same colours, a picture of a helpless and often inactive police force that allowed wailing members of the minority community to be looted and killed in its presence, that remained a mute witness to some of their members being burnt alive.’’ Further: ‘‘For an average policeman, collection of intelligence is limited to gathering information about the activities of communal Muslim organizations. It is not easy to make him realize that the activities of Hindu communal organizations also come under the purview of anti-national activities. . . . Similarly, preventive arrests, even in riot situations in which Muslims are the worst su√erers, are restricted to members of the minority community’’ (V. N. Rai). As to ‘‘communal riots,’’ it is enough to say that the worst examples of violence against minority religious communities, over the last two decades and more, fail to fit that description in any commonly understood sense of the term. It is unnecessary to recount details of the carnage that occurred in Delhi

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in 1984, in Bombay and other places in 1992–93, or in Gujarat in 2002. Su≈ce it to recall that, in these as in other instances, hundreds if not thousands of people from the majority community congregated at will for days (sometimes weeks) on end, to attack and loot the persons, property, and wealth of the targeted community. The habitations, houses and shops, vehicles and machines, fields and hand-pumps, that belonged to members of the minority community were identified and marked out in advance, with the assistance of electoral registers, tax rolls, census data, and local informants. The attacks themselves took place with the acquiescence (if not the active encouragement) of the police, the political leadership, and even leading ministers in the government, and with almost no fear of counterattack or loss of life (since the police are ready at hand to ward o√ and shoot any counterattackers), or indeed of punishment (since the police and the existing political leadership are on their side, and even the judiciary seems to be mindful of the views of the political leadership, if not in agreement with them). These were certainly not ‘‘riots.’’ They were organized political massacres, feeding on and fanning the hatred and prejudices of a growing segment of the ‘‘majority’’ community; pogroms sanctioned by the government of the day; examples of a new brand of state terrorism. I should like to add one word, finally, on state terrorism and the prospects of democracy. Let me stay with the example of Gujarat for a moment to clarify the reason for this digression. An attack on February 27, 2002, carried out by some Muslims at Godhra, on a train carrying Hindu ‘‘pilgrims’’ (as it was claimed) returning from Ayodhya, became the occasion for the launching of widespread and barely controlled violence against Muslims in the towns and villages of Gujarat over the next few weeks. A press note issued by the state government on the evening of February 27 described the torching of the train and the killing of passengers as a ‘‘pre-planned inhuman collective violent act of terrorism.’’ Chief Minister Modi spoke of Pakistan’s proxy war and its ‘‘clandestine role . . . behind the Godhra genocide’’ and referred to the latter as ‘‘the pre-planned collective terrorism against Gujarat.’’ Modi in his turn has been hailed as ‘‘the Sardar opposed to terrorism’’ (Patel et al., 13).∂ Six months later, following what might much more reasonably be described as a terrorist attack on a Hindu temple in Gandhinagar, the prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, declared from the Indian Ocean island of Male, where he was attending a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (saarc) meeting, that terrorism was ‘‘on its last legs,’’ the Taliban and Al-Qaeda were

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finished, and there was a global war against terrorism in which India was fully playing its part (The Hindu, September 25, 2002). Since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, the ‘‘war against terror’’ has become an instrument in the hands of numerous powerful groups and states in di√erent parts of the world, India, Russia, and Israel among them, to settle old scores and make easy (financial and political) gains. Opposition to the steps they have taken in doing this has been muted at best, and there has been little by way of a challenge to the nationalist, and even ‘‘humanitarian,’’ arguments advanced in justification of their actions. Governments and bureaucracies have in any case over time accumulated increasing power to do as they want, largely unchallenged— because of their invisibility, their access to information, and an easy recourse to arguments about the sanctity of national interests, above all, the interest of national security. Over the last two years, this exercise of bureaucratic state power has been even more open, arbitrary, and unquestioned. Today this is a notable condition of politics in ‘‘democratic’’ India, as well as in the United States. Opposition, especially from the organized mainstream political parties, is largely restricted to condemnations of government for its poor timing or its failure to pursue ‘‘nationalist’’ policies (such as antiterrorist measures, militarization, or nuclearization!) vigorously enough. Large sections of the population now live in a kind of ‘‘security state’’ even in these ‘‘leading democracies,’’ with increasing restrictions on which o≈cial policies may be debated, let alone combated. In many parts of the world, I submit, the area of religious belief and observance, and more generally that of cultural practice, is very much subject to this new, illiberal regime. These must now, perhaps more than ever before, conform to the definitions (and prescriptions) of the ‘‘mainstream.’’ Instead of a constitutionally guaranteed right to diversity of faith and worship and a struggle for tolerance and understanding based on that, what we have in India today is an intolerance not so much of particular religious practices or beliefs as of the simple fact of existence of people belonging to other religious denominations. Two slogans that were widely touted in Ayodhya (in 1990 and 1992) and Gujarat (in 2002) sum up the new politics of violence that comes with this intolerance. The first, ‘‘Musalman ke do hi sthaan, Pakistan ya kabristan’’ (For the Muslim there are only two places [to go]: Pakistan or the cemetery), left no space at all for the existence of Muslims in the nation-state of India. The second, ‘‘Pahle Qasai, phir Isai’’ (First the butcher [Muslim], followed by

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the Christian), extended the argument to the small Christian community of the country as well. It is this widely advertised intolerance that we have to attend to most urgently. Concluding Thoughts I have argued that the kind of dialogue between religious groups that is invoked by many proponents of secularism requires questioning. It is necessary, first, to recognize the proposed exercise as a political dialogue—a negotiation, in which the parties are not always (or even usually) equal, and in which the state too participates, as an interested and of course privileged party. Second, the statement makes assumptions about the liberal state within which this negotiation is supposed to occur that are no longer valid, and probably never were. The democratic states of our time have been quite prepared, when the need has arisen, to give up their pretenses to liberalism, or to a Habermasian commitment to rational dialogue between legally equal parties in a neutral public sphere. They have shown themselves more than willing to negotiate through violence—within the borders of their countries as well as outside them. What is it that authorizes the kind of violence that I have outlined in the preceding section? The answer, I have suggested, lies in a very widely accepted view of the sanctity of nationalism and the nation-state, and an all too easy equation of the interests of the state with those of the nation. It is an argument about the primacy, naturalness, and supreme legitimacy of the nation that has led to demands for exclusive, unambiguous, unquestioning loyalty to the state and those (temporarily?) in command of it. It is this that has allowed the quick leveling of charges of antinational conduct, treason, and even terrorism against a whole range of political opponents of the ruling groups and classes—from peasant rebels fighting for land rights to disadvantaged minority communities struggling to preserve some sense of self. Anyone or any group that mounts a challenge to the proclaimed national interest is denounced as an ‘‘enemy’’ now. The charge is commonly laid on members of ‘‘minority’’ communities who have what are described as ‘‘foreign’’ links. No particular argument is required to demonstrate their enemy status. It comes from their very being, their ‘‘foreign’’ religions or languages, by the mosques they congregate in, by their links with people (sometimes relatives) in other countries, and by the simple fact of loud, and repeated, assertion. These are enemies and terrorists almost by definition, wreckers of

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peace in the nation (‘‘in every country they inhabit,’’ it is commonly said), wreckers of the nation. It is up to them to prove that they no longer harbor weapons and drugs, that they have given up criminal intentions, and that they will now begin to be like us. As a result of the unchecked advance of such arguments about threats to our nations, frequently portrayed as threats to civilization, the ground for any politics of ‘‘di√erence,’’ not to say the practice of democracy in general, has shrunk considerably. An unyoking of the pair, ‘‘state’’ and ‘‘nation,’’ is one of the most important tasks before us. This seems a crucial step for two reasons. First, so that the state does not cover up its own particular interests (and the interests of ruling classes and factions) as the interests of a sacred community called the nation. Second, so that no community can claim for itself the status of ‘‘mainstream,’’ and hence of ‘‘majority,’’ and hence (since the majority is generally invisible, and presents itself as the ‘‘nation’’) of ‘‘neutrality’’—much like the proclaimed neutrality of the liberal state. With this move, we might be able to hold the state to account as a party to political engagement, which must continually justify the disposition and policies it adopts in favor of particular groups, classes, and sections. This would be a fight for the recognition of all communities—secularists, modernists, conservatives, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, working people, or middle classes—as minorities, with no place for an unquestioned, and permanent, majority (cf. Connolly, ‘‘Europe: A Minor Tradition’’). In time perhaps our states too will be able to celebrate a new society of multiple minorities. Notes 1. These distinctions have of course been usefully problematized in recent debates. Talal Asad has reminded us that the modern category of the secular itself produces the ‘‘sacred’’ and the ‘‘religious’’ in new ways, just as Benedict Anderson and others have underlined the reinvention of the ‘‘sacred’’ in modern, nationalist contexts. However, the commonly understood distinction between these terms will su≈ce for my purposes at this point. 2. For an indication of the range of thinkers who turn to the idea of ‘‘overlapping consensus’’ even if they disagree with particular details in Rawls’s version of it, see Lamore; Gutman; Taylor; Bilgrami; and Bhargava. 3. I take this formulation of Gandhi’s approach to political negotiation from Ajay Skaria. 4. ‘‘Sardar’’ refers to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, close follower of Gandhi and leader of the independence struggle in Gujarat, the ‘‘iron-man’’ of India as he was dubbed when he served as the country’s first home minister.

176 Gyanendra Pandey

Gyan Prakash a

Secular Nationalism, Hindutva, and the Minority


he central challenge posed by post-Godhra Gujarat concerns the place of minorities in the nation’s body politic, not the relationship between secular politics and religion. This formulation may appear odd in view of the liberal dogma that the secularism of the state guarantees ‘‘toleration’’ of religious di√erence. But the Sangh Parivar’s orchestrated violence against the Muslims and its stunningly successful electoral campaign make strikingly clear that it seeks to impose a majoritarian, not religious, domination over the Indian polity. The majoritarian impulse was evident as much in the pogroms aimed to literally annihilate the Muslims as in political declarations by the Sangh Parivar leaders that the safety and well-being of minorities in India depended on the goodwill of the Hindu majority. Drawing force from the American ‘‘war on terror’’ and the general vilification of Islam, the Bharatiya Janata Party cleverly presented itself as a nationalist force locked in a battle against a historical Muslim enemy, Pakistan. Thus, Narendra Modi and other bjp leaders represented themselves as nationalists determined to defend India against the terror in Kashmir and elsewhere allegedly unleashed by General Pervez Musharraf, who was deliberately and unfailingly identified as ‘‘Mian Musharraf ’’ to draw the connection between Muslim Pakistan and Indian Muslims. The strategy was devilishly ingenious, for it succeeded in representing the opposition parties as antinational Muslim-lovers.

Gujarat does not equal India, and it remains to be seen if the Hindutva forces can successfully deploy their post-Godhra strategy elsewhere in the country. In fact, the bjp’s subsequent defeat in the elections to the Himachal Pradesh state legislature cautions us against overreading Gujarat as an electoral barometer. But the meaning of the post-Godhra events is not limited to the electoral arena; the most significant implication of anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat is to be found in the violent assertion of Hindu identity as national identity. With passionate scorn, the bjp dismissed the liberal conception of the state as an institution transcending religious identities and sneered at criticisms that faulted its government for not just failing to protect the Muslims from violence but also for facilitating it. Its anti-Muslim rhetoric did not, however, repudiate the secular state—the bjp ideologues have not demanded that the state interfere in the religious arena, or that religion dictate the a√airs of secular government. Instead, underlying its antiminority politics is the project to position Hindutva as the secular reason of the state. Because the bjp regards India as a fundamentally Hindu nation, it expects the state, as the most abstract and universal expression of the national community, to embody and represent Hindutva as the nation’s unity and universality. This elevation of Hindutva as the secular reason of the nation-state produces Muslims and Christians as populations to be either violently assimilated into the nation or excised as foreign elements. The politics of Hindutva has grim implications for minorities, as the attacks on Muslims and Christians in recent years show with grisly clarity. But what creates conditions for the violence directed at minorities is the minoritization of Muslims and Christians in the national body politic. The bjp’s quarrel is not with secularism, understood as church-state separation and equal protection of all religions, but with di√erence and equality. It does not seek to establish a theocratic state but one no longer prepared, unlike the secular-liberal state, to ‘‘tolerate’’ the Muslims as ‘‘minor’’ subjects of the Hindu nation. Let me be clear. I am suggesting that the bjp is not against the desire to keep the state free of religion but with the principle that secularism requires the ‘‘toleration’’ of minorities. In this sense, its project takes the process of minoritization to its logical extreme by seeking to expunge the minorities altogether from national life. Confronted by this project, the secularists’ response has often been to defend the liberal state’s principle of toleration. But can the language of ‘‘toleration’’ and ‘‘protection’’ defend the minorities when it produces and recognizes the Muslims as ‘‘minor’’ subjects of the nation? 178 Gyan Prakash

Not surprisingly, the challenge posed by the bjp’s ascendance in Indian politics has prompted several important reexaminations of secularism. Critics have interrogated secularism’s history and its conceptual apparatus to determine the reasons for the rise of Hindu nationalism. While these writings have deepened our understanding of secularism and shown that the secular/ religious divide is overrun by conceptual complicities and overlapping histories, they have not fully confronted the implications of the Sangh Parivar’s anti-Muslim discourse. The purpose of my essay is to examine some of the most important recent reflections on secularism in order to ask how they make space for di√erence in the national body politic. Requiem for Secularism? It is ironic that while the last two decades have witnessed systematic o√ensives against Muslims and Christians in India, the idea of secularism has escaped assault from those who have orchestrated riots and pogroms against Muslims and other minorities. Of course, the Sangh Parivar regularly reviles the opponents of its antiminority politics as ‘‘pseudo secularists,’’ and there is something grotesque in the ploy to hold up the cynical propaganda against the state’s alleged ‘‘appeasement’’ of minorities as the badge of its ‘‘true’’ secularism. However cynical and devious this rhetoric may be, and although the bjp regards secularism as a code for anti-Hindu politics, the fact remains that the Hindu nationalists do not seek the union of state and religion. Partha Chatterjee points out that the Hindu right has targeted the Muslims as less than fully Indian, but not the term ‘‘secular’’ itself (‘‘Secularism and Tolerance’’). While some of the more extreme Hindutva elements dream about setting up a ‘‘Hindu Rashtra,’’ the mainstream discourse of the Hindu right does not oppose the secular state; on the contrary, it views the mobilization of the secular, modernizing state as an integral part of its agenda. Thus, the Hindu right demands a more stringent application of secularism so that the Muslims (whose ‘‘communal’’ character the ‘‘pseudo secularists’’ allegedly nurture with a policy of ‘‘appeasement’’) are properly secularized and assimilated into the national body. Ashis Nandy goes further and suggests that the Hindutva forces are not the enemies of secularism; far from being opposed to it, the right-wing Hindu chauvinists represent the pathology of secularism. It is this reading that leads him to proclaim himself an antisecularist (‘‘The Politics of Secularism’’). Although Nandy and Chatterjee do not hold identical positions—indeed, there are very significant di√erences between them—both suggest that secularism may not be the ground for meeting the challenge of Secular Nationalism 179

the Hindutva forces. At the very least, the burden of their argument is that secularism has failed to provide an adequate basis for building a tolerant polity. The stronger claim, articulated by Nandy, is that secularism is the problem; that the erosion of tolerance can be laid at the door of secular modernity’s abandonment of traditional modes of thought in favor of the ideology of reason and progress. In a counterintuitive reversal, whereas the Sangh Parivar’s antiminority discourse exempts secularism from its assault, the defenders of di√erence scrutinize secularism for its blind spots, inconsistency, failings, and plain bad faith. The critiques of secularism center on its genealogy as an aspect of the history of the modernizing state. Clarifying the relationship between secularism and the modernizing state in the context of imperial Britain, Gauri Viswanathan writes: ‘‘In the great secularization movements of the nineteenth century from which the modern state takes its present form, it is possible to discern, if not the origins of modern religious and ethnic strife, then at least prototypical enactments of the drama of citizenship’’ (Outside the Fold, 9). This drama concerned such questions as the relationship between the church and the state, citizenship, and religious a≈liations. Secularization raised these questions by producing civil society as a privatized domain of religious beliefs and distinctions, and by separating it from the public domain of secular citizenship defined by homogenous Englishness. Such a bifurcation of social life into privatized religion and secular political identity set the stage for the subordination and regulation of beliefs by the state and its institutions. Formed in this historical development, secular power found itself violating its own principles as questions of belief were subjected to the claims of reason, logic, and evidence (Viswanathan, Outside the Fold, 12). This was all the more the case in colonial India where the secularization of polity was pursued as an aspect of British domination. The colonial rulers took secular to imply English culture, and the emancipation of the public sphere from religion to mean the regulation of social and religious practices according to secular standards whose foundations were derived from Christianity (cf. Viswanathan, Outside the Fold; van der Veer, Imperial Encounters). This was bitterly contested by Indian nationalists, who, as Chatterjee points out, were loath to permit the colonial state’s intervention in the ‘‘inner’’ sphere of religion. The nationalists were not opposed as such to state intervention in religion, but only to the colonial state’s intrusion in what they regarded as the sovereign sphere of the nation. Thus, Indian independence in 1947 was followed by a

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spate of state interventions in the religious domain even though the new regime was committed to secularism. Such a twin history of secularism and modernization suggests, Chatterjee argues, that the problem of the relationship between the state and religion cannot be resolved within liberal political theory, however stringently and carefully its doctrines are delineated. This is because the specific history of the modern state in India has produced significant departures from key principles of liberal political theory, for example, the violation of the principle of the ‘‘wall of separation’’ between the state and religions. Thus, the Indian state has repeatedly intervened not just on the outer, secular edges of religion but in the very heart of religious matters. Second, liberal theory cannot provide for di√erence when that di√erence refuses to defend itself on the basis of some universal (liberal) principle. The problem here is not that secularism is an imported doctrine. Nor is it the case that secularism has developed in India without reference to its Western genealogy. Brought from the West, and functioning with a clear sense of its Western provenance, secularism’s particular Indian career poses an irresolvable problem for liberal theory. This is not because India constitutes an ‘‘exception’’ to the universal principles of secularism but rather because liberal theory cannot extricate itself from its universalist assumptions and still be true to its founding principles. Secularism’s failure in India to prepare an adequate ground for the ‘‘toleration’’ of religious di√erence, therefore, springs from its historical genealogy as a modernizing project. If Chatterjee attributes secularism’s failure to accommodate di√erence to its tangled history and contradictory theoretical underpinnings in liberal modernity, Nandy o√ers the provocative thesis that secularism’s origin in modernization means that it is fundamentally opposed to tolerance. He argues powerfully and passionately that secularism in India is an imported concept that was first introduced as an aspect of colonial rule and was subsequently eagerly embraced by the modernizing elites in their drive to exercise power over nonmodern cultures and groups. Secularism’s career in India represents the ‘‘colonization of the mind,’’ for it is yet another aspect of the civilizing mission and its war against the ancient faiths that the postcolonial nationstate has internalized. Hostile to religion as faith, secularism treats it only as ideology, thus eliminating from the public arena the rich traditions of tolerance that ancient faiths contain. Deprived of the pluralistic and tolerant culture of traditions, the political realm functions as an impoverished arena

Secular Nationalism 181

dominated by the cold logic of the secular statecraft of modernity. ‘‘Secularism,’’ Nandy writes, ‘‘has little to say about cultures—it is definitionally ethnophobic and frequently ethnocidal, unless of course cultures and those living by cultures are willing to show total subservience to the modern nation-state and become ornaments or adjuncts to modern living—and the orthodox secularists have no clue to the way a religion can link up di√erent faiths or ways of life according to its own constitutive principles’’ (‘‘The Politics of Secularism,’’ 324). Operating as an instrument of modern statecraft, secularism was experienced by most Indians as an instrument of domination by the ideologies and practices of development, megascience, and national security. Because it had banished faith from the public arena, its claim to o√er a moral guide to political action was always weak. Not surprisingly, the gravest challenge to its moral authority has come from forces that claim to speak in the name of religion. The religious realm, which secularism sought to expunge from public life, has come back into politics with the force of the return of the repressed. The defeated forces of faith now haunt the political arena as religious zealots. ‘‘Modern scholarship,’’ Nandy writes, ‘‘sees zealotry as a retrogression into primitivism and a pathology of traditions,’’ when in fact they prove to be ‘‘a by-product and pathology of modernity’’ (‘‘The Politics of Secularism,’’335). The revivalist Hindu of the rss, dressed in khaki shorts and mouthing the Orientalist concept of the Hindu religion, does not fight for Hinduism but for a modern and secular Hindu state. In this sense, secularism has been only too successful, for religion too has become the handmaiden of secular political mobilization and statecraft. Modernity and ‘‘Tolerance’’ Undoubtedly, secularism’s career has to be viewed in relation to the modernizing project. Developed and deployed as an aspect of modern statecraft, secularism’s history in India is connected to the power exercised by colonial and postcolonial elites. But if secularism’s failures are to be located in its complicity with the modernizing project, then does the search for ‘‘tolerance’’ require going outside modernity? And how do these strategies for securing ‘‘toleration’’ make space for di√erence? Nandy’s position is clear. He argues that, because modernization suppresses faith by seeking to establish the dominance of secular values of reason and progress, the grounds for tolerance must be located outside modernity.

182 Gyan Prakash

Calling himself an antisecularist, he advocates the principles of religious tolerance that, in his view, are located outside secularism. ‘‘Religious tolerance outside the bounds of secularism is exactly what it says it is. It not only means tolerance of religions but also tolerance that is religious. It therefore squarely locates itself in traditions outside the ideological grid of modernity’’ (‘‘The Politics of Secularism,’’ 344). Gandhi too, in Nandy’s eyes, was an antisecularist, for he also did not believe in the separation of religion and politics. He practiced tolerance as an orthodox Hindu, deriving his principles of toleration from religion: ‘‘Gandhi’s religious tolerance came from his antisecularism, which in turn came from his unconditional rejection of modernity’’ (‘‘The Politics of Secularism,’’ 343). Nandy o√ers a powerful and poignant account of modernity’s injustices, but his critique of secularism in the name of traditions is fundamentally flawed. To begin with, Nandy’s critique assumes that what he calls religion as faith falls outside the field of modernity. Even if it is true that the modernizing project does not completely overpower faith, it is di≈cult to maintain that the conditions and practice of religion are not transformed under modernity. Furthermore, I do not think that Gandhi’s example supports Nandy’s case. While it is clear that Gandhi o√ers a critique of modernization and locates his own ideas of tolerance in religion and traditions, I think it is a mistake to see him as an outsider to modernity. In insisting on Gandhi’s modern location, I do not simply mean chronological time but his involvement in modern experiences—colonialism, the dominance of Western knowledge, nationalism, capitalist economy, the experience of secularization, the transformation of Hinduism as a religion qua religion, and the problem of relations between modern religious communities. I do not think that it is possible to separate the religious inspiration behind Gandhi’s ideas about tolerance between Hindus and Muslims from his experiences of modernity. Indeed, what gives Gandhi’s discourse its counterhegemonic thrust is that it refuses nativism and o√ers an alternative to modernization by rereading and reinscribing the archive of colonial modernity. Consider, for example, how he crafts the vision of nonmodern India as a collection of village communities from colonial sociology, most notably from Henry Maine (who is cited as an authority in his Hind Swaraj [on this, see appendix]). It is by realigning the terms of modern experience that Gandhi was able to pose a challenge to colonialism. It is commonplace now to contrast and applaud Gandhi’s so-called traditional and religiously inspired ideas of tolerance in opposition to Nehru’s

Secular Nationalism 183

modern secularist notion of India. I do not deny the di√erence, but I should note two points. First, the so-called traditional syncretism that Nandy identifies with religion as a way of life and with Gandhi’s approach also received high praise from Nehru. His Discovery of India is replete with references to popular syncretism, which he opposes to the separatism practiced by Muslim politicians and theologians. But syncretism is typically a modern observation from outside the field of religious practices, not a premodern formulation internal to the practice of ‘‘religion as faith.’’ So there are grounds for identifying shared beliefs between Gandhi and Nehru, and for locating both in modernity. More importantly, Gandhi and Nehru also shared a commitment to the idea of the nation as a singular space. As I have argued elsewhere (G. Prakash, 214–21), Gandhi mounted his critique of colonial modernity from the standpoint of the nation. Indebted as he was to such Western thinkers as Thoreau, Tolstoy, and Ruskin, Gandhi’s impeachment of modern civilization was a political project on behalf of India as a nation. His very beginning as a political thinker and activist on behalf of Indian interests in South Africa is unthinkable without the enabling frame that the nation provided for his discourse. Undoubtedly, his philosophy of the nation di√ered sharply from the Western form, but it is not as if he was an anomalous figure who stood completely apart from other nationalists. This is not the place to o√er a sustained reading of Gandhi, but the main point I want to make is that Gandhi imagined India as a singular national unity. He wrote: ‘‘We were one nation before they [the British] came to India. One thought inspired us. . . . It was because we were one nation that they were able to establish one kingdom’’ (Hind Swaraj, 46). He goes on to say that the introduction of foreigners did not unmake this unity, for India had the capacity for assimilating foreigners and their religions: Muslims, Christians, and Parsis. Religion did not divide Hindus and Muslims, for they shared the blood of the same ancestors; they were brothers. To define the nation as a family was to impose the organic unity of blood and kinship on di√erence. If Muslims were brothers or foreigners who had been assimilated into the family, then is it any wonder that Gandhi’s idea of India as a civilization was defined largely in Hindu terms? There was little awareness that India’s traditions were encountered in modernity with di√erent valuations and authority: some were authorized as intrinsically Indian, while others were ‘‘foreign,’’ and subsequently assimilated into the nation. Implicit in this language of the nation as a unity was the Muslim as someone to be ‘‘tolerated.’’ The Khilafat movement (1920–22) o√ered an important break from this 184 Gyan Prakash

framework as it organized anticolonial resistance with the Muslim at the center of the nation. Gyanendra Pandey (in The Construction of Communalism, 1990) points out that this was the last moment in Indian nationalism in which nation and community were not seen as opposed; instead, India was conceived as a nation composed of communities. But soon after the end of the Khilafat movement, Gandhi went back to his earlier view of India as a unity, and the question of religious di√erence was turned into the opposition between nationalism and communalism. Thereafter, through the 1930s and the 1940s, the Muslim became a sign of unassimilable di√erence, a figure that questioned the nationalist attribution of singularity to the nation. If Gandhi believed that India would integrate Muslims in the organic unity of the nation as a family, Nehru thought that modernization would erase the Muslims’ ‘‘backwardness’’ and assimilate them in the national mainstream. In this sense, the projection of the Muslim as an Other and the constitution of the modern Indian nation-state were related projects; one implied the other. Thus, when the failure of Indian nationalism to accommodate di√erence produced the partition of British India, Indian Muslims became a minority in the nation. The minority status is precisely what Jinnah, among other Muslim leaders, had resisted in demanding equality of Muslim interests with the so-called national interests (Mufti, ‘‘Secularism and Minority’’; Jalal, Self and Sovereignty). With the failure of their resistance, Indian Muslims were rendered a minority in independent India, a minority the liberal nation-state under Nehru pledged to tolerate. By failing to situate Gandhi’s thought and political activities in the context of modernity, Nandy overlooks the implications of the Mahatma’s concept of the nation as a unity. The consequence is, as Aamir Mufti points out, Nandy’s own critique views ‘‘the crisis over secularism as a struggle entirely within the majority realm—between a tiny, Westernized and modernizing elite, on the one hand, and the masses of ‘non modern Indians’ . . . on the other’’ (‘‘Auerbach in Istanbul,’’ 116). There is little attempt to see the minority itself as a place from which the majoritarian discourse of the nation, including the secular variety, can be critiqued. The discourse, whether secularist or antisecular, is all about how to ‘‘tolerate’’ and ‘‘protect’’ the minority; the minority does not appear as a position from which the idea of the nation as a unity, as an organic whole, can be undone. Something of the same problem also appears in Partha Chatterjee’s reflections on secularism. His article springs from the understanding that what has produced the current crisis of secularism in India is not an attack on secularSecular Nationalism 185

ism itself but the use of the power of the modern state to persecute minorities. Given this situation, the challenge before the Indian polity is not to defend secularism but to compel the state to fulfill its duty to protect the minorities, to ensure that it follows a policy of religious tolerance. Rather than undertake the impossible task of equipping liberal political theory to achieve this goal, Chatterjee turns to what he calls strategic politics. This politics does not approach the problem of tolerance from the viewpoint of the state; rather, it seeks to identify conditions under which the minority can assert its di√erence without giving reasons for doing so to the state. This is an ingenious attempt to break out of the present impasse, so allow me to follow the argument closely. Chatterjee argues that the minority’s assertion of the right to be different without o√ering reasons for that di√erence can be read as the failure of the governmental logic, or its incompleteness. Because governmentality has not been able to institute its technologies of governance as an aspect of selfdiscipline or self-subjectivation, secularization is experienced by the minority as the state’s assertion of sovereignty over itself. It is against this sovereignty that the minority asserts its right to autonomy, its right to be di√erent without giving reasons. While liberal political theory cannot defend this right, this claim to di√erence can be made successfully when it is combined with democracy. That is, the minority can assert its right to di√erence without giving reasons to the state so long as it can give reasons within the community. There is an implicit assumption here that somehow the minority’s constitution is external to the legal-political processes and functions of the governmental state. However, it is evident from Chatterjee’s own discussion that the modern state, both colonial and postcolonial, has had a crucial role in constituting the community through its legal enactments. In fact, it is precisely the practices of governance that create conditions of possibility for the constitution of the community, for the delineation of its boundaries, and its visibility in the political domain. The point is that the social cannot be easily read o√ in these categories; indeed, it is the political domain that gives rise to these social representations. If this is the case, that is, if the minority community is itself a category produced within the legal-political domain of the modern state and modern politics, then shouldn’t strategic politics work to challenge the processes that position the minority as external to the state and the nation? In my view, Chatterjee’s defense of the Muslim community’s right to a separate existence does not question the majoritarian definition of the Muslims as external to the inner processes of the state and the nation. The idea that the Muslims can have their separate existence so long as they work out reasons 186 Gyan Prakash

for their di√erence through democratic processes within the community may be designed to integrate them into the national polity, but this ideal endorses the structure that produces a majority and a minority.∞ Nation, Minority, and Secularism I do not deny that Indian polity contains a majority-minority structure, or that it is imperative to reflect on ways to defend the minorities’ rights. Rather, what I am arguing for is a form of strategic politics that questions the structures of identity and authority that organize the nation and its Others along majorityminority lines. The origin of this structure, I have suggested, can be traced in the history of Indian nationalism. For the Indian nationalists, the Muslims constituted an excluded di√erence, a sign around which the nation was imagined as uniform and united (Devji; Mufti, ‘‘Secularism and Minority’’; Pandey, ‘‘Can a Muslim be an Indian?’’). Even if Indian nationalists did not, unlike today’s Hindutva ideologues, define India as Hindu, secular nationalism could not permit the Muslim to undermine the idea of the nation as an organic unity. Therefore, they represented the Muslim as a backward figure, a sign of ‘‘communal’’ consciousness. Consider, for example, the nationalists’ persistent representation of Muslims as unduly religious. This image was confirmed by the stereotypical depiction of the Muslim male as bearded and wearing the Turkish fez (and women clad in burqas), even though the Muslim experience of secular modernity was varied and produced a range of ideologies, personalities, and sartorial styles.≤ Unable or unwilling to accommodate the figure of the secular Muslim who could be nationalist and a Muslim at the same time, the Congress leadership fell back on the image of the Muslim as traditional and retrograde. This depiction of Muslims as unusually religious was not, pace Nandy, a product of secular modernity’s war against religion but secular nationalism’s subordination of di√erence. After the partition of the subcontinent, the expectation of the nascent Indian nation-state was that modernization and education would lead Muslims, now rendered into a minority community, to shed their ‘‘communal’’ mentality and become assimilated into the national body. Meanwhile, the state would provide for the ‘‘toleration’’ of Muslims. It is this structure that the Hindutva ideologues seek to dismantle by seizing on its rendering of Muslims as a retrograde and communal minority. Their demand is that the nation must not ‘‘appease’’ the minority but instead force the secularization of their communal character. In this connection, it is worth noting that the Sangh Parivar regularly claims that Hinduism is by nature peaceful, capaSecular Nationalism 187

cious, and open to di√erence, whereas Islam is allegedly intrinsically fanatical and insular. From this premise, the claim arises that whereas the ‘‘pseudosecularist’’ state unnecessarily forces the Hindus to secularize, it coddles the ‘‘communal’’ Muslims, who are the fit targets for secularization. Witness, therefore, the Hindutva call for the enactment and application of a uniform civil code. In this sense, Nandy is right in describing the Hindu right as pathological secularists, though we should remember that the aggressive push to secularize the Muslims is a drive to erase di√erence altogether and constitute national culture without even the majority-minority structure that secular nationalism established. In confronting the Hindu right, therefore, secularism cannot simply reassert the case for ‘‘tolerance,’’ for that merely rea≈rms the minoritization of Muslims. In any case, the secular-nationalist hegemony itself has run into a crisis as it finds itself unable to pursue the modernization and globalization of Indian society without expanding the ideological idiom of rule. The Sangh Parivar has emerged at the point of this crisis to dismantle the majorityminority structure once and for all and forge a new ruling consensus based on the forcible assimilation of the minorities into the majoritarian conception of a uniform national culture. In the face of this challenge, it is necessary to reexamine secularism not from the position of the state but from that of the minority, as Chatterjee suggests. But this requires us to question the nation as an organic, majoritarian space and envision it as an open, plural space of contingency and contention. At the very least this means holding the conversation on secular politics not among an assumed center of majority of the nation but from the point of view of those defined as minorities in order to rework the structure that produces di√erent valuations of culture and power. By this I do not mean recoding the minority as part of the majority. Rather, the inclusion of the minority in the discourse of the nation is meant to draw attention to the task of rethinking secular politics from the excluded and subaltern position. Notes 1. Commenting on the persistence of majority-minority structure in Chatterjee’s analysis, Aamir Mufti writes that ‘‘the minority subject’s refusal to give reasons for his or her di√erence in no way alters the structure within which the minority is cast as the site of unreason, and reason subsumed entirely within the life of the state. It also leaves intact the externality of minority to the nation-state’’ (‘‘Auerbach in Istanbul,’’ 120). 2. In this connection, see Shahid Amin’s poignant discussion of the persistence of the stereotyped Muslim in contemporary India.

188 Gyan Prakash

Romila Thapar a

Secularism, History, and Contemporary Politics in India


his essay concerns the ways in which the past was and is being used by Hindu religious nationalism not only to politicize history in order to support a particular ideology but to then use such history for political mobilization. This is not to deny that there is a link between the social sciences and political ideologies but rather to caution against invoking history to support political agendas. Under the bjp government in India, the function of history among the agencies of the central government was subordinated to its use in the political mobilization for the party in power.∞ It was also used for trying to forge a cultural identity that could be exploited to support this mobilization. This is a familiar development in the other South Asian countries as well, although the identities thus forged are di√erent. Nevertheless, history is the pivot of this agenda. In India, where there has been a strong tradition of independent historical writing, this history came under attack. Although the attempt was confined to the discipline of history, it raises a broader issue concerning the nature and quality of the educational curriculum that was introduced at school level, with the intention of extending a similar interpretation of history to university level as well. The defense of the discipline of history as an exploration of knowledge that I o√er here is also part of the defense of the idea of India as a democratic, secular society. When India became an independent nation-state, a number of

modern values were emphasized. Among them were democracy, secularism, and the establishment of social justice. The debate on democracy was encapsulated in the discussions on adult franchise and the holding of regular elections. A secular society implied that there would be no discrimination on the basis of religion, and the institutions of civil society would not, as far as possible, be controlled by religious organizations. Thus the curriculum in schools, colleges, and universities would be secular. Religious instruction would be confined to religious institutions. Secularism assumes the right to follow the religion of one’s choice, a right that is given in the Indian constitution. Social justice demands an equality of citizenship and a priority for human rights. These values were not put into practice in an absolute sense and there were crises involving their application. But there was more than just a verbal commitment to them and various groups made sustained attempts to make them e√ective. Negating these values was unheard of even if they were problematic for some sections of society. Under the bjp, there was the danger that all three were being discarded as values. Both democracy and secularism were under attack from government policies and from groups claiming to support ‘‘cultural nationalism,’’ implicit in which is the idea of giving priority to Hindus as citizens of India rather than maintaining the equality of all citizens. Hindutva or Hindu-ness is explained as meaning the ideals of the Hindu way of life, but it was propagated as a political slogan and increasingly connoted an aggressive exploitation of Hindu sentiment for appropriating political authority and status. Gujarat 2002 left many with the fear that anything would be justified in the name of defending the Hindus. Not all Hindus are supporters of a Hindutva ideology, but it has a following, and an influential following at that, in the middle class and especially in many parts of northern India. It gave a new shape to what it described as Hinduism—and despite its hostility to Islam and Christianity, it has borrowed substantially from these religions in its structure and organization, di√erentiating it from premodern Hinduism. I have elsewhere referred to this new, sectarian Hindutva Hinduism as a form of Syndicated Hinduism. In Gujarat, its recent recruitment of the obcs (Other Backward Castes), Dalits, and tribal peoples as abettors in the murder and plunder of citizens had an echo of conquest and conversion, with the aspiration of upward social mobility providing an incentive. Such an aspiration does not require a religious conversion but assumes that Hindutva will enable acceptance into a higher social status. The characteristic of religions indigenous to India is that they had a relative 192 Romila Thapar

openness of belief and practice. It has been argued that the religions of India were essentially religions of orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy (and possibly this could be said of China as well). Religion in India was a mosaic of juxtaposed cults and sects. Some of these had an inherent connection with certain social groups, others deliberately cut across social groups. There was no single label by which they described themselves and they were identified as Vaishnava, Shaiva, Shakta, Nathpanthi, and so on (see my ‘‘Tyranny of Labels’’). Belief ranged from animism to the most sophisticated concepts of deity. This permitted a flexibility of belief, although not always a flexibility of social identity. Christianity and Islam in their Indian manifestations, particularly at the popular level, were also characterized by similar tendencies. I am not suggesting that the flexibility brought about tolerance, but that a distinction has to be made between intolerance inspired by religious agendas and that inspired by the rules of social organization. There was more of the latter than the former. The concept of ‘‘holy wars’’ was absent. The new form given to Hinduism by Hindutva ideologues is at the root of the view of Indian history and culture propagated by the Sangh Parivar, which is evident from the attempt to replace existing views that range over many historical explanations with a single view, supporting a particular ideology. The undermining of democracy comes about through the insistence on maintaining that the functioning of Indian society has always been in terms of its constituent religious communities. The Hindus form the majority community, and the Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and Parsis form minority communities. Since in a democracy the wishes of the majority prevail, it is said therefore that the Hindus, being the majority community in terms of numbers, should determine public decisions. This of course is to make a mockery of democracy, since a democratic majority is not a predetermined majority and decisions can and do cut across religion and other identities. In a democratic way of functioning, the constitution of a majority opinion cuts across various identities and changes with each issue. A predetermined majority distorts the notion of rule in accordance with the majority. The concept of majority and minority communities is also a refusal to concede that Indian society in the past had multiple identities—identities of caste and social hierarchy, of occupation, of language, of religious sect, and of region. Religion was only one among these. The centrality of each identity was dependent on the issue at stake. But there is now a denial of this multiplicity in the projection of the religious community as preeminent. As in virtually all premodern societies, social justice with equality of status Secularism, History, Contemporary Politics 193

and access to resources did not feature as essential to the organizing of society. Hierarchies of various kinds were regarded as normal and were not questioned. The questioning of these is fundamental to modernization. Nor was there earlier any significant concern with issues of human rights, whether they related to the availability of justice, social welfare, or education, for example. In the process of modernization and particularly after independence, these were seen as the necessary foundation to the development of the nation. But today, with the reversal of the values that Indian independence stood for, they are of little consequence. There is a di√erence between the kind of history that many of us were attempting to write in the last half century and the turn that was initiated through the teaching and propagation of a Hindutva version of history under bjp rule. Fundamentalist histories tend to endorse many colonial theories about the history of their colonies. In this the Hindutva version of history is no exception and is largely a revival of nineteenth-century colonial history. Some of it is taken as it comes and some is stood on its head. But there has been no development of any new kinds of historical explanation. In the early nineteenth century James Mill wrote The History of British India in which he periodized Indian history into three periods—Hindu civilization, Muslim civilization, and the British period (on Mill, see Majeed and also Thapar, Interpreting Early India). These were accepted without question. Although in the last fifty years various historians have challenged this periodization, it came to be reinforced once again in the Hindutva version of the Indian past. Mill had argued that the Hindu civilization was stagnant and backward and the Muslim only marginally better—and that the British colonial power was an agency of progress because it could legislate change for improvement. In the Hindutva version, the Hindu period is regarded as the golden age, the Muslim period the dark age of tyranny and oppression, and there is relative neutrality about the colonial period. This allows for a focus on the Hindu and Muslim periods, which as we will see, would become essential to the political projection of the religious nationalisms. Nationalist historians of the twentieth century had initiated a critique of the colonial period but tended to accept the notion of a Hindu golden age (see Majumdar et al.). They did not distance themselves to assess the validity of this description. Many were upper-caste Hindus, familiar with Sanskrit texts and sympathetic to the idea of a Hindu golden age. In the same way, the argument

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that the history of the Muslim period was based on Persian and Arabic sources tended to attract upper-caste Muslims to this study and they too were sympathetic to what was stated in the sources without questioning them. Even those who critiqued Mill’s periodization merely changed the period nomenclature from Hindu-Muslim-British to Ancient-Medieval-Modern in imitation of the periodization of European history. There was debate over those colonial interpretations of Indian history that were negative, but there was little e√ort to change the methods of analysis or the theories of explanation. Mill’s projection was that the Hindus and Muslims formed two uniform, monolithic communities permanently hostile to each other because of religious di√erences, with the Hindus battling against Muslim tyranny and oppression. No concession was made to segmentation within the communities in terms of the varying histories of castes and religious sects. This was the view of many colonial writers on India; and, in terms of presenting historical sources, it is exemplified in Elliot and Dowson’s eight-volume History of India as Told by Her Own Historians, published in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The history is from the writings of Muslim chroniclers and writers, the assumption being that there was no writing of Indian history prior to the coming of Islam. This view was further reinforced in the colonial understanding that the Muslims of India were foreign and alien. It was as if Muslims were—one and all—migrants, all claiming descent from the Turks and Arabs who had settled in India. This may have held true for a very small section of the elite, but the vast majority were Hindus who converted to Islam. The regional and linguistic variations among Muslims in India gave rise to many cultural and sectarian di√erences that militated against a uniform, monolithic religious community. This was similar to the groups that were labeled as Hindus. The blurring of formal religious boundaries was particularly evident in the non-elite sections of society—in e√ect, the majority. Conversion is seldom a break with the previous way of life and invariably carries some of the cultural ways of the earlier identities. Further, not all the Muslim migrants were invaders; many came as pastoralists, traders, and associates of Sufis and other such sects. The views establishing what is now the Hindutva version of history are reflected in the writings and beliefs of the founding ideologues of the Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sangh (rss) and of Hindu nationalism. V. D. Savarkar converted ‘‘Hindutva’’ into a political slogan encapsulating an aggressive Hinduism. His definition of an Indian stipulated a person whose pitribhumi (the land of

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his ancestors) and punyabhumi (the land where his religion originated) were within the territory of British India (see his Who Is a Hindu? 39–40, 68 √., 89). This for him disqualified the Muslims, Christians, and Parsis. The communists were added to the list as well. M. S. Golwalkar, in We or Our Nationhood Defined (10 √.), stated unambiguously that non-Hindus could not be citizens.≤ Further, he maintained that there had always been a single Hindu society and culture rooted in Vedic Brahminism. Islam had intervened and tried to destroy it, therefore Islam should be expunged. No concession was made to the many religious movements in pre-Islamic India that had opposed Vedic Brahminism—the Buddhists, Jainas, Lingayats, Shaktas, and many others. Even the great e√lorescence of Hinduism through Bhakti—the devotional movement which began in the pre-Islamic period but became more widespread in the period of Muslim rule—is ignored, probably because some Bhakti sects also questioned Brahmin orthodoxy (Thapar, ‘‘Imagined Religious Communities?’’). The demand that Muslims living in India today should be sent to Pakistan because they are foreign has no validity since Indian Muslims are neither foreigners nor migrants. It parallels similar demands by the neoFascist movements in Europe and North America that migrants from the developing world should go back to where they came from. In the one case the distinction is based on religion, and in the other on race. Curiously, the Hindu diaspora in the developed world does not seem to recognize the parallels. In the early twentieth century two new kinds of nationalism, other than the mainstream anticolonial nationalism, acquired visibility. These were religionbased national groups for whom the identity of an independent nation-state was to derive from the religion of the majority community in the proposed state. Religion-based nationalism drew directly from the colonial interpretation of Indian history in projecting imagined religious communities and giving them a political reality. It featured an entwining of communal historiography and religious nationalism. Muslim nationalism aspired to and eventually succeeded in establishing Pakistan. Hindu nationalism is still aspiring to make India into a Hindu Rashtra. The two-nation theory was essential to both the Muslim League and the ideologues of Hindutva. These nationalisms were not primarily anticolonial. They endorsed the colonial views of the past and therefore they were opposed to the other religious community. Thus, for Muslim nationalism, history became significant only with the conquest of India by various Muslim rulers and the establishment of Muslim rule. For Hindu nationalism, Hindu civilization was the sole identity of India, there-

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fore, from ad 1000 onward, the Muslims, in conquering India, destroyed this civilization and the result was a permanent conflict. The history of the second millennium ad was seen as that of Muslim conquest and Hindu resistance,≥ and that is how it was projected once again in the new history textbooks for schools prepared by the bjp government. This is also the kind of historical interpretation that prevails in the states of Pakistan and Bangladesh, where the pre-Islamic history of the subcontinent is largely ignored as a subject of research and study. In India, as was evident from the bjp’s state-sponsored textbooks, the assumptions of the two-nation theory also obtained, and history was taught from the perspective of Hindu nationalism. In India the challenge to existing historical explanations was demonstrated in a widely publicized way over the question of a temple to Rama having been destroyed by the Mughal king Babur and replaced by the Babri Masjid (on which see S. Gopal). This approach has been extended to virtually the entire span of Indian history and more particularly to the period after ad 1000. The reconstruction of the history of Ayodhya as taught in the rss schools—the Shishu Mandirs—contains more fantasy than history. The distinction between the two is deliberately blurred. There have been no theoretical critiques of a seriously historical kind of mainstream history—perhaps because such critiques require wide reading and an intellectual understanding of historical problems. The only refutation consists of publicly abusing a few selected historians who were invariably described as ‘‘leftists’’ and were even referred to as ‘‘academic terrorists’’ by the then Minister for Human Resource Development. The Hindutva version of history was written and expounded generally by nonhistorians—by engineers and computer specialists and by religious organizations. So there has been little understanding of historical method and the complications in handling source material or the theories of historical explanation. Nor was there any familiarity with the kinds of changes that have altered the discipline of history from what it was a century ago. Hindu nationalism takes exception to the history that has been written in the last fifty years. A number of historians made extended analyses of some of the themes initiated by anticolonial nationalism, such as the questioning of Mill’s periodization and the colonial concept of Oriental despotism (on which see Wittfogel). Other historians have explored other facets of the social, economic, and cultural history of India. This has resulted in Mill’s scheme being replaced by another periodization: prehistory and protohistory, early historical/ancient, early medieval, medieval, and modern. The attempt

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has been to bring history into the purview of the social sciences and of interdisciplinary studies. This change began with debates about a variety of Marxist and non-Marxist interpretations, some readings of the Annales School, and the use of the comparative method in history. A number of new and relevant questions have been raised and sources analyzed anew to answer these questions. The field of history has expanded to include the study of economies, technologies, the theories of state-formation, the social context of religious sects, environment and ecology, gender studies, and social history—in fact, the normal components of good history. Research of this kind established the legitimacy and recognition of multiple voices and cultures and the plurality of religions for all periods. The reading of texts as sources is not limited to a literal reading and there is a questioning of texts for new kinds of information that helps delineate the details in our understanding of the past. Historical research now calls for new features that included testing the reliability of the evidence and not taking all sources literally; requiring a critical inquiry into the data; and understanding the logic of analysis on which to base historical generalizations. This is far removed from the kind of simplistic, onedimensional view of history that Hindu nationalism has been propagating. Another area of debate relates to the question of Indian origins and identities. The Hindutva attempt is to reformulate these so as to prove the primacy of the Hindus, which would then enable them to claim priority as the primary citizens of India. The beginnings of Indian history have to be rewritten to establish the genesis of Indian society as Hindu, and Hindu as defined by Vedic Brahminism. The Indus civilization as the earliest record of a sophisticated culture in the Indian subcontinent has been read as the achievement of the Vedic Aryans and called the Sarasvati civilization so as to evoke Vedic connections. The contradictions in this argument are many. The date of the Rigveda, generally taken to be 1500 bc at the earliest, has now to be taken back to 3000 bc, which is untenable on the existing textual evidence. The Rigveda depicts a typically agro-pastoral culture and does not reflect the advanced urban Indus civilization. The archaeological and the linguistic evidence is incompatible with this new theory, therefore the supporters of this view generally ignore the linguistic evidence and interpret the archaeology in their own manner.∂ Archaeological data is described as ‘‘scientific’’ and therefore irrefutable, arguing that the data speaks for itself. There is little acknowledgment that the data is dependent on the person who is interpreting it. Pots do not speak.

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The insistence on this interpretation means that the Hindus are supposed to have had an unbroken lineal descent for five thousand years. In order to maintain that the Hindus are Aryans and all others are non-Aryan and foreigners, it has to be argued that the Aryans and their language Sanskrit are indigenous to India. This view is taken to such lengths that there was even a computer-distorted image of a Harappan seal attempting to pass o√ a bovine as a horse in order to establish that the horse—associated with Aryans—was known to the Indus civilization (Witzel and Farmer). These views endorse those of V. D. Savarkar on the question of who qualifies to be a Hindu. Aryan consciousness has become the key to civilization in India. One is reminded of the parallels in the Nazi use of archaeology in the 1930s to prove the Aryan origins of the Germans. The associations become more evident now that it has been established that both Savarkar and Golwalkar expressed their admiration for Fascist policies and had connections with the Fascists in Italy and Germany (Casolari). A major figure in the rss, B. S. Moonje, when he visited Italy in 1931, was impressed by the organization of the Italian Fascists—the Balilla movement—and he based the organization of the rss on that model. These were common perspectives on how to manipulate society and they did not preclude the extermination of a section of the population. References to the Aryan identity and the Vedas being the bedrock of Indian civilization are theories that go back to nineteenth-century Indological interpretations, both European and Indian (Trautmann; Robb). Aryanism in its racial dimension was the prevailing theory in explaining how societies were constituted (Poliakov). The most influential writing linked to India and the Aryans was that of Max Mueller, who postulated the coming of the Aryans and their bringing civilization to northern India at the expense of the autochthonous people. The centrality of the Aryans and of Sanskrit and the Vedas to Indian civilization are theories taken from Mueller, but they are turned inside out by the argument that the Aryans and their language were indigenous to India. Interestingly, even this insistence on the Aryans and their language being indigenous to India, and on India being the cradle of world civilization, has an ancestry that goes back to the nineteenth century, to nonscholarly but influential Western sources. Madame Blavatsky, who together with Colonel Henry Steel Olcott and others founded the Theosophical Society in 1875, propounded similar views (J. Leopold). They spoke of the dark-skinned Ary-

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ans from Oudh civilizing Egypt in pre-Vedic times. Olcott settled in India in order to propagate Theosophy and was closely connected with the brief merger of the Theosophical Society with the Arya Samaj of Dayanand Sarasvati. The question has been raised as to whether the theories of the two organizations borrowed from each other. Dayanand believed that the Aryans crossed the border from Tibet, and then from India they took Aryan civilization to various parts of the world (Jordens; Jones). A much-discussed question was whether the British and the Indian could be regarded as kin-related since they both belonged to the Aryan race! (K. C. Sen, 23). A major strand of Theosophy in India lay in its revival of Hinduism manifested through the interest in mysticism, the occult, and theories of the superiority of Aryan civilization. Some Theosophists such as Annie Besant became ardent nationalists and joined the mainstream of anticolonial nationalism. Others, such as Colonel Olcott, reinforced notions of Hindu nationalism, and this reinforcement was seen as a statement of sympathy for Indian nationalism. In certain circles Hindu nationalism was becoming a subtext within the broader national movement—a subtext that came to be viewed as continuous with other strands in the national movement by anticolonial nationalists like K. M. Munshi.∑ Madame Blavatsky established many centers, especially in Europe, where the study of the occult was becoming increasingly popular. Theosophy contributed to the empathy of some in the West for the mystical and occult bases of Hinduism in India and Buddhism in Sri Lanka and Tibet. Such theories purportedly gave Indians a pride of place as Hinduism was being honored in the West. Few, however, followed up what was actually being said in the name of Hinduism and the use to which it was put. In recent years studies have linked these centers with the germination of the Nazi ideology (GoodrickClarke). The occult, which drew on Blavatsky’s version of Hinduism and Buddhism among other writings, had a role in the creation of the ideology that evolved into Nazi theories. Although Madame Blavatsky’s claims of communicating with the occult ‘‘mahatmas’’ with whom she said she studied were declared fraudulent in 1885, she continued to have a following and wrote extensively on the spiritual and the occult. The theory of Aryan race, perhaps the most widely accepted theory of European superiority at the time, was associated with these ideas, since only those with superior perceptions could understand the communication with the occult masters. The theory of Aryan race had a considerable hold on Indian thinking as

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well and was adapted to a wide spectrum of views in the later half of the nineteenth century. The more obvious adaptations have been discussed by historians, for example, the ideology of Dayanand Sarasvati and the Arya Samaj, which reflected some of the discussions then current on Aryanism and the manner in which they were molded to accommodate the social and political requirements of middle-class Indians. But historians have paid less attention to other contemporary views that may not have been so prominent at the time but which have since surfaced as theories intended to provide identities to large groups of Indians. At the time when Olcott was maintaining that the Aryans were indigenous, Jyotiba Phule, writing in Marathi, had a di√erent take on the theory. Phule supported a version of an Aryan invasion which he saw as an invasion of alien Brahmins speaking Sanskrit, and as a result of which the existing indigenous inhabitants were subjugated, oppressed, and relegated to lower-caste status. For him the lower castes were the rightful inheritors of the land but were denied this right by the Brahmins. The conflict therefore was over the establishment of caste, which became the process by which the foreign Brahmins appropriated the rights and the land of the indigenous peoples. The Hindutva version, on the other hand, eventually follows the views of Olcott and the Arya Samaj and goes to the other extreme. It had a long gestation period with some ambiguities about the status of various groups of people. The crux in this version is not the di√erence in caste, as in Phule’s theory, but the di√erence in religion. The Hindu Arya—in which category the Buddhist, Jainas, and Sikhs are subsumed—is indigenous and therefore the inheritor of the land; and other religious groups are foreigners. Savarkar’s theory provides the framework for this analysis (Thapar, ‘‘Some Appropriations’’; Omvedt, Jyotiba Phule). That such theories are rooted in colonial views is evident because it is assumed that Indian society and culture did not change in past times. This assumption was axiomatic in colonial views of Indian history. Indian society was deemed so static that it did not express a sense of history, since history assumes the recognition of change (MacDonell, 11; Rapson, 54). For the Hindutva version of history, the Hindu period was one long unending golden age. The notion of an unchanging Indian society has been challenged in the historical writings of the last century and has been discarded as a generalization even about Hindu civilization. Going back to the views of the nineteenth century means that little attempt is made in the Hindutva version to understand the important question of the

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interface of cultures and societies and how these change and evolve. This question has a direct relevance to the study of society and culture as depicted in the Vedic corpus, the texts that are being quoted as foundational to Indian civilization, but which, it would seem, are not being studied by those who claim to use them in this manner. For example, there is no concern with analyzing the varying processes through which languages spread or how crucial these variations are to understanding change within cultures or acculturation through juxtaposition with other societies. That there was an Aryan invasion was once held as the explanation for the arrival of the Indo-Aryan language in the northwest and the evolution of Sanskrit. Few support this today. The focus has shifted to seeing the coming of the Indo-Aryan language through a series of migrations, probably smallscale ones at that. Such migrations introduced new facets of culture that were interwoven, together with the languages, into the existing societies whose presence is recorded in the Vedic corpus. The interweaving of languages is evident from the presence of Dravidian and Munda linguistic forms in the Rigveda. The cultural facets require a more careful evaluation of archaeological evidence (Thapar, From Lineage to State). In the Hindutva version there is no recognition that invasion and migration are two entirely di√erent processes and particularly so in the impact they have on existing cultures and societies. Those historians who argue for migrations are branded as supporters of the theory of an invasion. Cultural change is a complex subject, requiring control over varieties of data and some familiarity with explanations of cultural change. The di√erences in the processes of migration and invasion are self-evident. Migration is a graduated process and change may be manifested in a gradual transformation of language and in aspects of social organization. Invasions are serious disturbances where the major change is manifested in agencies of control. None of these is an issue for discussion in the Hindutva version. It is of course much easier to merely deny the existing interpretation of history and replace it than to discuss the implications of the replacement, particularly where the latter fantasizes wherever it chooses, rather than remaining within the boundaries of history. It is easier to implant a new theory if the old one can be summarily dismissed. History does not move through either/or generalizations, as there are many areas between the two that have to be considered. There are many nuances and negotiations that are involved in how societies accommodate internal contradictions and external interventions. But the Hindutva version of history is a

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sledgehammer history reducing everything to a single reading, narrowly defined according to its own choice. The teaching of this history, therefore, takes on the form of a kind of catechism, as is evident from the history textbooks used in schools in Gujarat and in the schools run by the rss—the Shishu Mandirs. Questions and answers are dictated and there is no deviation from either. The intention of the bjp government was to establish the Hindutva version of history as the only version. This intention was projected at every level of the educational system. It began with a change in the curriculum for schools and the claim was that there would be a value-based education. The new subjects to be taught at the middle school level were social studies, which involves minimal amounts of history, geography, civics, and economics; religious instruction, which is intended to acquaint students with the principles of the major religions; Sanskrit-made-easy; Vedic mathematics, di√erent from the usual mathematics; yoga and consciousness—whatever that may mean. Students were also to be judged by something called a spirituality quotient replacing iq tests. The textbooks to be used for these subjects were written and issued by the National Council for Education, Research and Training (ncert), which is a government organization that controls the textbooks used in all schools run by the central government. Since it also, in e√ect, controls the major examining boards, its control extends to many more categories of schools. The treatment of the four subjects included in social studies was inadequate. Moreover, they were set out in a way that would never excite the curiosity of the student or encourage the student to explore the subject further. Despite its being a textbook, the book on ancient Indian history for class VI, for example, had some glaring howlers that have been pointed out by many teachers. There was virtually no attempt to assess the treatment of the subjects from a pedagogical perspective. Since memorization was the prevalent mode of teaching in schools, badly written textbooks were to be memorized. There was no consultation with the Central Advisory Board of Education, or with established educational bodies or committees of specialists, which had been the normal procedure in the past. The personal idiosyncrasies of those supervising and writing the textbooks were only too evident. The usual procedures for the writing of school textbooks by the ncert to ensure the reflection of mainstream opinion in the discipline were dispensed with in favor of partisan textbooks supporting propaganda rather than the discipline. The attempt was

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to homogenize school education through a syllabus conforming to the lowest common denominator. Significantly, history as an independent subject was abolished at this level of schooling. The minimal history included in social studies was based, predictably, on the Hindutva version of history. Before these new textbooks came into use, certain portions from the old textbooks that were contrary to the Hindutva view were deleted and the examining boards ordered that the themes of the deleted portions—such as the eating of beef in ancient India, or the evolution of caste—were not to be discussed in school. Those of us who were authors of the earlier books protested the deletions since they amounted to the ncert making changes without consulting authors, an infringement of copyright. We also protested against the ban on discussing certain themes in school and argued that school was precisely the place where such discussion should be encouraged. But our protests were ignored. Presumably the government was not concerned with honoring its agreement that no changes would be made in the books without the agreement of the authors, nor was it bothered about the smothering of discussion in school. The debate over the textbooks was projected by the Education Ministry as a battle between ‘‘Leftist’’ and ‘‘Rightist’’ historians. But public opinion quickly began to see it for what it is—a change from professional history to shoddy history, as one newspaper article put it. A confrontation over history was also in the making at the university level. The University Grants Commission—the main funding body of university teaching—tried to intervene in determining the history syllabus of each university. The University Grants Commission claimed a mandate on what was to be taught in the universities and attempted to impose a substandard, outdated syllabus on university courses in history. This measure would have annulled the exploration of knowledge and the pursuit of anything but the most pedestrian history. Failure to adopt the new syllabus carried a threat intimating the termination of funding. Some history departments with meager finances would therefore have folded. The irony of the threat was that the University Grants Commission had the finances to fund many new fully fledged departments of astrology, in a desperate attempt to carry out the mandate of a government seeking to prove that astrology is a science. No amount of opposition from scientists was able to halt this obsession. But there was no attempt at any serious academic investigation. An academic study of astrology would mean a familiarity with Mesopotamian, Greek, Chinese, and Arabic texts on the subject, apart from those

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in Sanskrit, since premodern Indian astrology evolved from the interaction of ideas from all these sources. Premodern astrology is the basis for the practice of astrology in India today. Justification for departments in astrology and the training of priests in Vedic ritual was presented as an e√ort to ensure that such courses provided the nonresident Indians abroad with astrologers and priests for rituals. The funds could be better spent in improving university libraries and facilities for research. Even the best collections in libraries are frequently in a dreadful state and facilities for research at such centers are far from encouraging. This is particularly the case where new technologies are required, even if only to be aware of what is going on in the world. It is interesting that the computer distortion of a Harappan seal was detected by scholars not in India but in the United States. In a country of limited resources, priorities have to be carefully worked out with attention to how a university library or research center can maximize the availability of resources, instead of squandering them on the whims of political ideologues. Research projects on the Indian freedom movement, started a few years ago through the Indian Council for Historical Research (ichr), also ran aground. The government terminated a major and significant project on publishing documents relevant to the last two decades before Indian independence. The project, entitled ‘‘Towards Freedom,’’ required that the various editors put together and publish documents from Indian sources pertaining to this period. This was partially a counterpart to Nicholas Mansergh’s multivolume compilation of documents from British sources, The Transfer of Power. A substantial number of volumes of the ‘‘Towards Freedom’’ project have been published. Two sets of volumes that were in press and edited by K. N. Panikkar and Sumit Sarkar were suddenly withdrawn and remain unpublished. Although no reasons were given, some believe that the withdrawal was effected because the volumes contained documents proving the collaboration between various Hindu nationalist organizations such as the Hindu Mahasabha and the rss with the colonial government of British India. Let me conclude with the question of how we should defend not only the discipline of history but also the future of education in India. We will need to continually critique the propagandist version of history and define what professional history is actually about. What the bjp government did was not just an assault on history but on knowledge generally. We will need to try to reestablish the earlier procedures involving consultation and discussion through

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professional bodies and educational institutions, and we must try to reduce, if not eliminate, the possibility of decisions about education being taken arbitrarily by any politician. It will be an absurd situation if the educational curriculum has to be changed each time there is an election in India and the government changes. If the intention of the bjp’s educational curriculum was to produce a generation of young, pliant, unthinking Indians, then the policy might well have succeeded. However, this would have a√ected the aspirations of the Indian middle class. So far, the middle class has been notoriously unconcerned with the contents of school education. As long as their children can get the requisite number of marks and move on to university and to scholarships to the developed world with the potential of getting jobs and settling there, parents are satisfied. This is in part because the well-to-do sections of the middle class can send their children to private schools to prepare them for study abroad. Schools for other sections are therefore allowed to deteriorate. But if courses in social studies, Vedic mathematics, and yoga and consciousness failed to equip students to clear the entrance exams to foreign universities, then perhaps there would be dissatisfaction with what is being taught. Ideally one would like the dissatisfaction to arise irrespective of the links to jobs in the first world and to be motivated by improvement of the quality of education generally. But such idealism is di≈cult to assume. It is not just a coincidence that the trend toward religious fundamentalism in India—Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim—was contemporary with the induction of India from the 1980s into the economies of globalization. The rising aspirations of the middle class were and are inspired by the visions held out by globalization and the success of a small fraction of this class. But the downside is that for the majority of the middle class these aspirations are not met, and there is a widening disparity between the suddenly a√luent and the rest. The latter are caught up in intense competition and su√er from insecurities with the breaking down of earlier forms of broad-based intercommunity living. They have therefore been turning to narrow identities and the culture of violence. The new communities created by globalization tend to be based on religious identities. The process is apparent in all the countries of the South Asian subcontinent. There is also a search for ways of upward social mobility, one of which is seen as recruitment into the well-financed, fundamentalist religious organizations. The process has been fueled by a wealthy section of the Indian diaspora that has no intention of returning to India but acts as an

206 Romila Thapar

incendiary by financing and supporting the politics of religious fundamentalism and of violence. History retrieves multiple pasts that underlie the pluralities of societies and cultures. This plurality is essential to exploring and advancing knowledge about the Indian past and in understanding the Indian present. The prospect of the deliberate erosion of knowledge is chilling both because of the intellectual blinkers that it imposes and because such ignorance is often a prelude to antagonism and violence that frequently cannot be controlled. If we are to be the inheritors of our civilization, we must ensure that there will be no closing of the Indian mind. Notes This essay draws on a lecture I gave at Oberlin College in September 2002. 1. The bjp is part of a wider organization known as the Sangh Parivar which includes the rss (Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sangh), the vhp (Vishva Hindu Parishad), and the Bajrang Dal. Some claim to be ‘‘cultural organizations’’ although their activities relate to political mobilization. A common bond is their support of the Hindutva ideology and of Hindu religious nationalism. 2. For an analysis of the idea of a Hindu community as a political movement, see T. Basu et al. 3. This view was expressed early on by Aziz Ahmad. 4. There is as yet no insightful, academic analysis of this debate. For a rather general survey, see E. Bryant. 5. This becomes sharply focused in specific decisions, for example, the debate among national leaders immediately after 1947 as to whether or not the temple at Somnath should be rebuilt as a symbol of Hindu resurgence.

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Arvind Rajagopal a

The Gujarat Experiment and Hindu National Realism Lessons for Secularism


ho could digest the ‘‘poison’’ of the Gujarat elections without inviting instant death? According to then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Bharatiya Janata Party alone, like Lord Shiva, could partake of the venom, digest it, and remain alive (The Hindu, December 25, 2002). In this extraordinary image, Vajpayee may have been referring to the party’s electoral invulnerability, such that even the gruesome violence on and after February 27, 2002, at Godhra could not a√ect the bjp’s chances of victory despite all the charges of political connivance. Far from expressing regret at the death and destruction, Vajpayee appeared to be boasting of the aura it created around the party, which had made it more godlike and fearsome. Part of the dismay following the bjp’s victory in the state assembly elections in Gujarat in 2002 was that despite extensive media coverage of the violence against Muslims, the party connected with the violence, namely, the bjp, won comfortably.∞ Interestingly, violence was almost exclusively limited to constituencies where the Congress had posed a threat to the bjp in the past, in North and Central Gujarat. The bjp won fifty-two of sixty-five seats in these regions, far more than elsewhere in the state. If there were any doubt of the link between the bjp’s victory and the violence, a poll conducted by the Centre for the Study of Develop-

ing Societies clarified the matter. In its survey of voters, 55 percent of Hindu respondents (73 percent of those who responded to the question) agreed that the post-Godhra riots were ‘‘necessary to teach a lesson to anti-national elements’’ (that is, Muslims). While this category includes a larger proportion of bjp voters, it should be noted that 47 percent of Congress voters (69 percent of Congress voters who responded to this question) also agreed with this endorsement of violence (Y. Yadav, ‘‘Patterns and Lessons,’’ 12). Was it the case with Gujarat that reports of violence against Muslims conveyed to many voters merely the justifiable response of a party avenging Godhra? Many anecdotal accounts did indicate that Godhra provoked a demand for revenge. Does this imply that modernization and the growth of communications has finally promoted a realist mode of perception, with the masses attributing the causes of collective action to objective events recorded in television and print news? Posing the question thus underlines the transparency accorded to publicity, and the self-evident status ascribed to facts. It is true that discussions of political news tend to be dominated by a realist frame of perception and by what Ernst Bloch has defined as ‘‘the cult of the instantly ascertainable fact’’ (34). Yet publicity does not produce transparency; facts are neither self-evident nor instantly ascertainable. Vajpayee’s words, presented above, confirm that a naïve realism is inadequate to understand Hindutva. Certainly we did not notice a collective inclination toward realism when it came to assessing, say, claims about Ram Janmabhumi, polygamous Muslim men, or ‘‘pseudo-secular’’ politics. The response to Godhra was indeed rationalized as a reaction to the perceived reality of an incendiary Muslim mob and what it wrought. But it does not follow that this rationalization was itself justified. Many have assumed otherwise. One columnist wrote that the images of burnt bogies and charred bodies, beamed through the evening of February 27 and the morning after, ‘‘made it real.’’ When it became known that twenty-six women and ten children were included among the dead, what followed was inevitable, he said, explaining that the mobs included large numbers of new middle classes with television sets (Prem Shankar Jha). This appeal to the realism of the televisual medium, by a reluctant critic of the bjp, acknowledged in an apologetic fashion the unsustainability of older fictions that, presumably, the older middle classes could have been relied on to keep, through their more old-fashioned and implicitly more tolerant codes of conduct. We can tentatively call the form of realism being invoked here Hindu

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national realism, not to identify a fait accompli by any means, but rather to underline the fact that it is not by brute power alone that Hindutva works. A political project like the bjp’s is not confined to politics narrowly understood but is world-making in its aims and seeks to shape the forms of knowledge emerging along with it. Modes of perception and terms of understanding corresponding to them are created, implausible to the skeptical, no doubt, but providing a self-confirming universe to others. My purpose in this essay is to locate points of contradiction in this project and to ask how secularism, with its own more sober and distinguished truth claims, could have allowed this alternative form of realism to grow with so little hindrance. In this respect, talking about Gujarat to people who do not identify themselves in one way or another as either a supporter or an opponent of any political party has been interesting. Chatting with an undergraduate of Gujarati origin, active in organizing South Asians for a South Asian studies program on the NYU campus, I asked what people had been saying about recent events in Gujarat. She had just told me that nearly half the students of South Asian origin were Gujarati, so I assumed there must have been some mention of the riots. She looked blank. What events? she asked. There were many people killed, I said, not wanting to say too much. There was an earthquake in Gujarat two years ago, she said, trying to guess what I might have in mind. We raised some money for it, she added. This conversation occurred some months after Godhra but in the midst of national debates on the Gujarat elections. Although the massacres that had recently occurred were extensively televised, my query evoked no recognition. It was tempting to dismiss this as the response of an uninformed youth to a vague question. I was reminded of it a few days later when speaking on the telephone to an elderly relative in India, S. An invalid who spent her evenings in front of the television, she had always impressed people with her recall of events, public and private. See what they’ve done—they’ve come into a temple and killed people, she said, referring to the attack at Akshardham temple in September 2002. But this is because of all the killings that just happened, I replied. What killings? she asked, sounding perplexed. All the killings that happened earlier this year, when many people died, I said. She remained confused. There was an earthquake sometime ago, she said, implying that was what I must be referring to. S. had not voted for decades and took mainly a dramaturgical interest in party politics. I don’t think her failure to remember was deliberate. Violence committed by so-called Hindus did not seem to register as violence. Neither of the per210 Arvind Rajagopal

sons I spoke to seemed to recognize Hindu aggression; both referred instead to the earthquake, invoking a metaphoric Richter scale of destruction and tectonic shift. Somewhat similar accounts emerged from Gujarat itself. A human rights lawyer who investigated the Gujarat killings reported that, when she asked schoolchildren what happened in the year 2002, they replied, ‘‘Godhra.’’ Asked what else happened, the children said, ‘‘Akshardham.’’ Pressed to indicate if anything else happened, they mentioned terrorism, implicitly of Muslim origin, in other places. Only on further coaxing did they allude to violence against Muslims, dismissing it as a reactive episode.≤ The accounts reported here are neither specifically religious nor political. They cannot be ascribed to ignorance in any simple sense either. News about Gujarat was abundant, but absorption of their import was contingent on prevailing frames of understanding. To invoke media bias as an explanation is also unsatisfactory. The little available analysis of news coverage about Gujarat does not point to any obvious pro-bjp tilt. Thus, for instance, the Editors’ Guild Report has concluded, after a survey of news coverage on Gujarat, that ‘‘barring some notable o√enders, especially Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar and certain local cable channels,’’ the news media played an exemplary role (Editors’ Guild, 28). Siddharth Varadarajan has gone further, to say that the news media were critical in bringing the violence to an end, and that it would have gone on for longer if not for press and tv coverage. Perhaps we still have much to learn about the structures of popular perception and cannot assume the self-evident power of a realist sensibility. If the Hindu tele-epics mark a moment in recent history when a significant shift occurred in the culture, away from secularism and toward a more Hinduized polity, Godhra, I suggest, signals another important movement in the same direction, one that can be understood in terms of the bases of truth claims made, and their relation to the perceptible world. The tele-epics broadcast on Doordarshan beginning in 1987, and becoming a staple of television culture thereafter, invoked a mythic idea of history and the sense of a lost utopia, against an unspoken conception of the present. Competing ideas about the world did not, therefore, have to be reconciled in the reception of these serials; they could coexist jointly in the appreciation of narratives whose precise status as fact or fiction was not relevant. Godhra, however, dramatically brought Hindutva’s mythic world of marauding Muslims and helpless Hindus into the templates of reality television and live action news. The Gujarat Experiment 211

Secularism in India and an Epistemological Break Announcements of the crisis of secularism tend to swell and subside with the advance or retreat of specific political parties. The Congress Party used to be and once again has become identified as the bulwark of secularism. When its complicity with communal violence and Hindutva was revealed, for example, in the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, or in the demolition of Babri Masjid, misguided leaders, whether Indira and Rajiv Gandhi or Narasimha Rao, were blamed. Party identity became the sanctioned way of tracking the issue, collapsing questions of what parties actually were and what they claimed to be. Crucially, there was a recognition that secularism was a state-led exercise and that for all its aberrations (aberrations in the practice of secularism, and in the functioning of ruling parties), it was necessary to preserve the idea of the Centre as capable of being neutral and secular. It was this necessity that underlay the practice of tracking politics via a relatively facile understanding of party identity. What this led to, however, was the assumption that the party in power occupied a politically neutral ground. Even with the bjp, some critics sought to preserve this fiction. Thus the apparent reluctance of Hindu nationalists to attack secularism itself, and their readiness to smear ‘‘pseudosecularists’’ instead, was held to indicate a residual Nehruvian reticence on their part, and even a tacit a≈nity with secularism. To be sure, when challenged on the matter, Hindu nationalists claimed to be more secular than secularists themselves. But the incoherence of this claim when taken together with the insistence on Hindu dominance indicated an expedient polymorphism rather than a covert Nehruvianism. When the bjp came to lead the ruling coalition, the limits of such a tautological mode of reasoning became more obvious than before. For example, although the Congress opposed the bjp, the limits of its capacity to advance a secular agenda were more than evident. And the unexpected victory of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance in May 2004 over the bjp and its coalition persuaded few people that the victory was motivated chiefly by secular forces. Without engaging with the reasons why secularism shifted from its cultural and political eminence, and, instead, asserting simply that it ought to retain its place of pride, we may fail to realize that the entire field or basis of reference may have shifted, while defending something that has accrued a set of meanings unrecognized in our own debates. My discussion here is therefore in the spirit of a secular critique of secularism, an attempt to acknowledge the inevi-

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table myth-making accompanying a state ideology such as secularism (NavaroYashin), and to inquire into its own complicity in the crisis of secularism. Arguments about secularism in India usually place themselves within larger debates in philosophy or political theory, to the exclusion of a more historical or sociological treatment. I will say more about the reticence of advocates about the social bases of secularism below. Su≈ce it to note here that their arguments have focused on the relationship between religion and politics and the capacity of the state to e√ectively separate the two. Categorical terms such as ‘‘religion’’ and ‘‘the state’’ have dominated these discussions, provoking a prescriptive mode of writing, with arguments about what the state ought or ought not to do. Approaching the subject by considering situated forms of knowledge leads to the terrain of society, meant to be a√ected by secular policy. A more descriptive approach is thereby enabled, and this is helpful, since how communal and secular politics unfold is not predictable in advance but requires investigation. There is perhaps good reason why society as a category has been scarce in debates on secularism. Even at the time of the Constituent Assembly debates, religion was understood to permeate the lives of South Asians to such an extent that it became the operative term policymakers considered; modern society, gesellschaft, was a precarious achievement at best (see, for example, Ambedkar’s defense of the need to reform personal laws, Constituent Assembly Debates [1946–1950], vol. 7, 781). Secularism was therefore preeminently a domain of prescription, of determining how best to create a nation where religious influence was minimized. As a result, secularism was an expert matter, adjudicated by professionals on a case-by-case basis, with the treatment di√ering according to whether the issue was political elections, religious groups, government quotas (for jobs or for educational institutions), and so on (Galanter, ‘‘Hinduism, Secularism and the Indian Judiciary’’). But the debate on secularism experienced an epistemological break when it shifted from being an expert to a political matter: the mechanisms by which the object of knowledge called secularism was produced changed (Althusser and Balibar).≥ In the 1980s, the question of secularism came to be seen as an all-or-nothing issue (see U. Baxi, ‘‘The Struggle for Redefinition’’). Specifically, it became a question of national identity. This is not to say that national identity was absent or unimportant before. What the surfacing of national identity as a problem indicated rather was that its earlier form came to be questioned. To the extent that a secular nationalism

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was earlier preponderant, we can say that the identity corresponding to it came under attack. More precisely, there had not been a concerted attempt to challenge it before. When competing ways of seeing the world gained valence, secular nationalism was revealed to be underelaborated as a theory and underrepresented as an identity. It is possible that the kinds of innocence or ignorance cited above were prevalent before. Under a Hindu nationalist hegemony, they clearly take on a di√erent significance, however, and lend themselves as elements authorizing a specific horizon of interpretation, one that we have called Hindu national realism. Secularism for its part had sought to establish and sanction its own worldview, of course, one that clearly came into crisis. We can locate the first major moment of this crisis in the post-independence period not with Shah Bano or the opening or the destruction of Babri Masjid, but earlier, during the Emergency of 1975–77. Secularism, together with socialism, became the watchwords of Indira Gandhi’s government at this time, and were used to identify enemies of the state, of whom there were many. Both terms were undefined, so it was left to the ruling party to determine who was not secular, and who was not socialist. To quote Rajeev Dhavan, ‘‘It cannot be overlooked that ‘secularism’ and ‘socialism’ were the major ideological weapons of the Emergency. It is quite clear that the pathological practice of the Emergency lay in using these values in order to silence criticism and control the opposition. For, who is to be the judge of what constitutes the essence of a ‘religion,’ a scientific temper or a superstitious belief ?’’ (10). If then, secularism had been, among other things, a tool of sovereign power to consolidate itself, after the Emergency, both ruling and opposition parties increasingly distanced themselves from its use regardless of who was in power.∂ There developed a reaction against the emblems of the Emergency, and an increasing reliance on religious identity as a tool for getting votes. The releasing of popular democratic forces during the opposition to the Emergency, together with the expansion of the means of communication, led over time to a realignment of national a√airs, bringing it in a somewhat closer relation to ground-level politics. The importance of the rss and its a≈liates in the politics of the Emergency often tends to be overlooked. It needs to be marked because it helps to place Hindu nationalism in a wider historical process rather than in a timeless world of fanaticism. With the opposition leaders in jail (and a section of the parliamentary left supporting the Emergency), the rss was probably the

214 Arvind Rajagopal

largest grassroots organization in north India, and it seized the opportunity of becoming the voice of the underground, with the blessings of J. P. Narayan. From being a deeply self-absorbed organization focused mainly on characterbuilding, the rss began to experience the possibility of harnessing itself to popular energies and acquiring political power. The victory of the Janata Party in 1977 was a victory for the rss as well, and its members acquired important cabinet posts for the first time. It was from here on that a sustained process of experimentation in the use of religious ritual and symbolism in popular mobilization began, leading to the Ganga Jal yatra in 1983, and the Ram Janmabhummi Andolan thereafter. Previously, the rss had itself been abstemious in its use of prevailing Hindu practice, fearing that the choice of any one symbol could alienate those who favored di√erent deities or other modes of worship. Hence it had invented a new symbol, the sa√ron flag, which for the rss represented the ‘‘living god’’ of the Hindu nation. More broadly, Hindu nationalists began to cultivate new strategies of communication as shortcuts to power, departing from the predominantly cultural role the rss had till then mainly focused on. Instead it began to carve pathways into the political process itself, albeit in the guise of a religious movement (Rajagopal, ‘‘The Sangh’s Role in the Emergency’’). What I want to emphasize here is the importance of the media in enactingwhat I am calling an epistemological break in the career of Indian secularism. A limited, top-down, and adjudicatory debate on secularism became transformed into a question of national identity. This development made it impossible to address the issue as before, on a negotiated and pragmatic basis. Instead secularism was rendered into an all-or-nothing matter, conflated with Indian society as a whole. Once this shift occurred, the battle was already lost, at least for the moment. For the matter was plain: few could claim to lead secular lives, or, for that matter, wished to. Parallel Worlds in a Split Public The introduction of television provided the technical means for thinking the nation as a unified entity across a public divided by barriers of language, literacy, and region (with nationwide broadcasting beginning in 1982) and helped precipitate identitarian modes of addressing national questions (such as of secularism). The decision to televise Hindu epics pro√ered a narrative basis for imagining this unification. It was not surprising that Hindu nationalism was the most e√ective at making political capital out of this oppor-

The Gujarat Experiment 215

tunity and mobilizing national sentiment on the ground. Here the incapacity of secularism as a political force was revealed. Except for a well-educated minority, secularism could not provide an e≈cacious identity in the contests that ensued. The socially dominant portion of this minority was Englisheducated, for whom class and cultural privilege were intertwined with secular identity in ways that were di≈cult to disentangle. As a symptom of the kinds of problems involved here, we can recall that ‘‘secularism’’ was itself an English word, for which no proper South Asian equivalent existed (P. Chatterjee, ‘‘Secularism and Tolerance,’’ 350–51). If secularists could often not distinguish between challenges to their politics and resentment of their cultural privilege, it was because political form and cultural privilege appeared as one. One reporter’s account on a visit to Gujarat after the riots provides an interesting example of the di≈culties of engaging across linguistic and cultural divides. The columnist Tavleen Singh, when chatting with some young men at a teashop in Mogri, found that their support for Narendra Modi was quite open; for instance, they told her that if the Congress was in power, half of them would be in jail since Narendra Modi could not protect them. She then asked if they thought the massacres of Muslims and the rape of young girls in Ahmedabad had been a good thing. They replied ‘‘with angry unanimity and conviction’’ that there had been no rapes except in Godhra, where twenty women, according to the Gujarati newspapers, had been raped. Tavleen Singh told them that this was incorrect, and that Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar had published denials. With more anger, the young men—of whom there were thirty or forty—said, ‘‘It is the English newspapers that tell lies.’’ As Singh insistently carried on a debate with them, the men launched into an attack against the English press that was ‘‘so angry and so aggressive that it seemed that there could be more violence,’’ and so she left. Tavleen Singh does not explore this incident further. It is worth asking why, for the young men, no defense was considered necessary when it came to Gujarati newspapers, even when they contradicted Hindutva claims. Similarly, it is striking that for Tavleen Singh, the charge that English newspapers tell lies is worth repeating only as a portrait of a communal mindset. The accusation itself is so uninteresting that no rebuttal is required. It was these men, and those like them, who were under investigation; to turn the telescope around was not required. Here we can glimpse not only the mythic world of Hindu national realism but the parallel universe of secular realism, in an event that, despite a serious

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attempt at investigative journalism, appears like a missed encounter. One way to initiate a description of it is to indicate the material bases through which secular realism is constituted, in the means of its mediation. It is appropriate that the example chosen features a print journalist, because print news culture is indeed a privileged orbit of these parallel worlds. Print helps reinforce particular forms of knowledge without disclosing the identity of those who gain most by upholding these forms of knowledge, and its public is bounded by shared recognition of a given language. We can locate Nehruvian secularism here, at the level of sociolinguistic practice, in its adherents’ ability to switch between di√erent linguistic codes and registers, specifically between English as a language of command, and indigenous languages. Performative competence in elaborated codes of the English language appears as the public secret of secular realism. That secularism was identified with Englishlanguage speakers was known to all, but it could not be admitted by Englishlanguage users themselves, since this would obviously compromise the position from which they defended secularism, as well as secularism itself. What did it mean for secularists to uphold realism in a society where realist narrative tropes were evident mainly in their scarcity, where the achievement of realism proceeded unevenly and contradictorily in a nationalist project that worked through a public split by language, caste, and creed? How did realism operate across a language divide when it was always seen to be anchored in the perceptual ‘‘neutrality’’ and objectivity of the English-language news culture, and this news culture in its turn based its authority on a state whose neutrality was hardly a general assumption? Seen from the side of indigenous languages, it could be argued, as it has been argued, by Hindu nationalism, that the state was never neutral but passed from one form of colonialism, British-led, to another, led by a technocratic English-speaking elite. Sober realism was hardly adequate to capture the registers of responses to this new and perhaps unforeseen marginalization, that is, the cultural invisibility of the Indian-language intelligentsia despite its history of being at the forefront of the anticolonial struggle, and the demographic majority it stood for, vis-à-vis English-language speakers in India. The realist epistemology of the English-language elite often appeared like a relatively painless achievement because inherited from elsewhere. To establish and inscribe a realist aesthetics for an Indian-language audience and simultaneously to dethrone this sensibility as it currently existed in the Englishlanguage press (which provided the access route to the English-language

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elite), to institute a di√erent mode of realist perception—this can be described very briefly as part of the Hindu nationalist project, although to state it in this summary fashion is already to give it a coherence that such a mammoth undertaking cannot possibly possess. A member of a major ‘‘western Indian’’ newspaper family described the problem to Robin Je√rey thus: ‘‘You have to articulate the spirit of the people. . . . [English-language newspapers] want to project an image of liberalism. Now liberalism is fine, but when the majority of the population is Hindu, you have to take that thing into consideration too’’ (294).∑ His placement of liberalism within English-language papers, and his implication that the majority Hindu population would prefer Indian-language newspapers, unless the English press altered its political philosophy, is noteworthy. Je√rey’s important work on Indian-language newspapers provides insights into their institutional culture. He discusses Gujarat Samachar and Sandesh, leading Gujarati-language papers that were both cited by the Editors’ Guild for inflammatory coverage, reported to be bitter rivals constantly seeking to undermine each other. The following quote from Gujarat Samachar in 1999 gives some flavor of the character not only of their rivalry but as well of their reportage: ‘‘Taking refuge in thuggery and blackmail, Falgunbhai [the owner of Sandesh] is flailing to save disintegrating Sandesh.’’ Samachar was accusing Sandesh of punishing the director of a theatrical play for refusing to purchase advertising space on its paper, by attempting to have the play banned for obscenity. On the next day, Sandesh retorted: ‘‘Anyone can use bazaar language and obscene words, but readers buy a paper to read the news. They are not interested in the war of words of the owners of the papers’’ (Gujarat Samachaar, February 3, 1999, 12, and Sandesh, February 4, 1999, 16; cited in Je√rey, 137). There is no disguising the competition between the papers; on the contrary, it is dramatized for the reader’s pleasure. Here is a clue to an important di√erence in news culture. Politics is not separated from news through the same kinds of conventions that operate in English-language news; indeed, in this example, it permeates the writing. Even while acknowledging that ‘‘the news’’ is not supposed to contain ‘‘bazaar language and obscene words,’’ the editors themselves duke it out before their readers, although in a distinct editorial way. The writers’ tone here is personalized and vindictive, even libelous. There is no pretense at impartiality; rather, each interlocutor adopts a lofty moral attitude while accusing the other of immoral and/or illegal behavior. There

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is no insulation of professional authority that editors can take comfort in. Honesty and decency rather than objectivity and neutrality are the expressed norms of journalistic conduct here. As such, their appeals to their readers are couched in deeply personal protestations about character and reputation, and assumptions about the regulatory and normalizing force of the law are conspicuously absent. Rather, their debate is conceived as one where the participants must themselves compensate for the underpoliced space they work in, with a strength of character that is, inevitably, wanting. The divided character of the news-reading public expresses more than a translation gap. They exist in di√erent cultural worlds and partake of distinct ways of perceiving newsworthiness. They are aware of each other, but as can be expected, it is the culturally and politically subordinate world of Indian-language news that has a much keener sense of its hegemon than vice versa. This much is well known. What is not su≈ciently appreciated, however, is that, when communication is known not to be neutral or transparent in specific and structured ways, it also becomes available for political exploitation. This became clear during the Gujarat elections, through reports that were, however, little noticed by commentators. Manifestos and Their Manifestations in the Gujarat Election Campaign Election manifestos may be an increasingly hollow ritual, but as statements meant to embody party principles they can still be revealing, sometimes in ways that the parties themselves do not intend. Owing to the intensive media scrutiny during the Gujarat election, a few specific stories about the way the campaigns took on a di√erent shape according to their audience made it into the English-language papers. For instance, the Congress was revealed to have di√erent manifestos in English and in Gujarati. The English-language manifesto demanded ‘‘a white paper on the Godhra episode’’ and espoused the values of secularism against ‘‘narrow-minded communalism’’ at some length. It condemned communal violence, blamed the state government and the chief minister, Narendra Modi, for it, and expressed concern for the consequences of violence on minorities. It described the assembly election as a battle for the soul of India, between the ‘‘forces of narrow-minded communalism’’ and the ‘‘forces of secularism.’’ Secularism, according to it, was the ‘‘bedrock of our nationhood’’ and the election was about the ‘‘preservation of a heritage to which all communities of India have contributed.’’ The Congress, it

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claimed, was the inheritor of Mohandas Gandhi’s mantle and the bjp that of his assassins.∏ The party’s Gujarati manifesto, however, although seven pages longer than the English-language manifesto, could still find no room to mention secularism or Indian nationhood, or even to criticize the bjp. It spoke, instead, of a battle between ‘‘humanity and demons’’ which if anything echoed bjp antiMuslim rhetoric. It attributed unemployment and poverty in Gujarat, somewhat vaguely, to manmade calamities and riots without distinguishing between these events (Ghatwai). Kamal Nath, who was the All India Congress Committee (aicc) general secretary for Gujarat, sought to clarify the matter. The Sabarkantha mp Madhusudan Mistry, who had undertaken the rendition into Gujarati, had been hard pressed for time, and this had resulted in errors in translation, Kamal Nath said (‘‘vhp: We’ll Repeat our Gujarat Experiment,’’ Indian Express, September 4, 2002). It was more likely that the party was ensuring errors in translation, based on the systematic gaps between its English- and Gujaratilanguage practices. These di√erences corresponded to its national and statelevel activities respectively. Arguments about secularism and about minority victims could be made by national leaders like Sonia Gandhi. At the state level, things were not the same. The Congress Party candidate contesting Narendra Modi’s seat in Maninagar was Yatin Oza, who had been a bjp mla for two terms. In interviews given during the December 2002 election campaign, the bjp’s inability to build a Ram temple at Ayodhya was Oza’s most often repeated example of that party’s untrustworthiness. The Congress in Gujarat was headed, of course, by Shankarsinh Vaghela, an old rss man and a former colleague of Narendra Modi. The major election platform of the Congress was cow protection, a staple of Hindu orthodoxy. To ensure that its image was unsullied, the Congress did very little relief work among riot victims; Congress mlas visited relief camps in secret on the rare occasions they did pay any attention to them. Further, the Congress fielded almost exclusively Hindu candidates, and nominated only four Muslims, of whom at least two contested for seats the Congress did not expect to win. The bjp manifesto, for its part, made no mention of Godhra and its aftermath and focused instead on ‘‘security.’’ It o√ered proposals to launch an antiterrorist movement by training youth and forming village-based cells in coordination with the defense ministry. It also promised an anticonversion law in Gujarat, and regulation of education in the state’s

220 Arvind Rajagopal

madrasas, in addition to ‘‘good’’ administration, or as proof of it (‘‘Two Manifestos: Congress Explains It as Translation Faux Pas,’’ Express News Service, December 1, 2002). When a reporter asked Narendra Modi, at a press conference releasing the manifesto, why the document contained no reference to Godhra and the violence, Modi was provoked. ‘‘No political party causes riots,’’ he said angrily. ‘‘How can a party commit itself to cause riots in its manifesto! We are here to ensure safety,’’ he said. But the audiovisual presentation that preceded Modi’s press conference began with his favorite Gaurav Yatra phrase—‘‘merchants of death’’ (‘‘Godhra, Hide and Seek: In Gujarat, A bjp-style Manifesto, A vhp-style Campaign. What Next?’’ Indian Express, December 3, 2003). Meanwhile, the election campaign itself, managed by the vhp, was more explicit. Pictures of burning bogeys of the Sabarmati Express were displayed on election posters and cut-outs, T-shirts and CDs, and a videotape was produced showing Narendra Modi coming to the help of victims at Godhra and at Akshradham (‘‘Shy of ‘G’ Word, bjp Seeks Votes,’’ Express News Service, December 2, 2002). vhp pamphlets circulated in middleclass colonies in Gujarat, dismissing the idea of Hindu-Muslim unity as maligning Hinduism, with statements like ‘‘What is your security even in the most decent and secure locality in spite of having security guards? Traitors and terrorists are coming by the truckloads. They will kill your security guards and enter your bungalows. They will murder you in your drawing rooms and bedrooms.’’ Middle-class fears of the majority poor, rising from their singleroom hovels and shanties, blur with fears of ‘‘Muslim terrorists.’’ Certainly there was nothing specifically Muslim about the threat, nor anything Hindu about vulnerability described here. The pamphlets also promised a ‘‘50 per cent tax saving’’ for contributions to the vhp (Bunsha, 4). Conclusion National Human Rights Commission Chairman J. S. Verma, speaking to Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee, asked him to translate his rhetoric on religious intolerance into action and pointed out that those a√ected by the violence in Gujarat could not return to their homes and had lost large numbers of their kith and kin. ‘‘How is it di√erent from war?’’ the former chief justice of the Supreme Court asked (‘‘Match Words with Action, nhrc tells PM,’’ Times of India, August 4, 2002). J. S. Verma, as chief justice, was the author of the landmark judgment in 1996 where he ruled that Hindutva was a way of life, and as such could not be

The Gujarat Experiment 221

construed as a partisan appeal to religious identity. Hence, according to the court, the Shiv Sena had not violated campaign rules in the elections following the demolition of Babri Masjid and the tumultuous violence that rocked Bombay thereafter. Within a few years he was confronting the party that incubated Hindutva, in another state, and another assembly election, where the violence preceding the campaign had escalated beyond almost anything seen in postindependence India. As Verma implied, there was something about the violence in Gujarat in 2002 that made it qualitatively di√erent. Justice Verma o√ered a name for the events and, thus, a way of seeing them. The moral economy invoked was indeed not that of crime and punishment but of battling an enemy nation, and of giving no quarter lest one betray one’s own country. All Muslims were, in this view, actual or potential agents of Pakistan, while Pakistan was a terrorist nation implacably hostile to India. Implicitly and explicitly, being Hindu is the condition of belonging in India and having one’s rights protected. In one of the most widely circulated remarks exemplifying such a view, the vhp international working president Ashok Singhal termed Gujarat a ‘‘successful experiment’’ that would be repeated all over India. ‘‘Godhra happened on February 27 and the next day, 50 lakh Hindus were on the streets. We were successful in our experiment of raising Hindu consciousness, which will be repeated all over the country now.’’ Singhal also spoke glowingly of how whole villages had been ‘‘emptied of Islam,’’ and how whole communities of Muslims had been dispatched to refugee camps. This was a victory for Hindu society, he added, a first for the religion. ‘‘People say I praise Gujarat. Yes I do,’’ he told an appreciative but modest audience (‘‘vhp: We’ll Repeat Our Gujarat Experiment,’’ Indian Express, September 4, 2002). The announcement was a provocative one. Singhal not only refused to condemn the violence following Godhra but endorsed it. As a glimpse of an emergent political culture deeply dependent on the press and television, it challenged the deeply held assumption that the development of mass-mediated cultures in countries like India will repeat the historical experience of the West. Many commentators have appeared content to describe the resulting proliferation of identity politics and of mass manipulation as a degeneration from the idealized forms of high bourgeois society. But in India, the newspaper-reading public is actually expanding, even while the television audience is growing.π Tensions across a linguistically split reading public are thereby subject to a new level of socio-technical mediation, one that can cut across divisions

222 Arvind Rajagopal

imposed by print literacy with sound and image. Television news channels were aggressive in their attempt to publicize the riots in Gujarat, as is wellknown. However, it was through the filter of the print media that its e√ects were perceived, namely, as the bias of English language media. The politics of religious identity could be shifted onto linguistic identity, in a displacement that I suggest reflects the salience not only of media but more broadly of a history whose di√erences cannot be reduced to factors of religion or of communalism. Very briefly, the historical crisis of experience in the West, as registered, for example, in art and literature in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, of the decentering of the subject of knowledge, occurs subsequent to the formation of national cultures. The political reverberations of this crisis are thus more contained, and mediated, for example, through technocratic debates on objectivity and neutrality as codes of conduct for professionals, and through debates on attention and attention-management as a new locus for securing the idea of a self-su≈cient, knowing subject (Crary, Techniques of the Observer). In countries like India, however, this crisis occurs while nation building is still an incomplete task and therefore causes debates on the sociology and politics of knowledge to blur into larger debates and struggles over the nation. For historical reasons, religion becomes a medium for these conflicts accompanying nation building; in India this is certainly influenced by British colonial historiography and accompanying mechanisms of colonial rule. The overdetermined character of these developments is required to be confronted in any engagement with Hindutva. Notes 1. In the December 2002 elections, the bjp retained power in a state it had ruled for ten years, despite a regional split in the party (with Shankarsinh Vaghela’s breakaway group) and the Congress’s own split with the National Congress Party. The party had experienced a series of defeats in panchayat and municipality elections in the previous three years, and the prospect of retaining power was uncertain. Despite its orchestration of the most extensive communal violence since independence, and an economy in serious disarray, the bjp eventually won 120 seats, against 50 won by its chief opponent, the Congress. 2. Sunita Narula (sta√ member, Human Rights Watch), presentation at American Studies panel on Gujarat, New York University, February 26, 2003. 3. The term ‘‘epistemological break’’ was introduced by Gaston Bachelard and utilized thereafter by others, most notably Louis Althusser. Althusser used the term to mark the shift from Marx’s humanist and ‘‘pre-scientific’’ phase to the latter’s more properly

The Gujarat Experiment 223

scientific theorizing of the economy. Here I am not retaining Althusser’s teleological vector in my use of the term. 4. The disproportionate targeting of Muslims in sterilization and in slum demolition campaigns certainly qualified the Emergency’s claims of secularism. 5. I am grateful to Robin Je√rey for making this paper available to me. 6. I am grateful to Anjali Mody for pointing me to the Indian Express reports on the same subject. 7. Thus, estimated television viewers have increased from 150 million in 1990 to 270 million in 1995 and 448 million in 1998 (sources: Mass Media in India, 1991 [New Delhi: Publications Division, 1991], 266; Mass Media in India, 1994–95, 186; Mass Media in India, 1998–99, 207; Press and Advertisers’ Yearbook, 1996–97 [New Delhi: infa, 1996], 403c, 415c; all cited in Je√rey 283). For the same years, the circulation of daily newspapers has increased from 22 million to 35.3 million to 59.2 million; estimated readers would be about five times the circulation figure (sources: Press in India [New Delhi: Registrar of Newspapers for India]; Statistical Outline of India, 2000–2001 [Mumbai: Tata Services, 2000], 29; all cited in Je√rey, 284).

224 Arvind Rajagopal

Shyam Benegal a

Secularism and Popular Indian Cinema


his essay o√ers a look at the reflection and representation of secularism and nationalism in Indian cinema from a filmmaker’s point of view in light of certain key historical moments and events including the anticolonial nationalist movement, independence-partition, the creation of Bangladesh, and the rise of Hindu nationalism in the 1980s and 1990s in India.∞ My focus will be on the portrayal of religious minorities in Indian cinema, particularly post-independence cinema’s treatment of Indian Muslims and Hindu-Muslim conflict. It is my argument that while films of the Nehruvian era reflected the ‘‘tolerant’’ secularism of the state (with all its attendant problems and anxieties), the 1970s and 1980s saw the emergence of an alternative politics of minority representation with the rise of the ‘‘new cinema’’ (discussed at length below) and the creation of Bangladesh. And if the Hindutva-dominated last two decades have seen the proliferation of anti-Pakistan films, we have witnessed simultaneously a return to a Nehruvian secular-nationalism in the form of films like Lagaan, as well as films that o√er a serious look at the place of Muslims in Indian society. In the late 1950s, Satyajit Ray, on being interviewed after winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for his film Aparajito, referred to himself as a Bengali filmmaker. Raj Kapoor, whose Jagte Raho had won the main prize at the Karlovy Vary

Festival the same year, was upset by this remark and wondered why Ray did not consider himself an Indian filmmaker. The matter was resolved to some extent when Ray qualified his statement, saying that he had meant he was not a Hindi filmmaker—and that there was nothing more to be said. What seems to have upset Raj Kapoor was not that Ray made films in Bengali but that he considered himself a ‘‘Bengali’’ rather than an ‘‘Indian.’’ In Ray’s view, there seems to be a tacit acceptance that Hindi filmmakers were somehow more representative of India while Bengali filmmakers only represented Bengal. While it is not uncommon for urban upper-caste Hindu North Indians to accuse religious and linguistic minority groups of not considering themselves Indians first and placing their other identities—be they religious, regional, language, caste, and so on—above their national identity, clearly the selfdefined secular-nationalist Kapoor was reacting to what he perceived as a latent Bengali chauvinism in Ray’s statement. In asserting his Bengali identity, Ray was a≈rming his own superiority and sophistication as a Bhadralok liberal—a product of the Bengal renaissance with its attendant aesthetic. I have drawn on this anecdote to suggest that the Indian national personality cannot be easily defined since it does not have any specific profile. Several months ago, the Indian weekly magazine Outlook invited a number of social thinkers, historians, and public personalities to answer the question ‘‘What is an Indian?’’ Vinod Mehta, the editor, chose to quote from a Hollywood film, The Party, in which Peter Sellers, playing a caricature of an Indian, when asked, ‘‘Who do you think you are?’’ replies, ‘‘In India, we don’t think who we are, we know who we are.’’ I believe that this statement, meant as a joke, actually expresses what most Indians know about themselves and are secure in that knowledge. The fact that we have a civilizational identity as Indians has never really been in question, and the source of its strength has been its proverbial ability to accommodate diverse and often contradictory elements. At any given time we choose one or another of our multiple identities depending on the needs of the situation. While constituting a kind of ‘‘commonsense’’ earlier, this view has been put under considerable pressure over the last decade by the Hindu right, which tends to view Hindus as being coterminous with Indians —a view now accepted virtually uncritically by a large number of Indians, especially from the Hindu upper and middle classes. The structure of Indian society is a complex mosaic of various ethnic communities, religions, castes, and sects that constitute the country. As the sociologist André Béteille says, all these communities are in fact the building

226 Shyam Benegal

blocks of Indian society. In the past their diverse ways of life were neither discouraged nor challenged, but not all of them were held in equal esteem. Since the traditional order of Indian life was based on the hierarchies of caste and religion, the tolerance of diversity meant tolerating a whole lot of iniquitous social behavior, such as the oppressions of the caste system, untouchability, and the perpetual subjugation of women. Moreover, accommodation of a multitude of beliefs and faiths did not automatically mean that individuals were free to choose from among these according to their personal inclinations. On the contrary, each individual was bound more or less by the customs and traditions of the community that he or she was born in (Béteille). Secularism in India has always swung like a pendulum favoring the rights of communities sometimes and the rights of individuals at other times. While accommodativeness and tolerance are qualities that are often quoted as necessary for a polity to be secular, an unequal and hierarchical traditional order does not easily lend itself to a secular state or society, nor to a democracy that enshrines fundamental human rights. Yet tolerance and accommodativeness did become important components of the nationalist movement under Gandhi and the Congress in the first half of the twentieth century. Indian nationalism demonstrated that India’s hierarchically constructed traditional order and the bewilderingly plural population were capable of functioning together. ‘‘This was possible’’ because, as the historian and novelist Mukul Kesavan says, the independence movement made all kinds of Indians equally welcome without regard to creed, caste, or gender. Modeling itself on a pluralistic philosophy, Indian nationalism claimed to represent everyone in the country. This comprehensive nationalism was taken to be synonymous with secularism. Thus, to define oneself as an Indian was in fact to be secular at the time (Kesavan, Secular Common Sense, 4– 5). While the nationalist movement was forged on the basis of an anticolonialist and anti-imperialist drive, the nationalist leadership was equally concerned with the need for reforms in traditional society, although these related primarily to Hindu society. Thus, while gaining independence from British rule was of primary concern, programs and agitations for temple entry to untouchables, gender equality, and so forth were also very much a part of the movement. To legitimize its claims to represent the entire country and to bolster its credentials, Indian nationalism accordingly sought the adherence of various groups, including those that were marginalized along the lines of caste, religion, language, region, gender, or class. Yet sections of the polity,

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particularly among the Muslims, remained unconvinced about the Congressled movement’s investment in truly representing their interests, which ultimately led to the demand for Pakistan. In what follows, I will examine the ways in which nationalist dreams, aspirations, and anxieties (particularly around religious di√erences) are represented, managed, or contained in cinema at di√erent historical moments from the inception of cinema in colonial India to the present time. Cinema as a popular new entertainment medium started early in the twentieth century, around the time when the nationalist movement had begun to grow and strengthen its hold on the Indian imagination. The beginnings of cinema were small and restricted to metropolitan cities. Most theaters designed for theatrical performances tended to double as cinema theaters. The first films to be shown were mainly from the United States and Britain. Soon enough Indian films, first as filmed extracts from theatrical performances and later as early feature-length films, took cinema beyond its original novelty. Soon films began to be made in di√erent cities of India and had to compete for audiences with films from abroad. It was mainly for this reason that most of the early filmmakers saw themselves as being engaged in a nationalist enterprise. For example, in 1921, Dhiren Ganguly made the first anti-Western satire, which also had the unfortunate distinction of becoming the first film to be caught up in British censorship. Bhajli Pendharkar’s Vande Mataram Ashram (1926) was banned, evidently viewed as a threat by the colonial government. In addition, films advocating social reform made by Babu Rao Painter in Kolhapur and Poona went on to have a significant influence on filmmakers of the region over the next two decades. By the time sound came to cinema at the beginning of the 1930s, Indian cinema had established itself as a major entertainment medium in India. However, with sound came language, and while silent films could be shown all over the country, films in regional languages could not travel outside their own regions. This was also the time when the nationalist movement under the Congress had resolved to make Hindustani the national language of the country, although leaders of the movement later reneged on that promise. Thus films made in Hindustani could represent themselves as all-India films with a pan-Indian appeal. Strangely enough, Hindustani films originated in cities such as Bombay and Calcutta where the commonly spoken languages were neither Hindi nor Urdu. As a consequence, filmmakers had to opt for an idiom that was simple and easily understood across the board. Both of these

228 Shyam Benegal

cities had a flourishing theatrical tradition from the mid-nineteenth century that was patronized by the urban elite—the Parsi Urdu theater in both Bombay and Calcutta, the Gujarati Bhangwadi and Marathi Natya in Bombay—which went on to become the models for the unique and distinctive form that popular Indian cinema would take. While the genres of mythologicals and costume dramas were easily made with clearly set models from the urban theater, the real problem for Hindustani cinema lay in handling subjects of a contemporary nature. Making a panIndian film meant the construction of an environment and a culture that would be acceptable all over the country. Clearly, this invented national culture was a construct that glossed over a great deal of the diversity that was part of India. People were presented in a generalized and eventually standardized way that would not identify them with any recognizable region. They were quite simply urban or rural, rich or poor, or identified by the social class to which they belonged, though admittedly the standard Hindi-Urdu idiom of these films marked them in unacknowledged ways as upper caste, middle class, and ‘‘North Indian.’’ They only had first names and no surnames. Surnames would give away their caste, community, and their regional origin. The only other identification was their religion. Hindustani films represented India in much the same way the nationalist movement did, identified mainly by the two communities, Hindu and Muslim. Regional films, on the other hand, were far more culture specific and rooted in their communities in terms of subjects and their treatment. They could use their local idioms, customs, manners, and conventions to make a greater claim on realism. Interestingly, successful regional films would often be remade in Hindustani, now culturally transformed to make them accessible and acceptable. Most Hindustani films that were part of the genre of family socials were domestic melodramas or love stories set in a familial milieu. The stories they told were more like parables than realistic narratives. In the pre-independence era a fairly large number of films dealt with socially relevant subjects, such as untouchability in Achut Kanya (Franz Osten, 1936) or the emancipation of women in Duniya Na Mane (V. Shantaram, 1937). In Achyut Kanya, for instance, the glamorous Devika Rani played an untouchable girl; however, there was no attempt at credibility or realism in making her look the part. What is more, the film was directed by a German filmmaker, Franz Osten, whose ignorance of Hindustani was matched only by his lack of knowledge of local customs. Audiences, however, did not find this unacceptable, and the film went on to

Secularism and Popular Indian Cinema 229

great success. Hindustani films were accepted not because they created a credible milieu but because they legitimized traditionally accepted social values that extolled the sanctity of the family and its primacy over the individual. Sacrificing oneself for the family, renunciation, and redemption were common themes in these films. Traditional culture as presented in popular Hindustani cinema was not so much what existed in reality but rather a normative ideal, although reformist ideas were often introduced in these films, though not in their counterpart, the ‘‘Muslim socials.’’≤ Often seen as a twin of the Hindu family social (yet not quite a twin), a genre of Muslim socials presented a flattering image of the Muslim community as cultivated and essentially feudal, extolling virtues once again of selfsacrifice, loyalty, friendship, and family honor. Hindus and Muslims as either twins or brothers in the family of India would eventually become a recurring motif in several Indian films before and after Indian independence—films of the period like Padosi (V. Shantaram, 1945–46) and Hamrahi (Bimal Roy, 1944) echo the theme of twins. Interestingly, the separatist politics of the Muslim League never seriously found a voice in the popular cinema and indeed often found ideological opposition in the cinema of the 1940s and 1950s. For example, Prithviraj Kapoor’s play Deewar, which he subsequently made into a film, represented Partition as a threat to the unity of the family. It is not insignificant that writers and poets belonging to the Progressive Writers Group and the Indian People’s Theatre Association came into the cinema at about that time. Writers like Saadat Hasan Manto, Ali Sardar Jafri, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Sahir Ludhianvi, Kaifi Azmi, Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, and others brought a politically left-wing and overtly secular outlook to the films they were associated with. While most of them remained active in the cinema over the years, their early attempts were largely unsuccessful at the box o≈ce because of the radical views they propagated. Popular cinema could not a√ord to give up the traditional values that were part of its appeal to the mass audience. Thus, for example, when the eminent novelist Premchand wrote the script for Mazdoor (Mohan Bhavnani, 1934), it sank without a trace. Similarly, Saadat Hasan Manto’s attempts to subvert the Muslim social with films like Najma (Mehboob, 1943) and Naukar (Shaukat Hussain Rizvi, 1943) did not meet with commercial success. With Partition and independence, a substantial section of the Muslim population became citizens of Pakistan, and India found itself with an overwhelmingly large majority of Hindus. One significant and far-reaching conse-

230 Shyam Benegal

quence of the division of the country along religious lines was an increased ambivalence toward the minority Muslim community. Indian Muslims were perceived as continuing to have a choice in the matter of citizenship—they could either remain in India or emigrate to Pakistan. Their allegiance to the country was not taken for granted as readily as it was with the other religious groups; thus their nationalism was always suspect and needed to be ritually rea≈rmed or proven. Simultaneously, protection of minorities, a commitment under the secular constitution, became the most important aspect of the newly a≈rmed secular state. This posed several problems for the Hindi cinema. How were Muslims to be depicted in the films? There was an awkward formality and a great deal of self-censorship in the way they were shown. Part of the problem had to do with political correctness and a desire not to o√end —Muslim characters were routinely shown as sane, sensible, good, and devout. During the Nehruvian era, many films, especially those written by progressive writers, strived to create the image of a secular Muslim. For instance, in the 1959 film Dhool ka Phool (Yash Chopra), an old Muslim adopts an abandoned child whose religious antecedents are not known and sings a song to the boy, which in e√ect goes, ‘‘You will not grow up to be either a Muslim or Hindu; you are the son of man, so a human being you shall be.’’ There was a great deal of tokenism as well, with Muslim characters playing walk-on parts in attempts to represent the diversity of Indian society in cinema. Such sanitized representations were also the e√ect, in part, of the constraints of the government’s Censor Board, which would come down heavily on what it interpreted as negative characterizations of members in any minority community (Christians, on the other hand, were often depicted as good-hearted drunks, presumably because Christianity had no strictures against drinking alcohol). Communal harmony thus became a kind of signature in a large number of films during the 1950s and 1960s. Hindi cinema soon came to be seen as a socially integrating force and the National Awards instituted for films by the government of India included one that was given for promoting national integration. Interestingly enough, while Hindi films found it di≈cult to deal with ordinary Hindu-Muslim relationships without sanitizing them, there was no such inhibition in the regional cinemas. In Kerala, where there was a sizable Muslim and Christian population, intercommunal relationships were depicted in a far more direct and credible way. Ramu Kariat made films like Moodu Padam (1963) and Chemeen (1965) that centered on intercommunal love

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stories. This was possible because Kerala had not been a√ected by the trauma of Partition, despite having communal and caste-based parties and associations, and perhaps also because Malayalam films did not seek to represent themselves as India/the nation. Muslims in Kerala did not experience the kind of social insecurity and di≈dence that sections of the Muslim community felt in northern India after Partition. By contrast, Hindi cinema was selfconsciously secular in its attempt to make the minority Muslim community feel accepted and socially secure, yet it often reflected and performed the paternalistic attitude of the avowedly secular Indian state toward Muslims. Consequently, however benign it may have appeared, the secularism of the Hindi cinema of this era reflected to a large extent the secularism of the state, which was at best patronizing. This formulaic representation of Muslims and other religious minorities continued though the 1950s and 1960s. It was not until the early 1970s that things began to change and Hindi cinema found it possible to tackle subjects related to the Partition and contemporary Muslim experience, which until then had been considered awkward subjects liable to inflame communal passions. Two significant developments paved the way for an alternative politics of minoritarian representation: (1) the creation of state-established institutions like the Film and Television Institute and the Film Finance Corporation that enabled the emergence of the ‘‘new cinema,’’ and (2) the second partition of the subcontinent in 1971 that led to the creation of Bangladesh. In what follows, I will lay out some of the material conditions that led to the emergence of the new cinema and then provide a brief survey of some of the more important films that placed minority communities at the center of their narratives. I will also examine the significance of the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 and how it made possible the production of films like Garam Hawa that treated the subject of Partition in a realistic register for the first time in Hindi cinema. To understand the importance of the new cinema, it is important to situate some of the developments in the cinema of the post-independence period. Indian cinema was already a flourishing industry at the time of independence. It was totally market driven and unregulated. Financial booms and busts were frequent. This prompted the government of India to set up a committee to look into the a√airs of the film business. The committee made several farreaching recommendations that would set the course for the cinema over the next fifty years. Among the recommendations were the establishment of a fund to finance films, an institution for teaching filmmaking, a children’s

232 Shyam Benegal

film society to encourage filmmakers to make children’s films, the creation of a national archive, and so on. There were other recommendations too, which were not particularly helpful to the cinema, such as the levy of an entertainment tax on film screenings. Since cinema was not understood to be socially productive by the state, the tax was somewhat punitive in nature. Moreover, since the provincial governments (not the central government) levied the entertainment tax, it varied from state to state—55 percent of the price of a ticket in Maharashtra, going up to 132 percent in Uttar Pradesh and 146 percent in Bihar. The government, in e√ect, ended up earning far more from films than the film producers, distributors, or exhibitors. As a result, the old studio system became unsustainable and gave way to independent entrepreneurs and speculators. Filmmaking became a far more speculative and highrisk business than it had ever been in the past. In spite of this, the film business grew by about 8 to 10 percent each year as a result of the phenomenal growth of cities, towns, and new urban townships in the wake of industrialization and other programs of economic development. The makeup of the audience, too began to change. The older middle class was no longer the arbiter of taste in the cinema. A growing new middle class, an increasing working class, and vast numbers of recent immigrants from the countryside into towns started to play their part in determining the aesthetics of the cinema. Films had to meet their entertainment needs since they constituted the largest segment of the audience. The e√ect of these developments began to be felt in the popular cinema of the 1960s. The common denominator of films was lowered and widened to appeal to the largest number of people. Consequently, there was a growing concern in the state establishment that the increasing number of films being made each year did not indicate any improvement in the quality of cinema. The most frequent criticism was that the popular cinema aped and plagiarized Hollywood films and was not Indian enough. This concern paved the way for state-sponsored funding agencies that would help promote a di√erent kind of cinema, one not necessarily designed to meet the perceived demands of the marketplace. By this time Satyajit Ray had arrived on the scene with his highly celebrated cinematic works. His films were not only successful at the box o≈ce in his native Bengal but were critically acclaimed all over the world. Ray’s films, along with those of his contemporaries Ritwick Ghatak and Mrinal Sen, were not simply vehicles of mass entertainment. Apart from their artistic qualities, they were seen as closer to Indian reality and life. Ironically, given Ray’s own

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resolute sense of Bengali identification, for cineastes and critics outside India, Ray’s films represented India. Ray’s cinematic aesthetics thus set the tone for the various institutions that the state established for the cinema. The most significant of these were the Film and Television Institute and the Film Finance Corporation. By the beginnings of the 1970s, graduates from the Film Institute were making films funded by the Film Finance Corporation, which attempted to provide a more realistic depiction of contemporary Indian life. Moreover, after 1971, another factor helped in boosting the prospects of such films. The importing of foreign films was significantly curtailed, leaving a large number of cinemas, particularly in metropolitan cities, with available playing time. These cinemas catered mainly to a niche audience whose taste did not extend to popular Hindi cinema. Encouraged by the response, several private producers began funding films of this kind. All my films made in the 1970s and 1980s were funded by such producers. If popular cinema worked on the basis of tried and tested formulas in which religious and ethnic minorities rarely, if ever, took center stage in a film (if a Muslim was to be the protagonist in a film, it could only be in a Muslim social), what was especially significant about the new cinema was that, freed of the constraints of the marketplace, it was able to take on a variety of complex social subjects. In 1969, Mani Kaul, a graduate from the Film Institute, made his first film, Uski Roti, in which the central character was a Sikh man, which in itself became a political statement against the unmarked Hindu hero of much popular Hindi cinema. One of the most significant films to be financed by the Film Finance Corporation was M. S. Sathyu’s Garam Hawa (1973), the first film to grapple with the experience of Indian Muslims in the immediate aftermath of Partition. As I have argued above, until Garam Hawa was made, Muslim characters in popular Hindi films were routinely depicted in token roles, and often without blemish. In this way they were separated from the community, e√ectively making them the Other. Based on a short story by Ismat Chughtai and written by Kaifi Azmi, Garam Hawa attempted to recreate the predicament of a North Indian Muslim family reacting and responding to the extraordinary circumstances during the time of Partition. The family has to make the painful choice whether to stay on in their ancestral home in Agra, India, or leave for Pakistan. The film’s narrative maps the gradual breakup and division of the large extended family as individual members depart for Pakistan for various reasons; however, unlike his relatives, the protagonist Salim Mirza refuses to migrate to the new Muslim

234 Shyam Benegal

nation given his attachment to place—in this instance, Agra. The film traces the gradual breakdown of Salim Mirza’s fortitude in an atmosphere of growing distrust and suspicion against Muslims in post-Partition India, leading to his eventual painful decision to emigrate along with whatever is left of his family. However, inspired by a communist procession a≈rming the solidarity of the oppressed, the film’s final sequence has Mirza and his younger son, Sikander, reversing their decision in spite of all their travails. Despite its a≈rmative secular-nationalist closure, Garam Hawa remains the only film to address the plight of Muslims in post-Partition India in the early years after independence. Ironically, the film found itself in a great deal of trouble with a section of the Muslim community who appealed to the government to ban the film. The censors themselves could not make up their minds; it was several years after it was made that the film was finally released. When it did get to be seen all over the country it was via television. If the establishment of state-funded agencies aided the production of films like Garam Hawa, I would suggest that the historical moment was also an important contributory factor. It is not insignificant that Garam Hawa was produced after the 1971 creation of Bangladesh. While the first two decades after independence continued to be a period of migrations for Muslims, since Pakistan was still an option, this option e√ectively disappeared after the creation of Bangladesh. In addition, this new partition—this time of Pakistan— along linguistic lines also aided in containing some of the anxieties concerning Indian Muslims. The commitment of Muslims to India was suddenly no longer a matter of doubt or nationalist anxiety, and therefore Sathyu could choose to take on a topic that until then had been avoided or only referred to in oblique gestures by most popular filmmakers. A film of this kind would have been impossible to make before 1971. Indeed, it was only after 1971 that popular cinema was also able to take on subjects centered on the Muslim community in a contemporary setting. Thus Manmohan Desai, a hugely successful director, made a film called Coolie (1983) that featured Amitabh Bachchan as a Muslim porter who joins mainstream politics, stands for elections, and wins from his constituency, though the film continues to be an exception of sorts in popular Hindi cinema in its choice of a Muslim protagonist. On the other hand, several stories dealing with contemporary Muslim experience found articulation during the 1970s and 1980s in the new cinema. Muza√ar Ali made Gaman (1978) and Anjuman (1986): the former about a Muslim taxi driver in Mumbai and the latter documenting the life of Muslim

Secularism and Popular Indian Cinema 235

‘‘chikan’’ workers in Lucknow. Satyajit Ray made Shatranj ke Khiladi (1977), set in 1857 and based on a Premchand story, and I made Junoon (1978), based on incidents in an Uttar Pradesh cantonment town that related the experiences of various communities—Hindus, Muslims, Anglo-Indians, and the British who found themselves caught up in the uprising. Soon after, Saeed Mirza made the film Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Ata Hai? (1980), about a Goan Catholic family in Mumbai, and later made Salim Langde Par Mat Ro (1989), about a young thief in a Muslim ghetto. I made a film called Trikal (1985), about a privileged Catholic family set in a Goan village at the time of the liberation of Goa. The earlier di≈dence that filmmakers felt in tackling subjects dealing with minority communities was replaced with a new confidence. Sterile representations of minorities, very much part of the Indian cinema before 1971, were replaced by depictions of ordinary people grappling with problems of life and change in a modernizing world. Several of the films I mention had a favorable audience response and some of them were reasonable box o≈ce successes. However, the first film to take up the issue of the Hindu-Muslim divide during Partition was a miniseries based on Bhisham Sahni’s novel Tamas by Govind Nihalani (1987). As it was made for television, the series did not have to be cleared by the Film Censor Board; otherwise the censors would have banned it on grounds that it showed hostility between the communities. While the national television channel, Doordarshan, was considering telecasting it, the rss and some of its other constituents objected violently to the screening. Nihalani’s apartment in Mumbai was attacked and threats were issued against his life. As a result, Doordarshan decided against showing the series, citing a threat to peace as right-wing Hindu organizations had also threatened to burn down the television station. Nihalani went to court and the Bombay High Court, after viewing the series, directed Doordarshan to show it as there was nothing unconstitutional in the film to warrant a ban. It was only then that it was shown in its entirety on prime time to a record audience over three evenings that passed o√ without incident. In 1986, when the government under Rajiv Gandhi overturned the Supreme Court judgment in the Shah Bano case by amending the constitution, it did irreparable damage to the secular credentials of the country. The reversal was at once a concession to Muslim fundamentalism and a serious blow against Muslim women’s rights; moreover, it compromised the secular section of the Muslim community and gave a handle to the right-wing Hindu political formations to charge the government with appeasing the minorities, especially

236 Shyam Benegal

the Muslim community. A new term, ‘‘pseudo-secularism,’’ was coined by L. K. Advani, who accused the ostensibly secular Congress politicians, with some justification, of not being even-handed in the treatment of religious communities. The political consequences of the case were far-reaching, bringing the Ram Janmabhoomi issue to the forefront, which led to the destruction of the Babri Masjid, once again sowing the seeds of suspicion in the minds of both Muslim and Hindu communities. In the aftermath of the Shah Bano case, I embarked on a major television series, Bharat Ek Khoj (1988–89), based on Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India. The book itself, for all its flaws, strived to construct and define India’s pluralistic heritage and outlined a secular vision for the country. While the Ramayana and the Mahabharata had the highest television viewership ratings in India, Bharat Ek Khoj came a chose third. In its repeated telecasts, it has continued to have high viewership. Following the emergence of the Hindu right in the 1980s and 1990s in India, new changes can be noticed in popular cinema. Given the tense stando√ after the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan, patriotism bordering on antiPakistani jingoism has become a major theme of popular Hindi cinema. While this was to be expected, the definition of nationalism and by implication secularism has been considerably narrowed and made the exclusive preserve of the Hindu community. For example, in J. P. Dutta’s Border (1997), which treats one of the battles of the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965, there is considerable stress on the Indian (read Hindu) generosity as opposed to Pakistani (read Muslim) intransigence, where Pakistanis and Muslims are made synonymous. This excessive jingoism is even more crudely depicted in the film Ghadar (2001). Both films were box o≈ce hits and were especially successful in the north Indian states. However, if the rise of Hindutva politics has led to the production of a range of anti-Muslim films, it has also given rise to hugely successful films like Lagaan (2001) which equate an inclusive secular unity with nationalism.≥ Moreover, the last decade of the twentieth century also saw the emergence of films like Mammo (1995), Naseem (1995), Fiza (2000), and Bombay (1995) that reflect on the place of Muslims in Indian society. After the horrific Godhra incident and the widespread and brutal retaliatory killings and arson in Gujarat, aided by the nonaction of the state, India is poised at a critical juncture. Will Indian secularism hold together or will it succumb to the ideology of Hindutva that can only lead to a dangerously divided polity? Cinema is a reasonable barometer of popular attitudes. It is, in

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some ways, the ‘‘coal miner’s canary.’’ If it retains its inclusive quality, as most films continue to do, that will mean that accommodativeness and tolerance remain very much a part of Indian society. Notes This is the text of a talk given as the keynote address at the ‘‘Siting Secularism’’ conference held at Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, April 19–21, 2002. 1. I have benefited from Priya Kumar’s work on secularism in Indian film and literature. I am also grateful to her for her help in clarifying the arguments and tracking down the sources for this essay. 2. While the ‘‘social’’ is a loosely defined term for melodramas with a modern setting, the term ‘‘Muslim social’’ is broadly used to describe a subgenre of narrative films that focused on social issues distinctive to Muslim culture and lives. Often imbued with a sense of nostalgia for an older traditional culture even when set in a contemporary framework, these films tended to constitute Muslims as an isolated and archaic community faced with singular problems. 3. For an analysis of Lagaan, see Deshpande.

238 Shyam Benegal

Ravi S. Vasudevan a

Neither State nor Faith The Transcendental Significance of the Cinema


ecularist discourses critically turn on ideas of tolerance and transcendence. Tolerance presumes bounded identities and assigns an ontological determination to otherness in the way social cognition is organized. Transcendence, on the other hand, projects a space beyond the bounded identity. Often, in political prescriptions, a modernizing imperative insists on the centrality of the state to such projects of transcendence. This could be by evacuating religion from the terrain of the state, or by insisting that the state be equidistant from all religious communities and practices (Bhargava, Secularism and Its Critics). On the other hand, a certain strand of criticism insists that the state itself, and modernizing imperatives more generally, are the main culprit in the crystallization of community di√erences and antagonism. Writers such as Ashis Nandy have argued that secularism is the ideological support of modernization. Modern governmentality and secularist discourse tend to fix religion or religious identity, through censuses, by asserting exclusiveness of national identities and by subordinating porous forms of belief and religious practice. Rather than the state, it is faith, and the refusal to abide by the hard identities induced by secularism, which provide the resources for toleration. Indeed, we will find that the state is often startlingly marginalized in popular narrative discourses about the relationship

within and among communities. Storytelling seizes on other energies and assigns the social realm a significant autonomy and authority. What are the sources of transcendence within this determinant social space? Does such transcendence have something to do with the renewal of or recovery of faith? My suggestion is that while faith may be invoked, it does not remain unchanged; and it is certainly not the only source of transcendent mediation. Here, not only transcendence but what transcendence mediates is critical. How are social and religious di√erences described within popular narratives? Central to popular narratives is a description of society as a typology of groups, rendered in terms of the typical characteristics and iconographic components that compose community. Systems of typology date from the work of Company painters and a wider body of photographic interventions in the late nineteenth century.∞ A significant strand of this output is aligned with the colonial state’s drive to know and identify its population. These media were used to ethnographically freeze community essence through physiognomy, dress, work practices, and behavioral dispositions (Pinney). When we come to narrative forms such as the Indian popular cinema, there is a more dynamic demand on the deployment of the type as it is opened to the processes of temporality and diegetic interaction. In turn, there is also the positing of a non-typological mode of representation, vested in the drive to psychologize and formulate the idea of character as opposed to the type. However, we will observe that there are complicated transactions between these two apparently opposed categories. The cinema introduces a new dimension to these dynamics. As a cultural institution, it introduces a specific relationship, that of spectatorship, into the narrative process. This relates to the question of a visual and auditory address that places new demands on the human sensorium. The cinema generates a new form of imaginary investment, where the images and sounds it presents refer to people and objects which are not there; only their shadow, their trace, is present on the screen. This screen is a thing out there, in front of us, but it is also the internal screen where the sequencing of images and sounds impacts on us. Film theorists such as Christian Metz have analyzed this distinctiveness of the cinematic signifier, and how it impinges on the spectator in a psychically intimate fashion. In both the colonial and postcolonial contexts, it was notable how much anxiety was attached to the potential power of cinematic narratives, especially those derived from local mythologies with a suspected allegorical power (Rajadhyaksha, ‘‘A Viewer’s View’’). Often, such panics have

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also taken the form of a rationalist critique of the superstitions of a traditional society (Dhruba Gupta et al.; Das Gupta). If we accept Metz’s argument, the spectator is not part of the scene generated on the screen. Physically removed from that scene, s/he regards the screen as a mirror to another space reflected in it, where the shadows of that other space flit before her eyes, inviting a distanced immersion in its inherently fictive, because dematerialized space. The mythological focus so beloved of early cinema thus unravels not as a space of spectatorial submission but exactly of a staging and allegorical window onto another world. In this account, the spectator primarily identifies with the apparatus itself and, braided to the camera’s look, becomes an all-seeing figure. This notion of a transcendent viewing position needs to be complicated. Laura Mulvey described three types of looking: the first, that of the camera, the second, that of the spectator at the screen, the third, the look between characters in the fiction. In the study of classical Hollywood cinema, emphasis has been placed on how this identification with oneself or with the apparatus has been significantly displaced onto identification with characters (the third look). Techniques of editing and scene construction have fashioned the world generated by cinematic fictions as self-enclosed. Through techniques such as the eyeline match, point-of-view shots, shot reverse shots, the viewer’s attention is focused on character interaction. It is as if the world has a coherent selfreferential dimension, with the spectator’s view being mobilized, voyeuristically, into this world and distributed over a number of characters and spaces. A fetishistic disavowal (I know, but . . . ) captures the spectator’s relationship to the screen world. While the spectator knows that the on-screen world is manufactured, that figures aren’t really there, s/he suspends this knowledge in favor of the immersive pull of the cinematic fiction. In recent debates, the intrareferential dimensions of Hollywood narration have been historicized. Research has been undertaken into an early cinema history which had not yet developed the codes of the third look (Barker and Elsaesser). And there has also been the exploration of a host of other contexts, ranging from an avantgardist address to even populist forms, which highlighted a system of direct address from screen to spectator.≤ Debates in Indian film studies parallel such a complication of the Hollywood paradigm and have argued that such a design has not been characteristic or, at least, not systematically applied (Rajadhyaksha, ‘‘The Phalke Era’’; G. Kapur; Vasudevan, ‘‘Shifting Codes’’ and ‘‘The Politics of Cultural Ad-

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dress’’; M. Prasad; and Biswas, ‘‘Historical Realism’’). Rather than develop a virtual world on-screen, Indian popular cinema recurrently breaks the seamlessness and self-referentiality of the fiction. This is done through a pronounced register of frontality, with the scene shot at a 180-degree angle to the characters or objects, rather than through oblique framing. The latter suggests a look into the world of the fiction, the former a breaking of its cordons, as if addressing a world beyond the fiction. This may be summarized in the notion of direct address, where characters look directly into the camera, as if addressing the audience rather than another character in the fiction. Such a refusal or indi√erence to norms developed as cinematic standard in Hollywood is compounded by a heightened emphasis on the declamatory and the typological in speech and dress. The figure, in dress and verbal articulation, articulates itself as condensing the already known. This is counterposed to a characterology in process, constituted through character interaction and situation, and on the grid of psychological development. I would like to hold onto the idea of a transcendent position as a condition generally posited for the cinematic apparatus and viewing situation. However, my focus here is not on the all-seeing eye but rather on the ontology of dematerialization. In Metz’s account, the dematerialization refers to what we see, the thing not being there. But, to look at the phenomenon in a di√erent way, if the object viewed is not there, then the viewer is not here, either. We acquire a dematerialized aspect, the eye and the ear disembodied, or rather, entering into a compact, our sensorium becoming part of the imaginary domain rendered through the cinema. The nature of this imaginary articulation varies, as we have observed in the distinctions within the history of American cinema, and in the distinctiveness of other cinematic traditions such as emerged in India. Such forms of imaginary articulation are not entirely separable, and we may observe changes even within the body of a single film. But the point here is the particular impact rendered by the mutual dematerialization of image and audience. On the ground of this observation, could we argue that the cinema provides a di√erent locus through which to think of sources for the outline of a transcendental subject? The cinema as industrial form and mass social institution posits a specific problem here, for anxieties of state and an elite public invariably relate to the power images can exercise in circumstances of low literacy. This anxiety is also captured in the hostility of the state, and indeed, of elite public discourses, to the characteristic narrative forms of the popular cinema.

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Such hostility was manifest for a long period, in terms of crippling financial exactions and a low cultural status. This nonlegitimate cultural form nevertheless had a mass constituency and was a crucial vehicle of mass publicness. This was the case at least until the emergence of privatized audiovisual technologies after 1982, with the spread of television and coming of the video recorder. In occupying this position—that of the mass public which lies beyond the borders of institutions legitimated by the state—the cinema’s function is to provide a distinctive route for the social imaginary. Its imaginary is composed at once of the reality of perceptual processes, of the dematerialized nature of what is perceived, and, I would suggest, of the perceiver. As such, it provides fertile ground on which to think about a distinctive field for the emergence of a transcendental subject. The spectator is transcendent not because part of civil social discourse but because s/he accesses a distinct imaginary publicness. The spectator is invited to be out there, in that imaginary domain of the cinema, and to constitute a public not only as addressee and audience but as imaginary component of the fictional field. To explore this imaginary in relation to discourses of secularism, I will highlight how the cinema addresses the public as a critical fictional component. 1. It creates a logic of co-living, co-existence, inhabiting the same frame rather than di√erent frames, and crucially dependent on the look of the spectator for its constitution. The example I draw on is from the earliest period of the cinema, relating to the imagination of caste. 2. The spectator subject is a virtual entity in the fiction, di√erentiated from the protocols of how characters within the fiction look. Here I draw on the popular genre of the historical film and its discourses of secularism to suggest that this duality of looking within the fiction is also one which constructs a relationship between imagined pasts and futures on the grounds of the presentness of the spectator’s look. 3. The exceptional agent, the heroic entity, provides a model of transcendence, a figure who is both type but may also shade into the individuated, psychologized character. Critical here is the discourse of the star image. The star mobilizes a strategy of transcendence based on a screen biography and the interpretative charge of performativity. The star constitutes a distinct component of the cinema’s dematerialized imaginary: s/he is a virtual biographical entity who can only be made sense of in and through the screen, constituting the spectator as a special vehicle of knowledge and interpretation in a metafiction of the star. Critical here is the question of star performativity, where

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the compendium of actorly attributes—the repertoire of gesture, speech, and bodily dimensions—may suggest both the distinctiveness of the star sign and the possibilities of arbitrariness and interpretation. For the uniqueness of the star may be deployed to emphasize the nonidentity of actor and character, making of the actor’s body an arbitrary signifier, not clearly attached to the social referent it may inhabit. Such arbitrariness may operate either through the armature of the individual film or, more complexly, across the screen biography of the actor/star. For the purposes of this essay, this phenomenon is addressed at two moments and across two registers. First, how this persona is governed by a consistent iconography, one which may extend its foundational thematics into new territories of exploration without compromising the original codification. I take the case of Raj Kapoor, who bears the logic of a plebeian secularization. The character characteristically uses the city as an experimental space to undermine the feudal certitudes of birth and lineage. Second, how, rather than work through a consistent logic and extension of the persona into di√erent fields, there emerges a logic of performative destabilization and play, where screen personae render the possibility, and imponderability, of rupturing the continuum of the image. Here I focus on the career of the key contemporary actor Nana Patekar. Finally, there is the transcendence a√orded by the spectator’s identification with the cinematic apparatus itself. This does not deny the commonly experienced identification with characters in the fiction but announces, sometimes in a very emphatic and spectacular fashion, the technology which brings these characters into being in the first place. This, perhaps, is the instance where the spectator enters into a compact with the all-seeing camera eye of Metz’s formulation. I have undertaken the beginnings of this analysis elsewhere (Vasudevan, ‘‘Selves Made Strange’’). Typology Sudipto Kaviraj has argued that in the Indian context, a language of community emerged as the characteristic form of representational discourse rather than that of the individuated citizen. Addressing issues of collective identification and solidarity, this formulation can address the representational trope of the type. Kaviraj’s formulation needs to be elaborated into a theorization pertinent to both cinema theory and political theory: what is the transformative logic which defines community identities and solidarities and, in turn, a dynamic typological imagination of the social?

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I will examine this by charting the transformative logic of such typologies within cinematic narratives. Arguably, typage provides the spectator with certain conditions of knowledge, an epistemology which both frames codifications of social reality but also immerses the spectator in a play with the image of the social, and, indeed, her own image. Phalke: On the Typological Discourse of Early Cinema I start this analysis not with the overt consideration of secularist narratives, that of Hindu-Muslim relations, but of how popular film constitutes Hindu society. Javed Akhtar has remarked that preceding other taboos and restrictions, such as Hindu-Muslim sociality and intermarriage, there is the foundational problem of social di√erences and untouchability in Hindu society. Associated as they are with prohibitions around bodily contact and communication, we may consider how such foundational taboos extend into the domain of Hindu-Muslim relations. This has been particularly observable of the violence in Gujarat, where a revulsion and bid to eradicate the Other have motivated Hindutva’s most bestial forms (Varadarajan). We may thus start with a tentative formulation. A critical strand of secularist transcendence involves strategies to neutralize high-caste Hindu senses of authority and hierarchy. Arguably, such transcendence can suggest both an opening out of the Hindu high-caste self and a bid to reacquire power over the subordinated Other. The notion of Hindu society as a unified form transcending historical di√erences, especially of caste, is arguably one of the most consistent themes of the colonial and postcolonial periods. We thus witness the ongoing attempt by high-caste Hindu reformers to annul these di√erences, and of Dalit critiques of such attempts as hegemonic in intent. The cinema recurrently represents the former drive, and the tensions inherent to it. Let us look at the key figure of early Indian cinema, D. G. Phalke. There have been arguments that Phalke represents a Hindu nationalist point of view, and that his films exclude or subordinate women, Dalits, and Muslims (Zutshi). Phalke was associated with Tilak and wrote his articles on cinema as a swadeshi cultural enterprise, in Tilak’s Marathi newspaper, the Kesari. If all of this sounds as if Phalke’s ideological stance was self-evident, perhaps an examination of his films will suggest something slightly more complicated. In his 1918 film Shree Krishna Janma, the fragmentary remains of the film highlight several episodes. These include Krishna’s emergence on the Shesh

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Nag, the celestial vehicle of Vishnu and Lakshmi, a miracle enacted through cinematic dissolves before a line of fervent devotees. There are fragments, too, of episodes relating to the beheading of the wicked Kansa and Yashodhara’s maternal idyll with the baby Krishna, rocking his cradle. Finally, there are a series of tableaux outlining the varnashrama dharma. It is the construction of these tableaux that I would like to draw attention to. Each tableau is announced by an inter-title, highlighting the varna which is to appear in front of Vishnu. A young man who exhibits a childlike radiance as he stands atop a pedestal, posed frontally for the camera, incarnates the deity. The varna announced appears in front of the benign deity, seeking his blessings, while stealing covert looks in the direction of the camera. Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Sudra varnas are brought on stage in this way, each announced by a preceding inter-title. We see in these four tableaux a certain duality. Each of the varnas shares the deity, who exercises a benevolent presence for them all. However, they are strictly divided o√ one from the other, through the intercession of the inter-title. The social hierarchy of separation is replicated cinematically, through editing and inter-titles. Significantly, though, there is an excess. One social group, that of the untouchable, is clubbed with the category of the shudra but enters the frame only after the farmer has left; the broom sways in the frame, as if involuntarily disclosing a tension within its composition. What follows is an important strategy of dissolution of these di√erences. Using the same camera setup, with Vishnu frontally posed at the back of the frame, all the varnas enter the frame, crowding it and almost jostling with each other, the broom again moving ostentatiously in the frame. In a sense, a transcendent deity is being accessed di√erentially, separately, and it is his intervention, or the intervention of his message, that dissolves this rigorous separation. Leave all religion and come under my protection, declares a superimposed title. This is an important ur-text for images of intercommunity mingling and self-transcendence. The transcendence is accomplished through the figure of Vishnu, and the Vaishnavite porousness of self. It is also accomplished through the cinematic frame as the basic unit of perception, in which the simple, single shot setup is organized to create a dynamic of reconstitution. But at another level, it is also rendered as a form of direct address, aimed at the spectator. Rather than creating a sequence, there is a to and fro between the figures on-screen and the spectator, the former presenting themselves for the latter’s view. The spectator, rather than figures on-screen, become the primary

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reference point for the presentation. We could say that the cinema’s invocation of a transcendent, mediating image is based on a narration and viewing situation that posits the viewer as a crucial condition of its presentation. Of course, the complications arise when we consider that this is not a discourse of intercommunity amity but of the reformation and consolidation of Hindu society. Historians of lower caste and Dalit assertion have shown us how modern narratives of caste history invariably refer to the caste as a community, with a distinct mythic narrative about its relationship to land and environment; a narrative of origins displaced by Brahminical incursions and the institution of caste hierarchy (Juergensmeyer, Religion as Social Vision; O’Hanlon, Caste, Conflict, and Ideology). It was during this period that movements of assertion were taking place, and film narratives such as Phalke’s could be interpreted to reassemble the coordinates of a ritual form threatened with dissolution. In this sense the narration could be read as consistent with the attempts of a Hindu nationalism, also in the process of ideological and political formation, to consolidate society via the eradication of untouchability, but not necessarily through a questioning of social hierarchies. I would suggest that the reading here can be somewhat more open. Rather than a hegemonic modernized Brahminical reference point, Gandhi would be the more apposite figure for such a bid for reunification (G. Kapur). His symbolic resonance is carried on into the devotional genres which emerged shortly after and had their most sustained production in the 1930s and 1940s. Above all, we need to hold onto the particular imaginary virtuosity, and, indeed, virtuality, of cinematic fiction: the way an immaterial world of light and shadow can figure forth an image condensing the social world, while holding onto all the iconographies of di√erence and hierarchy within that frame. The frame of Hindu society is filled to the edges, ready to burst, and the broom that swirls suggests a tangential, centrifugal impetus, underlining the apparently impossible perceptual logistics of maintaining a centripetal orientation for the spectator. Community Space and Character Psychology: The Social Film as a Genre of Modernity and Community The social film, or the genre of modernity, carried on the primacy of the discourse of community into its reflections on intercommunity relationships. Characteristically, it sought to resolve community di√erences on the ground of mutual understanding and trust. An instance of social films dealing with

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the theme of intercommunity amity was Shejari (Neighbors) (V. Shantaram, Marathi, 1940), about the e√ects of modern technological change on relations within a village community. An Indian nationalist public saw the film as a riposte to the declaration of the Pakistan objective by the Muslim League. It is a moving story about how a grasping modern businessman seeks to break village opposition to his schemes of modernization by manipulating conflict between Jiwaba and Mirza, the leaders of the village community. Interestingly, the manipulation aims, at one level, only to break up village unity by creating a split between two village elders. But the fact that these are Hindu and Muslim is clearly motivated to draw on contemporary anxieties about intercommunal ties. The estranged friends are ultimately reunited when they sacrifice their lives to save the village, and a grieving village community builds a shrine to their memory. Suggestive hierarchies emerge in the construction of a transcendent location in the film’s opening scene. A devotional hymn to the Hindu god Rama is invoked on the soundtrack and over a tableau frame of a village scene, a cottage and sacred pipal tree in the background. A cut-in anchors the voice to the village elder, Jiwaba, who sits by the tree. As he sings, we observe his good friend and neighbor, the Muslim Mirza, arrive with his prayer mat in hand. Mirza stands at a discrete distance, waiting for Jiwaba to finish. As Jiwaba concludes, he notices Mirza and wryly remarks that he should have said that the time had arrived for his prayer; Mirza responds, what is the need when one gets one’s requirements without asking? The film opens on a Hindu devotional space. This is first articulated by voice, and then by a figure associated with sacred symbols who is iconized as vehicle of the discourse. Jiwaba sings from within the depth of the frame, and it is initially di≈cult to locate the source of the song. This is then an auditory address that envelops the audience and stitches us into the symbolism of voice and space. Jiwaba, its expressive vehicle, is overwhelmed by the feelings it arouses in him and wipes away a tear at its conclusion. In narrational terms, the enveloping address is of sustained duration, and its diegetic reference is to the perennial. A definite sense of time and sequence only emerges with the arrival of the Muslim, for whom a specific moment is required to conduct his prayer. The emergence of time, sequence, and narrative development is authorized by a privileged, because prior, Hindu discourse of emotive community. Jiwaba gives Mirza time, and thus is inaugurated an incipient, if never quite actualized, discourse of national origins. From the 1920s, right-wing Hindu

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nationalist ideologues had developed an argument that India was originally composed of Hindus, who therefore had prior rights to the country over those, especially Muslims and Christians, who arrived subsequently (T. Basu et al.). Their writings have provided the foundations for a Hindu majoritarianism whose objective is to assign a subordinate status to other religious identities in the makeup of the modern Indian nation-state. Later the film implicitly invokes anxieties about Muslim dominance in the medieval period, when Mirza heads the village council that has to rule on charges levelled against Jiwaba’s son. Jiwaba’s feelings of ignominy and powerlessness condense a whole, specifically modern ideology of the historical subordination of Hindus to other communities and provide the emotional ground for drives to assert Hindu authority over the nation-state. However, the complexity of the narrative lies in its taking recourse to a modernist dismantling of these stable reference points of community authority. While Jiwaba remains the main focus for spectatorial engagement, as his beatific form is dismantled, the film elaborates a new, expressionist characterology. As the character comes to be increasingly assailed by threats to his dignity and standing in the community, the actor Keshavrao Date appears driven by a symptomatology of dread: an inability to make sense of the world is registered in an unseeing, almost hallucinatory performance. He drew here on the work of the modernist natyamantwantar group in theater, which was at the time experimenting with European modernism. The figure of the failed patriarch echoes the actor’s work in Shantaram’s Kunku/Duniya Na Mane (1937), which strongly recalls the acting of Emil Jannings in von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel (1931). The registering of paranoia in the Hindu patriarch extends to his son, Raiba, who determines to undertake a suicidal bombing of the dam, perceived to be the root cause of the village’s descent into community discord. At the climax, the father tears the burning torch from his son and accidentally flings it onto the fuse. Caught amid the detonations which explode the dam, he retreats into himself, drawing a chessboard which invokes his friendly contest with his alienated neighbor. Mirza arrives to save his distraught friend, but it is too late, and the two friends die in the dam collapse. Riven by the forces of modernity, their friendship is now retrieved for eternity. At the conclusion, villagers gather to worship at the shrine of the martyrs. The peculiar power of this film arises from a strange dynamic. At first it evokes for the spectators a discourse of prior and transcendent Hindu com-

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munity and authority, that which gives order and meaning to the world, including the conditions for the coexistence of communities. But it then goes on to dismantle this through a modernist strategy. This dismantling ultimately results not in the emergence of the Muslim Other as source of threat— although there is an impacted narrative of such a possibility—but, rather, an image of the post-sacred realm as a cavernous void. The void is then covered over by the recovery of the harmonious understanding of the village elders. However, this resolution is not a return to the original invocation of transcendence. For that is irrevocably riven by a modernizing imperative which has split its meaning system. Instead, the conclusion is properly utopian, drained as it is of the original hierarchy inscribed on the basis of a traditional Hindu authority. In a sense, then, it is the cinema itself which, having stated and narrated the traditional sacred, now creates its own transcendent moment of intercommunity amity, in the image of the martyred elders enshrined by the survivors. The Time of Spectatorship: Mediating Di√erences of Community in Popular Historical Discourse We will find something of the complexity of these moves replayed in other generic forms. At this time, discussions about genre surfaced as one of the key arenas in which cultural di√erences were conceptualized, and central here was the historical film. Historical films developed a number of subjects: the glory of ancient, pre-Islamic India (Chandragupta, Jayant Desai, 1945); Mughal kingship and its relation to local Hindu ruling groups, the Rajputs (Pukar [The Call], Sohrab Modi, 1939; Humayun, Mehboob Khan, 1945); the heroism of the Maratha king Shivaji; and, after independence, a set of films based on Indian resistance to colonial rule (Anandmath, Hemant Gupta, 1950; Jhansi ki Rani [Queen of Jhansi], Sohrab Modi, 1953). The historical genre provides an account of the relationship between foreign invaders and rulers and local Indian kings and ruling groups. Contemporary secularist discourse regarded some of this work as exemplary of the bid to forge amity among the communities. However, a careful reading of these films will suggest how they o√er a subtle rewriting of Indian history: the foreign ruler’s formal authority is shown to be ultimately contingent on the real hegemonic authority that Hindu aristocrats and ruling groups exercised over indigenous society.≥ Pukar provides a particularly suggestive instance of these narrative operations, and one which arguably alerts us to the privileged position of the

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spectator. The film is punctuated by a series of spectacular public assemblies centred on the Mughal king Jehangir. The camera at first places the spectator at a respectful distance and through low angles to the royal personage, echoing the heraldic discourse which warns the assembled subjects to look away from the sacred form of the ruler as he arrives in court. But subsequent scenes continuously alter these spatial relations and, in turn, the authority of the kingly figure. The film spectator is brought closer to the king, entering his personal domain, and is close witness to his relationship with his beloved queen, Nur Jehan. In a sense, these spatial relations develop a distinction between the diegetic audience and the cinema audience, privileging us in the historical reenactment. This narrational pattern climaxes when a Rajput subject, Sangram Singh, intervenes between the king and the diegetic audience of the court. Mangal, Sangram’s son, had killed members of another Rajput clan when they attacked him for his romantic liaison with the daughter of the family. Jehangir’s inflexible justice refuses to consider the extenuating circumstances, and Mangal is sentenced to death. Later, Nur Jehan, in showing o√ her prowess with bow and arrow, accidentally kills a dhobi, a washer man. Sangram, determined to test the king, and to bring him to a di√erent perspective, arraigns the grieving widow of the washerman in the court to demand justice. The Rajput’s move can be interpreted as a discourse of power: the lowly dhobin would not normally have taken recourse to imperial justice. The Rajput’s insistence that she lay claim to the emperor’s justice is akin to a demonstration of the social authority exercised by the aristocrat over the most subordinated of his society. It therefore also appears to pit society against the state, and to show that imperial authority is contingent on a prior Hindu social authority. In the extraordinary climax to this narrative force field, the film’s operations on spectator parameters acquire a particularly charged dimension, opening the historical genre to a startling meditation on the dialogue between imagined histories and futures. In particular, the image of the transcendent state, here reposed in the figure of an impartial Mughal justice, is subject to extreme pressure. Posing the emperor with a traumatic possibility—the execution of his wife for her killing of the dhobi—the Rajput’s arraignment of societal authority in the court brings the transcendent state to the brink. In terms of a discourse of power, to back down and qualify his stance, Jehangir would be giving way and accepting another, Hindu logic of authority. The plot pulls a surprise: the emperor will compensate the dhobin’s loss by ordering

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that Nur Jehan’s punishment will be to forfeit her husband’s life to the dhobin. This is a moment of narrative daring. Playing with the parameters of di√erence between the diegetic and filmic spectator, Jehangir’s command to the dhobin to shoot him is rendered in a series of escalating close-ups. The address here is thus also one made by the Mughal king to the cinematic spectator. For the order issued by the emperor to his subject is presented in an enormous frontal close-up that inducts the spectator into an overwhelming direct address. It is as if the narrative places the iconic historical figure in a force field of Hindu authority whose ultimate logic is one of negation—the annihilation of the transcendental state in the face of Hindu authority, and, indeed, the annihilation of history by the pressure of the present. This challenge to Mughal rule and the medieval Indian past is governed by an imperative of recovering Hindu pride for a present and future organization of nationalist culture and is defined by leadership grounded in hierarchy rather than community. The threat is arrested when the Rajput commands the dhobin to desist and thereby restores the spatial balance of spectatorial relations to the diegesis. It should be noted that the Rajput challenge does not represent an egalitarian rendering of Indian society against Mughal absolutism but deploys the power the upper-caste aristocrat can exercise over the lowest of this society, an untouchable washerwoman. In turn, the display and withdrawal of authority is responded to in the garb of a restoration of the transcendent state, as Jehangir graciously grants a general amnesty to those condemned to death. Mangal Singh is thus only one in a host of beneficiaries of imperial magnanimity. Pukar was understood at the time to be a film about the historical amity between Hindu and Muslim communities, and a salient corrective to the emerging sectarian animosity. We may note that another reading, one inevitably governed by the current imprint of Hindutva politics and its drive to ethnicize the contemporary nation-state, has led us into a di√erent estimation of narrative meaning. One form of transcendence, that of an impartial system of state justice, is recoded as based on Muslim authority and is displaced in its arbitrating functions by a Hindu locus of power. Nevertheless, as with the case of Shejari, we may consider that contextual reception cannot be held to be ‘‘wrong’’ or naïve. I have o√ered a reading here, a deciphering of meanings on the grounds of oppositions between the Mughal and the Rajput, and despite the overt rhetoric of loyalty used by the Rajput subject. And the reading emerges in the wake of a subsequent history. If in Shejari a utopian imaginary emerges to compensate the losses incurred in the modernizing imperatives

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and manipulations of a post-sacred (Hindu) universe, in Pukar it is as if the cinematic audience is brought to an awareness of the potential crisis that rereadings o√er. This brinkmanship of the fiction almost appears to o√er the possibility of imagining the apocalyptic rending of the historical referent.∂ At the conclusion, Sangram Singh not only reasserts the realm of history but asserts the inviolate position of the emperor in the design of the world. The legitimacy of the Mughal order, and thereby of the historical ideology of Mughal-Rajput fealty, is reiterated, if perhaps with a sense of the greater say the Rajput has in this polity. What has subtly shifted, however duplicitous and hedged in this may be, is that this rule is now grounded in the more democratic dimensions of the polity, where the subject can exercise a voice. That this voice is the voice of social authority and hierarchy rather than equality is indicated by the text, even if it is not acknowledged in contemporary reception. The Transcendent Location of Stellar Bodies: Star Personae and Performativity Unlike the overwhelming emphasis on social and community mediations of di√erences notable in the popular cinema, with the complicated exception of the Mughal historical film, the cinema of the post-independence period exhibited an investment in the capacity of the state to redress social injustice. This is observable in a host of films centered on a new engagement with criminality and its social roots. The genre of the crime film assigned central significance to the bigoted exclusiveness of social hierarchies in determining attitudes to the marginal and dispossessed. This context was recurrently acknowledged by the police and in courts and law, where the transcendent, equalizing imprimatur of the state is staged in film after film. In films such as Awara (Vagabond, Raj Kapoor, 1951), Shree 420 (Mr. Conman, Raj Kapoor, 1956), Jagte Raho (Stay Alert, Shambhu Mitra, 1956), Baazi (The Wager, Guru Dutt, 1951), Aar Paar (Heads or Tails, Guru Dutt, 1954) and CID (Raj Khosla, 1956), corrupt businessmen and old elites manipulate and marginalize the claims of those without educational or social capital, pushing protagonists into the world of crime. However, if the state is presented as a benign entity that will intercede in the just reordering of society, it is only one component of the transformative agenda. The cinema of this period strongly engages with the city as a crucial laboratory of transformation and mode of experience. The latter is distinctively a cinematic mode. As Moinak Biswas has pointed out, films such as

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Baazi and Aar Paar are perceptually charged with a new sense of speed, their mise-en-scène organized to highlight darkness and mystery, their editing facilitating a disjointed sense of space operated through camera angle and mise-en-scène. Within this cinematic armature, the street a√ords the functions of a narrative shifter. It o√ers the possibility of encounters with strangers and renders even intimate figures, lost in a melodramatic shroud of time and dispersal, into alien entities (the famous ‘‘lost and found’’ formula of the popular). Thus, in a number of films, fathers and sons pass each other by without recognition. In terms of a thematics of society, the dynamics of estrangement are at once traumatic and liberating, registering the hurt of social anonymity and ignominy, but also embracing the exhilarating possibilities of escape from social hierarchy. The popular, and the city it delineates, emerges here as a field of energy in romance, sexuality, and social fluidity, and as retailer of the visceral e√ects of exploring the city’s criminal underbelly. I want to consider this trajectory in terms of a specific form of transcendence. The transcendence of city and street, a√ording a release from hierarchy and defined identity, is complemented by a performative transcendence. This lies in the particular presentational dimensions used by actors and, more particularly, stars. It is as if a new self-consciousness emerges in the inflection of these narratively ordered displacements. The perceptual world undergoes a series of displacements, induced by the narrative order, and through a performative economy that alerts us to the di√erence between actor and character. These displacements and disconnections acquire particular force as the actor’s body moves across a series of films. These are obviously general issues for how to understand a logic of star formation, how to place it and make sense of it. But they open into our particular concerns here in that they speak the language of mutability, play, and invention, and in that sense make of the body an arbitrary signifier. However, the interplay of systems of typage and star discourse builds historically to constitute a constellation that suggests regularities and disruptions. It is in such movements of the body across a screen, and indeed across many screens, both in the depth of time and in its simultaneity and therefore comparability, that we may discern a significant locus of meaning. I want to take two star personalities, or at least significant segments of their careers, to explore this formulation. I attend to those dimensions of their imaginary biography that specifically address the representation of communal di√erence, and, through this imaginary, function also as a marker of tran-

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scendent intervention. First, I will isolate one dimension of the star personality of Raj Kapoor. This is that of the petty thief and confidence trickster whose biography is strongly associated with the illicit dimensions of the city, and a performative dimension specifically associated with the street. In Awara, performativity, here the pleasurable display of bodily dexterity, in picking pockets, staging a fictive heroism, is highlighted in the song sequence ‘‘Main Awara Hoon,’’ and in scenes played for comedy. The cheerfulness of this presentation of self is counterpointed to an overweening dark melodrama of the main narrative line, a bitter tale of social dispossession and marginality. Rootlessness and homelessness are transmuted when performativity becomes a major reference point in another social justice narrative, Shree 420. Here the hero, apparently a naïve figure, even a simpleton, arrives in Bombay from Allahabad, to encounter the corruption and exploitation of the big city. But here, even more markedly than in the disjunctions of Awara, character is specifically defined as unstable, as governed by a putting on and taking o√ of persona. The simpleton exhibits unexpected skills, as in his dexterity as a cardsharp, and then elaborates his instability by abruptly shifting social locales and sartorial habit. Thus the Kapoor protagonist shifts registers from his high-waisted, loose-fitting pant and coat and splayed gait to take on the persona of a suave gentleman attired in evening lounge suit who easily inhabits the precincts of the nightclub. The unanchored personality, here entirely dispensing with a consistency of psychological characterization, facilitates the transcendental drive which I am concerned to explore here. In the trajectory of the 1950s, we notice this development coming together suggestively with the orbit of intercommunity representations at the end of the decade. In Chhalia (The Cheat, Manmohan Desai, 1960), the Kapoor tramp figure, prefiguring the tapori (petty street thief ) of the 1990s in terms of his emphasis on performativity over character integrity, is shifted from the field of social justice narratives into those of narratives of intercommunity tolerance and renewal. The film is an extremely important one in the annals of popular secularist discourse, so I will spend some time unravelling its narrative organization. The story addresses issues which have recently been explored by feminist historiography: the problems posed by the repatriation and rehabilitation of women after the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 (Bhasin and Menon; Butalia; V. Das, Critical Events). The drive to repatriate was complicated by the response of families to the returned women. There was suspicion about what

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had happened during their years away from the family, and social anxiety, too, about how the community would regard the reintegration of the possibly tainted ‘‘rescued’’ woman. Chhalia’s exploration of this issue rapidly reassures the spectator of the virtue of the female protagonist, Shanti (Nutan).∑ Newly married, she is left behind in Lahore as riots erupt. To her good fortune, a pathan, Khan (Pran), takes her in and protects her from the marauding Muslim crowd. The pathan is a violent criminal but is redeemed by his desire that Sakina, his sister, left behind in Delhi, will receive protection if he provides Shanti with protection. On her return to Delhi, Shanti’s in-laws and parents refuse to acknowledge her, the latter with considerable heartbreak. Only Kewal (Rehman), her husband, is willing to sunder ties with his family in order to reunite with his wife. However, he too becomes estranged when he sees that Shanti has a son who bears the name Anwar. The ostracized Shanti contemplates suicide but is saved from this fate by the Chhalia of the title, Kapoor’s petty thief. In this variant of the tramp, the obscurity of the character’s origins is cheerfully accepted, in contrast to the traumatic ramifications of uncertain origins in the world of Awara. Here, in the character’s own account, such obscurity makes him akin to a saint; knowing no origins, he transcends all religious a≈liations and can treat all with equal respect. The equality here is comically that of an equalization in criminal targeting: he makes no di√erence among Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, or Christian as to whose pocket he will pick. Chhalia becomes the vehicle for the saving of Shanti, and her reunion with her husband. As often happens with such a discourse of the transcendental subject, other dimensions of narrative framing suggest something slightly more complicated. Without identifiable family origins, Chhalia nevertheless has regional origins, in the city of Amritsar, where he was caught in criminal rivalry with Khan, the pathan who had saved Shanti in Lahore. The two men meet each other again, when Khan comes to India looking for his lost sister. If he fails, he has determined to find Shanti and take her life. Chhalia defends Shanti, and it is the heroine’s arrival which prevents Khan from killing Chhalia. Khan, shocked at what he has almost done, is spiritually broken and prepares to leave. Like Saadat Hasan Manto’s character Toba Tek Singh, he does not understand where Pakistan or India are; Chhalia explains that Pakistan is that which Hindustan is not. This is ironic testimony to the fatality of national boundaries. He alerts the pathan to the expiry of his entry permit and

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sees him o√ at the railway station. The narrative enacts compensatory exchange on the fulfillment of this fatalistically conceived division and return. Miraculously, the pathan finds that Sakina too is on the train, thereby compensating for the division which the newly constituted nations on either side are burdened with. Shobhana Samarth, who enacted the role of Sita in the 1946 Vijay Bhatt Ramayana, is grief-stricken when her husband permits her to visit the rehabilitation camp to see, but not acknowledge, the daughter who has returned to her. Do these tears emerge from a mythical and a cinematic locus, as the mother recognizes in the destiny of her own daughter∏ the reenactment of the Ramayana’s tale of abduction, exile, and a recovery dogged by suspicion? The imagery of the Ramayana is deployed here, as it is in other 1950s films including the earlier Awara, and, appropriately, the reunion of the couple takes place under the aegis of the Ramlila. No longer is this, however, an issue of the abductor and the abducted. The Other is that which lies within, in Kewal’s unwillingness to accept Shanti. (Remarkably, this does not prevent him from accepting his son.) In a melodramatic conclusion, Kapoor’s address to the assembled public, and to the dramatis personae, urges an end to the Ram Sita kahani and finally sees the couple united in jointly protecting their child from the falling e≈gy of Ravana. The Kapoor persona is critical to the architecture of the narrative. He carries with him, from Awara through Shree 420, the imagery of the uprooted, the déclassé, the criminal, and, in terms of spatial resonance, the semantics of the street and the field of the popular. It is the very lack of legitimacy which o√ers him the possibility of interrogating social hierarchy, and the ritual boundaries, of birth and descent, which undergird this hierarchy. The virtual biography of the star as screen persona—a persona who resides on the internal screen of the spectator’s cinematic memory—can then be mobilized, with a sense of thematic consistency, into a new focus by addressing and resolving the possible tainting of community boundaries raised by the figure of the abducted woman. The thematic has not really changed; it still has to do with questions of birth and descent, but it is now refocused as an issue of community rather than class. Critically, the arena of resolution is not the state. The state can only set up the possibility of resolution. It is the left-wing cultural terrain that has provided a critique of the mythic reference point for patriarchy that provides the mise-en-scène of social restitution. In fact, at another level, the state is almost negatively coded. While the street con man can problema-

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tize the constraints of community, this remains within a discourse of the nation-state. When Chhalia and Khan are pitted against each other, at one level, it is a reprise of an older rivalry going back to Amritsar. However, when this is transposed to post-Partition Delhi, such a face-o√ now carries a nationalist resonance with it, the hoodlums now pitted against each other as national entities. The critical function of the nation-state here is observable when Chhalia, who flouts the law, nevertheless reminds Khan of the expiry of his entry permit. Nevertheless, there is a peculiar redemptive dimension to the way this is uttered, as a law, that of the nation-state, which one cannot evade. The figure of the street relays this empathetically, with a sense of compassion and fatalism. The complexity of this development of a transcendent mediation by the star persona gives one pause for thought. The figure of the star may sometimes stand, may indeed condense, the experience of the cinema in crucial ways. If the cinema has a persona, a figure who stands for it, captures its allure and the power it exercises over memory, it is perhaps in this figure. Is this a superego which shadows the function of superego carried out by figures of political and public life, mobilizing popular discourses to complement the orientations of the wider political realm?π Bachchan carried something of what Kapoor did for the post-independence period on into the 1970s. There is, however, a distinction in the way the screen persona is mobilized for the mediation of intercommunity di√erence: this is by assuming the position of the Other, as, for example, in Amar, Akbar, Anthony (Manmohan Desai, 1977) and Coolie (Manmohan Desai, 1982). In the former film, a characteristic melodramatic narrative ensures the dispersal of the children of a Hindu family into a set of multicommunity foster families, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian. The film mirrors the conventions of a sociological imagination, suggesting the socially superior position of the Hindu in a middle-class, professionalized setting, one carrying a symbolic, normative function, that of the policeman. The other figures again run true to social typage, one a Muslim weaver and qawwali singer, the other the Christian bootlegger. However, this representational grid rubs up against the stellar constellation. The Christian and Muslim figures are played by the more popular actors, Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor, while the lesser star, Vinod Khanna, plays the Hindu policeman. The knowing mismatch between the narrative of star authority and that of social authority and respectability a√ords the spectator with the pleasures of a playful, carnivalesque inversion, where an authoritative and respectable Hindu society is

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shown up as somewhat strait-laced and repressed (as in the triptych of romances presented through the song sequence ‘‘Hamko tumse ho gaya hai pyar kya karein’’). I want to conclude this discussion of a transcendent performativity by way of a more risk-laden example. This is the case of Nana Patekar. This actor, who was earlier trained in theater acting, brought a new performance idiom into mainstream cinema, with his tautly controlled body, and a bravura, staccato dialogue delivery that functions as verbal assault. He lashes his opponent with a cascade of ironic comment and irreverent wit, the whole laced with a mordant gallows humor. Intriguingly, this performance style has been deployed in very di√erent ways. While Patekar has increasingly come to be associated with a machismo regional and national right-wing politics (of the chauvinist Maharashtrian party, the Shiv Sena, and more broadly with a Hindu right politics at the national level), the actor’s screen persona is not so straightforward. Thus, while films such as Ankush (The Goad, N. Chandra, 1986), Prahaar (Attack, Nana Patekar, 1991), and Krantiveer (The Brave Revolutionary, Mehul Kumar, 1994) would appear to confirm this political characterization, his roles in Salaam Bombay (Mira Nair, 1988) and Disha (Direction, Sai Paranjpaye, 1990) are of the mold of the social-realist genre. Others, such as Parinda (Pigeons, Vidhu Vinod Chopra 1989), Thodasa Rumani Ho Jaye (Let’s Have a Little Romance, Amol Palekar, 1990), Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman (And So Raju Became a Gent, Aziz Mirza, 1992), and Ghulam e Musthafa (Musthafa, the Loyal Servant, Parto Ghosh, 1998), suggest a tapestry of types. These include the psychotic gangster, the emissary of the monsoon and romance, a narratorcharacter retailing scathing social critique for the ‘‘small man’’ of an earlier socialist imagination, a Muslim gangster who sends up Hindu middleclass mores. It is this last instance which I want to draw on for more sustained analysis. Patekar had played a Muslim character earlier, that of a gangster in Angaar (Ashes, Shashilaal Nayar, 1992). This was part of an emergent trend in Bombay cinema, where the Hindu hero was pitted against a villainous character specifically marked as Muslim. In Ghulam e Musthafa, Patekar plays a Muslim gangster once again, but this time as a hero. He is of the breed of the orphaned hero, who does not know his parents and has to survive the demands of a ruthless city. He comes under the tutelage of a Hindu, a Mafioso who gives him the loving care of a father. Musthafa is hit man for the Hindu don, and he is a magnificent specimen. Sartorially, he is a visual spectacle, harking back to

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grandiose images of medieval courts and public arena in his flowing colorful robes. He is also devout, meticulously performing his prayers before unleashing brutal punishment against his master’s enemies. Ultimately, like other heroic Muslims on the Bombay screen, he is destined to die. The death is redemptive, for it follows on his refusal to carry out his master’s orders, or, indeed, to participate in what he comes to see as exploitative acts demeaning to the common citizen. What is distinctive to all this is the centrality of Hindu-Muslim relations to the narrative experimentation of the film. Musthafa comes to be impressed by the upright character and dignity of a struggling, petty bureaucratic Hindu family. When the father of this family refuses to take a bribe for the award of a government contract, his family is put at grave risk. The reformed Musthafa decides that he will protect the family, and to do this, he must take up residence in their home. There follows a comedy of social adjustment. The mother of the household, in particular, gives voice to all the taboos of Hindu society in the face of the Other. Musthafa’s very presence in the household as she undertakes her daily puja is disturbing, as is his ‘‘Muslim’’ habit of touching the glass to his lips. There is a spate of social anxieties as well: the influence Musthafa exercises over her son, teaching him to ride and repair a motorcycle, seems to threaten his abduction into the di√erent world of the street. Musthafa also functions as a substitute parent to the daughter in spheres the parents are too conventional to handle, as when he oversees her safe passage from a date. Ultimately, even the mother is won over and is overwhelmed with grief when Musthafa pays for his refusal to kowtow to his former bosses. How do we situate this performance? The historical landscape has decisively shifted from the earlier instances of the 1950s and 1970s. Patekar’s career emerges almost uncannily alongside that of a new phase of the Shiv Sena: his 1986 film Ankush is often associated with this polity in its profiling of neighborhood youth, restless, frustrated figures who rail against the injustices they have been meted out by a corrupt society, and ultimately giving violent outlet to their simmering rage. Subsequently, Prahaar, in its story about a Rajput commando trainer who takes on the local hoods terrorizing a Bombay locality, is also considered a landmark film. It showcases with a new, sadistic economy, the violent assertion of Hindutva’s symbolic authority over the nation. The next film, Krantiveer, emerges almost simultaneously with the demolition of the Babri Masjid, that catastrophic assault against India’s Mus-

260 Ravi S. Vasudevan

lim minority. Here, Patekar as a child ridicules the heritage of anticolonial patriotism, and, as an adult, is driven only by loyalty to his adoptive family, that of a Hindu baniya. However, when the manipulations of politicians, real estate speculators, and the police lead to a communal conflagration in the locality, he is traumatized and undergoes a change of perspective. He declares the absurdity and irrationality of intercommunal violence before the assembled public of survivors. However, the proof of his argument lies in a rather shocking, and ambiguously coded act of bloodletting. Before the assembled post-riot crowd, he draws out a Muslim marauder and proceeds to smash his fingers along with his own, to demonstrate that they have the same blood. Significantly, it is the Hindu who has a modern, scientifically grounded perception of the world, and the Muslim who has to be taught a basic lesson in biological science. This rather common narrative of the Hindu moorings of modern, rationalist perception is, perhaps, undergirded by a gesture to a more primordial cognition. In the histories retailed by Hindutva, Islam and Christianity have converted the original, Hindu inhabitants of the subcontinent, threatening the rights of this primordial identity to oversee the modern nation (A. Rai). Underneath the discourse of biological equivalence retailed by Patekar’s sermon may then lie another one, of a primordial order rather than one constructed by modern science. But even here the primordial is hierarchized. The Hindu protagonist enacts a symbolic register of violent reintegration, in which the Other comes across as a vagrant gene pool, as biological proof for he who knows himself, the nation, and can command the Other to be a subordinated, functional component in the playing out of this national-ethnic destiny. Such a deconstruction of a humanist morality tale emerges from the history of previous narratives, and of the function of the star’s screen persona in these. How then to reconcile the narrative world and screen personality of Ghulam e Musthafa with this master narrative of the star personality? One of the ways of dealing with this is to see the performance as the strategy of a Hindu symbolic authority to assume the guise of the Other in order to transform itself. On what grounds would this be? Here, one can invoke a series of accounts of the desired transformation of Hinduism in the modern era, especially from the time of the colonial period. This emphasizes the firming up of Hinduism, its acquiring a more disciplined theological cast, and a more structured set of protocols through which to integrate and orient its following. Such drives, manifest in writers as diverse as Bankim Chandra Chattopadyaya

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(T. Sarkar, Hindu Wife) and Savarkar (Pandey, ‘‘Which of Us Are Hindus?’’), and in the desire reposed in the refashioned figure of Ram, place stress on a harder, more aggressive sense of self (A. Kapur). Here the self is cultivated by mirroring the perceived definitions of the Other, the Muslim and the Christian. In such a lineage, Musthafa becomes the Other the self must cultivate in order to assert oneself in the world. More than a benefactor, a servant, and a sword arm for the moral probity of Hindu society, he is also a role model. But surely he is too large, too magnificent to be emulated? But so too is the refashioned Ram, who appears in contemporary versions either as a muscular marquee figure mobilizing for Hindutva (A. Kapur) or, again, in Kamalahasan’s Hey Ram! as a somewhat remote, hyperbolic displacement of the hero into a mythic register. These are entities that rule the cosmos. Film narratives, by and large, require more pedestrian registers to supplement the movement of the superego.∫ The magnificence of the figure dwarfs that which surrounds him and must find grounding in something more quotidian. Thus I prefer to focus on Musthafa of the net vest and filigreed cap, the figure sipping his tumbler of co√ee before the aghast eyes of a pollution-fearing Hindu matriarch. The register of comedy here slips into the everyday conundrums of cohabitation. It also lampoons the insularity of the Hindu self, its cordoning itself o√ from a certain sensual, tactile universe. Is caricature here the vehicle of an urging that one must change oneself, enter the world and commingle with the Other? Is there a subaltern register to the lampoon, sending up the middle class from the perspective of the sweaty, messy this-worldliness of common folk across the ethno-religious board? Patekar is a master of the scathing verbal demolition of the Other. But this is an a√ectionate sending up of the goodly Hindu housewife. Whatever the film’s invocation of limits, Musthafa’s externality to the household sealed by his ultimate function of the martyred protector, there is a point of departure for the popular cinema in this scenario of cohabitation. A space appears to open up, signaled in this interpretation by a will to performance and imagination. We have seen that Patekar has essayed a number of other roles, quite at variance with those which have been most highlighted in his oeuvre. But nothing, perhaps, has prepared us for this particular break in the virtual biography of his screen persona. And it would have meant that much less if it appeared in the oeuvre of any other present-day star. It is here that a fissure a√ords us with the possibilities of a transcendence of community boundaries: through the register of performance, play, and

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imagination—the imagining, if not of the Other, then of the limits of the self. The fissure has nothing to do with the biographical character Patekar, his attitudes or motivations. It is a break in the virtual persona we, as film spectators, have invested in. In rendering a break, the fissure or dissonance produces a crack, a glimmer of light, where we may insert our own subjectivity. Notes 1. Company painting refers to the forms of painting arising from the presence of the East India Company; paintings were done in a naturalist style to capture social types and Indian scenes (see Archer). 2. For the U.S. cinema, such a system of direct address is perhaps best demonstrated by the work of Frank Capra in the 1930s and 1940s in films such as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1937), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and Meet John Doe (1943). 3. The following is a summary of a larger work in progress. 4. For another, more contemporary example, which deploys the armature of the video game to imagine history as a game with the possibilities of di√erent game outcome, see Vasudevan, ‘‘Another History Rises to the Surface.’’ 5. The career of Nutan at this time is suggestive. In 1959, she played the untouchable heroine of Sujata (Bimal Roy), and in 1963, in Bandini, another Bimal Roy film, she played the role of a woman who had courted social ostracism by her commitment to a revolutionary terrorist. Her use in such unconventional roles suggests not only the commitment of the Bombay industry at the time, both in its left wing and liberal tendencies, to explore subalternity but also the deployment of a star discourse to make such explorations more palatable. Thus the casting of Nutan, the impeccable high-caste actress, daughter of Shobhana Samarth, the Sita of Vijay Bhatt’s Ramayana (1946), probably a√ords the spectator a reassuring distance from the social referent of these films. 6. Who is, of course, her real-life daughter, Nutan. 7. Moinak Biswas in fact suggests that the popular cinema of the 1950s, especially the work of Mehboob Khan and Raj Kapoor, better represents the ethos of the Nehruvian mandate of social justice than, say, the art cinema of Ray, which employs strategies of distancing a Nehruvian telos of modernity. Arguably, the power of the popular, as with other forms of creativity, may derive ultimately from the traumatic terms of identifying oneself with modernizing imperatives. The trauma arises from the giving up of oneself, and dealing with the sustaining of losses, inevitably figured, from Kapoor to Ray to Ghatak, around the figure of the mother, a figure which suggests lack in a protean, melodramatic way. 8. I have suggested how this duality of personality types is observable in other Kamalahasan films such as Hindustani (Vasudevan, ‘‘Another History Rises to the Surface’’).

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Upendra Baxi a

Siting Secularism in the Uniform Civil Code A ‘‘Riddle Wrapped Inside an Enigma’’?


ecularism as an object of desiring discourse stands framed variously. As a marker of modernity, it emerges as an archive of state formative practices, as a domain of rights and justice, as a register of minority rights and of collective identity and di√erence. Secularism also invites contention concerning the justice of rights. Indian social theory has addressed secularism variously: in terms of a social history of ideas (Madan), as a terrain for the ideological critique of the violence of imposed modernity (Nandy), as an aspect of the discourse of liberal theory (Bhargava, ‘‘Religious and Secular Identities’’; Chandoke; Rajan; Mahajan). Historians have traced secularism in di√erent strokes: subaltern historical narratives reflect on secularism as an a√air of colonial domination and subaltern practices of resistance (Guha, Dominance without Hegemony), as also in terms of approaches to the understanding of practices of communal politics, particularly in terms of the critical event of the Partition of India (Pandey, The Construction of Communalism, and Remembering Partition), and in terms of the hegemonic formations of nationalist ideologies that animate the diverse phases of the national freedom struggle (P. Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought; see also his The Nation and Its Fragments). Recent feminist historiography narrativizes the manifold careers of the colonial and constitutional subjugation of Indian women in terms

of the production and reproduction of the rightlessness of women. Theoretical narratives of Indian constitutionalism accentuate the tensions between the ideals of constitutional secularism and the practices of politics that di√erentially engage these. Human rights, and social activist, critiques engage with secularism as a crucible of contemporary Indian politics now replicating the Holocaust-like violence of the Indian Partition (Vardarajan; Baxi, ‘‘The Gujarat Catastrophe’’; P. Baxi; Varshney). At the same time, the processes of the secularization of Indian society and state (to which M. N. Srinivas drew our attention as early as 1966) take many roots, undisturbed by the vicissitudes of the ideology of secularism. Eminent constitutional thinkers endorse what may be termed a liberal theory of secularism which stresses that (1) the state itself in all its operations will subscribe to no religious faith; (2) it will protect the freedom of conscience and religion; it will treat all religions equally; and (4) it will not use taxes and other public revenues to support a specific religion. Readers of the landmark decisions of the Indian Supreme Court know full well (or ought to!) the contexts in which these ideals need to be put to work. They present disputations of a staggeringly varied nature.∞ If most social theorists avoid an understanding of the dilemma-ridden character of constitutional secularism when they debunk or defend secularism,≤ eminent justices remain unable to o√er any coherent account of it either given the fact that they may only speak to it within the exigencies of the case or controversy brought, from time to time, before them. In this zodiac, constitutional secularism itself necessarily constitutes an ensemble of the practices of a civic religion, often no less ‘‘dogmatic’’ than what the fighting faith communities o√er to pious ‘‘fundamentalists.’’ Further, invocations of high modern or postmodern approaches to toleration insu≈ciently address the tumultuous and multitudinous social realities of diversely based ‘‘religious’’ behavior and conduct, encased of course in practices of politics that fuel the fires of xenophobia, religious enmity, and intolerance. In the dominant discourse, secularism pertains largely to the recognition and protection of group or minority rights. The problem of deciding the justice of rights arises when we ask the question: how may recognition of collective rights extend to the justification and endorsement of the denial of rights to individual members of a given community? Does the fact of interpellation within a community imply a tacit individual ‘‘waiver’’ or ‘‘renunciation’’ of human rights? If not, would state and legal coercive interventions

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protecting the beliefs and acts of individuals within a minority community eventually weaken group rights to a vanishing point? Further, what justifications remain available, if any, for state regulation of the freedom of conscience, in its radically ethical sense? What non-agentative ethic may we construct for state and law regulation of conscientious conduct? How do we derive a superior collective ethic that may justifiably regulate, discipline, and punish agnosticism, apostasy, conscientious objection to warlike operations, and religious conversions? Would such regulation entrench religious beliefs (a matter of conscience) or merely limit some religious practices? This essay explores the complex connections between two related but distinct discourses: Indian constitutional secularism and the Uniform Civil Code (ucc). The search for connections raises a wide range of basic questions: To what extent does constitutional secularism as an ethic of liberal state neutrality correspond with cultural histories of power in India? How do diversity of human rights (of freedom of conscience and religion), and in turn their state regulation correspond with conceptions of just political authority? How far does the state and law reach the realm of conscience and religion, and how far may it? May the state and the law proceed to revise and rewrite consequences that follow from acts of authentic individual choice to belong to a faith community? May the state and the law, and with what attendant justification, coercively intervene to foreclose the range of choices or to ‘‘rectify’’ these choices thus made? Should political power be authorized to restrict, and even prohibit, the free exercise of conscience entailed in religious conversion? How may we derive a superior collective ethic that may ‘‘justifiably’’ regulate, discipline, and punish religious conversions? This normative question is not answered by reference to the fact that some Indian states have enacted laws, sustained by the Supreme Court of India, prohibiting conversion on the ground of force and fraud, even when proselytization practices that promise heaven or threaten hell may thus stand indicted! Does the state have an obligation to so act as to invigilate and delegitimate acts of belonging, which subordinate individual human rights to the identity-forming, and a≈rming, a√ective communities, including those of faith? May these extend so far as to adversely overrule choices to belong to communities of faith, such that they a√ect core aspects of religious belief and practice, even to eventually attenuate these to a vanishing point? The distinction between religious belief and practice, and within it between practices that relate to ‘‘core’’ religious beliefs and those that may be charac-

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terized as peripheral or secular aspects, has tormented Indian constitutional adjudication. While judicial discourse o√ers several histories of practical reason (see, for example, Galanter, Competing Equalities; Sathe; Ghouse; Menski), it is not clear how this belief/practice dichotomy may indeed foster a detraditionalization or secularization of the ‘‘core’’ beliefs. At least five questions arise: How may state, law, and adjudication make the pertinent distinctions from within, or outside, the religious hermeneutic of a given tradition? How far may these support dissentient voices within a religious tradition that, in e√ect, refashion the ‘‘core’’? Within what limits, if any, may state and law reconstitute religious belief and tradition by assailing its practices? What may then survive for the human right and human freedom of conscience? Does the failure to achieve ucc normatively entail the demise of the ideal of constitutional secularism? These questions (relating to epistemology, agency, and legitimation) surface uneasily in this essay; a rigorous analysis of them lies, however, outside its scope. A hit-and-run or cash-and-carry style of secularism focuses eminently on the implementation of Article 44 of the Indian constitution, which says nothing more than that the ‘‘State shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.’’ What is to be implemented, or performed, is not at all self-evident; this is at best a general promise to endeavor to secure, not necessarily a road map toward securing ucc for all. Those who lament the fact that the state has not yet secured a Uniform Civil Code, after five decades of the working of the constitution, must also ask whether it has at all ‘‘endeavored.’’ Much of the ucc talk fails even to pose the question of relation between promise and its betrayal. If it is the case that the very idea of a promise makes sense only in the context of betrayal (Hillis Miller), how may the promise of Article 44 escape enclosure by the potential of betrayal? The promise itself is infinitely complicated: its meaning depends on how one may proceed to construe the six operative terms of Article 44: ‘‘uniform,’’ ‘‘civil,’’ and ‘‘code,’’ ‘‘endeavor,’’ ‘‘secure,’’ and ‘‘territory.’’ These besiege interpretive e√orts that seek semiotic and narrative interconnectedness and coherence among them (on which, see Jackson). Uniformity Given the precious fact that Indian constitutionalism enacts respect for forms of civilizational and cultural plurality and di√erence—thus anticipating the

270 Upendra Baxi

parade of ideas concerning ‘‘multiculturalism’’—how may we construe the ideal of uniformity? At least in its midlife, the Forty-Second Amendment erected a fundamental duty for all citizens to respect the ‘‘composite culture’’ of India. At the same time, Indian constitutionalism also combats millennial injustices to the scheduled castes and tribes and socially and educationally backward classes. It celebrates the right to religion within the determination to right ancient wrongs; thus the practice of untouchability is abolished and discrimination on the grounds of untouchability is made a constitutional o√ense (Article 17) and the right to conscience and religion is subjected to regulation on the grounds, among others, of constitutional ‘‘morality.’’ Indian women, however, are not constitutionally perceived as embodiments of millennial hurt and harm; they are crucially constituted as citizens entitled to recognition of equal worth, equal concern, and respect. Indian constitutionalism does not essentialize thus the identity of all Indian women as it does ascriptive caste communities, indigenous peoples, and the impoverished peoples. This last factor complicates constructions of ‘‘uniformity’’ in relation to identity and di√erence constituted di√erently by religious a≈liations. The ucc discourse has a di√erent take; it insists pervasively that ‘‘uniform’’ is to be understood as guaranteeing equal rights to all women thus requiring a common civil law applicable to all governing ‘‘marriage,’’ ‘‘divorce,’’ and ‘‘adoption,’’ as well as ‘‘inheritance’’ and ‘‘succession.’’ I place these rubrics within quotes to emphasize that these in themselves constitute whole universes of conflicting meanings and social, religious, and cultural practices that represent a variety of regimes of ‘‘family,’’ whether conceived in terms of the right of intimate association, systems of property relations, cultural (even civilizational) codes, or identity and agency within multiethnic and multireligious structures. The term ‘‘uniform’’ then raises a host of questions: What denial of the right to di√erence may ‘‘uniformity’’ legitimately ordain? May women of faith communities (occupying di√erent subject positions) be allowed to fashion their own notions of what it may mean to have human rights? Or should they all fashion themselves in the constitutional imagery of equal co-citizens having access to a uniform regime of human rights? What obligations then follow for state and policy actors in their pursuit of ‘‘uniformity’’? Should they proceed to regulate, govern, and/or discipline selfdefinitions of identity and identification practices or should they seek only to regulate the egregious forms of the production of women’s human rightless-

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ness by attacking or ameliorating religious practices o√ensive to human rights? What may then be said to constitute such egregious violation? Should state and law, for example, proceed to criminalize and penalize child marriages as statutory rape? (on this, see P. Baxi). Further questions concerning ‘‘uniformity’’ go beyond the agenda of reform of the Hindu or Muslim personal law formations; the ucc discourse ignores the fact that for ‘‘tribal’’ women the issue stands posed also in terms of a now unfortunately Hindutva-dominated issue of ‘‘assimilation’’ with the ‘‘mainstream.’’ Further, in what proportion may the state and the law take recourse to ‘‘domination without hegemony’’ (in Guha’s famous phrase regime) in combating human rights o√ensive practices? I believe that raising such questions enhances the reflexive powers of social movements and struggles for women’s emancipation. Civil The notion of civil, too, is more complicated than forms of juristic understanding may suggest. The paradigmatic contrast constitutes the meaning of ‘‘civil’’ by its ‘‘opposition’’ to ‘‘criminal’’ law. If so, is ‘‘uniformity’’ any longer ‘‘civil’’ when it begins to harbor the might of criminal law state enforcement? On a larger view, civility originates in the idea of a civitas, not exhausted by the modern conceptions of citizenship. Indeed, a Uniform Civil Code that requires us to speak primarily, even wholly, the language of citizen-husband, citizen-spouse, citizen-father, and citizen-children does not so much encourage civility but state and law servitude. Were we to regard ‘‘civility’’ a virtue of individuals and basic arrangements of social relationships, the promise of the ‘‘endeavor to secure’’ assumes a di√erent meaning, if only because the idea of being a citizen does not exhaust the notion of being human, or of the ‘‘composite culture’’ of India. The relationship between culture, religion, and civility stands socially constructed across generations. Does Article 44 at all speak to this? Code And indeed when is a ‘‘code’’ a ‘‘code’’? The notion of a ‘‘code’’ is not always necessarily ‘‘progressive,’’ as the great debate between Savigny and Thibault concerning the codification of German law in the nineteenth century revealed, anachronistically pertinent even to the current Indian experience and development (see Stone, 86–118). The ‘‘political element,’’ Savingy wrote, signifies the authority of the state that ordains not that ‘‘one amongst other legal

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authorities, but that all others which have been hitherto in authority shall be in force no longer’’ (quoted in Stone, 85). Codification, then, as Savigny expressed it, is a struggle against the Volksgeist, the ‘‘spirit of the people,’’ manifesting diverse social inheritances. It also entails the co-presence of the ‘‘technical element.’’ The ‘‘lack of jurists of su≈cient genius and su≈ciently well versed in the tradition and spirit of the law’’ would only produce codification that ‘‘would sanctify contradictions, ambiguities, omissions, and confusions, and generally do more harm than good’’ (quoted in Stone, 96, 97). Much of the ucc discourse has remained obsessed by the political element; however, the requisite technical competence to produce a Uniform Civil Code is not yet in place. This marks an epistemic crisis because neither the votaries nor the adversaries of the Uniform Civil Code really know what prolific and infinite variety of customary and people law regimes are to be thus made ‘‘uniform,’’ apt for streamlining or steamrolling by a conjoint state and human rights activist production. The Savigny-Thibault contention occurred, of course, in the time before the emergence of the languages, logics, and paralogics of human rights. These now raise further questions: Ought codification articulate merely a majoritarian might or historically calibrated state ventures at social consensus? What ideal ‘‘remix’’ of that which exists (customariness) and what ought to exist may be pursued by progressive codification? The progressive argument raises the overwhelming question concerning not just codification but a just codification. This raises, in turn, at least two threshold questions. First, do women qua citizens constitute any homogenous category with a common essence? As citizens, they remain entitled to constitutional deference to a choice of belonging to faith communities. As human beings, birth communities all too often determine the estate of choice making, and the potential for reversibility of choices. If ascriptive identities violate human rights, how may the performatives of constitutional essentialism, a form that requires that women as citizens make the right constitutional choices, remain any the less repressive (in terms of authentic human agency)? Second, does state authorship or sponsorship include adjudicative leadership? If so, what civility ought to inform the pattern, in turn, of legislative deference to judicial states personship, achieving piecemeal social engineering of Article 44? Is such piecemeal normative cleansing a less worthy aspect of the ‘‘endeavor’’? Does the increasingly fractured and fragile political process provide a better prospect of an Article 44 ‘‘endeavor’’ than reasoned judicial enunciation?

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Endeavor (and Secure) The notion of endeavoring is shot through with complexities. It oscillates between the idea of initiating a process and the idea of achieving change. To endeavor is not always to achieve. Further, the temporal dimension of endeavoring may be construed variously. Recourse to flattening narratives of linear time, of course, lends weight to the power of the voice of human rights that seeks to accelerate the historic time for the realization of the promise of the ucc. In marked contrast, the legislative time remains inherently wayward and even cyclical. The ‘‘endeavor’’ toward achievement of the ucc indeed provides a one-step-forward-two-steps-back temporal register. Some ‘‘personal’’ law formations stand more constitutionally ‘‘corrected’’ than others. Constitutional corrigibility of human rights diminishing/o√ensive potentials of these formations moves along the fast-forward and slow-motion registers of contingent time for political action. The ‘‘endeavor’’ promised in Article 44 is the endeavor to ‘‘secure’’ the ucc. Is proclaiming a ‘‘code’’ securing it? Or does ‘‘securing’’ a process extend to the ‘‘security’’ of the exercise and enjoyment of a regime of rights thus created by codification? The ‘‘endeavor’’ to ‘‘secure’’ the ucc entails then wholesale, not retail, changes of the Indian legal system that translate the law in the books to the realm of the law in action, requiring radical democratization of access to judicial remedies, renovation of adjudicatory and legal professional cultures, and financial and economic support for women pursuing their human rights who confront situations of retaliation, to the point of their destitution, by extant structures of patriarchy. Where do we go, or end up, with such a radical conception of ‘‘securing’’? As if all this were not enough, siting ‘‘secularism’’ by privileging the ucc o√ers a distorting lens; the embarrassment de riches of the ucc-imbued secularism talk also marks further forms of theoretic indigence—primarily because the ucc talk ignores the relationship between human rights and identity. Some familiar ‘‘truths’’ at least concerning ‘‘political’’ identity are capable of summary statement. First, identities are historically given, socially constructed, and transformed by critical praxes. Second, identity formation is always constituted by the practices of identification. Third, these in turn destabilize ‘‘the identity of the object’’ (Laclau and Zac, 14). Fourth, essentializing notions are liable to disruption by multiple, fluid, complex, and contradictory practices of identification. Fifth, narratives of cruelty and vio-

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lent social exclusion (especially class, gender, race, and ‘‘despised sexuality’’) frame politico-juridical identity, mirroring domination and resistance, the latter in the sense that Foucault gave to ‘‘e√ective histories’’ whose task is ‘‘not to ‘discover the roots of our identity but to commit ourselves to its dissipation’ ’’ (Norval, 121). Sixth, this last constitutes a notable feature of collective identities and group rights; forms of sharing of group membership, history, and loyalty do not quite preclude assertions concerning the injustice and rightlessness that its mores cause (V. Das, ‘‘Cultural Rights and the Definition of Community’’; Chanock). Seventh, identity politics thus raises the problematic of what Fraser calls the ‘‘recognition-redistribution dilemma’’ confronting the overweening power of state and social institutions or networks. Eight, there is the context of state- and regime-sponsored politics of cruelty and social violence within which logics of identity and di√erence articulate themselves. Extraordinarily and multifariously framed in contexts of state formation articulating politics of identity, di√erence, and autonomy in the theaters of constitutionalism, human rights, governance, and development, the ucc discourse remains confined to its own prison house. There is more to the theory and practice of Indian constitutionalism than may be conveyed through the grammar of ucc discourse. Constitutional ambivalences emerge in the structuring of the relationship between governance and rights. ‘‘Secularism’’ is the very site that enacts ambivalences between the idea of a citizen, a figuration of the quest for state-free, and rechtsfree, of individual and collective autonomy and the idea of person located in the grids of caste, class, tribe, and gender. If the Indian constitution invents citizenship (a being entitled to state respect in terms of recognition of inherent equal worth and dignity), it also discovers ways of constitutional mediation of pre- and extra-constitutional conceptions of self in society. The invention of inherently liberal or secular citizenship remains at odds with this discovery; the secular notion of citizenship conception remains situated in conflicted social pluralisms in the Indian multiethnic and multireligious civilization in ways that especially need constant renegotiation in terms of gender egalitarianism. On this plane, citizenship conceptions in India (as also across the actually existing postcolonial democratic societies) emerge as conceptual and historical minefields. The point of departure here is tolerably clear: the state owes all citizen women basic obligations of equal concern, respect, and political decency. The point of arrival remains complex and contradictory, especially when multi-

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cultural, multicivilizational, and multinational grammar and idiom reject the reduction (or, if you please, the elevation) of the social into merely constitutional. What appear, on the side of constitutional conceptions of good life, as basic truths of dignity and equality, emerge on the other as an ordering of constitutional essentialisms that homogenize and stereotype the notion of being a ‘‘woman’’ and of being a ‘‘citizen.’’ This essay explores the ways in which identity rights emerge as narrative rights, human rights to tell di√erent stories concerning what it means to say both woman and citizen (Baxi, Inhuman Wrongs and Human Rights). Reconstituting Territorialities The sixth element of the promise of Article 44 refers to the ideal of the attainment of the ucc ‘‘throughout the territory of India.’’ Unification of physical and cultural ‘‘territory’’ is of course the ideal of sovereignty, constantly challenged by the pluralities of cultures, here understood merely in terms of the ‘‘local’’ and the ‘‘personal’’ law formations or law regions. However, both the ‘‘local’’ and the ‘‘personal law’’ mystify because they are normatively and historically heavily juridicalized in the timespace of the colony and the postcolony. We need genealogical narratives tracing the formative histories of power and resistance via constructions of ‘‘local,’’ ‘‘personal,’’ and ‘‘communitarian’’ inter-legalities. I provide here only a rough sketch. the local The early term used by the high colonial legality was lex loci, the law constituted by and of the nesting (and in the contemporary idiom of the ‘‘networking’’) of the multitudinous local. If the local is an inherently spatial notion, marking distribution of spaces for governmentality, it also o√ers a multiplicity of practices of resistance variously a√ecting it. Varied constructions of colonial legal pluralisms articulate lex loci only as so many forms of institutional arrangements for the asymmetrical, often tyrannical, flows of power central to the project of colonial and imperial governance. These mark the manifold careers of the jati and biradari panchayats and the kazi courts— o√ering vignettes of subcontinental analogues of ‘‘decentralized despotism’’ that Mamdani traces for late colonialism in Africa. Juridification of hybrids (bodies of what J. D. M. Derett memorably archives for us as ‘‘Anglo-Hindu’’ and ‘‘Anglo-Muslim’’ law) yields diverse narrative constructions of lex loci. Description of the varieties of colonial legal pluralisms is no easy task.

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Essentializing this as projects of colonial domination, while important, ignores complex processes of the negotiation with the local within the imperial timespaces. This negotiation takes myriad forms in the flows of domination and resistance. Surely, this must explain, in part, why a colonial regime enacts the paradoxical acceptance of the principle of the ‘‘consent of the governed’’ in the arenas of social life demarcated by religious traditions. The quest for the lex loci (the law of the local) was in a sense wholly epistemological. In order to govern, one at least needs to know both the subjects and the objects of governance. Thus, the famous lex loci report, and the attendant and subsequent high colonial state formative practices, collated imperfect but useful knowledges that intimately served governance needs. It constructed the ‘‘local’’ as a future archive of spaces of colonial governmentality, structuring rather fully the costs of colonial legal pluralism, necessarily indi√erent to the fact that these were borne by the docile bodies of subjugated women, men, and children. The ‘‘local’’ thus ambivalently preserved, in all its mutation, the power of the nonlocal, the historically marked space of the imperial ‘‘personal law’’ talk. The histories of lex loci thus form the grammars of the ‘‘personal law’’ talk—sculpting high colonial formations of ‘‘predatory legality,’’ and its fecund modes of the social production of circumstances of rightlessness (Baxi, ‘‘The Colonial Inheritance’’) as well as the histories of ‘‘militant particularisms.’’ The narrative insurgencies of the ‘‘local’’ here are di√erently positioned by Ranajit Guha and Babasaheb Ambedkar (respectively Aristotles of subaltern studies and Dalit movements, who unfortunately do not quite converse among themselves); they o√er di√erent readings of colonial legal pluralisms. For Guha, ‘‘Chandra’s Death’’ emerges, after all, as a site for lamentation at the failure of ‘‘hegemonic adjudicature’’ (Baxi, ‘‘The State’s Emissary’’). For Ambedkar, the same imperial legality that framed lex loci presented tasks of constitutional overcoming; an Ambedkar inveighing against the Mohandasian imagery of the Ram Rajya of ‘‘village republics’’ represents the local as the site of multiple forms of microfacism of governance desires.≥ The ‘‘local,’’ on this perspective, invites creative deterritorialization by the ‘‘national,’’ if ever the blessings of an authentic rule of law were to be made available to the Atisudras (as he named the Indian social and economic proletariat).∂ For both thinkers, deliverance from the ‘‘local’’ was to emerge from a ‘‘hegemonic judicature’’ thriving on redemptive rule-of-law conceptions, though for neither was this a very distinctly marked liberation of women from the enclosures of caste and custom. For Ambedkar, certainly, the promise of

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postcolonial law and jurisprudence remained important only as a site for continual displacement of the tyrannical local timeplaces. As students of fiftyplus years of the Indian judiciary know well, the rule of law and human rights–imbued ‘‘hegemonic judicature’’ have made at best only an occasional dent on the rightlessness of Indian women. In addition, the promise remains riddled with caste and community panchayats that continue to mete out rough ‘‘justice’’ (Dhagamwar). For countless Indian women living still enclosed within colonial and patriarchal spaces of domination constituted by the jati, biradari, and ‘‘religious’’ panchayats under the actually existing regimes of the lex loci governance, the dominant talk concerning the ucc must remain wholly unintelligible. Are these expressions (in the imagery of Ernesto Laclau) merely ‘‘floating signifiers’’? Put another way, must the act of choosing the ‘‘personal law’’ necessarily involve subjection to custodians and keepers of that tradition? Given this problem, at least the following questions need sustained attention. First, how may we conceive the narratives of non-tyrannical ‘‘local,’’ a question of considerable importance in our resistance these days to the ‘‘global’’? Second, what sort of state theory may we summon so that the Indian constitutional state may redress the actually existing local? In other words, how may ‘‘we’’ feminize the nation-state, were such an eighth wonder of the world possible, in ways that may divest the ‘‘local’’ of its assorted and vicious patriarchies, without in the process imposing its own versions of it? Third, how may we achieve all this in the face of the constitutional acceptance of colonial legal pluralism that continues lex loci regimes of ‘‘personal law’’? As a thought experiment, how may we rewrite constitutional normativity in feminist terms, a task distinct from engaging the existing potential of the Indian constitution through various activist platforms? How far can a feminist rewriting of the constitution justify new principles of state legitimation of systemic coercion to redeem the local? Fourth, and analytically, how do we quite escape the problematic of what Paul Bohannan names ‘‘the double institutionalisation of the law’’ where custom becomes the law and the law signifies the sheer customariness? Surely, the lex loci exceeds whatever may be signified by the ‘‘personal law.’’∑ the personal When, and how, does the ‘‘local’’ translate as the ‘‘personal’’? With the su≈x ‘‘law’’ attached to both, this translation becomes infinitely complex, given the

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assumption that all ‘‘law’’ must necessarily be and remain public. We attend later to juristic analysis; here, however, the question is: How does the impersonality of the ‘‘local’’ become embodied in so many fusions of individual biographies that constitute social texts? Does the advent of the ‘‘personal law’’ regimes mark, in rather Deleuzean modes, ‘‘de-/re-territorialization’’ of state law and governance (see Baxi, ‘‘The Gujarat Catastrophe’’)? How is the spatiality of the ‘‘local’’ transformed into orders of historical time? Moreover, how may we draw distinctions, if any be drawn, between enclaves of self chosen ‘‘personal’’ law and sites that mark, at the end of the day, so many forms of patriarchal privatization of that law? Put another way, when that constitution of the ‘‘personal’’ is an act of authentic individual choice, must that choosing necessarily involve further subjection to the keepers of the tradition? For example: should women who choose Islam as a way of being forever accept the definition of their rights under the constitution of the shari’a as defined by a Muslim Personal Law Board? Should women choosing Hinduism as a way of life necessarily eternally place themselves under the surveillance of the vigilante forces of the hard Hindutva? Should a Mary Roy, contesting interpretive canons of o≈cial Christianity, or Dawoodi Vohra women combating the Sayadna despotism, renounce their choice of faith in order to protest patriarchal despotism? At stake, here, are issues of identity within religious tradition, the irredentist power of individual praxes of non-Eurocentric renaissance and reformation of religious traditions pitted against the power of their custodians, which all too often privatizes the personal. The migration of discursive languages from the ‘‘local’’ to the ‘‘personal’’ law formations remains, in the deepest sense of that term, an unexplored terrain.∏ Even so, more decisive are the shifts in the women’s struggles for dignity, justice, and rights that dislodge the ‘‘personal’’ not merely from the merely familial sites but also evacuate the more public ones. Thus, as Menon, in particular, emphasizes, violence against women now straddles both the family and the workplace, as well as the global sexual division of labor enacted in the conjoint orders of national and global economy, and by the languages of human rights marking spheres of political participation. At issue, then, are new ways of redefinition of women’s lived times, militating against the political and politicized constructions of the ethically dominant ucc terms of debate concerning the mere reform of ‘‘personal law.’’ These de-essentialize the times and lives of Indian women by denying the log-

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ics and languages marking the distinction between ‘‘personal’’ and ‘‘public’’ laws.π Discourse moves significantly beyond the logics of temporality inherent to ‘‘personal law’’ posing indeed a radical question: How may we feminize the ideology and the state formative practices of secularism and secularization? the communitarian The communitarian forms of life emerge in law and jurisprudence in terms of personification of collectivities, known to jurisprudential theory as the problem of legal personality, which entails di√erent modes of the construction of social reality. As Greimas (see Jackson) reminds us, juridical production and verification are possessed of remarkable constitutive social power. Production juridique consists in performative feats that juridically invent communities, the paradigmatic case for Greimas being that of the corporation, a form and diction that pre-existed in neither ‘‘nature’’ nor ‘‘culture.’’ Perhaps equally good examples are provided by the juridical invention of the Hindu coparcenery (more loosely put, the undivided joint Hindu family) at one end and the persona named ‘‘citizen’’ at the other. Similarly, the Indian constitution invents a caste unknown to the shastras, the ‘‘Scheduled Castes,’’ and tribes wholly unknown to indigenous peoples and anthropologists, the ‘‘Scheduled Tribes.’’ Production juridique at times adopts the socially imagined communities as juridical ones (as exemplified in the remarkable discourse concerning the legal personality of Hindu idols); at others it results in hybrid formations, immanent in the very conception of a uniform, civil, code, three words that negotiate as well as mask troublesome galaxies of constitutionally conceived juridical and social pluralisms. How may these varied production juridique open up protean ways of reading lived social identities and the performative acts of identification (Laclau and Zac, 11–29; Soper)? For one thing, if there may be said to exist ‘‘primordial’’ identities, the law rather messily complicates their narrative ‘‘essence’’ or ‘‘purity.’’ These ‘‘primordial’’ communities remain altogether inflected with allochronic jural temporality in some ambivalent modes.∫ True, any serious debate concerning ‘‘communitarianism’’ becomes legible only when we dare disorient or ambush the state and law as well as civil society–privileged monopolistic hermeneutic construction. However, should we not at the same moment arrest, interlocute the ‘‘personal law’’ and ucc talk that tends to essentialize communities, even women in communities? Allow me to present this problem anecdotally.

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Reading Shah Bano and Shah Bano Shah Bano is both a human being and a social and juridical text, marking and posing infinite intertextualities that indeed mystify. An ageing Muslim woman, married for over five decades, now suddenly divorced by her lawyer husband, she accepts the regime of the shari’a talak. What she contests is the Quaranic impact of this normative regime on the existential futures of Muslim divorced women. She insists that they have right to mata (a complex category that may not be wholly translated as ‘‘alimony’’).Ω Although two other Muslim women—Bai Tahira and Fuzlun Bibi—preceded her in claiming maintenance (see Bai Tahira v. Ali Hussain Fidaalli Chothia [1979] 2 scc316; Fuzlun Bibi v. Kadar Vali [1980] 4 scc125), only Shah Bano raised the issue of interpretation of mata. We do not know how and why Shah Bano happened to raise such a crucial issue; we do know, however, that it was immanent in the struggle for maintenance and that progressive Islamic jurists mediated her agency, some of whom were actually acting as amicii. It is understandable, then, that Shah Bano, the juridical text, altogether appropriates Shah Bano, a woman with a mind, life, and timespace of her own. The question, even so, concerns a whole variety of endless appropriations that follow the performances of both production juridique and verification juridique. The Supreme Court appropriates her being as constituting a summons for the Indian state to act expeditiously for the achievement of the ucc. Human rights and social activism practices appropriate her in several performances of politics for human rights (see Baxi, ‘‘The Second Gujarat Catastrophe’’ and ‘‘The Gujarat Catastrophe’’ for an elaboration of the distinction between politics of and for human rights). Political parties and cadres appropriate her for the distinct ends of the politics of human rights in ways that augment the estates of their competitive power in a liberal democracy. ‘‘Progressive’’ epistemic communities appropriate her for the production of a highly nuanced theoretical reflexivity concerning the constitution of subjectivity or subject positions in the overarching contexts of the politics of identity and di√erence. Unfortunately, this description scarcely exhausts the ways of appropriating Shah Bano. How may interpretive communities and comities read Shah Bano’s agentative, unannointed collective fiduciary agency for the promotion of Muslim women’s rights as human rights performance as reaching as far as to produce a justification for the ucc? Or is her agency to be read as a heroic performance

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that imperils the legitimacy of the Muslim Personal Law Board’s claims to hermeneutic monopolistic estate (constituting a state within a state) possessed of a constitutive power of saying the final word on the meaning of the shari’a? Is her invocation of the Supreme Court an exercise in reformation of the shari’a law from within itself or a performance enacting ideals of constitutional secularism? How may we read her invocation of the Supreme Court of India—as a challenge contesting its supremacy, or as an exercise in co-opting it in terms of aiding reformation of the shari’a law and jurisprudence from within itself, in ways that engage its constructive renewal? Distressingly, the ucc talk becomes wholly reductive in its reading of Shah Bano merely as a juridical text. On this reading, Shah Bano, an actually existing figure of resistance to a patriarchal tradition of constructing the shari’a, becomes thus Shah Bano, a pale figuration of a politico-juridical discourse, with a fragmented juridical life, possessed of the promise of an uncertain future. But the juridical text she gives rise to reduces her agency as a pious Muslim woman seeking to feminize the shari’a to merely a performance constituting the levels and arenas of signification of secular stateness. Must we, after all, read her as a servitor of the inchoate articulation of state (legislative and adjudicative) power in the promotion of constitutionalism as an ideological production? Is she necessarily and only a historically belated actor, a mere juridical being, serving the ends of the dominant activist and state discourse? A few of us, in the post–Shah Bano juridical discourse, sought to converse with the real-life Shah Bano. On our coalitional behalf, the veteran Nagpurbased grassroots activist Dr. Seema Sakahre actually met with an ailing Shah Bano, the individual tormented in the wake of the political storm she haplessly unleashed. In an illicit tape-recorded interview with Sakahre (whose visitation was made possible by her designation as a doctor, her Ph.D. in sociology enabling access to her vigilant daughter-in-law, so that she could speak with her as a medical professional, at least to a point when the cover exploded!), Shah Bano (at the height of controversy her ‘‘case’’ unleashed) distanced herself from the secularist discourse by saying she chose to be a Muslim woman, not a napak aurat (an ‘‘impious’’ woman). I have no means of determining how much her talk was ‘‘inspired’’ (read precensored) by the confining presence of her kin. Even so, taken at face value, this enigmatic enunciation remains haunting. It marks a conflicted construction of being an aurat (a generic notion) with a pak aurat (a historic semiotic codification of agency within structure), a figu-

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ration that resists assimilationist ucc discourse while also contesting the tradition-constituted one. For Shah Bano, the determinative contrast emerges as a form of contradiction between a pak and a napak aurat that inverts the reductionist habitus of the ucc discourse. What constitutes this being? A napak aurat is a complex being indeed oscillating between the narrative timespaces of social and conceptual histories constructing a pak aurat. Her self-image is not that of a napak aurat when she activates ‘‘secular’’ dispensation under the Indian Criminal Procedure Code concerning maintenance for divorced Muslim women because she invites thereby only a true feminist interpretation of the mata in the Holy Quran. But in the eyes of the keepers of a patriarchal construction of the tradition, she emerges as napak. While constitutional recourse is for her at the same time a mode of a≈rmation of the being of a pak aurat, this very performance exposes her to an indictment as napak. This question of reading Shah Bano and Shah Bano is similar to the one that troubled Ranajit Guha’s reading of Chandra. It troubled him because what was available to the subaltern historian was just a fragment, a narrative that began in the middle, that space of in-between that the practice of historiography must still set as its task to render somehow morally intelligible. In contrast, the Shah Bano discourse may seem to provide safe narrative havens. Is this the narrative truth? I think not. Despite the archival abundance, Shah Bano’s own reflexivity invites us to think that all we have are fragments of history. Unlike Chandra, she wishes to address us; hers is a subaltern voice that refuses the administration of silence but only to a point when this voice stands confiscated by a chorus of other voices, generated by impassioned votaries for and against the ucc. Even the rich feminist narratives, after all, cancel her speech as surely as the community—the Samaj, in Guha’s narrative, accomplished with Chandra’s silence.∞≠ Like Chandra, Shah Bano defies the dominant ways of silencing women’s agency. Transgressively, both women, in very di√erent timespaces, rupture dominant communitarian and patriarchal scripts and stand confronted with a ‘‘hegemonic adjudicature.’’ In one case, this results in biological death, in another perhaps a social death. Their ways of dying represent, or rather the performances of their intransigent immortality represent, acts of authentic moral agency and insurgency precisely in their constitutional disembodiment of their living present. How may ‘‘we’’ construct Shah Bano’s anguished articulation of a napak aurat, without silencing her speech? Here a pak aurat pioneers the deconstruc-

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tion of the shari’a in distinctively complex feminist ways. Put another way, her ‘‘project’’—fortunately unsupported by the various human rights markets (for this notion, see Baxi, The Future of Human Rights, 119–31)—was to enact production and verification juridique that enacted the Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad’s interpretation of mata (shari’a obligation of postdivorce maintenance) over the impoverishing version o√ered by the ‘‘tin pot,’’ local muftis and kazis. Hers was a project endowing Muslim women their due under the Quran-sharif, not within a ‘‘secular’’ Indian constitution, that remains e√ete in the face of the wholesale denial of the rights of minority communities to dignified forms of life and livelihood, of which the happenings in Gujarat 2002 disclose the ultimate truth (see Baxi, ‘‘The Second Gujarat Catastrophe’’ and ‘‘The Gujarat Catastrophe’’). To be sure, the ‘‘fragment’’ only authorizes acts of imaginative, empathetic construction. I wonder what else remains interpretively or hermeneutically available? Shah Bano’s narrative problematizes that something that we choose to signify as ‘‘Muslim women’’ in our discourse concerning ‘‘personal’’ law reform. As soon as we with her begin to de-essentialize categories of ‘‘women,’’ ‘‘community,’’ and the hegemonic hermeneutic of the shari’a, we destabilize the identitarian logics of the state and law’s performative acts (personifying ‘‘communities’’ as undi√erentiated wholes, gestalts, bearers of rights and obligations). We also periclitate our own ‘‘activist’’ ways of speaking to the politics of identity and struggle against imposed identities. Shah Bano raises the question: How may human rights and feminist practices of activism, then, escape partaking of hegemonic logics not dissimilar to those that inform state and law constructions of social and human identities and identifications? Consent, Community, and Agency Amid many radical discontinuities, the rhetoric of the consent of the governed marks an astonishing continuity between the forms of precolonial and postcolonial discourse. In a sense, as concerns women’s rights as human rights, the consent of the governed discourse testifies to the ‘‘disorders’’ of governance desires, which vacillates between the notion that state and law, more or less, ends where ‘‘communities’’ begin and the notion that ‘‘communities’’ begin primarily under the state/law auspices. Space forbids any necessarily detailed presentation. But students of colonial legal history know both that the colonial state imposed Hindu law reform in some arenas as well as refrained from so doing in others when confronted by eminent nationalist insistence that the consent of the community was a prerequisite.∞∞ At the

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end of the day, even the constitution makers remained ambivalent concerning this principle; as noted earlier, they crafted citizen equality and the norm of nondiscrimination on the ground of sex in ways that showed rather scrupulous regard for the continuation of the regimes of ‘‘personal’’ law (for a detailed lawyer’s law narrative, see Bhattacharjee; see also Austin). Even as Article 17 requiring abolition of untouchability and the mandate for the reform of Hindu law via Articles 25 and 26 declared a normative war against human rights–o√ensive aspects of Hindu law and jurisprudence, the overall human rights women-specific reform was slow to emerge. Understandably (only if we recall the horrors of Partition during which the Indian constitution was proclaimed), the ucc-directed Article 44 emerged only as a potential for future constitutional development. The post–Shah Bano discourse revealing further the agenda of the Muslim Personal Law Board reinscribes communitarian consent as the very basis of personal law reform. Diagnosing this as a symptom of ‘‘patriarchy’’ of course remains useful for the practices of human rights activism but only when accompanied by a health warning that this masks its various concrete historic faces. This essay cannot venture to even hint at the historical, ideological, and analytical questions associated with the principle or revisit larger questions of political theory and life under the modern state pertaining to how those ‘‘governed’’ may actually ‘‘consent,’’ because governance, to make any sense, must entail ‘‘manufacturing consent’’ (for a more recent discussion of this old question, see Herman and Chomsky; and Dunn). But the consent of the governed signifies as much spheres of domination as fields of resistance, a shield and sword for the preservation of the ‘‘personal law’’ and a human rights banner of revolt. The itineraries of power and resistance remain entangled in complex and contradictory modes. The confrontation over the juridicalization of ‘‘personal’’ law regimes remains an ineluctable aspect of resisting imperialism and colonization at one point of time, and at another of resisting the ucc constitutionalism project. The dramatis personae di√er but the script does not undergo any major cultural modification. The script thematizes the violent social exclusion of women, the sovereign power of exception that determines certain forms of life as not worth living, and the production of bare life that marks the invention of the practices of biopolitics, as Giorgio Agamben now names this. This should not be a perplexing matter of high social theory as all victims of Holocaust-like practices of politics, from the Indian Partition to Gujarat 2002

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(see Vardarajan; Varshney; Baxi, ‘‘The Second Gujarat Catastrophe’’ and ‘‘The Gujarat Catastrophe’’), know that if ever the issue transcends the normative languages of the ucc discourse, social theory’s advertence to the endangered existence of ‘‘minority’’ communities will come to the fore. The rhetoric of ‘‘consent of the governed’’ in the discursive ucc contexts excels in the demonstration of the fact that Muslim law reform has proceeded apace in Islamic societies. Obscured in the mighty displays of the prowess of comparative jurisprudence research is the issue of the legitimation of state and governance; a self-proclaimed ‘‘secular’’ state is open to the pious indictment as a historic formation constituted by the kafirs (an impious, infidel state, forbidden recourse to all acts and prerogatives of authoritative interpretation of the Holy Quran). As early as 1975, in ‘‘The Uniform Civil Code and Reform of Muslim Law,’’ I framed the issue in terms of the existential survival of Islamic communities. Muslim writing (in Urdu) had questioned even then the agendum of the ‘‘Muslim personal law’’ reform on the ground that a state that cannot secure Indian Muslims minimal conditions of security of their human rights to life and livelihood forfeits its claims to egalitarian law reform. All this now acquires an edge of poignancy in the wake of Babri Masjid, Ayodhya, and now the Gujarat 2002 carnage. We may well decry the pious keepers of the shari’a tradition but the interlocution of state ‘‘keepers’’ of constitutional secularism also remains suspect. Muslim women and men contest the forms of politics that constantly reproduce human rightlessness for them as well as the state bystanderism and complicity in productions of political catastrophes euphemistically named as ‘‘communal riots,’’ of which now unfortunately Gujarat 2002 furnishes a Holocaust-like archetype. The practices of the Indian Partition-like violence against Muslim women jeopardize the ethical coherence of the ucc talk. At issue remain human rights to dignity, integrity of the body and the mind from premeditated and unredressed assaults by fanatically energized violent mobs that with distressing regularity devastate Muslim women’s lived times. At best, the ucc talk suggests that the structural patriarchal violence of benighted interpretations of the shari’a is as violent as the catastrophic ones. However, in real life, violated Muslim women may not quite draw bright lines between everyday structural violation and catastrophic communal violence. They may well be echoing the Sartrean motto ‘‘Existence precedes essence’’ by questioning the notion, implicit in the ucc talk, that equates ‘‘everyday’’ and ‘‘catastrophic’’

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violation. The task then remains insu≈ciently addressed by mere insistence on the ucc. How, then, may we truly engender our imagination of the ucc, beyond the talk of normative rights revolution, which after all shortchanges multiply violated Indian Muslim women? For them, to be sure, this ‘‘revolution’’ remains necessary but scarcely su≈cient if only because it finally suppresses, even confiscates, the power of their voice. Because the discourse concerning ‘‘personal law’’ remains dominated by the agenda of the ‘‘Hindu’’/‘‘Muslim’’ law reform, concerns of other numerically minuscule minority legal regimes invite little or no attention. For example, the recent wholesale abolition of the Parsee family law invited not even a murmur of protest. The ucc discourse is the least oriented to indigenous people’s law formation; but about 7 percent of Indian people, constitutionally described as the ‘‘scheduled tribes,’’ live under staggeringly varied systems of ‘‘customary’’ norms, which the expression ‘‘tribal law’’ does not reflect and the expression ‘‘personal law’’ scarcely knows. Women living under existing formations of communitarian law orderings are not just women; they remain semiotic carriers of various traditions that shape their identities as, for example, the Bhil, Gond, or Konyak Naga women. The ‘‘personal law’’ and ucc talk essentializes, then, the diverse forms of politics of identity and transformation. Overall, the logics and languages of ‘‘personal law’’ discourse almost wholly disarticulate other ‘‘discrete and insular’’ minority communities. The designation ‘‘personal law’’ betrays thus at the outset various canons of liberal legal pluralism and multiculturalism discourse, thus marginalizing the nondominant traditions of Other women and their rights. An Aside Concerning the Costs of Legal Pluralism I have so far used the notion of ‘‘personal law’’ out of deference to conventional usage. But from a state-centric conception of law, the appellation ‘‘personal’’ law appears oxymoronic. It contradicts the paradigm of modern law, which is ‘‘public’’ or not at all. Law is public because (as legislation, adjudication, and administration) it instances exercise of public, not private authority. It is public because it addresses rights and obligations either of the whole body of citizens or of those indeterminate persons who engage state-oriented interactions and transactions. It is public because of the element of publicity (that requires that laws be o≈cially promulgated, that appellate judicial decisions be reported, and that they be made accessible to all), which permeates it.

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However from perspectives of legal pluralisms, the ‘‘personal law,’’ far from being an oxymoron, signifies norms that derive authority from sources antecedent to the paradigm of ‘‘modern’’ law. From a legal pluralist perspective (Harris; Gri≈ths; Sunder Rajan, Scandal of the State) what matters is the displacement and deconstruction of state-centric articulation of the conception of law. Legal pluralists, and political theorists, acknowledge with John Rawls ‘‘the fact of pluralism,’’ which far from being ‘‘merely a historic condition that will soon pass away’’ constitutes a ‘‘permanent feature of the public culture of modern democracies’’ (Rawls, Political Liberalism). The fact of pluralism may also be expressed (in terms of Deleuze and Guattari) as constituting diverse assemblages that signify conflicting sites of ‘‘the plurality of conflicting conceptions, and indeed incommensurable, conceptions of the meaning, value, and purpose of human life.’’ At stake more than conceptions and images of law remains the issue of understanding the complex histories of interaction between and among the varieties of ‘‘lawness.’’ Or, put di√erently, at issue here are the ways of naming and understanding di√erent forms of pluralisms: among them (to speak in terms of large, multitudinous but not at all ahistoric categories) the precolonial, colonial, and the postcolonial. At stake even more crucially is the problem of the costs of legal pluralism entailed in its manifold pursuits. By costs of legal pluralism, I refer to, in rolled-up ways, the imposition of preventable and unjustifiable human su√ering and loss inflicted on individuals and communities by hegemonic state as well as civil society actors, institutions, processes, and performances. I know that each one of these operative terms—‘‘preventable,’’ ‘‘unjustified,’’ and ‘‘su√ering’’—constitutes a conceptual minefield (see Herzfeld, 217–39). Colonial legal pluralism let lie its costs where they fell; it almost ‘‘naturalized’’ these in terms of maintenance of imperial governance; the reform of personal law formations had to remain consistent overall with the ends of colonial governance. Preservation or continuance of personal law was not a matter of semantics or rhetoric but constituted serial formative praxes of colonial statecraft (Mamdani, Citizen and Subject). In contrast, Indian constitutionalism seeks to translate costs of pluralism in languages of human rights. However, these languages remain ambivalent because the project of depersonalizing ‘‘personal law’’ dialectically generates new forms of privatization of law. Privatization of law occurs under the very auspices of the regimes of constitutional and international human rights that

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a≈rm the basic rights to freedom of conscience and religious belief and practice and generate the rather inchoate status of ‘‘minority’’ rights that interpellate the individual within the nonstate ‘‘imagined communities.’’ Moreover, privatization of law is not always an a√air of domination, as Shah Bano illustrates. Practices of self-chosen identity and identification are said often to raise the issue of ‘‘false consciousness’’ (or for the post-Marxists among us, what Martha Nussbaum insightfully calls ‘‘adaptive preferences’’). Unraveling these preferences remains the more discursively hazardous because the essentializing constructions of women’s rights as human rights stand pitted against the freedoms of conscience and religion, which invest the individual human person with the power to choose belongings and a≈nities.∞≤ These technologies of self mark a freestanding agency beyond the state and civil society–encompassing legalities and pose di≈culties for the achievement of ‘‘reasonable pluralism’’ (which John Rawls celebrates in Political Liberalism). Put another way, they pose the problem of the limits of legal pluralism and the reach of state power and force directed against the destruction of forms of privatization of people’s law, and their underlying juristic energies (for a wider discussion, see Baxi, The Crisis of the Indian Legal System). A Constitution at Odds with Itself It is time to revisit constitutional ambivalences in ways that pose the unusual issue of the constitutionality of the constitution itself. The Indian constitutional text and interpretation celebrates the proscription, as a fundamental human right, of sex- and religion-based discrimination against women in civil society as well as the state. It at the same time enacts both deference for lex loci and the ‘‘personal law’’ formations. This logical self-contradiction imparts incoherence to the ucc talk. A startling question must now be briefly, though starkly, at least allowed to emerge: Is the constitution itself, in preserving ‘‘personal law,’’ valid, that is, itself legal? In plain logic, a self-contradictory regime is nonsensical in the strict sense. A constitution that forbids gender discrimination may not also somehow preserve ‘‘personal law’’ formations. But as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes reminded us all a long time ago, the ‘‘life of law is experience, not logic.’’ Legal positivists, however, o√er a logic of their own. The constitution is the supreme law of the land providing a touchstone for the validity of all other laws. We may thus ask the question of the validity of this or that law under the

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constitution but we may may never ask whether constitutions are valid. The question of the validity of other laws has to be answered on the touchstone of the constitution. Constitutions may be metaphorically called valid because they exist and they exist because the operatives of an ongoing legal system assume these to be ‘‘by and large’’ e≈cacious (Kelsen; but see Negri). Of constitutions we may ask only the question of their e≈caciousness; the language of validity has no application to the fact of their existence and their empirically observable e√ectiveness. A constitution ceases to be e√ective, and therefore also ceases to exist, when o≈cials (and more generally peoples) act outside it with impunity. However, a logically self-contradictory constitution that continues to be applied by o≈cials and generally obeyed by people continues to exist normatively and empirically. That, as far as the positivist doctrine goes, is the end of the story. Yet women who are denied their rights to dignity and equality may still contest what thus exists as a constitution. Human rights and social activism typically raise not the questions concerning the existence of a constitution but contest its operative justice-qualities. The logical contradiction in the actually existing Indian constitutionalism has frequently generated a legitimation crisis—as well noticed by the students of the ucc talk.∞≥ However, the crisis is contained or transformed in calls for constitutional changes, changes in but not of the constitution. The struggle is paradigmatically directed to attain women’s human rights–friendly discursive consensus concerning legitimacy and its translation into legality. Unsurprisingly, then, the ucc talk fails to fracture normative validity of the constitution itself because it defines the problematic as one of the legitimacy of constitutional decisions under the auspices of executive, legislative, or judiciary authority.∞∂ Human rights–oriented critique must remain immanent, not transcendent. Situated critique names and contests the validation of the Indian constitutional patriarchies, now freestanding for more than half a century. But it also acquiesces with these. The never-ending story of the ucc talk occurs in ways that stifle thus any ‘‘radical’’ reimagination of the future of women’s rights as human rights in India.∞∑ At best, all we can do is episodically call the constitutional blu√ that mystifies ever-new forms of juridical patriarchy.∞∏ All that the involuted ucc talk promises, faute de mieux, is the ‘‘glacial time’’ (to borrow an expression from Santos) of politically insensitive and indi√erent law reform. Thus come to naught (to commit multiple o√enses against the great prose of Hamlet) the promises of ‘‘great pith and substance,’’ rough hew them how we may. 290 Upendra Baxi

Notes 1. For example: —Does the ban on cow slaughter violate constitutional ‘‘secularism’’? —Is constitutional secularism violated when the state contributes to celebrations marking the 2,500th anniversary of Lord Gautama Buddha or Lord Mahavir? —May the state restrict processions by the Anand Margis, who carry human skulls through public streets? —Are constitutional secularism ideals violated, and how far, when religious denominations practice systemic practices of exclusion of nonmembers to places of worship? —Do the rights of temple entry for untouchables extend to access to the sanctum sanctorum? —Are practices of proclaiming excommunication constitutionally valid? —How far, if at all, may state and law regulate acts of proselytizing or of conversion/ reconversion? —Are appeals to religion necessarily forbidden by the definitions of ‘‘corrupt practices’’ under the Representation of Peoples Act? Further, when religion is itself interpreted as a way of life (rather than a dogma), what survives of this proscription? —May the Supreme Court declare ‘‘anti-secular’’ political parties as unconstitutional? —May the Supreme Court limit the plenary power of Parliament within the confines of notions of constitutional secularism? 2. Constitutional secularism is a singularly absent category in the landscape of Indian social theory. The canonical texts have little or no use for the categories and structures of constitutional adjudicative interpretation. Reading secularism is either archaeology of ambivalence in Nehruvian patrimony (Madan; but see Bilgrami) , or an aspect of totalizing critique that demonizes secularism as an integral element of the arsenal of the technology of the modernizing Indian State (Nandy). These luminous minds remain unmarked by any serious concern with constitutional interpretive labors and the social costs of their critique of secularism (see Baxi, ‘‘The Struggle for Redefinition of Secularism in India,’’ and the literature cited therein). 3. ‘‘Mohandasian’’ becomes necessary as the name ‘‘Gandhi’’ now carries an unconscionable surfeit of political meanings and because his middle name, ‘‘Karamchand,’’ evokes, in a mass-media-porous Indian society, the rather entertaining burdens of an espionage Doordarshan serial. 4. Feminist analyses (e.g., Indirani Chatterjee) read lex loci regimes as ‘‘coloring subalternity,’’ which marks the local as so many combined, intersecting sites for gender, ethnicity and the empire. 5. Of course, that paradigm also constitutes the law’s most well kept ‘‘secret’’—that the law publicly enacted serves ‘‘the common good’’ or ‘‘the public interest’’ in the face of massive evidence to the contrary, which suggests that the making of law all too often remains the province and function of special, or vested, interests and for that very reason also remains both unintelligible and inaccessible to those whom the forms of ‘‘legality’’ devour. J. Hillis Miller, in his tribute to Jacques Derrida, reminds us of the assertion by Kafka in his ‘‘The Problem of Our Laws’’: ‘‘our laws are not generally Secularism in the Uniform Civil Code 291

known’’; and that the ‘‘the very existence of our laws, however, is at most a matter of presumption.’’ For the notion of the law as ‘‘public secret,’’ see Taussig; for further elaboration, see P. Baxi. 6. Nivedita Menon insightfully invites us to read this passage in terms of the scattered hegemonies of the colonial and capitalist forms of the construction of the nation-state, the metalanguages of ‘‘abstract’’ and ‘‘concrete’’ citizenship, logics of ‘‘collective’’ and ‘‘minority’’ rights and the ways in which the processes of contemporary globalization debase and degrade these languages. A similar nuanced reflexivity marks the corpus of Rajeswari Sunder Rajan and Kumkum Sangari. 7. Movements, in theory and practice, now rightly seek to criminalize women’s oppression through reform of the laws concerning domestic and worksite violence (dowry and sati murders, rape, and forms of sexual harassment and even the law relating to spousal maintenance). 8. Ambivalent because while production juridique marks the conceptual and normative insurgency against the birthplaces, and over the birthmarks, of the constitution of ‘‘Hindu’’ identity, verification juridique all too often reinforces caste inegalitarianism and allows militant and violent forms of social action against the minority communities. 9. See Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum (1985) 2 scc 556: the technical issue was whether Section 125 of the Indian Criminal Procedure Code provided a right to maintenance for divorced Muslim wives, who were on the conventional view of the matter entitled only to such maintenance during the period of iddat, all other obligations beyond exhausted by the payment of mahr, a contractually stipulated postdivorce settlement. Her further claim that mata includes such further maintenance or provision was upheld by the Supreme Court. 10. The question—why may a pak aurat activate the brilliantly sculpted, Indira Gandhi–led, enunciation of Criminal Procedure Code spousal maintenance provision?—does not even get posed in critical feminist ucc discourse. Why did she ever resort to this rather ‘‘secular’’ legal dispensation? Having done so, why does she distance herself from that discourse? In other words, how do we grasp her agency within structures? 11. The nationalist, anti-imperialist practices of resistance, for example, concerning the Age of Consent Bill (via Tilak, Ranade, Agarakar, Malbari debates, for example [Baxi, Toward a Sociology of Indian Law]), variously mobilize the ‘‘consent’’ of the concerned community as a sine qua non for colonial and imperial law reform of communitarian law. The very same principle informs state action in the enactment of the Muslim Women’s Divorce Act (1939), which some, perhaps rightly, regard as a performative act of high colonial law’s ‘‘Islamization’’ of the diverse shari’a corpus (e.g., Y. Singh; Mahmood). Feminist legal historians also express considerable ambivalence concerning the women-friendly agendum of Hindu law reform in the closing moments of the Indian freedom struggle (T. Sarkar, Hindu Wife; Parashar). 12. Can we construe Shah Bano’s construction of pak aurat as an exercise in ‘‘adaptive preference’’? 13. At least one author has now daringly posed the issue in terms of a communalization of

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the Indian judicial process; for raising even the question of ‘‘judicial complicity with communal violence in India,’’ see Sara Ahmad. 14. The pragmatism of equality and human rights movements may well counsel prudence on this score. Where and how may we cogitate such a question, and with what costs and benefits to the cause of dignity and human rights of Indian women? Would the Supreme Court of India ever be venturesome enough to consider the question whether an original textual provision, as distinct from the amending texts, may be violative of the constitution? 15. What would, for example, an Indian constitution friendly to women’s rights look like? Put another way, how may feminist critique translate itself into tasks of reconstruction of its basic structure? 16. Even doing this remains an uphill task! Tara Ali Beg, Madhu Mehta, Lotika Sarkar, and I launched social action litigation in the mid-eighties interrogating the constitutional validity of an act of Parliament reversing Shah Bano. The Supreme Court’s indi√erence to it has already outlived the first two petitioners, leaving the other two also at the edge of mortality! A similar fate seems to await the warlaw (an ngo founded by Ms. Rani Jethmalani and myself ) petition where we merely requested the Supreme Court of India, thirteen years ago, to direct the Union of India to inform the peoples it governs what steps, if any, it had taken toward the endeavor to implement the obligations under the Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, given that the government of India has stated before the cedaw committee that it is taking ‘‘steps.’’ Rani, who survived a liver transplant in the meantime, is still heroically pursuing the matter in the Supreme Court of India. I desist from mentioning here the health vicissitudes I have undergone since the filing. Forms of judicial activism that invoke the mortality of social action petitioners, as a resource for doing justice, do not speak favorably of the otherwise remarkably robust powers of judicial review.

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Flavia Agnes a

The Supreme Court, the Media, and the Uniform Civil Code Debate in India


he debate around the enactment of a uniform family code (popularly referred to as the Uniform Civil Code or ucc) depicts the tension between two constitutional guarantees—that of equality and nondiscrimination (under Articles 14 and 15 of the Indian constitution) on the one hand, and of religious freedom and cultural plurality (under Articles 25–28) on the other. While the mandate for enacting a ucc (Article 44) is only a directive principle of state policy, equality and multiculturalism are justiciable fundamental rights.∞ It is within this scheme of seemingly conflicting constitutional claims that one needs to examine the periodic pronouncements by the Supreme Court urging the state to enact a Uniform Civil Code. This essay aims to explore how principles of secularism and multiculturalism are played out within the demand for a ucc in a communally vitiated political climate and to ask, further, whether the enactment of a Uniform Civil Code can in itself ensure gender equality in the Indian context. The concern around the enactment of a ucc dates back to the Constitutional Assembly Debates in 1949. At this historical juncture of India’s independence, the overarching concern of the founding fathers was the formation of the new nation-state and the means for ensuring its smooth governance. In this context, the provision of a ucc was debated primarily in terms of the

authority of the state to regulate civil life and the family relationships of its citizens and to protect the right of minorities to their cultural identity. The trauma of Partition had created an insecure and defensive Muslim minority who had to be reassured of their right to religious and cultural freedom within the new democracy, which was, after all, going to be governed by majority dictates. What emerged, then, was a set of conflicting concerns for the newly evolving Indian state. At one level, it was deemed necessary that the various sects, castes, and tribes of the vast majority—from the erstwhile Princely States, from territories under the control of various tribes, and from the British Raj—be integrated as one community by enacting a uniform set of family laws. This would be achieved by introducing a concept of ‘‘legal Hinduism.’’ At the same time, minorities (not just Muslims, but also Christians and Parsees) would be assured of their separate religious and cultural identities—and this would be symbolized primarily by the continuance of their personal laws. Gender equality and women’s rights were not the focus of the ucc discourse at that point, even though the state was under the constitutional mandate of nondiscrimination on the basis of sex as well as religion. In fact, the debate around women’s rights within family laws was foregrounded only much later, during the enactment of the Hindu Code Bill in the 1950s when the state proposed reforms in ‘‘Hindu’’ family laws. These reforms were justified on the basis that it was expedient to grant Hindu women property rights since they lagged far behind women from the minority communities in this respect. Interestingly, the conservative elements who opposed the reforms used the demand for a ucc as a delaying tactic to stall the reforms. But despite this claim, the Hindu family law reforms, which constitute a major overhauling of the personal laws of the majority community, need to be viewed within the context of nation-building imperatives. The overarching purpose of the reforms was to homogenize the culturally diverse Hindu community through a set of uniform state-regulated enactments rather than to bring about gender equality. Therefore, although the plank on which the campaign for reforms was mounted was ostensibly women’s rights, gender equality was not its primary objective; and in fact several principles of gender justice which stood in the way of the reforms were compromised in order to push through the state agenda of a reformed Hindu law. One such important principle that was compromised was the retention of the Hindu Joint Family (huf) property system. In this system, only a Hindu

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male has rights in the ancestral family property by birth. This practice was retained in order to appease the stalwarts who vociferously opposed granting women equal inheritance rights. Thus, a woman’s right to inheritance was limited to a share in the self-acquired property of her father. But even this much-trumpeted right was further subverted by surreptitiously granting Hindu fathers the right to will away their property as they chose. The protective restraint against bequests in Islamic law to safeguard women’s rights found no place in the codified Hindu law, since the Hindu law was remolded on the English model of exclusive and absolute rights to the individual. Hence women’s rights of maintenance and inheritance were rendered transient and illusory. To cite another example: although the Hindu Marriage Act introduced rights of divorce for women, the act did not provide for any economic security for the divorced woman except the right of a meager maintenance dole, further qualified by a rider requiring her to maintain her ‘‘sexual purity’’ by refusing remarriage as a condition for receiving this maintenance. The largescale destitution of Hindu women after divorce in the postreform phase could only lead one to conclude that the Hindu woman had bartered her rights of residence and economic security in exchange for the right of divorce—and consequent destitution. The principle of monogamy, which was modeled on Western and Christian doctrine, was not suited to the cultural conditions of a custom-ridden, pluralistic Hindu society. So at one level the law was ine√ective in curbing monogamy, but conversely it strengthened the patriarchal base by depriving women in informal relationships of their customary rights. During the subsequent decades, although statistics for wife murder and suicide by young brides signaled a phenomenal increase in family violence among Hindus, and the soaring number of destitute women reflected the inadequacy of the reformed Hindu law, the discourse on a ucc projected the codified Hindu law as a model for women’s liberation and empowerment. The correlation between increasing rates of suicides, murders, and destitution of Hindu women and the reformed Hindu laws was not subjected to any scrutiny by the supporters of the ucc. This bias gave the ucc discourse a communal hue. Within the communally vitiated political climate of the 1980s and 1990s, the demand for a ucc was increasingly used by the Hindu rightwing politicians as a stick to beat the Muslim minority, leading to communal hostility and to the alienation of even progressive segments within the Muslim community who had earlier supported the demand for a ucc on the basis of

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gender equality. In the post–Babri Masjid phase, support for ucc has come to be construed as a betrayal of the cause of identity politics within minority communities. Since the current political climate has rendered the task of family law reform extremely complex, some women’s rights advocates have begun to reconsider their earlier demand for a ucc and have instead started advocating the principle of ‘‘reforms from within’’ to bring about changes. It is in this context of a changed political scenario that I venture into an exploration of the demand for a ucc, by examining the implications of and the periodic pronouncements made by the Supreme Court on this issue. The demand for a ucc is laden with three desirable propositions: gender equality, national integration, and ‘‘modernity.’’ The gender arguments project the passage of an all-encompassing and uniform code as a magic wand that will ameliorate the woes and su√erings of Indian women in general and Muslim women in particular. This argument tends to view gender as a neutral terrain, far removed from contemporary political processes. From this point of view, the agency for change within communities becomes highly suspect. Minority women are projected as lacking a voice and an agency either in their own communities or through the process of litigation to bring about changes that are egalitarian and gender just. It projects state intervention in the form of an enactment of a uniform code as the only way of bestowing gender justice on minority women. At another level, enacting the ucc is viewed by the liberal, modern, English-educated middle class as a moral cleansing force that will abolish polygamy and other ‘‘barbaric’’ minority customs and give minorities access to the egalitarian code of the ‘‘enlightened majority.’’ In a majority-dominated political climate, a demand for a ucc that voices concerns about ‘‘national integration’’ and ‘‘communal harmony’’ tends to project Muslims as the Other of both Hindus and the nation. At times the distinction between these two terms—‘‘Hindus’’ and ‘‘nation’’—collapses and they become interchangeable. It is indeed a matter of grave concern that this position, advocated vociferously by the Hindu right wing, has received a boost through the judgments pronounced by the Supreme Court of a secular state, and more often than not by the presiding chief justice himself, carrying either veiled inferences or direct comments which were often irrelevant to the issues litigated before it. It is interesting to note that no matter what the core issue litigated before the apex court, the comments regarding the enactment of a ucc are

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always made in reference to ‘‘national integration’’ and contain, further, either an insinuation or a direct attack against Muslim law. This also creates the fiction that Hindus are governed by a secular, egalitarian, and gender-just family code and implies that it was high time that this code was extended to Muslims to usher in modernity and gender equality among them. The bias of the apex court toward reformed Hindu personal law is a≈rmed when we examine how it has responded to constitutional challenges to various archaic provisions under the Hindu law. For instance, when in 1984 the Delhi High Court a≈rmed an archaic provision of restitution of conjugal rights under Hindu Marriage Law, which was challenged on the basis that it violates the provision of equality under Article 14 and freedom under Article 21, not only was there no mention of a ucc and ‘‘national integration’’ but the court went further and ruled: ‘‘Introduction of constitutional law in the home is most inappropriate. It is like pushing a bull into a china shop. It will prove to be a ruthless destroyer of the marriage institution and all that it stands for. In the privacy of the home and married life, neither Art. 21 nor Art. 14 have any place’’ (Harvinder Kaur v. Harminder Singh, aia [All India Reporter], 1984 del (Delhi) 66). Later in the same year, the Supreme Court a≈rmed this decision in Saroj Rani (Saroj Rani v. Sudarshan, aia 1984 sc [Supreme Court] 1562) and overruled the Andhra Pradesh ruling which had struck down this provision as unconstitutional (T. Sareetha v. T. Vekatasubbiah, aia 1983 ap [Andhra Pradesh] 356). While the blame for igniting the controversy over ucc must lie primarily with the Supreme Court, the blame for repeatedly fanning it lies with the media. Seemingly this controversy makes good copy. While the Shah Bano (Mohd. Ahmad Khan v. Shah Bano Begum, aia 1985 sc 945) judgment first polarized opinions on this issue—representing those in support of a ucc as modern, secular, rational, and gender just, and those opposing it as fundamentalist, orthodox, patriarchal, communal, and obscurantist—the media have continued to frame the issue within this opposition even when the lines between the two groups have become blurred. In the two decades since the Shah Bano ruling in 1985, the ground realities have changed considerably. The demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, the rise of the Hindu right wing through the 1990s, the attacks on Christian and Muslim communities in the recent past and, more particularly, the gruesome sexual violence inflicted on Muslim women during the Gujarat carnage of 2002, and the altered situation of Muslim women’s economic rights after the Supreme Court ruling in the Daniel Latifi case (Daniel Latifi v. Union of India [2001], scc [Supreme Court Cases] 740; Criminal Law Journal 4660 [2001]) are 298 Flavia Agnes

some factors that have necessitated a reexamination of the earlier call for a ucc as a means to secure the rights of minority women.≤ Many progressive groups and several women’s organizations therefore no longer support this demand. Even the Muslim intelligentsia that during the Shah Bano controversy spoke out in favor of ucc has changed its position in the context of a threatened Muslim identity. What is even more striking is that the Bharatiya Janata Party (bjp), the dominant segment of the National Democratic Alliance (nda) coalition that was in power until the elections of 2004, itself did not foreground the debate during the five years that it was in power—though this was one of the major promises made on its election plank, one prong (along with the building of the Mandir at Ayodhya and the abolition of Article 370 of the constitution) in its three-pronged attack against Muslims. Despite this general skepticism about the e≈cacy of the ucc, the polarization in the media continues and the same old controversy gets whipped up again and again; every time the Supreme Court makes a comment, what one sees reported in the media are images of purdah-clad Muslim women and the opinions of Muslim religious leaders opposing the demand. In the media reporting, the core issues litigated before the Supreme Court become blurred, and the call for a ucc is projected prominently as a pronouncement against the Muslim minority. My concern in this essay is to examine the core issues litigated before the court in each of these cases, their relationship to the demand for a ucc, and the subsequent media projection of those cases that have rendered the rulings as anti-Muslim pronouncements. The first and as yet the most widely acclaimed among these is the Shah Bano judgment pronounced in 1985 by a constitutional bench then headed by Chief Justice Y. V. Chandrachud; the second, the Sarla Mudgal judgment pronounced in 1995 by the division bench headed by Justice Kuldip Singh (Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India 1995 scc 635); and the most recent, the judgment in the John Vallamathom case by a division bench headed by Chief Justice V. N. Khare in 2003. The judgments are analyzed here not only in their legal entirety but also with attention to their social, political, and economic implications for gender equality and minority identity.

John Vellamathom Judgment on Testamentary Disposition for Charitable Purposes by Christians I begin this exploration with the most recent and perhaps not so well known Supreme Court pronouncement. On August 21, 2003, the chief justice of India, Justice V. N. Khare, gave a call for the enactment of the ucc as part of a Supreme Court and the Uniform Civil Code 299

ruling that held Section 118 of the Indian Succession Act to be unconstitutional and discriminatory. Questions as to, for example, who had filed this writ petition, what was the core issue before the court, or whether it had any link to gender justice or national integration became immaterial in the fervor to highlight the ucc debate. Newspapers and magazines solicited comments from two groups—spokespersons of the Muslim religious leadership and women’s rights activists. But though they jumped on the ucc bandwagon, few journalists and ‘‘experts’’ paused to think about the relationship between the Supreme Court verdict, gender justice, national integration, and the Uniform Civil Code. The petitioner, a Roman Catholic priest, had challenged Section 118 of the Indian Succession Act, which is reproduced below: Bequest to Religious or Charitable uses—No man having a nephew or niece or any nearer relative shall have power to bequeath any property to religious or charitable uses, except by a will executed not less than twelve months before his death, and deposited within six months from its execution in some place provided by law for the safe custody of the will of living persons.

The underlying principle contained in Section 118 of the act indisputably was to prevent persons from making ill-considered deathbed bequests under religious influence. This section had its roots in a British statute of 1735 known as the Charitable Uses Act, 1735 and was enacted at a time when the Church regulated all land transactions and wielded great influence over its flock, which the Crown sought to curtail and regulate. In 1888 the earlier statute was repealed and the provision for charitable uses was included in another statute, the Mortmain and Charitable Uses Act. Ultimately, since the statute had lost its relevance (basically because the Church had ceased to exercise such power over its people) the British Parliament, with the Charities Act in 1960, repealed this provision. Interestingly, despite the severe restrictions on bequests of land for religiouscharitable purposes, the Mortmain statute had exempted gifts of land of any quantity meant to be used for public parks, museums, universities, and colleges or given to any local authority and the like. The Indian legislature, while enacting the Indian Succession Act, 1925, advertently or inadvertently omitted to include these exemptions—hence Section 118 of the Indian Succession Act was even more restrictive of personal freedoms than the parent statute. Such archaic remnants of the English principles are found in almost all Indian (or for that matter, all South Asian) statutes. The Indian Contract Act, 300 Flavia Agnes

the Indian Penal Code (ipc), the Transfer of Property Act, and many other statutes contain a generous sampling of irrational, outdated, and sexist provisions that were retained even after they were either struck down or amended in the country of their origin. The exemption in favor of marital rape (exception to Section 375 of ipc) and the sexist provision of adultery (Section 497) under the ipc, as well as the outdated and sexist provisions of public morality (Section 23) under the Indian Contract Act, which prohibits ante-natal contractual agreements regarding settlements in favor of women in the eventuality of a divorce are merely a few examples. Some of these have been upheld despite litigations challenging the constitutional validity of these stipulations or have been retained even after the relevant section has been amended.≥ The petitioner, John Vellamathom, a Roman Catholic priest, challenged the violation of personal freedoms on the ground that since the original statute on which this stipulation was based had been repealed in England, there could not be any reasonable justification for retaining the same in the Indian statute. Since this discriminatory provision had already been struck down by the division bench of the Kerala High Court in 1998 (Preman v. Union of India, 1998 [2] klt [Kerala Law Times] 1004), the task before the Supreme Court was a simple and easy one. Answering the short question before it, regarding the constitutional validity of Section 118 of the Indian Succession Act, the Supreme Court pronounced it unreasonable, arbitrary, and discriminatory and therefore in violation of Article 14 of the constitution and struck it down on these grounds. It based this judgment on the belief that ‘‘a charitable disposition of property for the benefit of the public in the advancement of religion, knowledge, commerce, health, safety, or any other object beneficial to the mankind has specifically been acknowledged not only in di√erent religious texts but also in di√erent statutes,’’ and that ‘‘a person’s freedom to dispose of property for such purposes has nothing to do with religious influence.’’ Since the underlying purpose for enacting the provision was merely to thwart the influence exercised by people professing religion resulting in deathbed dispositions, the court held that ‘‘the purpose and object of the Act must be held to be non-existent’’ once such a contingency has adequately been taken care of in other provisions under the act. On the basis of this reasoning, while striking down the provision, the court also relied on the Declaration on the Right to Development adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights, of which India is a signatory, and on Article 18 of the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, in which the Supreme Court and the Uniform Civil Code 301

individual’s right to religious freedom is explained as the ‘‘freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.’’ As one can observe from these discussions, the question before the court was not about gender justice or national integration but about the personal freedom of a Christian priest. Contrary to popular belief, what the petitionerpriest was seeking to protect through this petition was his right of religious freedom and the right to follow the dictates of his religion. While defending cultural plurality of belief, worship, and practice by invoking the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, the court ruled in favor of religious minorities by upholding their right of religious-charitable bequests. The court held that violation of this right amounted to discrimination under Article 14 of the constitution. And yet this judgment became popularly known as one in favor of the Hindu right wing’s antiminority demand for a ucc. How did this happen? The blame lies not just with the courts and the media but also with the petitioner himself. In order to strengthen his case, the petitioner advanced a rather unwarranted argument that it is an essential and integral part of Christian faith to contribute to religious and charitable causes, and that the stipulation under Section 118 violated the right to freedom of conscience guaranteed under Articles 25 and 26 of the constitution of India. In response the court held that ‘‘disposition of property for religious and charitable purpose is recommended in all the religions . . . but . . . cannot be said to be an integral part of it’’; and consequently decide that ‘‘Article 25 of the Constitution of India will, therefore, not have any application in the instant case.’’ Had the petitioner not pressed the argument of violation of rights under Articles 25 and 26 of the constitution, he would still have won the case and secured his right (and that of others in his community) of testamentary bequests for religious-charitable purposes. At the other end, even if the issue had been raised, the court could have answered the issue in the negative and the matter would have ended there. But out of the blue, Chief Justice Khare went on to add a comment, totally out of context to the core issue before him, in the following words: Before I part with the case, I would like to state that Article 44 provides that the State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India. The aforesaid provision is based on the premise that there 302 Flavia Agnes

is no necessary connection between religious and personal law in a civilized society. . . . It is a matter of regret that Article 44 of the Constitution has not been given e√ect to. Parliament is still to take steps for framing a common civil code in the country. A common civil code will help the cause of national integration by removing the contradictions based on ideologies.

The link between the Christian priest’s personal freedom to make a bequest of a religious-charitable nature and the issue of national integration through the enactment of a ucc was not explained. But this comment provided fuel for the media to interpret the judgment as antiminority and pro-ucc rather than a judgment in defense of personal freedoms and cultural plurality. And ironically, the next day and through the weeks that followed, the newspapers were flooded with reports and editorials on the ucc with quotes from Muslim religious leadership and Muslim intelligentsia as well as women’s rights activists while the judgment itself was of relevance to neither Muslim identity nor women’s rights. The Sarla Mudgal Judgment on Conversion and Bigamy The second significant judgment on this issue is the Supreme Court verdict on conversion and bigamy by Hindu men in the Sarla Mudgal case. Here again, neither Muslim law nor the rights of Muslim women were the core issue before the court. The court was examining the validity of a Hindu marriage contracted between a Hindu man and a Hindu woman, and the subsequent marriage of this man to another woman, also a Hindu, contracted after a fraudulent conversion to Islam. But the parties to both marriages continued to be Hindus and practiced Hindu religion and rites. It was not the claim of any of them that they had become Muslims. So, to put it succinctly, the court was examining the rights of two Hindu wives of a bigamous Hindu husband. There was no Muslim before the court and the gender inequality within Muslim law was not an issue. But, unfortunately, the judgment and the media publicity that followed chose to focus primarily on the issue of ucc in terms of nation, national integration, and minority identity. In the much-publicized judgment delivered by Justice Kuldip Singh, the court commented: Since Hindus along with Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains have forsaken their sentiments in the cause of the national unity and integration, some other communities would not, though the Constitution enjoins the establishment of a common civil code for the whole of India. . . . Those who preferred to remain in Supreme Court and the Uniform Civil Code 303

India after the partition, fully knew that the Indian leaders did not believe in two-nation or three-nation theory and that in the Indian Republic there was to be only one Nation, the Indian Nation and no community could claim to remain a separate entity on the basis of religion. In this view of the matter no community can oppose the introduction of common civil code for all citizens in the territory of India.

The obvious reference to Partition and to the ‘‘choice to remain in India’’ is targeted at the Muslim minority (Parsis and Christians did not have any choice in the matter). This reference to ‘‘those who preferred to remain in India after the partition’’ has long functioned as a warning to Indian Muslims from the Hindu right. The judgment went on to state that ‘‘Article 44 is based on the concept that there is no necessary connection between religion and personal law in a civilised society.’’ This implies that those who oppose the code (read Muslims) are barbaric and uncivilized. The comments also seem to imply that Hindus are governed by a secular and gender-just family law and that Muslims as a community are the uncivilized enemy of national integrity because they follow their own personal law. Kapur and Crossman have argued that the language of the judgment in deflecting attention from the continuing religious and discriminatory aspects of Hindu personal law and in attacking the Muslim community is disturbingly similar to the political rhetoric of the Hindu right. In this view, all religious communities must be treated the same and it is the dominant Hindu community which is to be the norm against which equality is to be judged. But the norm of monogamy in the Hindu society, which was the issue under scrutiny before the apex court, escaped all public debate. The spotlight was turned on the polygamy of Muslim men and the plight of Muslim women—and the solution o√ered to liberate Muslim women was the immediate enforcement of a ucc. There was also a hint that the uniform code would render Hindu marriages more stable by curbing the bigamous tendencies of Hindu men. A reading of the judgment seemed to indicate that the only breach of monogamy among Hindus happened following their conversion to Islam. For, according to the judgment, ‘‘there is an open inducement to a Hindu husband, who wants to enter into a second marriage to become a Muslim.’’ The norm of Hindu monogamy presumed by the judgment needs further scrutiny. Monogamy was introduced among the Hindus through the Hindu Marriage Act in 1955. Prior to this, Hindu men were absolved of the criminal 304 Flavia Agnes

consequences of bigamy. After 1955, a Hindu wife could divorce her husband on the grounds of bigamy and also prosecute him under Section 494 of the Indian penal code. The right to dissolve the marriage on the grounds of bigamy is also available to a Muslim wife under the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act. The additional relief that the Hindu wife can avail of is criminal prosecution for bigamy. But since only the first wife can initiate prosecution, a popular notion prevails that a Hindu husband can remarry with the consent of his wife and, at a practical level, this notion is not far from the truth. So although on paper the position of a Hindu wife would appear to be slightly better than a Muslim wife’s in respect of preventing her husband’s bigamy, the statistics of bigamous marriages among Hindus and Muslims are roughly the same. By declaring that the earlier marriage was valid, the only legal remedy (apart from a petition for divorce on the grounds of bigamy) available to the litigating Hindu women is to prosecute their husbands for bigamy. It is in this context that the judicial attitude toward bigamy by Hindu men has to be posed as the central issue. The judgment seemed to indicate that the judiciary has dealt severely with all breaches of monogamy among Hindus and the only loophole through which a husband can escape is conversion to Islam. But an examination of the decisions of the Supreme Court and the various High Courts reveals that bigamy of the Hindu males persists despite statutory restraints and that the judicial attitude toward Hindu bigamy has been extremely lax. Ten years after the provision of monogamy was introduced, the Supreme Court dealt with the case of a Hindu male, Bhaurao Lokhande (Bhaurao Lokhande v. State of Maharashtra, aia 1965 sc 1564). The errant husband was convicted by the lower courts. But the apex court acquitted the husband on the grounds that the essential ceremonies for a valid Hindu marriage, namely, vivaha homa and saptapadi (invocation before the sacred fire and pacing seven steps round it), had not been performed in the second marriage and that therefore he was not guilty of having performed a second marriage. The court ruled that the bare fact of a man and a woman living as husband and wife does not give them the status of husband and wife unless valid ceremonies of a marriage have been performed, and hence such cohabitation would not warrant conviction under Section 494 of ipc. This principle was followed by the Supreme Court in 1966 in Kanwal Ram (Kanwal Ram & Ors v. the H.P. Administration, aia 1966 sc 614) and in 1971 in

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Priya Bala (Priya Bala Ghosh v. Suresh Chandra Ghosh, aia 1971 sc 1153). While acquitting the errant husbands, the Supreme Court rea≈rmed that proof of essential ceremonies is a precondition for conviction. The court further ruled that this condition must be met even when the husband and the second wife admit the marriage or the fact of cohabitation. In the intervening period of thirty years from Bhaurao in 1965 to Sarla Mudgal in 1995, the various High Courts not only followed the trend set by the Supreme Court but in their zeal advanced the logic to absurd ends, stamping out all hopes of justice and fairness in criminal prosecutions. Ceremonies performed in a temple, and registration with the caste panchayats or temple authorities or even with a civil registrar fell short of the degree of clinching proof that the first wife was expected to produce. If the paternity of the child of a second marriage was not proved it could lead only to its bastardization and not to proof of bigamy by its father. The complainant wife could also lay herself open to the risk of invalidating her existing marriage. (For a detailed discussion of this issue, see Agnes, ‘‘Hindu Men, Monogamy, and the Uniform Civil Code.’’) The decisions ignored the reality of a pluralistic Hindu society and thrust on it an absurd notion of uniformity. The second marriages of lower castes were judged by a yardstick that can only be applied to marriages of uppercaste virgin brides. The lower castes did not follow the Brahminical rituals and also permitted divorce and remarriage prior to the Hindu Marriage Act and followed distinct ceremonies to distinguish the first from the second marriage. Hence the remarriage of a lower-caste person could never meet the high judicial standards set by the courts in coordination with the provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act. A discernible pattern emerging from prosecution for bigamy is conviction by the lower judiciary and leniency by the apex court. The higher judiciary rescued the errant husbands by applying the standards of Brahminical rituals of homa, saptapadi, and kanyadan. The complexities of bigamous Hindu marriages and the a√lictions of both the first and the second wife were addressed neither by the courts nor by the media while the focus continued to remain on Muslim bigamy. The Supreme Court declined to address the issue of various fraudulent means which the husbands adopted to escape the stipulation of monogamy under the Hindu Marriage Act and restricted itself to a pronouncement on the unpatriotic stubbornness of the Muslim community in holding on to their own personal law.

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The Shah Bano Judgment and Rights of the Divorced Muslim Woman The earliest among the three judgments discussed in this essay was delivered by a constitutional bench headed by the then chief justice Y. V. Chandrachud in 1985 in the Shah Bano case. This judgment set the tone for the communalization of the demand for a ucc by condemning Muslim law as backward and antiwomen. Until then, and more particularly in the 1950s when the debate around the Hindu Code Bill was raging, it was the Hindu law that was projected as ‘‘archaic and anti-women’’ and, in comparison, the laws of the minorities as being far more progressive and modern. The ruling is significant also because, among the three rulings on the ucc discussed here, this alone had a Muslim woman at its center; hence the controversy it created surpassed the others. Since the facts of the case are now history they do not require an elaborate discussion at this juncture. For the purposes of this essay it su≈ces to mention that this case was the first one since independence in which the Supreme Court elected to comment on Islam and the Muslim Personal Law while deciding the right of maintenance of a Muslim woman under a secular and uniform statute. But it was not the first instance of the apex court’s upholding the right of a Muslim woman for maintenance under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure. Two significant decisions of the Supreme Court delivered by Justice Krishna Iyer in 1979 (Bai Tahira v. Ali Hussain Fissali, aia 1979 sc 362) and 1980 (Fuzlunbi v. K. Khadir Vali, aia 1980 sc 1730) had placed the divorced Muslim woman’s right of maintenance under this provision on a secure footing without arousing a political controversy. These decisions examined the right of the Muslim woman in the context of social justice. The court’s unwarranted comments and its gratuitous call for a ucc while debating the rights under a secular statute in the Shah Bano ruling provoked a communal backlash. Relenting in the face of the pressure exerted by the Muslim orthodoxy, the government introduced the Muslim Women’s Bill that sought to exclude divorced Muslim women from the purview of Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure. This move by the ruling Congress Party headed by Rajiv Gandhi came to be projected as the most glaring instance of the defeat of the principle of gender justice for Indian women as well as the defeat of secular principles within the Indian polity. This move met with severe opposition from secular and women’s rights groups. As the debate progressed, the media projected two insular and mutu-

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ally exclusive positions: those who opposed the bill and supported the demand for a ucc were represented as modern, secular, and rational, while those on the opposing side were viewed as fundamentalist, orthodox, male chauvinist, communal, and obscurantist. To be progressive, modern, and secular was also to be nationalist; conversely, the opposing faction could be labeled as antinational. As the controversy escalated, the Muslim was defined as the Other, both of the nation and of the Hindus. Muslims, in turn, could be mobilized to view this as yet another threat to their tenuous security. The rigid approach of the Muslim leadership provided further fuel to the Hindu right-wing forces in their anti-Muslim propaganda. The Muslim intelligentsia distanced itself from the opinion of the Muslim religious leadership and approached the government with a petition supporting the judgment and opposing the proposed bill. Ironically, the fury that was whipped up seemed disproportionate to the core component of the controversy—a paltry sum of Rs.179.20 per month, inadequate to save the seventy-three-year-old ex-wife of a successful Kanpurbased lawyer from vagrancy and penury. The raging controversy and the communal turn of events finally led Shah Bano herself to make a public declaration renouncing her claim, strengthening the popular misconception that Islam subverts the economic rights of women. If this entitlement was against her religion, she declared, she would rather be a devout Muslim than claim her right of maintenance. A sad comment, indeed, warranting reflection from campaigners on both sides of the divide. The statute, passed under a party whip, led to a strengthening of the Muslim appeasement theory in judicial discourse and in popular media, and crystallized the anti-ucc position among Muslim religious leadership. Once the act came into e√ect, the protesting groups were left with no option but to appeal to judicial sensitivity to set right the wrongs caused to Muslim women by the legislature. The hurriedly drafted and hastily enacted statute was full of contradictions and loopholes. But despite its limitations, the act was of immense historical significance as the first attempt in independent India to codify the Muslim Personal Law. But the positions across the divide were so rigid by then that they permitted no reflection on this milestone in the history of personal laws in India. Only when the dust raised by the controversy settled could one examine the relevance of this statute—titled Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 (mwa)—to the divorced Muslim woman. But

308 Flavia Agnes

since it was enacted amid protests from women’s rights groups and progressive social organizations, it was viewed with suspicion and foreboding by these sections. Hence the first response of the protesting groups was to challenge its constitutionality, rather than examine its viability. While the writ petitions were pending in the Supreme Court, the act gradually unfolded itself in the lower courts. Appeals from the decisions of various High Courts started accumulating, along with the original writ petitions. What was intriguing was that while the writ petitions were filed by groups agitating for women’s rights, the appeals were from husbands aggrieved by the verdicts of various High Courts. Since the act was passed amid protests from rights lobbies, writ petitions challenging its constitutionality by these segments seemed to be in order. But it was di≈cult to rationalize the appeals filed by husbands that started accumulating from the rulings of various High Courts. If indeed the act was depriving women of their preexisting rights and was enabling husbands to wriggle out of their economic liability toward their exwives, why were the husbands finding themselves aggrieved by the orders passed under a blatantly antiwomen statute? Lurking beneath this observation was a faint suspicion that perhaps the ways in which the act was unfolding itself in the lower courts was indicative of a di√erent reality, defying the premonitions. This fascinating phenomenon provided the first indication that perhaps the ill-famed act could be invoked to secure the rights of divorced Muslim women. Hence, it became expedient to examine whether the new act provided Muslim women with a more viable and feasible alternative to the prevailing remedy under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure by invoking Islamic principles of a ‘‘fair and reasonable settlement.’’ A seemingly innocuous clause, which had missed the attention of protesters and defenders alike, had been invoked by a section of the lower judiciary to pronounce judgments that provided greater scope for protection against destitution. Section 3 (1) (a) of the act stipulated that a divorced Muslim woman is entitled to ‘‘a reasonable and fair provision and maintenance to be made and paid to her within the iddat period by her former husband.’’ This clause, along with the preamble—‘‘An Act to protect the rights of Muslim women who have been divorced by, or have obtained divorce from their husbands’’—had been invoked by the judiciary in defense of Muslim women’s rights. Though initially just a trickle, the judgments were a pointer toward a

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potentiality in the new act. They a≈rmed that the new act was to protect the rights of divorced Muslim women and not deprive them of their rights. They further stressed that any ambiguity within clause (1) (a) of Section 3 must be interpreted in such a manner as to reconcile it with the proclamation contained in the title of the act. Banishing divorced women to a life of destitution would not amount to protecting their rights as stipulated by the statute, they declared. Suddenly the lump sum provisions for future security, which the courts were awarding within the framework of Islamic principles, seemed to be a better safeguard against destitution than the meager sums which women were entitled to under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure through a monthly recurring entitlement. A reading of the judgments indicates that the act had rid itself of the agenda of alleviating vagrancy and destitution among divorced women and had extended itself to the claims of women from a higher social stratum than the earlier beneficiaries, those who lived below the poverty line. The statute enacted in haste, at the insistence of the conservative leadership, seemed to have boomeranged. In a significant number of cases, a concerned and sensitive judiciary carved out a space for the protection of women’s rights from what appeared to be an erroneously conceived, badly formulated, and blatantly discriminatory statute, without evoking a political backlash. Endorsing the spirit of Islam and the shari’a and reflecting the sensitivity of the Prophet, who is hailed as ‘‘the greatest champion of women’s rights the world has ever seen,’’ the courts read into the statute notions of justice and equity. Doing precisely what the act in its title proclaimed, that is, protecting the rights of divorced Muslim women, the judiciary turned what had initially appeared to be a misnomer and a mockery into a factual reality and ushered in a silent revolution in the realm of Muslim woman’s rights. It would indeed have been tragic if these concerted e√orts had been invalidated by a single stroke of the pen from the apex court. The most significant issue that emerged out of the enactment revolved around the stipulation of ‘‘a fair and reasonable provision.’’ Drawing on the Islamic concept of mataaoon bil ma’aroofe (fair and reasonable provision), several High Courts opened a new portal for the protection of divorced Muslim women. The remedy, which the courts so carefully crafted out of the controversial legislation, in fact seems to provide a better safeguard than the earlier antivagrancy provision under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure. The first significant judgment on this issue was pronounced by Justice

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M. B. Shah, then presiding over the Gujarat High Court, on February 18, 1988 (Arab Ahemadhia Abdulla v. Arab Bail Mohmuna Saiyadbhai, aia 1988 guj [Gujarat] 141). But even before this, the die was cast in women’s favor by a woman judicial magistrate in Lucknow on January 6, 1988. The woman concerned, Fathima Sardar, was awarded Rs. 85,000/- as maintenance during the iddat period, mehr entitlement, and fair and reasonable provision. Following the judgment of the Gujarat High Court, the Kerala High Court upheld this view in two significant rulings (Ali v. Sufaira, 1988 [2] klt 94; and Aliyar v. Pathu, 1988 [2] klt 172). These judgments were pronounced in the months of July and August 1988, respectively. In another unreported judgment, the Kerala High Court upheld the woman’s right to Rs. 300,000/- as fair and reasonable provision and also awarded Rs.7,500/- as maintenance during the iddat period (P.K. Saru v. P.A. Halim). Soon several High Courts followed suit. In the years that followed, the full benches of Punjab and Haryana and Bombay, the division benches of Bombay, Kerala, Madras, and Calcutta, and single judges of several other High Courts upheld this view. The courts ruled that even when a wife has some source of income, the right under Section 3 of the mwa is not extinguished. But the controversy regarding the constitutional validity of the act prevailed, and not just the media but also secular and progressive groups and women’s rights lobbies continued to reiterate that the act had deprived divorced Muslim women of their crucial rights. Also certain High Courts had given a contrary ruling and the rights of Muslim women varied depending on the High Courts under whose jurisdiction they happened to reside. Finally, the entire controversy was laid to rest and uniformity was assured through a ruling of the apex court pronounced on September 28, 2001. A five-judge bench headed by Justice G. B. Pattanaik unanimously declared that the act is constitutionally valid and upheld the positive interpretations given by various trial courts in respect of fair and reasonable settlement for a lifetime. Muslim Women, Dominant Ideologies, and the Media Law is not merely a statute; its essence lies in the manner in which it is unfolded in law courts. The empty words of a statute come to life in the trial courts where they are contested, interpreted, and validated. Right from 1988 the courts have engineered women’s rights through innovative interpretations, ushering in a new set of rights within the established principles of Muslim law. The lower judiciary gave a clear verdict in favor of a ‘‘fair and

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reasonable provision’’ for the divorced Muslim woman. Several judges in trial courts declared that ‘‘provision’’ contemplates ‘‘future needs’’ and that Parliament has replaced one set of obligations of a Muslim husband with another. The claim under the mwa does not operate with the addition of a rider about sexual purity or postdivorce chastity, unlike Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure, the original provision under which Shah Bano was awarded maintenance. The judicial pronouncements delivered divorced Muslim women from the cumbersome burden of recurring monthly dues, which hinged on postdivorce chastity. The historic ruling of the constitutional bench in the Daniel Latifi case finally put its seal of approval on the interpretations given by the lower judiciary. But unfortunately, within the communally vitiated atmosphere, the advances made by divorced Muslim women under the provisions of the mwa have been overlooked by the media. During the Shah Bano controversy, the denial of rights of a meager maintenance dole was lamented by all and sundry, notwithstanding the fact that the maintenance awarded to the wife of an advocate with a flourishing practice was just Rs.25/- in the first instance and Rs.179/- on appeal. So long as the debate could be used as a stick with which to beat the Muslim community, these minor details didn’t seem to matter. What did matter was the fact that a communal campaign could be mounted on the pretext of granting justice to minority women. The demand for a ucc was couched as a ‘‘liberal and modernizing mission.’’ The irony lay in the fact that the groundwork for mounting this campaign was laid by the women’s movement, with genuine gender concerns, but firmly located within the cultural ethos of the mainstream. Within this framework, a similar appeasement of Hindus by strengthening coparcenaries by various legislative measures could be deliberately ignored. The ‘‘modernizing mission’’ is an important tool for establishing racial and communal superiority and is used constantly by dominant classes and hegemonic cultures. We need to examine how Muslim women’s struggles become invisible within the cultural construction of hegemonic claims. Communal fervor could be sustained only by denying the fact that the act provided an alternate remedy that was far superior to the one that had been denied to Muslim women under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure; by negating the fact that since 1988 the act was being positively interpreted by various High Courts in the country by awarding substantial amounts as ‘‘settlements’’; and by glossing over an important development in the realm of family law, that of the determination of

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economic entitlements upon divorce, rather than the prevailing right of recurring maintenance. So even while the homes of poor Muslim women were looted, gutted, and razed in various communal riots which broke out in the country, while teenage sons of Muslim women were killed at point blank range in police firings, while Muslim women were raped under floodlights in the post-Babri Masjid riots, the mainstream continued to lament Muslim appeasement and denial of maintenance to poor Muslim women, the Shah Banos. One could overlook even this. Perhaps there was a justification. Denial of maintenance by husbands was perhaps as loathsome as the rape of women in communal riots. Ultimately, however, it was the ‘‘poor Muslim woman’’ who su√ered. But how can one logically explain the recurring motif of ‘‘Muslim appeasement’’ even after the Supreme Court decision in the Daniel Latifi case, when the controversy was finally laid to rest by upholding the constitutional validity of the act and simultaneously securing for Muslim women maintenance rights which in actual terms are superior to the rights bestowed on Hindu women? And yet the rhetoric continues. And it was used yet again, in defense of the Gujarat carnage. They had it coming . . . they have been ‘‘appeased’’ beyond tolerance. Why should they demand a separate law in a secular country? Why should they be allowed to marry four times? Why are Hindus alone bound by an obligation of maintenance? What is startling is that the grievances are mouthed not only by Hindu extremists but also by centrists, the liberals, the people who inhabit my social space, the urban, cosmopolitan, middle class. Within the cultural ethos of the mainstream, an injustice to a Muslim wife gets magically transformed into a Hindu injury that could be invoked to justify communal carnage. Without this tacit approval by the middle class, the recent Gujarat carnage could never have spread so wide. The rhetoric conveniently overlooks the facts that abandonment and destitution of wives are as rampant among Hindus; that the matrimonial faults of adultery and bigamy are evenly distributed across communities; and that Hindus, Christians, and Parsees, with equal zeal, guard the patriarchal prerogatives of their respective personal laws; further, that around 80 percent of all women burnt in their matrimonial homes are urban middle-class Hindus. That patriarchal prerogatives cannot be abandoned even when a law is being codified is something we have learnt in the process of Hindu law reforms. Even when codification is sought in the name of ‘‘uniformity,’’ ‘‘national

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integration,’’ or ‘‘civilizing mission,’’ these prerogatives will be retained. The saving of Hindu undivided family (huf) property under the Hindu Succession Act is a glaring example of this. The Hindu urban and rural propertied class and family business establishments have gained the maximum concessions of tax benefits as an outcome of this. Any move to abolish this even under the guise of a ucc will be opposed vehemently by this class. For them, the ucc debate is confined to abolishing the ‘‘barbaric’’ Muslim culture of polygamy and to liberating the Shah Banos, while simultaneously turning a blind eye to the sexual promiscuity and multiple sexual relations engaged in by men in their own community. The women bound in these relations can easily be discarded as ‘‘concubines,’’ ‘‘mistresses,’’ or partners of contractual agreements, maitreyee karars (the modern term for these alliances) lacking legal validity and devoid of any rights, as one knows from the contested claims of maintenance by these women. Viewed against the background of the Hindu violence against Muslim women in Gujarat recently, the struggles of individual divorced Muslim women who defied their culture and tradition and dictates of patriarchy have to be acknowledged as acts of assertion. But the struggle has not been easy. Divorced Muslim women have had to fight every inch of the way for their rights all the way from the trial courts in small district towns to the Supreme Court. Their crucial right of survival has hinged on interpretations and explanations of simple words like ‘‘within/for,’’ ‘‘and/or,’’ ‘‘maintenance/provision’’— disjunctures and conjunctures of words and phrases. The ambiguities which surfaced as the result of callously hasty drafting posed hurdles to women in their struggle to claim their rights. The act provided ample scope to husbands to exploit the situation, which led to protracted litigation beneficial to husbands and a nightmare to women. But women withstood the ordeal with courage and determination, with patience and perseverance, and overcame the seemingly insurmountable hurdles. Through this laborious process, the criteria for the civil right of divorce settlement have been taken out of the earlier legal premises such as ‘‘inability to maintain,’’ ‘‘prevention of vagrancy,’’ ‘‘a dole to hold together body and soul.’’ After a decade and a half, the end results of this persistent struggle are clearly discernible. In the final battle in the Supreme Court, both sides, the women’s rights groups who had challenged the constitutionality of the act as well as the Muslim religious leadership who had pressed for their claim that the Muslim woman’s entitlement ought to be limited to three months of iddat period, lost

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out. The party who emerged victorious was the divorced Muslim woman who had waged a relentless battle to defend her rights. It is time the media took note of this silent revolution being fought by individual Muslim women and acknowledged the fact of their agency in bringing about changes within their personal laws. Notes 1. Part III of the Indian constitution comprises rights which are justiciable—for example, equality, freedom, liberty, cultural and religious rights, etc. If these rights are violated, the aggrieved person can approach a court for the enforcement of these rights. Part IV of the constitution comprises ‘‘Directive Principles of State Policy.’’ These are principles of governance or proclamations. But these cannot be enforced through a court action. 2. Following the controversial judgment in the Shah Bano case, a new statute was enacted in 1986, which prescribed certain new remedies to a divorced Muslim woman. But this statute, the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act of 1986 (mwa), was enacted amid protests from women’s rights groups and progressive social organizations. However, as the act gradually unfolded itself in the lower courts, it was invoked to secure the rights of divorced Muslim women. The writ petitions challenging the constitutionality of the act and the appeals filed by husbands (Daniel Latifi among them) were decided together and a verdict was pronounced by a five-judge constitutional bench of the Supreme Court on September 28, 2001, which declared that the act is constitutional. Declaring that the act would be unconstitutional if not interpreted to mean that women would get a reasonable and fair provision and maintenance, the court simultaneously provided greater protection to Muslim women than the earlier right under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure. I discuss this at length in the section devoted to the Shah Bano judgment. 3. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the provision relating to adultery under the Indian Penal Code when it was challenged in Revati v. Union of India, aia 1988 sc 835. The amendment to rape law in 1983 also retained the exemption of marital rape despite opposition from women’s groups.

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Akeel Bilgrami a

Secularism and the Very Concept of Law


central concern in the study of secularism in India has been the question of Muslim Personal Laws—their unreformed status and their existence as exemptions to the secular ideal of a civil code that applies across the board. In this brief essay, I will approach the subject by situating it in a much more general theme, of which it is a particular, and particularly important, instance. The more general theme, with no specific focus on India, is the question: Can culture and religion provide grounds for exemptions from a secular liberal nation’s laws? This question arises just as much for Western nations with large immigrant populations as it does for India. I adopt this oblique approach in order to lay bare some of the conceptual and philosophical issues at stake in the general debate between secularists and multiculturalists.∞ They are not issues which we can think through in depth without thinking of the nature of legislation, constitutions, and the very point of the law. And it would be complacent to refuse to see how philosophical and methodological understanding of the law drives intellectuals in India to both their advocacy and their criticisms of modern India’s secularism. ‘‘Secularism’’ is a subject in India’s intellectual life whose relevance and importance seem never to go away. When a subject abides for a whole century with such urgency, it is no longer a mere luxury to look behind it for these philosophical issues at stake, it is an intellectual imperative.

Let me begin by getting two preliminary and elementary points of terminology and clarification out of the way. First, since the general debate I will focus on is about secularism in the face of multiculturalism, ‘‘culture’’ in ‘‘multicultural’’ will be restricted to religious cultures and communities. But many (though perhaps not all) of the points made here will be applicable to other sources of culture, having to do with nationality, ethnicity, indigenous native populations, and so forth. That is all to the good, since in explanation more generality is to be preferred to less, where it is plausible, that is, where it does not trample over good distinctions. Second, the debate coincides to a considerable extent with the debates about minorities, that is, the place of (religious) minorities in a secular liberal democracy, whether it be in India or European countries such as Britain or France. Though this coincidence is considerable, it is not complete because not all issues about secularism are engagements with multiculturalism, with the diverse cultures of various religious minorities. The question of the status of secularism can arise in countries with a high degree of religious homogeneity, where the pressures on secularism do not come from a diversity of religious cultures but from pressures of a religious politics quite generally, as, for example, in Iran. Even in countries where there are cultural and religious minorities, the pressures on secularism may not necessarily come from these sources but from the demands of a dominant majority culture or community. Of course, it would be unusual if in these latter cases the demands did not relate to the majority culture’s responses in some way or other to the existence of minority cultures (as in India), but there is no necessity that they should do so. All the same, I will be focusing on cases where there is a broad coincidence of the debate about multiculturalism with the one about minorities. To repeat, my question, at its highest level of generality, is about whether religion gives ground for exemption from liberal laws. Sometimes the laws in question can be about relatively marginal issues, such as how to dress, as in the demands of Sikhs in Britain that they be allowed to wear their turbans while riding their motorcycles—despite safety laws requiring helmets— because their religion requires it. Or it can be about somewhat more important matters, such as the Sikh demand that they be exempt from laws about carrying dangerous weapons in public, so as to allow them to wear their kirpans in public religious ceremonies. Or it can be about even larger issues having to do with laws of divorce and alimony, as in the (successful) Muslim demand during the Constituent Assembly debates in India that Muslims be

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allowed to live by the personal laws prescribed in the shari’a. Finally, they can also be about the most fundamental of issues in liberal doctrine, such as the Muslim demand in both Britain and India that constitutional rights to free speech be put aside when it comes to blasphemy, as for instance, in the case of Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses.≤ Though the law in each of these may di√er in weight and importance, the basic structure of the arguments and issues is the same in all the cases. What I want to look at is the extent to which the issues at stake in this debate between the secularist and the multiculturalist might be over something as deep and philosophical as how to understand the nature of law itself. The traditional and classical secular position has tended to be that the very notion of law, law by its very nature, seems to be the sort of thing that demands equality in its application. A law is not a law unless it holds for everyone. Yet the multiculturalists, with their sympathy for the religious demands for exemptions, seem to be questioning precisely this claim. Do they, then, understand the nature of the law di√erently? If so, because it seems so natural to think that the law should apply to everyone equally, the multiculturalist is, at least prima facie, stuck with the task of showing that what seems so natural here might not in the end be justified. Why, then, does it seem so natural that a law, by the very kind of thing it is, applies equally to everyone? It is shallow to simply say in a very general and unilluminating way that equality is a fundamental value and it applies to the law as to other things. What is natural about the claim we are considering has to do much more specifically with how we think legislation proceeds or should proceed. Let’s look at a prominent recent secularist position on the law. Brian Barry, in his book Culture and Equality, takes a clear and unambiguous position on the matter: ‘‘If there are good reasons to formulate the law, then those very reasons repudiate the demand for exemptions. And if, on the other hand, there are good reasons to grant exemptions to the law, that puts into doubt that there should be such a law in the first place’’ (39). This is a very tidy view. And it is a view shared by a lot of secular liberals. By ‘‘good reasons,’’ Barry presumably means reasons which, on reflection, are decisive. Why is Barry so convinced that if there are decisive reasons to support a law, then it should not allow for exemptions? His answer is clear— because if there was something decisive to be said on the part of granting the exemptions, then there are no decisive reasons in favor of the law.

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What seems too tidy is just this assumption that if there is something to be said in favor of the exemptions, then that puts into doubt the decisive reasons for favoring the law. But one should be careful that in calling this too tidy, one is not misunderstanding Barry’s position. He does allow that one could go on to grant exemptions if one wishes, but when one does so, it is on purely ‘‘pragmatic’’ grounds, grounds which have nothing to do with the law except insofar as how people will respond to it. So, for instance, a state might grant exemptions to a law in order to keep the peace, knowing that there will be great dissatisfaction, even perhaps violence, if one insisted on applying it across the board. But these are all pragmatic considerations that the state might invoke—for statist reasons, like keeping the peace. In these cases the exemptions are not principled exceptions; they are merely a bit of special pleading on grounds quite irrelevant to whether the law—qua law—is a just and good law. (A case of a principled exception would presumably be something like the escape clause for self-defense in a homicide law. There is nothing pragmatic about having this exception; it is not a result of taking into account, once the law is formulated with exceptions and already in place, how people are responding to it. It has nothing at all to do with people’s feelings and responses, religious or otherwise. It is dictated entirely by considerations internal to the law. It is therefore an exception built into the law, and not a pragmatic afterthought.) What Barry rightly and shrewdly sees is that the multiculturalist is not going to grant that only and purely pragmatic reasons justify exceptions to a law about tra≈c safety, public order, and so on. He (or she) is going to insist that there are principled reasons that religious considerations might provide for the exceptions. And Barry is anxious that this insistence really questions something rather basic about the nature of law itself. So he himself has nothing per se against granting exceptions to the law. So long as they are always seen as being granted on pragmatic grounds after the event of legislation, he is prepared to tolerate exceptions. What he will not tolerate philosophically is the multiculturalist way of claiming the exceptions. And, if I am correct, the reason for this seems to be that that way of claiming the exception threatens the very conception of law which the secularist assumes. So one must ask: What is this conception of law that the secularist assumes? What is philosophically and jurisprudentially at stake in saying that there are no principled but merely pragmatic reasons underlying the granting of exceptions on religious grounds?

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This is what seems to be at stake. According to the secular liberal, when making a law, legislators look only to the subject matter of what the law is about— safety on the road, as it might be, or the threat to public order by the carrying of dangerous weapons. If they find, when considering that subject matter, that there are good reasons to formulate a law regarding helmets or the ban on carrying dangerous weapons in public, then those reasons rule out any principled exceptions based on people’s religious feelings and sentiments. So the answer to the question—why is it so natural to think that the law applies equally to all citizens?—is that laws are formulated with a view to addressing issues (subject matters), consideration of which dictates what is just and right, quite independently of what this or that group of citizens’ response to the law will be. Quite possibly people will hate wearing helmets, paying taxes, and so forth, but if considerations of safety and political economy, the subject matters addressed by those laws, dictate that it is right that people should wear helmets and pay taxes, then that is that. To multiculturalists, that is precisely the underlying view of law, the underlying view of the task of legislation, that is bound to appear too tidy. It leaves out of legislation, and the considerations that go into it, any sensitivity to the deepest human commitments and sentiments of people. It may be, they will grant, that when thinking only of safety (the subject—or one subject—of tra≈c laws), one should not be bothered by religious considerations of the male Sikh’s religious obligation to wear a turban instead. But the context of legislation is always part of a much larger human and social context. Laws are for people, even if they are about subject matters, and when the commitments and sentiments of people go as deep as they sometimes do over questions of religion, one cannot restrict one’s perspective to just the subject matter of the law in question and what is right for that subject matter. One has to think of how the law will a√ect the people who live under it in ways that may have nothing to do with safety in tra≈c. Here, then, is one way I would propose of formulating the alternative picture of legislation that the multiculturalist is assuming. (There could be other models proposed to capture the multiculturalist assumptions about legislation, but this seems to me the one that is clearest and least conceptually cluttered.) When legislators devise laws they confront a vast decision problem. As with any decision problem, we must proceed via a governing constraint, which is often called ‘‘the total evidence requirement.’’ And if legislators look at the total evidence, when considering a law on motorcyclists’ safety, whether

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in Bombay or Bradford, they would inevitably have to ask themselves, among other things, how to weigh the gain in safety against the loss in o√ence caused to a sizable minority of citizens. Now, it is possible that here, as with any decision procedure, the weights we attach in these considerations lead us to quite uncertain deliberative outcomes; and when that happens we may well think that the best solution is to have both the law of safety and the exemptions for the relevant religious community. The uncertainty dictates this ecumenical decision, the very ecumenism which Barry repudiates when he says disjunctively that either the law had good reasons for it or it is a bad law because there are good reasons for the exceptions. It’s only if the deliberative procedure weighing the total evidence yielded a more certain outcome one way or another that we would disallow exceptions and have the law, or see the point of the exceptions and conclude that there was no need for the law. But in the deliberative weighing of total evidence on matters in which considerations of safety are vital and religious sentiments run strong, it is quite likely that the deliberation will often not produce outcomes with any certainty. If so, the ecumenical or conjunctive legislation of law and exception will prevail over Barry’s disjunctive view. This conception of legislation is alternative to the one that Barry is presupposing because it is no longer possible to dismiss the granting of exceptions as merely ‘‘pragmatic’’ afterthoughts. It is true that we did not want to o√end the relevant minority of citizens’ feelings, but that consideration was at the outset one of the things to be weighed in solving the decision problem about what sort of law to adopt under the total evidence requirement. It was not as if we first arrived at the law, on some independent and more principled grounds, and then, on subsequent more pragmatic considerations of not o√ending the minority, granted the exceptions. Not o√ending minorities was, as I said, weighing in right at the outset of deliberation. It won’t do to object on behalf of the secularist by saying that this way of thinking about legislation as a vast decision problem, taking in the total evidence in reaching a decision, does not allow for the fact that some people might find it unfair for the sentiments of a religious minority to be seen as relevant evidence in the decision. Thus, for instance, this objection might invoke the fact that teenagers also want exemption from wearing helmets because it is uncool to do so, and they might say, ‘‘We too have strong sentiments about this, why are you paying more attention to the Sikhs?’’ There is a simple failure on the part of this objection to see that the whole point of

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taking the view of legislation as a vast decision problem is that the protest made by the teenagers can also be thrown in as one more consideration into the total pot of evidence and weighed in the deliberation about the decision. And it may turn out that even after throwing that in as a bit of evidence, our deliberation tells us that the Sikh case is more urgent than the teenagers’ and therefore the same uncertain outcome which dictated both the law and the exemption granted to the Sikhs from the law is the best decision. So protests about what is and is not fair, and therefore what is and is not the relevant evidence in the total evidence, are just more evidence in the total evidence on which the decision is made by legislators. Exactly the same thing can be said in response to other sorts of objections to this decision-problem format for thinking about legislation. So, for instance, secularists might object that there will be something too unstable about laws if they are arrived at on the basis of taking into account what people’s sentiments are regarding the law. Well, here, too, let the threat of this instability also be thrown into the pot of total evidence, for the legislators to weigh. They may still come to the conclusion, after weighing it along with everything else, that we should after all have both the law with the exception rather than Barry’s tidier disjunctive view of the matter. It simply misses the point to say that once we throw the point about unfairness to other groups who want exemptions and the point about instability of laws into the total evidence, legislators are very unlikely to find themselves adopting the ecumenical law-plus-exemption outcome. Even if that is in fact the case, the point is it need not be so. Let us even grant that because of throwing in the considerations of unfairness and instability into the total evidence, legislators—proceeding as if they were undertaking a decision problem of the kind I outlined—came up with laws which were exemptionless, that is, with laws which were co-extensive with the laws that legislators working with the model underlying Barry’s view—who consider only the subject matter of the law and what it dictates—came up with. That does nothing really to show that the models are not radically di√erent. For it is quite possible that even if you allow considerations of unfairness and instability to be weighed along with considerations of the strong sentiments of minorities and how they will respond to the laws, the latter might trump the former in our deliberations, and in that case we will adopt the law-cum-exemption outcome. This demonstrates that even if in fact the two models come up with the same laws, they are only co-extensive; they are not co-intensive.

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The point is that those wedded to the legislative model assumed by Barry are going to cry foul at the very idea that consideration of religious sentiments at the outset of legislative deliberation is being allowed. No amount of coextensivenes of this with their own model will soothe them. That is to say, no amount of reassurance that the same laws are likely to be devised by the decision-problem model will soothe them. And that is only right. Given their view of legislation, this should seem to them to constitute a wholly di√erent and unacceptable legislative model. Even if it happens to yield the same laws, it might not do so if decision-making deliberative outcomes turned out to be di√erent. I have been trying to contrast two di√erent models of legislation as underlying the debate between the secularist and the multiculturalist. Whichever one we prefer in the end, there is nothing obviously wrong or incoherent with either model. But we must ask a deeper question at this point. So far we have only asked what conception of legislation underlies the secularist finding it so natural to think that the law applies equally and without exception to everyone, and what conception of legislation underlies the multiculturalist way of questioning what seems so natural to the secularist. We must now ask, whether something deeper underlies these di√erent models of legislation themselves. Whichever side we take on the dispute between the two underlying model of legislation, it would be premature to take it without noticing a deeper layer of what is at stake. There is something rather more abstract and methodologically significant that lies behind what the secularist is aspiring to, and it is worth a brief exploration. Barry himself does not explore it and one feels therefore that he has not really dug as deep as he might into the foundations of his own position. A good way to begin is by diagnosing why his position seems to him so obviously to have the moral and philosophical high ground. And I do not doubt that Barry (whose book—thick though it is with rigorous arguments— is filled with a pervasive indignation against any sympathy shown toward multiculturalism) will be brought to new heights of indignation by the very idea of the notion of legislation I am presenting on behalf of the multiculturalist. One can hear it: ‘‘This is no way to go about devising laws! It is not a decision problem taking in as considerations all those messy details of people’s feelings toward prospective laws right at the outset! It is to misunderstand the very nature of laws to conceive of their devising in these terms! It may be

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that some subject matter regarding which a law is sought will be a di≈cult one on which to decide what will be a just law. But if that is so, that is because of the intrinsic di≈culty of resolving the legal aspects of the subject matter; it should not be because we have an eye out for how this or that group will respond to it. We would never get any laws without exceptions if we proceeded along the lines of the proposed method!’’ While reading and thinking about his position, I tried hard to diagnose this impatience he is bound to show toward the multiculturalist assumptions about the law. What deeper methodological assumption is he implicitly adopting which makes it seem so obvious to him that his way of thinking of law is the only right one? At first I thought it was simply this: Barry, in his own mind, has started with a paradigm of what a law is by looking to cases in which we are not prepared to countenance any accommodations and exceptions (at any rate, not because of considerations coming from the sentiments of groups a√ected by prospective laws), laws of homicide, for example.≥ And then he extrapolates and elevates this into the very concept of law. That is to say, he extrapolates it to cover all laws. But I then abandoned this diagnosis because it was too uncharitable to him. It is uncharitable because the extrapolation from the one sort of law to all others is too obviously illicit. Multiculturalists and every other sensible person would be happy to concede that homicide laws and a few other such laws are very di√erent in that one should not countenance the sort of exemptions on religious grounds which are being claimed for other laws. But they will certainly find it an extraordinary and unacceptable inference to go from this concession to saying that all laws are like homicide laws in this respect. But what other diagnosis is there, if this one is uncharitable? What other deeper underlying methodological assumption motivates the secularist notion of law and legislation? Let me say something on Barry’s behalf now. Someone who finds the decision-problem approach to devising a law (as I have spelt it out briefly) to be missing the very point of law may be thinking in the terms I want to consider now. I will begin with a crude, very abstract, and almost sentimentally philosophical statement of the idea. The idea of a law derives from something more basic than law itself, something like the idea of a principle, something of greater generality, greater abstraction, something which is more transparent to us, whose point and rationale shines forth from the very kind of thing it is.

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There is a greater self-evidence about it. That notion of principle underlies our most basic understanding of laws. So understood, laws do not try to cope right at the outset with the messy details that may lead to accommodations and exceptions. They stand above those messy details, and in fact it is the point of laws to bring clarity to the messy details and put them in their place. The point becomes less crude if we point to an analogy that might exist with the basic laws, say, of Newtonian science, and their relations to particular engineering applications, or (a better analogy) their relations to the details and highly qualified (by ceteris paribus clauses) generalizations of some of the special sciences such as psychology or meteorology or even biology where much messier details have to be dealt with. We do not spoil or give up on the idea of the most general explanatory laws of fundamental physics just because of the messy details of the engineering applications or because the special sciences throw up recalcitrant details for them. On the contrary. It is part of the prestige of the fundamental sciences that we try constantly to subsume the particulars at the lower levels of the special sciences under their higher-level laws. We may not always succeed, but that is the aspiration, and the prestige of the laws is reflected in the aspiration and is una√ected by the occasional failure to fulfill it. Why should morals and the law be any di√erent from science? Here too we might seek an analogy with the distinction between basic physical laws versus engineering detail or the laws of the basic sciences and the messy phenomena and highly hedged generalizations of the special sciences. I believe that secularists like Barry presuppose something like the analogy in the background when they relegate the messy details of people’s sentiments to pragmatic afterthoughts following on what is decided at a higher plane of the law itself. Someone might protest: Practical life is too messy to hold this stratified view of higher laws under which lower level messy details are always sought to be subsumed, and that is why the decision-procedure approach better suits the situation of the devising of laws. But I think we can try to do better, on the secularists’ behalf, to explain why things might not be that dissimilar in morals and the law, and this finally is the crucial point which should remove some of the initial impression of crudeness and of an overly remote and abstract philosophical diagnosis. In law and morals too we often find that some of our lower-level, much more contested and controversial and messier questions can be decided, or come closer to being decided, if we can find similar subsumptions under higher

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order principles. This happens often. Thus, for instance, we may often find ourselves uncertain about how to think of pornography. We may worry about the e√ect of shops in our neighorhood selling pornographic materials, we may think of our children having easy access to them, and so on. These messy and controversial points about the matter are given a clarification and put in their place as soon as we notice, however, that questions regarding pornography are to be subsumed under the much more general principle of free speech. Similar messy questions may be raised about the health and safety issues surrounding abortion, which may leave legislators uncertain about its legality, and again the same clarity and decisiveness is brought to the matter if we see that it can perhaps be subsumed under a higher level principle of privacy. Both these subsumptions have indeed occurred, as any basic survey of the history and sociology of these legal issues will tell us. Someone who was undecided while looking at the controversial details about abortion or pornography might find that the subsumption to these more general and basic principles adds just the clarity that will help him or her decide. The process is parallel to the one I described as a certain sort of aspiration in science.∂ In fact there occurred a somewhat farcical episode in my university, which provides a gorgeous illustration of the point I am making. Some years ago it was reported in the newspapers that my colleague Edward Said had thrown a stone, on a recently liberated site in Lebanon, in the direction of a building housing some Israeli guards. He was with his son, and he did so in order to let o√ steam and express some satisfaction at the liberation of an area, which the occupying Israeli forces had evacuated. Some professors and students at Columbia University demanded that action be taken against Said for a violent act, suggesting that he even be asked to leave the university. There was a lot of discussion and much controversy was exchanged in the student newspaper. Now, even if one thinks as I do that the demand was preposterous and farcical (though I am sure it did not seem particularly farcical to poor Edward Said who was harassed—as he so often was—by the most disagreeably malicious and false propaganda about it), it was interesting to see the degree of calmness and clarity that obtained, even among those making the preposterous demand, when the provost wrote in the newspaper that Said’s throwing the stone was to be subsumed under the principle of free speech. On this diagnosis, then, the secularist is impatient with other models of law and legislation than his own because those models cannot keep faith with this essential underlying feature of the law, a feature which sees

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their point and rationale to be one of clarifying (or being capable of clarifying) what before the subsumption under them seem like messy and controversial details. Now of course, we may not always succeed in these subsumptions, and when we do not, though we will not give up on the aspiration to subsume them eventually, we will still in the meantime have to acknowledge the messier details as having to be dealt with in some way. But now, with this understanding of the underlying point and rationale of law in place, there will be a perfectly good justification for dealing with them pragmatically, just as the pure sciences deal with the details of engineering or the basic sciences deal with the seemingly recalcitrant phenomena of some of the special sciences. It is clear on this view that in neither the legal nor the scientific case does acknowledging the messy details cancel the fact that we do still aspire to the subsumption of the low level to the high, and it is the presuppositions of this aspiration (of the clarity and transparency imparted by the more abstract notion of principle) which I think underlies Barry’s and other secularists’ refusal to countenance the decision-problem approach to legislation, as I presented it. That approach falls afoul of precisely these stratified presuppositions about subsumption of the lower level to the higher and tries to deal with the mess right from the start without this stratified picture. Having said that on behalf of the secularist, we must also be clear that it is this very underlying stratified picture of laws which is much disputed not only by multiculturalists who might adopt the decision-problem approach as I presented it, but by those who think (to take just one example) ‘‘virtue’’ theoretically that such a higher notion or level of principles does not underlie the moral life in this way, that the entire aspiration to subsume is misguided, that the notion of moral perception and moral judgment in the sense of phronesis should be brought to center stage instead, and that talk of principles and subsuming the particular judgment under more general principles is the wrong underlying paradigm in the practical domain of morals and the law.∑ This virtue-theoretic view going back to Aristotle, and flourishing under a recent philosophical revival, is of course very di√erent from the decision-problem approach as I am presenting it. Decision-theoretic reasoning is, after all, also anathema to virtue-theorists, who stress a sort of moral perception instead of the codifications and constraints of decision theory. For them codification of reasoning in the realm of value is just as bad as the idea of moral principles. In fact these two approaches have little in common other than opposing the

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subsumptionist picture, which I am claiming underlies the secularist conception of law. Although I have strong views on the subject, I am not interested here in taking a stand on which of these conceptions of the law is the right one. As I said, in this essay I am only raising some of the deeper issues at stake in the general debate between the secularists and the multiculturalists. What I am sure of is that at some point these broad underlying methodological issues about the nature of law itself will have to be addressed before we can conclusively decide which side to take in the debate. Until we address them, the multiculturalist will always seem to the secularist to be conflating and confusing questions of justice and the law with cultural politics; and the secularist will always seem to the multiculturalist to be tendentiously and coercively obscuring people’s religious sentiments and presenting them as afterthought considerations relevant only pragmatically, and relevant only to governments’ having to face the problem of keeping the peace, once the lawmakers’ more pristine job is essentially done. On the question of Muslim Personal Laws in India, with which I began, the interesting interpretative constitutional question will now be whether to read that exemption from the civil code granted to Muslims as something best understood in terms of the pragmatic reasons which the secularist allows or in terms of the principled reasons of the kind the multiculturalist insists on but which the secularist opposes. Notes 1. I am using the term ‘‘secularism’’ in this context without much attention to the diverse interpretations one may give to the term, such as, to mention just two: (a) separation of religion and state, and (b) equal treatment of all religions by the state. My reason for invoking the term ‘‘secularism’’ and the term ‘‘multiculturalism’’ at all in the context of this essay is simply this: I am interested in the demands made by groups (religious minorities in particular) in a multicultural society that they be exempted from certain laws of a liberal democratic polity because they conflict with their religious practices and customs and convictions. These demands for exemption, though they are likely to clash with secularism understood as (a) above, need not at all clash with secularism as defined as (b) or with various other definitions of secularism that may be of interest to others. As it turns out, in the context of India, because Muslims (unlike the Hindus) were allowed to be exempted from a reform of their (personal) laws in a secular direction, both (a) and (b) have relevance to the issue of exemptions from the law. But in the context of this essay, where I am not going to be discussing the Indian case at all but only the general philosophical issues underlying such demands for exemptions, the

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relevance of (b) is not salient. The focus is not so much on ‘‘why exempt some and not others?’’ (though that will come up briefly) as it is on how religious demands for exemption may be an intrusion of considerations of religion in the realm of polity and law, from which they are supposed to be separate. So the reader is urged not to read all the meanings of secularism that occur to him or her into my use of the term. I am grateful to Amartya Sen for urging me to make this clear at the outset, and in general, for reading my essay with great care and making shrewd and helpful comments. 2. In Britain, free speech is put aside in the case of blasphemy and in fact there have been cases fought and won in favor of censorship against blasphemy. But they are restricted to blasphemy against the Christian faith. 3. See my remarks above on the reason for putting aside considerations such as selfdefence as not issuing from people’s sentiments but from the subject matter itself. 4. In a conversation, Jon Elster suggested that what I am proposing is a mere analogy between subsumption in the one case and the other and suggested that analogies only get us so far. It is true that earlier in this essay I used the word ‘‘analogy’’ to make the point. But in fact it is much more than an analogy. I am actually claiming that there is a genus—the aspiration to illuminate via a subsumption of detail under a general principle. And I am claiming that it contains two di√erent species: (a) illumination gained by the subsumptions of the messier details studied by the special sciences to the general laws and principles of the more basic sciences, and (b) illumination and clarification gained about what is at stake in particular moral, religious, or legal issues and their attendant controversial details, when they are, once again, seen as instances of more general laws and fundamental constitutional principles. It would miss the point, then, to think that I am trading on the superficial similarity of the use of the word ‘‘law’’ or ‘‘general laws’’ in the two cases to say that what legislators and scientists are concerned with must be thought of as analogous when they are not. That is not the point at all. Of course, the ‘‘laws’’ of science and the laws adopted by a society’s legal system are very di√erent animals. One’s point is to explain, the other’s to provide normative constraints backed by sanctions. Nobody sensible would fail to see that distinction. The claim I am making despite these di√erences is that inquiry in general is often governed by a theoretical urge, which is gratified when we find something to be a special instance of something more general. This happens in both science and the law in ways that I have been specifying. That in the one case the laws are explanatory and the other the laws are rules to live by does nothing to spoil the point since the point is not to say that the laws are the same at all. It is rather to say that in both forms of inquiry, scientific and moral, the theoretical gratification which comes from subsumption is pervasive and motivating. It may turn out on reflection that we ought to discard this theoretical urge (see the next footnote) and cease to find it gratifying if it suppresses the acknowledgment of other forms of illumination than this one. I take no stand on that issue here, though I have views about it. But whatever we say about that issue, it would be wrong to claim on its basis that the tendency to find subsumption illuminating is not in fact a very strong and pervasive tendency among inquirers, whether in scientific or practical inquiry. It is this tendency, I am saying, which helps to explain why the decision-problem approach

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to legislation underlying the multiculturalist view seems so unappealing to many secularists. One does not even have to be convinced by the particular examples of subsumption I cited (of pornography and abortion being assimilated respectively to more general laws and principles about free speech and privacy) in order to grasp that this tendency to find subsumption illuminating goes very deep in inquiry in the moral and legal sphere just as it does in the scientific sphere. 5. It is of course also familiarly disputed as being a worthy aspiration in the realm of science, especially by those who think that psychology and even biology are not to be thought of as being so highly integrated or subsumable into such a hierarchical conception of science.

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Gauri Viswanathan a

Literacy and Conversion in the Discourse of Hindu Nationalism


n an otherwise cheerless and desultory year, euphoria seized India as it celebrated the award of the 1998 Nobel Prize to Amartya Sen for his work on welfare economics. The distinctiveness of this work lay in Sen’s commitment to a concept of human development aimed at realizing social and political processes for the betterment of human life. In insisting that all forms of human deprivation such as hunger, malnutrition, and illiteracy be brought within the purview of public policy, Sen transformed economics into a moral science, challenging the direction of a discipline focused primarily on those social aspects that are only instrumentally useful for human life. Among the deprivations he targets as most ignored by public policy is the citizenry’s right to education, full access to which is still an unrealized goal in postcolonial India, despite the professed commitments to universal literacy. On hearing the news that Sen had won the Nobel Prize, even those on both the left and the right in India who had long questioned the pragmatic usefulness of his work suspended their skepticism and joined the rest of the country in lauding his achievement. There was, however, a lone voice of dissent and disapproval, and it came from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (vhp), the rightwing Hindu religious organization currently backing the ruling bjp government. vhp president Ashok Singhal gave a sinister

turn to Sen’s economic program, darkly interpreting his Nobel award as a Western conspiracy to promote literacy in developing societies in order to bring them within the ultimate pale of a global Christian order and thus ‘‘wipe out Hinduism from this country’’ (‘‘Sangh Parivar Comes under Fire,’’ The Hindu [Madras, India], December 29, 1998, 13). ‘‘Despite the accuracy of Prof. Amartya Sen’s conclusions,’’ he charged, ‘‘the same could prove harmful to Hindu society as Christians would be bringing in more money ostensibly for promoting education, but actually proselytization would increase and everything in India would be undermined’’ (‘‘ ‘Singhal Statement on Amartya Sen Misquoted,’ ’’ The Hindu, January 3, 1999, 7). Incidentally, Ashok Singhal had earlier launched a scathing attack on Mother Teresa’s Nobel Prize as well. Then too he accused the Nobel committee of rewarding only those who promoted the work of Christian charity. Skeptical of Mother Teresa’s work as properly deserving to be called social service, he insisted that the driving aim behind all the activities of the Missionaries of Charity was to convert poor and ignorant Hindus to Christianity. At that time, unlike the occasion of Sen’s prize, Singhal’s voice was joined by others, though admittedly not in huge numbers. Publicly at least, few cared to endorse his views on Sen, as a result of which he was isolated from other hard-liners in his own party. Even the prime minister of the bjp-led government, Atal Behari Vajpayee, denounced such provocations as churlish, intemperate, and irresponsible (‘‘Vajpayee Criticizes vhp Remarks on Christians,’’ The Hindu, December 31, 1998, 1). Yet, even as he refused to participate in Singhal’s denunciation of Sen’s award, the prime minister simultaneously urged that there be a ‘‘national debate on conversion’’ following the attacks on Christians and their places of worship since December 1998. As if in repetition of the horrendous violence of December 6, 1992, which resulted in the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya by Hindu extremists, Christian churches were razed, and in a series of particularly gruesome events, a Christian missionary and his sons were burned alive and, in September 1999, a nun was stripped and forced to drink the urine of her attackers.∞ Ostensibly a response to Christian proselytism, the violence began in the western state of Gujarat but spread to other states as well, including the eastern state of Orissa, which witnessed not only the burning alive of the Australian missionary Graham Staines but also the murder of a Roman Catholic priest, Arul Das, in September 1999. To a country that had come to expect communal clashes as a conflict involving Hindus and

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Muslims primarily, the sudden surge of hostility toward Christians took many Indians by surprise, accustomed as they had become to the central role of Christian mission schools and hospitals in Indian life. In this context, Vajpayee’s appeal sounds innocuous enough, outwardly a sincere attempt to engage in serious dialogue and discussion about the motive-force behind the violence. The Constitution and Conversion However, the call for a debate was clearly intended to reopen the discussions that took place when the constitution was framed at the time of Indian independence. In the Constituent Assembly discussions that were held between 1946 and 1950, there was a strong move by powerful Hindu lobbies to ban conversions altogether. The call for constitutional provisions against conversion was made in response to the widespread fear that Hinduism, typically described as a nonproselytizing religion, would be under threat and its numerical strength diminished if conversions to other religions were allowed. While all religious groups may theoretically disseminate their beliefs, it has been a long-standing belief among Hindus that only Christians and Muslims actively proselytize, placing Hinduism at a disadvantage. This conviction lay behind the attempt by the Hindu lobby to bar conversions altogether and achieve a level playing field among the various religions. Furthermore, Gandhi’s famous distrust of Christian missionaries and Christian conversions o√ered a screen behind which the anti-Christian lobby could conveniently hide (Gandhi, My Experiments with Truth, 122–25). The fear of conversion produced a strange marriage between Gandhi and the Hindu nationalists, who in all other instances denounced him for making concessions to Muslims but nonetheless heralded him as the voice of reason when he opposed Christian proselytism. In his deep skepticism about the work of missionization, Gandhi imbued Indian nationalism with a Hindu ethos that laid the groundwork for an identitarian notion of Indianness. His resistance to Christian conversions simultaneously a≈rmed a Hindu past which had the power to assimilate di√erent communities and produce a sense of unity. Of course, the vital di√erence between Gandhi’s position and that of Hindu nationalists was that while he believed Christian conversions were the instrument of British colonialism and therefore must be resisted as vigorously as British rule, Hindu groups had no such larger aim and remained trapped within their own self-interests. The final draft of the Indian constitution e√ectively resisted all such at-

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tempts to outlaw conversions and instead made the propagation of religion permissible under the law. Article 25, Section 1, of the constitution gives everyone the fundamental right to ‘‘profess, practice, or propagate religion,’’ a right that is only circumscribed by considerations of ‘‘public order, morality, and health.’’ Whereas the constitutional freedom of conscience is described as a mental process, the right to propagate religion externalizes the mental freedom of conscience, rendering active propagation a field of open and lawful endeavor (M. M. Singh, 480). Freedom of conscience was thus broadly interpreted to mean the right not only to choose one’s religious views but also disseminate them. Not until 1977 was this provision modified in an Indian Supreme Court ruling which specified that the right to propagate religion did not necessarily extend to the right to convert. The ruling further allowed states to legislate ‘‘Freedom of Religion’’ bills forbidding the conversion of minors, as well as requiring Hindus converting to Christianity to provide magistrates with an a≈davit. Such forms of legislation brought civil o≈cials directly into the administration of spiritual a√airs, a move that seriously qualified the secular conception of the modern state and challenged the tacitly accepted divisions between religious faith and law. The impetus for the Supreme Court judgment came from a series of rulings set in motion by the findings and recommendations of a pivotal commission chaired by Justice Niyogi. Set up in 1954 to investigate the role of foreign missionaries in the state of Madhya Pradesh, located in the geographical center of India, the Niyogi Commission produced a report that, in the eyes of many missionaries, was intended to regulate Christian conversions and drive foreign missions out of the country (Wingate, 35). Noting that the term ‘‘propagation’’ was originally intended to refer to freedom of expression and conscience, Niyogi’s report implied that conversion militates against such freedom and therefore cannot be regarded as a disinterested dissemination of religious knowledge. By calling for a constitutional amendment reserving the right to propagate religion to Indian citizens, the report was clearly generated in a climate of chauvinism and ultranationalism. But the report went further than merely reopening the constitutional debates on conversion, just as Prime Minister Vajpayee, in calling for a national debate on conversion, had more than an academic exchange in mind. The Niyogi report introduced a new argument by highlighting loss of control over free will through weakness, ignorance, and poverty as a reason for outlawing conversion altogether, since it left the economically deprived sectors of Indian society particularly vulner-

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able to the inducements of converting to another religion. Such a view was possible only by representing India’s economically weaker sections as essentially disabled, incapable of distinguishing motives, and inexperienced in the exercise of their own judgment. The report painted a picture of conversion as a form of exploitation threatening the integrity of the Indian state, an assault so heinous that it justified the state’s curbing of missionary activities on the grounds that they posed a danger to national unity. Conversion is construed as a form of mental violence, no less severe than bodily assault. The Niyogi Commission’s landmark report set the lines of an argument that have continued to the present day, blurring the lines between force and consent and giving very little credence to the possibility that converts change over to another religion because they choose to. Interestingly, in charging that Christian missionaries take advantage of the weakened will of the poor and the disenfranchised, the report confirmed an elitist view of free will and autonomy as a privilege of the economically advantaged classes. As in the fiery age-ofconsent debates over prepubertal marriages of females, ‘‘consent’’ is not allowed as an option among the poor, and the missionaries’ promise of new religious possibilities is construed entirely as a violation akin to the rape of women. Over the years the ambiguity in the semantic distinctions between ‘‘propagation’’ and ‘‘conversion’’ went a long way in creating a charged environment culminating in such incidents as the fractious ones in Gujarat in December 1998, when scores of Christians and Christian places of worship were attacked. Indeed, the mounting violence against Christians since late 1998 replays an ongoing battle between Christian missionization and Hindu nationalism which was often fought in the houses of the Indian Parliament to introduce legislation banning conversion. So-called Freedom of Religion bills were routinely proposed seeking extension of state protection to those being wooed away from their religion. ‘‘Freedom of religion’’ came to be a euphemism for freedom from religion. Ostensibly secular in motivation, the bills to ensure freedom of religious conscience were primarily intended to protect Hinduism against the incursions of other proselytizing religions, revealing the collusion of the state in the preservation of Hinduism. ‘‘Conversion’’ implies force, a radical takeover of people’s will, whereas ‘‘propagation’’ acquires a more intransitive connotation, a middle term between force and instruction. Slipping from one meaning to another in the debate on conversion, the vhp general secretary Praveen Togadia invoked comparative history

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in order to argue that no other society gave a free rein to conversion, which has never been able to escape the connotations of force and disruption. Seeking a universalist point of reference, he linked economic well-being with free will to argue that ‘‘if these are the views of even the developed countries, how can we allow conversion in India where a large section of the society is poor and illiterate’’ (‘‘WHP Charge against Sonia Gandhi,’’ The Hindu, January 9, 1999, 13). Here again is the evocation of poverty as mental disability, leaving the masses peculiarly vulnerable to religious manipulation. In rehearsing the earlier constitutional debates on conversion, Togadia failed to mention that the constitutional framers invoked Western precedent, particularly that of American freedom of conscience, when they decided to include provisions to permit propagation of religion. Selectively calling up the West as a reference point to argue against conversion, Togadia’s comparative perspective evidently breaks down in its inability to deal with the multiple genealogies of religious freedom comprising the constitutional debates. These genealogies make room for the notion of conversion as a matter of individual choice and conscience, which the constitution was obliged to protect. Conversion and the Historical Legacy of Conquest Yet, despite such constitutional protection of religious conscience, nationalist discourse has turned conversion into a threat, a challenge to the cohesiveness of tightly woven communities. This is not di≈cult to understand, given that nationalism’s recourse to concepts of ethnicity, race, religion, and language is precisely what conversion contests. Conversion’s interest for a postnationalist culture is its resistance to positivist ways of conceptualizing di√erence through such essentializing markers as race, religion, color, ethnicity, and nationality. When identity is destabilized by boundaries that are so porous that movement from one worldview to another can take place with the regularity of actual border crossings, a challenge is posed to the fixed categories which act as an empirical grid to interpret human behavior and actions. While a term like ‘‘hybridity’’ is o√ered as an alternative to essentializing identities, it does not capture the dynamism of movement signified by conversion, which regards crossovers of identity not merely as items of exchange or even fusion but a remaking of the categories that define identity. Nor is ‘‘syncretism’’ a satisfactory term to describe the overlapping of identities, since, as its etymology and historical usage indicate, it constitutes a blurring rather than a negotiation of di√erences (Viswanathan, ‘‘Beyond Orientalism’’). Moreover, syn-

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cretism is as much a construct as are terms like ‘‘tradition’’ and ‘‘modernity.’’ In destabilizing the determinants of race, religion, gender, and so on, conversion unsettles the understanding of di√erence through purely essentialist categories. As a knowledge-producing activity, it shifts the focus away from visible markers of di√erence (such as race or gender) to the distance in viewpoints emerging from the pragmatics of communication. Such gaps in communication are the starting point for conversion’s reconstructive role in initiating movement between opposing viewpoints. The fact that neither origin nor destination is finite and determinate allows the convert to be critical of the religion to which she converts, even as she seeks to reform the religion she has repudiated. This sense of critical distance and fluidity gives conversion its peculiar power—the power to destabilize, which belongs to the individual who moves incessantly between disparate viewpoints. I am therefore suggesting that conversion performs the epistemological function of negotiating di√erences in viewpoints. Yet historically the term ‘‘conversion’’ has been associated with violence and erasure rather than mobility and communication. To those who patrol the barriers around religion, conversion rudely shuts down communication and is forcible by definition; it is ‘‘a colonization of consciousness’’ (Hefner, 5). Violence is at its core, as it tears away the secure lineaments of identity and orders the extinction of an individual’s most innate beliefs and understandings. Even when conversion works by persuasion, it is no less coercive in that it leaves the individual vulnerable to alluring promises. This is violence of the most hateful kind, because it induces assent by planting the seeds of hope for a better life. The legacy of historical conquest has made this notion of conversion a palpable and uncontestable one, even though violence does not inhere in conversion but rather in the historical moment in which conversion occurs. Indeed, when examined as a form of intersubjective communication, conversion can be understood as the outcome of a process whose alternative endpoint is violence, especially when the di√erences between parties remain unresolved (Krieger, 238). Coercion, erasure of identity, and forced assimilation are embedded in colonial desire, which has assigned conversion a set of meanings rooted in violence. Yet the fact remains that conversion becomes violent only when shifts to another worldview turn into a desire to make it prevail. This, of course, is Matthew Arnold’s classic definition of culture, which is deeply rooted in the logic of conversion by virtue of its ambition to be expansive and

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all-embracing. Translating the spread of culture into the terms of religious expansion, Robert Hefner describes conversion as a ‘‘great transformation’’ that assimilates local cults into world religions. This description, however, can be parsed further to reveal an inherent tension in conversion between being a break in the continuity of knowledge and representing a prelude to the institutionalization of new knowledge systems. What appears as a violent erasure of identity—epistemic violence, to use Gayatri Spivak’s term—is more precisely an e√ect of discontinuous knowledge. But while, on one hand, discontinuity of knowledge makes universalist propositions more di≈cult to sustain, on the other hand the very presence of competing systems creates a di√erent set of compulsions leading toward violence. In the first instance, discontinuity prevents false universalisms, but in the second the desire to make the new system prevail reintroduces universalism. Violence is contingent on the latter, but it also signifies the implacable opposition of claims. Not only does violence symbolize the disruptive power of di√erence but it also preserves and reproduces it. The history of religious transformations cannot be written outside the framework of these dual impulses: of knowledge interrupted and then transformed from dissent into assent.≤ Discontinuity and radical pluralism make culture vulnerable to what Habermas terms legitimation crises. Such crises reveal the need for a theory of religious communication that moves beyond relativism, even as it repudiates universalism in values. Some critics prefer to look toward notions of faith as the ‘‘establishment of a ground or foundation immune to the relativizing powers of Enlightenment and providing, thereby, a basis for the legitimation of belief ’’ (Olson, 44). Conversion’s proactive nature, combined with its maneuvering between discrepant belief systems, makes it a powerful epistemological tool to face the broad challenges of a pluralistic society. If pluralism is not to be reduced to a slogan of ‘‘live and let live’’ but imagined as the groundwork of community, communication between disparate groups on lines other than the assertion of their separate identities is the first step toward that goal. Conversion highlights the crisis of pluralism as the absence of a point of reference for religious groups to negotiate their di√erences and conflicting needs. Religious absolutism sets up a single center of values as the ultimate arbiter in conflicts, overriding individual self-definitions. On the other hand, while constitutional provisions for freedom of religion relativize religious di√erence and thus repudiate the exclusionary force of doctrine, they leave nothing in its place to enable religious communication between groups.

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To a large extent, this is the dilemma of secularizing societies. The failure of relativism enables the return of conversion in postemancipation society, not as forcible assimilation but as intersubjective communication.≥ In its challenge to thwart the violence that results when groups interact as equal but competing members of civil society, pluralism’s real test is to find new philosophical ways of conceiving relationality, particularly to heal the wounds inflicted by restrictive laws on communities in the colonial past of societies. Kept out of full civic participation in the past, communities are robbed of the conditions to relate e√ectively with one another, especially when consensus in civil decisionmaking is thwarted by the historical baggage of colonialism, which includes the perception that colonial rule was intended to obliterate indigenous religions. The fact that Christians constitute one of India’s oldest populations and that in many respects Christianity is no more foreign than Hinduism or Sikhism fades from public memory as Christianity is identified as a colonizing religion. However, other than to sanction freedom of religious conscience, the constitutional protection of the right to propagate religions does nothing to establish new conditions for communication or promote the proactive exercise of tolerance, even though civil pluralism forces communities to rethink their relations with each other on principles other than that of religious di√erence. The Role of the Mission Schools The perceived threat posed by conversion reminds one that, for formerly colonized societies, the history of colonial education is also the founding moment of violence. This conviction underwrites Prime Minister Vajpayee’s call for a national debate on conversion. In so doing, he insists on revisiting the role of missionary institutions in India: to ask, in other words, whether their aim was to propagate religion—which could also broadly include morality, civic virtue, and character—or convert people to Christianity. Without attacking the constitution itself, Vajpayee asserted that, while the right of religious propagation was constitutionally guaranteed, ‘‘the country must ensure that it is not misused’’ (‘‘PM Calls for National Debate on Conversion,’’ The Hindu, January 11, 1999, 1). This statement is no less than a dire warning to those who would use constitutional provisions as a license to apply force. ‘‘Poverty cannot be a reason for conversion,’’ warned Vajpayee, firmly dissociating economic circumstances from the imperatives of religious change. Despite his own disapproval of Singhal’s attack on Amartya Sen, Vajpayee

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kept the two issues of Christianization and welfare economics squarely within the same frame of reference, however much he may have denied that there was any connection between the two. It is thus no coincidence that Amartya Sen is denounced for advocating basic education—and religious conversion by extension—at the same time that Christianity is under siege in south Gujarat for promoting tribal conversions. In being forcibly linked with conversion, literacy is disengaged from development issues and relocated as an exclusively religious issue. In an e√ort to reclaim literacy from Christian uses, Sen’s opponents pointed to what is now a consistent thematics of antimissionary resistance: literacy has legitimacy only when it is a marker of indigenous cultural identity. Either way, the development issue drops out of the picture. The public repudiation of Singhal’s viewpoint, however, does not mean that his is an aberrant one, the voice of the lunatic fringe unable to make a dent in mainstream opinion. On the contrary, India’s history of colonial education provided a real context for the deep suspicion cast on the Nobel Prize committee’s recommendations. That this context was exploited to detach literacy from issues of social reform is perhaps one of the dimensions of the conversion controversy that needs more analysis and clarification than it has received. Views such as those held by Ashok Singhal have been sustained over time and buttressed by references to India’s colonial history. The deep distrust of missionary institutions has a colonial past providing Hindu nationalists a much-needed moral stance to defend Indian religion and culture. (The collapsing of ‘‘Hinduism’’ and ‘‘India’’ is not the least of the rhetorical slippages.) It is well known that Christian missionaries were attacked long before the bjp and the vhp came on the scene. Hinduism put up a sti√ resistance to Christianity on both an organizational and a theological level (see Copley). Richard Fox Young has meticulously documented the development of a whole tradition of anti-Christian polemics in nineteenth-century India focused on a refutation of Christian doctrine, point by point.∂ There is nothing new in the Hindu antagonism to missionary schools as hotbeds of conversion activity (‘‘wolves in sheep’s clothing,’’ as they were often called).∑ Opposition to literacy reform has long been motivated by fear that its ultimate intent is religious change. On the other hand, why Sen’s research would benefit Christians more than any other group is never clear in the vhp attacks on him. But it is telling that one of their chief complaints is that the Nobel Prize was never awarded to social activists like Gandhi or Baba Amte, who had both worked tirelessly for the uplift of the poor and other

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marginalized sections of society (‘‘Singhal Statement on Amartya Sen Misquoted,’’ The Hindu, January 3, 1999, 7). Yet social activism in India, even that practiced by a Gandhi or an Amte, has never been totally removed from a related compulsive desire to contest the reach of Christian missionaries, particularly in tribal and outlying areas. In regions where lower castes and outcastes were denied the educational facilities open to higher-caste groups, missionaries often stepped in to fill a social vacuum (Clarke). In the light of caste tensions, it is easy to see why social reform has been as strongly contested as conversion itself. Neither can be separated from a colonial history that continues to inform attitudes to an ethics of improvement, the content of which, to many today, is still indistinguishable from the mission civilisatrice. This is by no means to justify the crudest premises of cultural nationalism, but we are obliged to acknowledge the complex historical formations driving nationalists to the depths of paranoia and suspicion. Historically, missionary schools opened their doors to socially excluded groups, while the schools run by the colonial government had as their main clientele students from the upper castes. Yet this division so heavily reinforced the caste structure that it appeared as if the very form and spirit of colonial education was driven by caste feeling. There was more complacency than truth in colonial administrators’ belief that English studies altered attitudes to caste. The Serampore missionary John Marshman wryly observed, ‘‘I am not certain that a man’s being able to read Milton and Shakespeare, or understand Dr. Johnson, would make him less susceptible of the honour of being a Brahmin’’ (evidence of J. C. Marshman, Great Britain, Parliamentary Papers 1831–1832, 32:119). The association of missionary schools with vernacular education and the government schools with English education marked the di√erential development of languages and literary instruction (see Viswanathan, Masks of Conquest, 151–52). Yet precisely because missionary schools were so closely identified with lower-caste education, missionaries found their aims compromised by their desire to lure the upper castes to their schools, if only to extend the range of Christian influence. Partly this was motivated by their fear that, by attracting only ‘‘the most despised and least numerous of society,’’ they were creating a new virulent strain in Indian society, ‘‘a new class superior to the rest in useful knowledge, but hated and despised by the castes to whom their new attainments would always induce us to prefer them’’ (minute by M. Elphinstone, December 13, 1823, Great Britain, Parliamentary Papers 1831–1832, 9:519). Caste lines being as implacable as they

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were, missionaries dreaded that the huge e√orts they expended on the education of the lower castes would remain confined to these groups and not spread further. Recognizing that the reform of Hindu society was impossible without involving all castes, they modified their instructional objectives, expanding their curricular o√erings to include English literature alongside the vernaculars. In time, the lines between missionary and government schools blurred as both types of institutions competed for students from the upper castes. Interestingly, the work of vernacular education started by missionaries was taken up by Hindu reformist organizations, such as the Ramakrishna Mission and the Arya Samaj. The linguistic stratification was so rigid that the vernacular schools produced a militant brand of youth who pledged themselves to the preservation of Hindu culture, religion, and language against the encroachments of an English-educated, Westernized elite. So it is somewhat ironic that this form of cultural nationalism developed as a consequence of the vernacular missionary schools and the so-called government schools switching their linguistic orientation, with the former increasingly moving toward English instruction primarily and the latter now having virtually become vernacularmedium schools. The development has also inspired the defenders of Hinduism to view the English press, which has extensively covered the atrocities against Christians in recent years, as a key player in the drama of linguistic, religious, and caste stratification, its corps of writers having themselves often been educated in Christian mission schools. Therefore, while the Englishlanguage newspapers have gone a long way in bringing the violence against Christians to public attention, they have also been attacked by Hindu nationalists as complicit with the work of Christian missionaries in propagating an alien culture. Historically, in seeking to break out of narrow caste identification, the missionary schools set in motion a number of significant developments. The original objectives of imparting basic literacy skills were considerably qualified by the new infusion of literary content. If missionary schools initially sought to remedy the exclusionary e√ects of caste prejudice by o√ering educational opportunities denied to lower castes, their turn to an English course of studies took them in a markedly di√erent direction. That conversion rather than caste or poverty relief more often engaged their interest is evident from the perfection of certain pedagogical techniques to produce belief. Catechism and hermeneutics are prominent among these. The Word o√ered access to the world, but it also opened up access to faith through the power of imagination.

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Education in imagery supplemented, and in time surpassed, instruction in the fundamentals of literacy. In all its clarity and brilliance, imagery pointed the way to the Bible, to the power of arguments, reasons, and demonstrations vividly impressing themselves on the mind, to an experience of truth that could only be known when seen and felt. To missionaries aware of the hostility that direct Christian instruction might produce, there was no better way to convey the deep swell of religious feeling than through the rich tapestry of images, sensations, and impressions found in the best of English Romantic writers like Wordsworth, Cowper, and Young. These alternating instructional objectives in missionary institutions kept the pendulum swinging between poverty and caste relief, on the one hand, and conversion, on the other. Let us recall Vajpayee’s admonition that ‘‘poverty cannot be a reason for conversion.’’ He was far closer to the course of colonial history than he may have realized, for institutional developments suggest a complex evolution of conversion motives not always directly related to economic circumstances. The violence against Christians in Gujarat and elsewhere since late 1998 was caused by the perception that missionaries were targeting poor tribals to convert them to Christianity, often by imparting literacy skills to them. Radical Hindu groups interpret Christian conversion as an inducement, an enticing avenue of escape from grinding poverty. But conversion is just as importantly involved in the construction of new selves, and it is this shift from the ground of economics to that of culture that continues to alarm Hindu opponents, perhaps even more than the threat of religious change. Their will is steeled, therefore, to reclaim culture as the ultimate goal of all future attempts at literacy reform. Religions assign di√erent functions for reading and writing. In religions of revelation the word is the Word. Hinduism’s self-description as a nonproselytizing religion has also meant that it conceives of reading and writing in di√erent ways. One point of di√erence is the creation and a≈rmation of community. This does not necessarily mean an interpretive community, however, but a community marked by systems of inclusion and exclusion, which are in turn determined by criteria of purity and pollution. Verbal acts are modes of community a≈rmation as much as they are forms of communication. But where the use of language signals the expression of faith in a supreme being, religions that employ such language open up the new possibility that language can cause changes in one’s conceptions of divinity. Are these then proselytizing religions? It can be argued that Hinduism establishes

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a relation between literacy and faith di√erent from those of Christianity and Islam. If, as is maintained about Hinduism, faith does not lie in words, then a Hindu can have access to the world without the mediation of the written word. Language, however, is threatening when it is tied to faith. Literacy arouses suspicion because it can alter faith by providing a di√erent form of access to the world. Access to language is essential for economic betterment, yet it also contains the potential to introduce worldviews at variance with those a≈rmed by the community. The conflicting perspectives on literacy throw open the divide between economics and culture, which further translates into artificial distinctions between religions on the basis of whether they proselytize or not. Ironically, the vhp leaders who attacked the Christian conversions of illiterate tribals do not accept that literacy can also be a defense against forcible conversions of any kind, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, or any other religion. Their unquestioned assumption is that illiteracy is gullibility. But if its opposite is also true—that literacy is skepticism and critical judgment—then the threat posed by the lure of other faiths should be diminished. The Word may be the source of faith, but it is also the maker of selfhood and independent judgment. However, the rhetoric of the vhp suppresses this fundamental understanding of literacy’s role, which, in o√ering the tools of knowledge, discrimination, and evaluation, shapes the modern self. We are led to inquire whether literacy as self-making, independence, and private judgment poses the real threat, an unnamed one, perhaps. Literacy is acknowledged only as a tool of Christianization but not of Hindu modernity, and it is the latter possibility that produces the most anxiety. Literacy, Economics, and the Culture of Conversion At this point I want to return to Amartya Sen and his Nobel Prize for economics. We may now place Ashok Singhal’s diatribe in the framework of a perceived shift in literacy’s address from economics to culture. That is why no matter how much of a non sequitur his comments may appear, his view that Sen’s mass literacy would benefit only Christians reflects how definitively culture, not economics, has become the contested ground for discussions of development issues. In part, this shift has strategic uses for a government seeking to deflect attention from the dismal failure of swadeshi (self-su≈cient) economics, despite the bjp’s campaigning for power on this issue. And as its economic policies have met with one disaster after another, the bjp has needed to keep economics out of public discussion. Religion has always been

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its surrogate theme, and it is not surprising that turning even literacy into a conversion issue o√sets the government’s dismal showing on the economic front. But apart from turning the focus away from a string of economic failures, the perception that mass literacy is a tool of cultural imperialism undermines the developmental rhetoric of secular progress that literacy reform, on the other hand, also tends to generate. Singhal’s denunciation of Amartya Sen reflects attitudes toward literacy that are part of an ongoing tension between development priorities and cultural purity. By objecting to literacy as a missionary-inspired practice, do Hindus really want to say they object to the introduction of social benefits to the people? Most would probably say no, but the ethics of social reform has been challenged in the mounting anti-Christian rhetoric since the bjp assumed power in early 1998, culminating in violence against Christians as chief purveyors of forcible social change. It can, and should be, argued that if missionaries give people services they would otherwise not have had, no one has a right to restrict their activities, particularly when there are no other state-supported or private initiatives. After all, missionaries do not have a monopoly on the opening of new schools and hospitals, and there is nothing to stop Hindus or any other group from doing likewise. But the cumulative e√ect of the attack on Christianity has been a fierce questioning of whether social benefits can ensue at the cost of religious and cultural integrity. This is nothing less than an anti-Orientalist response to a condition sewn into Indian history through the reformist ideology of British colonialism. But its corollary is that social reform has been, and always will be, politicized in postcolonial India. The view that social service has a national or a religious identity suggests that no act of reform or service can take place in postcolonial India without its being measured against a corresponding degradation of Hindu customs and rituals in the process. But I think there is something fundamentally more worrying in the antiliteracy, anticonversion posture of the vhp. The numbers of Hindus who actually converted to Christianity are far less than the numbers of those who detached themselves from Hinduism over time and a≈liated themselves to more secular conceptions of modernity. Today we call the latter group ‘‘secular Indians,’’ though that term has its own problems. The main di√erence between these two groups of Hindus is that the former have converted to Christianity and the latter to modernity. The mechanism is the same, even though the characterization may be di√erent. Critics will argue this was the e√ect of mission-school

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education on the middle classes. But there are deeper issues involved. Hinduism is once again at the crossroads of change. Instead of attending to the problems of overwhelming illiteracy, caste and gender discrimination, and poverty, the most extreme among the Hindu nationalists have narrowed their agenda to attack other groups—notably Muslims and Christians—for the erosion of cultural traditions. India’s struggle to keep pace with a changing world is most pronounced in a stagnant educational system which, while professing secularism, is still caught up in the forms and practices of a religious culture. Is the desire to interrogate mass literacy ultimately a desire to renounce the modern world altogether? Is the quest for cultural integrity so supreme that it creates a longing in Hindus to supplant modernity with a more reassuring past in which their traditions are uncorrupted? These are di≈cult questions, but they go to the heart of the resistance to literacy as a development issue and the antagonism to conversion in general. Significantly, even as some Hindus recoil from the demands of modernity, at another level they are reclaiming literacy as a hallmark of Hinduism’s cultural past. Indeed, when literacy performs the work of culture in Hinduism, it is assigned an economic role denied in the work of missionary schools, which are seen to be less concerned with improvement of social conditions than with religious conversion. In the context of an ancient Hindu past, on the other hand, literacy extends beyond reading and writing to encompass a range of technical and vocational skills. This is illustrated in the comments of Vajpayee and other government figures on indigenous technical education. On a trip to the southern city of Mysore, Vajpayee lauded the work of Basaveshwara, a social reformer who made significant e√orts in educating the masses while also promoting women’s education. Vajpayee pointed to the Veerashaiva mutts as ideal service institutions providing training for literacy—training that the government ought to provide but did not. The Veerashaiva mutts, he further added, were the only institutions serving society for a long period of time with the same missionary zeal as that of Christian educational institutions (‘‘Poverty Hindering Spread of Literacy: PM,’’ The Hindu, January 4, 1999, 10). As if on cue in a musical duet, the state chief minister who hosted him glorified the work of institutions like the JSS Mahavidhyapeetha, saying they were providing opportunities for the disabled and the disenfranchised to become useful citizens. Significantly, both political figures consider the indigenous schools important because they are first and foremost technical training institutes. The vocational training o√ered in these indigenous institutions becomes that

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site of di√erence turning basic literacy, on the other hand, into a colonized space, a zone of foreign domination. Conflicting approaches to developmentalism underscore a deep ambivalence about literacy that has remained unresolved since the framing of the Indian constitution. Amartya Sen reopened the old debates about rights versus directives when he released the Public Report on Basic Education (known as the Probe Report) on January 1, 1999, which is described as ‘‘a people’s report’’ on school education. Prepared by a team of independent academics and social activists, it set out to counter the prevalent o≈cial myths about Indian schooling. The report claims to be the first attempt of its kind to examine the condition of India’s elementary education from the standpoint of the underprivileged. It demolishes a set of ruling myths that have guided Indian education since the country’s independence, among which are, first, that poor parents are not interested in sending their children to school, as is conventionally believed; second, that child labor is the main obstacle to school attendance and therefore to universal literacy; and third, that elementary education is free. Most important, the report attempted to clarify the links between child labor and schooling by showing that, far from being unable to go to school because they have to work, full-time child laborers often work because they have dropped out of school, typically for family reasons (14–17).∏ Amartya Sen had argued against this form of educational deprivation for a long time, noting with chagrin that ‘‘child labour is considered perfectly acceptable for the boys and girls of poor families, while the privileged classes enjoy a massively subsidized system of higher education’’ (‘‘Basic Education as a Political Issue,’’ 120). Encouraged by the report’s conclusion that, contrary to popular perception, education remains sought after even by the most economically disadvantaged sections of society, Sen declared that the time for demanding elementary education as a fundamental right had arrived. Simultaneously, he unveiled his plans to set up a charity trust with the Nobel money for development of education and health in India and Bangladesh (‘‘Sen to Set Up Charity with Prize Money,’’ The Hindu, December 28, 1998, 14). Stressing the West’s economic progress as a function of its planned development of human resources, Sen persuasively detailed how the general availability of elementary education would enhance a sense of citizens’ participation in India’s overall economic expansion. He sounded a theme that placed the economic imperatives of educational growth in the perspective of social choice theory. Eco-

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nomic advantages, he appeared to suggest, were the fruit of participatory democracy whose foundations rested on basic literacy.π Education as a Right If, then, literacy is the chief basis of economic development and social change, education as a fundamental right has still remained largely undefined in the Indian constitution. On the other hand, Articles 25 and 26 of the constitution, comprising the section on fundamental rights, were careful to give ‘‘every religious denomination’’ the right to propagate religion and maintain religious institutions. Constituent Assembly discussions struggled to untangle the contradiction between the secular goals of Indian democracy and the permission granted to religious groups to practice (and preach) their religious philosophies in their own institutions. Article 30 addresses educational rights, but it is less interested in universalizing education than in providing for the rights of minorities to maintain their own educational institutions and have full control over curricular content. The right-to-education needs of citizens still remain largely undefined. Vajpayee acknowledged the continued failure of his own government to address educational needs, uttering, in a moment of utter candor, ‘‘We pray to Saraswati [the Hindu goddess of learning] but make no arrangements to educate our children’’ (‘‘Poverty Hindering Spread of Literacy,’’ The Hindu, January 4, 1999, 6). Hence his admiration for the e√orts of nongovernmental institutions like the Veerashaiva mutts or the Mahavidhyapeeta for doing what the government was obliged to do but failed to. Unable to invest adequately in education, the Indian government has appeared to be resigned to the possibility of nongovernmental organizations taking the initiative. Yet social strife results when religious groups (operating as parallel ngos) undertake the work of education, often work that is considered disruptive of another religious tradition. And in order to resolve conflicts of such a nature, the state is required to intervene, even though it prefers to leave educational initiatives to nongovernmental organizations. This contradiction remains at the core of the state’s fraught relation with the education of its citizens. By proposing universal education as a fundamental right, Amartya Sen has called for alternative ways to rethink ‘‘inconsistencies of means and ends,’’ by which he means the present arbitrary distribution of resources and the uncertain division of labor between government and nongovernmental (minority) agencies (‘‘Basic Education as a Political Issue,’’ 117). To be sure, he

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is less forthcoming about the sources of investment in education, for it is never entirely clear whether he would be willing to settle for an education funded by nongovernmental agencies to supplement government funding. To some extent, this uncertainty has augmented the deep anxiety of his opponents that groups seeking to propagate their own beliefs—such as Christian missionaries—would seize the momentum for educational change. But Sen’s most important intervention is in shifting freedom away from a concept that denotes a community’s right to practice and propagate its beliefs. Rather, freedom for him is the creation of conditions for the wholesome participation of citizens in the democratic process. Universal literacy is the key to this process. As the instrument for securing the representation of people belonging to the unorganized sector, universal primary education is more than an entree into people’s participation in their economic advancement. By enacting democracy, it confers a reality on participatory processes that Indian democracy still lacks, despite its adult su√rage. At the same time Amartya Sen has been careful not to make freedom an allencompassing category overriding goals of equality, such that one person’s freedom becomes another’s unfreedom. His suspicion of freedom as an unqualified term leads him to argue that the freedom accruing from a market economy is attended by far too many dangers of inequality and poverty stemming from the market.∫ Instead, he proposes five kinds of freedom: (1) enabling freedom, which signifies that each individual is able to participate in social and economic activities, and that the quality of life is improved through education and health facilities; (2) political freedom, which invariably involves democracy and civil rights; (3) economic freedom, which involves transactions and the market and could thus promote e≈ciency and equity; (4) transparency freedom, which encompasses a person’s right to know that he or she was not being cheated in a transaction; and (5) protective freedom, which is freedom from droughts, floods, famine. These freedoms are important insofar as they constitute the legitimate end of development.Ω Thus, for Sen, literacy is not exclusively an economic issue, as some commentators believe. His notion of freedom encompasses culture—the kind of life we would like to lead—as an essential goal of development.∞≠ What his opponent Ashok Singhal evidently feared was that culture would be made synonymous with social choice, and to that extent Amartya Sen’s notion of freedom uncannily confirmed his anxiety that development had a Christian trajectory. Singhal obviously got the story wrong in most of the particulars. But

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on the subject of choice Sen o√ered a new set of questions that could potentially have more bearing on how individuals construe selfhood, as opposed to being a≈rmed by their community, and it is this move that set alarm bells ringing for Singhal. Instead of asking the old question, ‘‘Is it possible to have socially rational decisions based on the interests and preferences of the members of the society?,’’ Sen proposed asking, ‘‘Which of the various ways of equity and justice are most relevant?’’ The choice, he suggests, is between di√erent ways of evaluation whose ultimate validity is that they draw on foundational notions of justice and fairness. Even the apparently scientific subject of choosing a suitable measure of poverty for a nation or a state can be approached in terms of the competing values reflected in di√erent ways by distinct statistical measures. Because welfare economics and social-choice theory link knowledge with practice, their operative premise is that self-construction is national construction. So even though economic development has merged into an issue of culture in the rhetoric of the postcolonial state driven by its own sense of cultural nationalism, the question of choice is deliberately suspended. Where it does appear, it is turned into proof of forcible conversion. Postscript In November 1999 Pope John Paul II, on a historic visit to India, held Mass and spoke to an interfaith gathering in Delhi. The image of religious harmony staged for public consumption contrasted starkly with the public protests that gathered like darkening clouds in the weeks preceding his visit, protests that were punctuated by the angry demand that the Pope ‘‘apologize’’ for the forced conversions of Hindus to Christianity in the past. To his antagonists, the Pope was as much a symbol of a zealous, conquering Christianity as the Babri Masjid was that of a sword-wielding Islam. The violence that the vhp and rss threatened to unleash did not take place, yet it was a fact that the Pope’s visit opened up old wounds and rekindled a lingering mistrust of Christianity as an expansionist, intolerant religion, reminding one that British colonialism is not the only past seared into the memories of Hindus. Many newspapers ran an open letter to the Pope denouncing Christian missionary activity for tearing apart families and communities in all strata of Indian society: ‘‘Religious conversion is violence pure and simple,’’ the letter concluded (V. Sridhar, ‘‘A Numbers Game,’’ Frontline, November 2–December 10, 1999). A long view of religious history that mistakenly reads the Inquisition as the persecution of Hindus alone, and not of dissident Catholics and Protestant heretics (S. Sarkar, ‘‘Conversions and Politics of Hindu Right,’’ 1698), 352 Gauri Viswanathan

shows how easily Hinduism is scripted into the internecine religious wars of Europe. The Pope sought to engage precisely this historical legacy when he made a conciliatory gesture to open the Catholic Church to a dialogue with the religions of the world. Rejecting the use of religion as a pretext for conflict, while urging peoples of all faiths to shun the path of isolation and division, he appeared bent on returning religion to a neutral space in which, as Mark Juergensmeyer notes, opposing groups might relate to one another as fellows rather than foes (Terror in the Mind of God, 241). Yet the predominant memory of the Pope’s conciliatory Mass celebration was his exhortation that the ‘‘Third Christian Millennium’’ would ‘‘witness a great harvest of faith’’ in Asia. Was this a militant call to conversion, a neo-imperial appeal to remake Asia in the image of the Catholic Church? Or was it, as his apologists claimed, a call for renewal, involving both Catholics and non-Catholics in interfaith dialogue to restore religion as the terrain on which critical global questions could be discussed? The Pope’s comments on the primacy of religious freedom could just as easily be interpreted in two contrary ways. In the first instance, his remark that freedom of religion is a basic human right upholds individual conscience as the touchstone for all decisions involving religious change. In the second, however, his insistence that conversion is a human rights issue rather than an interreligious a√air appeared to justify forcible intervention from the outside, in the name of social justice. It was as if, by invoking religious freedom, he summoned up the protective clauses of the Indian constitution guaranteeing the individual’s right to choose her religion. Yet just as the constitution was attacked for extending that right to the practice and propagation of religion, the Pope rendered himself vulnerable to the antagonisms of those who saw religious freedom as a euphemism for conversion. Again, freedom of religion is redefined as freedom from religion. This is the paradox reached by opponents of conversion who, in fighting against the right to propagate religion, must ensure that religion is isolated, made inactive. What appears amazingly like a secular goal is motivated by extreme suspicion of religion’s potential for change, both internal and external. Hence the need to control religion and be protected from it. In this context, the Pope’s plea for global dialogue threatens to turn into an open invitation to conversion, rather than an occasion for potential bridge building which conversion, in the sense that I have been describing it in this essay, might alternatively be. On his visit to Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial at Rajghat, the Pope scribbled The Discourse of Hindu Nationalism 353

a line from Gandhi in the visitor’s book: ‘‘A culture cannot survive if it attempts to be exclusive’’ (‘‘Pope Leaves behind a Debate,’’ The Hindu, November 9, 1999, 1). There is a delicious irony in the Pope’s use of this quote. Words that Gandhi uttered to contest the racialist biases of British colonialism are now applied to a context in which it is religious nationalism that practices exclusion. But Hindu nationalists will argue that exclusiveness is the best defense against conversion. Therefore, any attempt to talk about dialogue or interfaith communication invites the charge that conversion is its ultimate goal. To see conversion less as an endpoint than as a starting point, a method of knowledge and communication, is the challenge of the moment. Notes 1. The nun claimed, in her police report, that her assailants queried her about the number of conversions her convent brought about, while also warning her that the killings, rapes, and kidnappings would continue as long as the Christian missions engaged in proselytization (‘‘Nun’s Assailants Untraced,’’ The Hindu, September 25, 1999, 1). 2. It was John Henry Newman’s special contribution to reverse the institutionalization of assent and produce a grammar of dissent. His major philosophical treatise, A Grammar of Assent, bears an ironic title in that, in order to arrive at an a≈rmation of faith, the knowing believer must proceed through successive stages of dissent from accepted premises (see Viswanathan, Outside the Fold, 44–72). 3. By emancipation, I refer to the series of bills passed in early-nineteenth-century England enfranchising Jews, Catholics, Dissenters, and other non-Anglican groups and bringing them within the national fold. The price of such emancipation was, as I argue in Outside the Fold, that religious groups were often asked to forgo the specificity of their religious beliefs in order to become citizens of the state. 4. vhp publications of recent years have adopted some of the methods of apologetics in the refutation of Christian influence. See, for example, Sita Ram Goel, who presents a trenchant critique of missionary proselytism that adopts the techniques of the seventeenth-century Jesuit Roberto de Nobili, who is said to have converted Hindus by conveying Christian theology through categories of Hindu philosophy. See Ines G. Zupanov for an absorbing account of the Jesuits’ project of cultural translation. 5. Copley, Religions in Conflict. See also my Outside the Fold, particularly chapter 3, ‘‘Rights of Passage,’’ for a discussion of the antagonism felt by Hindu parents toward Christian missionaries, whom they blamed for the Christian conversions of their young children. Deprived of their rights to inheritance on conversion, converts were often assisted by missionaries in bringing their cases to court so that their rights would be restored. 6. On child labor, the report is not entirely convincing, as it tries to distinguish between family and hired labor and in so doing vacillates between empathy for family needs and condemnation of capitalist exploitation. 7. Sen’s research in Indian villages consistently pointed to the special value of basic educa-

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tion as a tool of social a≈rmation. As the Probe Report later confirmed, even among the most socially and economically disadvantaged groups, education was strongly valued for enabling upward mobility. Sen punctures the myth propagated by upper castes that the lower castes did not place much importance on literacy because they view education as an instrument of upper-caste domination. On the contrary, as the Probe Report also a≈rms, education remains highly desirable to low-caste groups. 8. See Amartya Sen, Inequality Examined, in which he trenchantly shifts the question economists typically ask (‘‘should there be equality?’’) to the more important one: ‘‘equality of what?’’ Sen forces the discussion to concentrate on the diversity of human populations, which inevitably involves di√erent standards of equality; in other words, what is equal to one group of people might be deemed inequality to another. The heterogeneity of social groups requires one constantly to rethink how a range of human capabilities might be harnessed to achieve specific goals, from which standpoint questions of rights and equality can be raised more profitably. 9. See Amartya Sen, ‘‘Well Beyond Liberalization,’’ for an exploration of these themes, as well as an assessment of India’s recent economic reforms. His conclusion that the ‘‘uncaging of the tiger has not—at least not yet—led to any dynamic animal springing out and sprinting ahead’’ (180) draws attention to the still-unfulfilled promises of participatory growth, evident in the alarming illiteracy rates and social deprivations. 10. See particularly Sen’s essay ‘‘Freedom, Agency and Well-Being,’’ in Inequality Reexamined, which describes freedom as our right to set goals for ourselves and our ability to get what we value and want; in short, to lead a life we would choose to live.

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Sumit Sarkar a

Christian Conversions, Hindutva, and Secularism


ext only to Muslims, Christians have been the favorite enemy Other of the Sangh Parivar in its e√orts to consolidate into a homogenous and chauvinist bloc a ‘‘Hindu community’’ that it claims to uniquely represent and seeks to constitute. Central to this attack have been missionary activities and conversions— necessarily so, since in contrast to Hindu-Muslim relations, there are no memories of communal violence or Partition separating Hindus from Christians, nothing that really corresponds to issues like cow protection or music played in front of mosques that have sparked o√ so many riots since the 1890s. Here one must note that there has been a curious reluctance or hesitation even in many secular and liberal quarters regarding conversions. Even the widespread condemnation of the murder of Staines and his children, for instance, was often accompanied by the plea that he had not been engaged in proselytism—as if burning him alive would have been understandable if he had been so involved.∞ And yet, in logic and law alike, there really should have been little room for doubt or confusion regarding conversions. Freedom of choice, in religion or politics or anything else, and therefore the freedom to change one’s beliefs, is surely integral to any conception of democracy. Again, the right ‘‘freely to profess, practice, and propagate religion’’ is guaranteed by Article 25, Section 1 of the fundamental rights chapter in the constitution. Propagation makes no

sense at all without the possibility of convincing others of the validity of one’s religious beliefs and rituals—even though a Supreme Court judge in one specific and isolated decision did defy common sense by asserting that the right to propagate does not include the right to convert. The doubts and uncertainties concerning conversions from Hinduism are grounded in a certain widespread ‘‘commonsense’’ that extends much beyond Hindutva adherents, the constituents of which require e√ective critique through a combination of historical and conceptual argument.≤ Rejection of Hindutva positions has to be accompanied, therefore, by a probing of some limits and inadequacies in current secular or liberal thinking about conversions, and it is on this that I will focus in this essay. I will be exploring three assumptions that I think underlie the commonsense suspicion concerning Christian conversions. First let me list them: 1. Conversion from Hinduism is always unfair, since it has been a uniquely nonproselytizing religion. Departures from it therefore represent an irrecoverable demographic loss, a bleeding operation. With this is often associated the notion of Hinduism as supremely and uniquely tolerant, and hence exceptionally open to change from within. 2. This, of course, is a basic Hindutva proposition, but many who would not share it would agree that Christianity is somehow alien to the country, since missionaries have been and possibly remain agents of Western imperialism. Behind this lies an uncritically assimilated, virtually fetishized nationalism. 3. Hesitations and inconsistencies follow also from an unnecessary and at times counterproductive conflation of recognition for equal rights of Others (indispensable for democratic citizenship) with praise or apologetics for Others. A related conflation is that of secularism or toleration with a quest for ‘‘syncretism,’’ or ‘‘civilizational’’ or ‘‘national’’ integration, in a partly mythicized past as well as in the present. Both tendencies are rooted in an inability to comprehend what is, and is not, logically involved in the acceptance of di√erence. The confusions, once again, arise from taken-for-granted nationalist ideological assumptions. ‘‘Secularism,’’ in its specific South Asian forms, emerged from the logic of anticolonial nationalist struggle, and such an origin has had ambiguous implications which demand some scrutiny. Let me take up each of these assumptions in turn. The first—that Hinduism is distinguished from other faiths by its refusal to proselytize—is plausible at first sight, for it fits in well with the commonsense

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view that one becomes a Hindu by birth alone, since caste (whether in the varna or the jati sense) is crucial to Hinduism, and caste status is inherited and not a matter of choice. But di≈cult questions arise once we enlarge the timeperspective. Where did all the Buddhists of ancient India go, for instance? And how did Hindu icons and myths spill over large parts of Southeast Asia? Across centuries, but in accelerated manner with modernized communications, Brahminical Hindu rituals, beliefs, and caste disciplines have spread across the subcontinent, penetrating and transforming communities with initially quite di√erent practices and faiths. But it has somehow become conventional to describe such processes through a strangely anodyne language. One hears or reads continually about ‘‘sanskritization’’ or ‘‘cultural integration,’’ but the bad word ‘‘conversion’’ is never used. There is much historical data also about the spread of specific varieties of Hindu traditions, like Chaitanya Bhakti’s expansion from central and western Bengal into Orissa and the Jharkhand uplands. From the late nineteenth century onward, Brahminical Hindu expansion directed toward marginal groups and tribals became increasingly organized, yielding the invention of a battery of innocent-sounding words: ‘‘reclamation,’’ shuddhi (purification), ‘‘reconversion,’’ ‘‘paravarta’’ (‘‘returning home,’’ the term preferred by Sangh Parivar outfits today). Common to all these labels is an insistence that all that is being attempted is to bring people back to their ‘‘natural state.’’ Others, Muslims or Christians, ‘‘convert,’’ Hindu groups only ‘‘reconvert,’’ since everyone on the subcontinent is somehow naturally Hindu in a more or less sanskritized manner. Semantic aggression can hardly go further. Shifts in religious allegiances are, then, nothing new and no doubt sometimes produced conflicts in the past, not excluding occasional instances of state coercion, forced conversions, iconoclasm. But there is ample evidence, and many historical reasons, why the issue became far more prominent and contentious from the latter part of the nineteenth century onward. There is now a broad consensus among historians about the late-colonial era being a time of tightening of community boundaries. This was related to an enormous strengthening in politico-administrative, economic, and communicational integration across the subcontinent, as well as to certain colonial institutions: notably, the structures of ‘‘Anglo-Hindu’’ and ‘‘Anglo-Muhammadan’’ law, and census operations. The revolution in communications through railways, telegraph, print and newspapers, and so forth meant that news of local clashes between members of di√erent religious groups could travel across the subcon-

358 Sumit Sarkar

tinent at a vastly accelerated pace, enabling countrywide mobilization. The distinction, much sharpened by British rule, between ‘‘Hindu’’ and ‘‘Muslim’’ personal and family law produced many everyday situations in which one had to declare oneself a Hindu or a Muslim.≥ And census procedures demanded clearly defined distinctions, since enumeration can proceed only on the basis of distinguishing between like and unlike, apples and oranges. A local census o≈cial in Bombay Presidency, confounded by the inextricable combination of multiple practices, beliefs, and even self-definitions in a region in Gujarat, once suggested the use of a hybrid category ‘‘Hindu-Muhammadans’’; he was quickly pulled up by his superior, Census Commissioner E. A. Gait.∂ What has been noted less often, however, is that colonial modernity crystallized or hardened communities but simultaneously made them more fragile in at least two ways. First, what was coming into existence by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was a situation conducive to the growth of not one but many community identities—religious, caste, linguistic-regional, anticolonial nationalist, class, gender—inevitably interpenetrating each other, presenting alternative claims before individuals or groups.∑ And second, there were also some indications of an emergent discourse of individual rights. The best-known instance is the language of civil rights, freedom of speech, press, and so forth developed beginning in the last quarter of the nineteenth century by nationalist formations protesting against colonial-racist practices and laws. But there had also been anticipations in other realms, notably in the context of nineteenth-century reforms and debates concerning women (widow immolation, women’s education, widow-marriage, polygamy, age of consent), where already in the 1820s even conservative defenders of old rules and norms had started to use a new vocabulary stressing the alleged consent of women, not just scriptural-customary commands (T. Sarkar, Hindu Wife, chapter 7, and passim). Social reform and early nationalism were of course movements largely confined to educated middle-class groups, but there is also the striking, if little known, instance of members of a very lowly Chandal (Namasudra) caste in rural south-central Bengal protesting in 1873 against the British practice of using those among them sent to jail for cleaning latrines. That was not at all their caste occupation, they argued, and so went against the government claim ‘‘to treat all castes on terms of equality.’’∏ Projects for the tightening of a particular imagined community, initiated most of the time by its more privileged ‘‘members,’’ can thus be interpreted as in part a response to these two kinds of challenges, which took the form of ef-

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forts to ‘‘police the boundaries’’ through the construction of powerful enemy Others (Datta, chapters 1 and 2). The tension between individual rights and the needs of community solidarity led even Gandhi, far removed as he was from such ‘‘policing’’ projects, into many inconsistencies with regard to conversions (Chandra, 271–306). The tightening of community boundaries through enemy images has proved most e√ective, in colonial and postcolonial India, as elsewhere, when couched in or integrated with discourses of one or other kind of nationalism: Hindu, Muslim, or Indian. Two disparate, but equally obvious, instances are the partial beating back of social reform e√orts concerning gender in the 1880s and 1890s by Hindu-revivalist currents claiming that reform must never come via an alien state, and numerous restrictions on individual rights in postcolonial India, from preventive detention through the Emergency down to today’s pota (Prevention of Terrorism Act), imposed in the name of threats to the nation-state. The second assumption, relating to the most common charge against Christians, Christian missionaries, and conversions in India for more than a century, has been that of alien origin, and, more specifically, of having been a constituent of Western-colonial projects of cultural conquest. The charge persists, despite the fact that the origins of Christianity in one part of India (Kerala and Tamilnadu) go back to the early centuries of the Common Era, preceding, incidentally, the conversion of England to Christianity and indeed the formation of most living forms of Hindu traditions. What gives it sustenance and power is of course the second strand in this recurrent polemic, the charge of complicity with colonialism, the alleged use of the resources of the British Indian state to bring about denationalizing conversions through force or bribery. Such complicities have certainly existed at times, especially in the years immediately following the 1857 rebellion (when missionaries and their converts became major targets). Missionary polemics against ‘‘heathen superstitions’’ were sometimes extremely virulent, and undertones of racist arrogance were fairly common. What needs to be questioned, however, are a series of homogenizations, which in their totality have produced an image that is as e√ective as it is demonstratively false.π A very helpful development in this context, however, is the series of recent historical works on this theme, so highly controversial just now (for example, see T. Sarkar, ‘‘Missionaries’’). Portuguese rule in Goa and a few other pockets along the western coast,

360 Sumit Sarkar

from the sixteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries, has been often branded as uniformly intolerant. Certainly the Inquisition did function in Goa between 1560 and 1812; but its targets, as elsewhere, were primarily ‘‘heretics’’ suspected of Protestant leanings, not adherents of non-Christian religions. Among the latter, the victims of persecution were usually Muslims, not Hindus, for with the former there was an old tradition of religiouscum-commercial conflict which had animated the early Portuguese expansion down the western coast of Africa in the fifteenth century. The considerable expansion of Christianity in some parts of South India from the sixteenth to the early eighteenth centuries, well outside the small areas controlled by the Portuguese, obviously could have had no connection with any deployment of political power. In early-seventeenth-century Hindu-ruled Madurai, this stimulated a very interesting internal controversy among the Jesuit missionaries. Roberto Nobili urged a strategy of ‘‘accommodation’’ as a means of building bridges with Brahminical ideas and norms, even going to the extent of himself living like a Hindu ascetic and observing pollution taboos (Zupanov). Homogenization has to be abjured even more when generalizing about relations between missionaries and the British Indian state, for these shifted enormously across time and between various Christian groups and orders. There could be no question for a long time, of course, of state patronage for Catholics, who had very much less than equal citizenship rights and encountered enormous hostility, in Britain itself before the Emancipation Act of 1829. The late-eighteenth-century decades during which the British East India Company established its control over parts of India marked a low point in Christian piety among the British ruling class through the impact on it of Enlightenment values. This changed with the reaction against the French Revolution, but proselytism was still considered by many o≈cials to be an unnecessary political risk. The Baptist missionary group of Carey, Marshman, and Ward was not allowed initially to function within Company-ruled territory and had to set up its headquarters in the Danish settlement of Serampur. There was also an element of class suspicion or snobbishness about such Nonconformist groups, coming often from lower-middle-class or artisanal backgrounds in Britain. Missionaries were allowed to function within British India only from 1813, and even then through a license system till 1833. A period of closer o≈cial-missionary collaboration did follow the lifting of such restrictions, benefiting particularly Anglicans and marked by the prominence in the frontier regions of the expanding empire of an aggressive, ‘‘muscular’’

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brand of Christianity among a number of administrators and army o≈cers. But attitudes changed again after the shock of 1857, thought by many to have been provoked by excessive Christian zeal; and the promise of strict religious neutrality made by Queen Victoria’s proclamation of 1858 was on the whole more faithfully observed than the other pledges (like equality before the law and in jobs irrespective of race). It may even be argued that colonial state support and patronage was on the whole more consistently available for nonChristian, particularly Brahminical Hindu, religious establishments than most of the time for Christian missionaries. Other instances include collection by the Company until the 1840s of pilgrim taxes on behalf of the Jagannath and many other temples, posts of regimental pandits and maulvis in the pre-1857, predominantly high-caste British Indian army, and, when recruitment areas shifted toward religious minorities like the Sikhs, encouragement of their specific rituals and practices. There was more suspicion about Muslims for some time in the wake of 1857, but this was followed by a determined and largely e√ective bid for a rapprochement with some Muslim elites, which included such measures as having English teachers at the Aligarh Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College enforce student attendance at Islamic prayers and rituals ‘‘with a determination unmatched by their pious Muslim predecessors’’ (Lelyveld, 276). In more general terms, it should be obvious that within the significant, if shifting, groups of Indian collaborators with British rule, the fairly small number of Christian converts (even if they are assumed to have been consistently loyalist, which they were not) was much less important than Hindu and Muslim elites: notably, the bulk of the landlords and virtually all princes after 1857. Relations between the colonial state and missionaries, then, cannot be reduced to any single formula; nor should missions and Christian communities themselves be treated as monoliths. There is need to distinguish between mission and community, as well as within both categories—dimensions often ignored nowadays in quarters eager to brand all Christians as aliens or ‘‘denationalized’’ persons. Successful conversion in fact at times produced elements of racial tension, in part because it resulted in a growing Indianization of the Christian clergy. An early instance is provided by the highly educated Krishnamohan Banerji, who as an Anglican clergyman came to highlight questions of inequality in status and salary along racial lines within the mission. European missionaries worried that such demands for equality could make ‘‘native ministry very nearly as expensive as a European one’’ and saw in

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Krishnamohan’s suggestion to reduce costs by a cut in white salaries an indication of an ‘‘infidel democratic spirit.’’ Krishnamohan subsequently became a major figure in the early nationalist Indian Association (Copley, 218–28). The impact of Christian missionary activities has been equally diverse. These extend much beyond the fairly limited numbers of converts and at times have manifested themselves in unexpected ways. The consequences, even in the heyday of British rule, cannot be reduced to any one-way process invariably and always strengthening colonial domination. In ways that have continued and sometimes accelerated after independence, missionary schools and colleges have provided high-quality education to a significant and growing section of Indian elites, very few among whom became Christians. (Their alumni include L. K. Advani, bjp leader and Indian home minister between 1998 and 2004.) Missions simultaneously helped to pioneer openings for sectors of the population almost totally excluded from formal education: women, lower castes and Dalits, tribals. Mission schools, health centers, and e√ective philanthropic and famine relief work at this level led to considerably larger numbers of conversions, but here too the beneficiaries seem to have far exceeded in number the converts. The other, very major, contribution was toward the development of print and of vernacular languages. The initial impetus here no doubt came from the requirements of proselytism, but once again there were far-reaching and largely unintended consequences. Thus the Serampur Baptist Mission Press has a place of high honor in the history of Bengali vernacular prose, starting one of the earliest of Bengali newspapers and soon printing non-Christian material, even texts of other religions. Missionary scholars, among whom Robert Caldwell (author of A Comparative Grammar of Dravidian Languages, 1856) is only the best known, helped to stimulate modern Tamil culture, identity, and lower-caste movements. What needs to be stressed, throughout, are the phenomena of unintended consequences, and the possibilities of autonomous and diverse appropriations. Thus, prior to recent impulses from Liberation Theology, missionary work among the poor must have been motivated primarily, if not solely, by desire for conversion and was unlikely to have been pro-peasant or socially radical in principle. Missionary presence could still be a resource for the underprivileged, as when French Catholic missionaries from Pondicherry helped agricultural laborers beaten up by landlords in a court case at Alladhy in 1874–75, an incident that stimulated a wave of mass conversions in that area (Bugge, 105). Missionary lobbying helped to bring about pro-tenant legal

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reforms on occasion, notably with the Bengal Tenancy Act of 1859 and Chota Nagpur legislation to protect tribal land rights in 1911. Christian attitudes toward caste have varied widely, and, despite theoretical religious equality, discrimination has persisted fairly often among converts. But a recent sympathetic study of anti-Brahminical movements in early-twentieth-century South India has emphasized the imaginative impact even of the basic Christian ritual of sharing the Communion bread with higher castes for those ‘‘who for centuries . . . had been considered unclean and polluting’’ (Geetha and Rajdurai, Towards a Non-Brahmin Millennium, 84). Nor has missionary intervention or impact favoring the underprivileged been directed invariably—as in these cases—against indigenous oppressors alone. There is the striking instance of the role of foreign missionaries in Bengal during the 1850s, when, led by Reverend James Long, many of them took a public stand against fellow-white indigo planters. Long even went to prison, accepting responsibility for publication of the English version of Dinabandhu Mitra’s play Neel Darpan exposing planter atrocities, which had been translated by a Christian convert, Michael Madhusudan Dutt. And ‘‘Dinabandhu’’ Andrews’s endeavors to end indentured labor and his closeness to Gandhi from his South Africa days are of course very well known. Conversion, finally, should not be assumed to have been always, or necessarily, a movement from one established and more or less unquestioning faith to another; it could, occasionally open up a space for notions of individual right and dissent. A striking instance of this possibility was provided by the important work of Gauri Viswanathan on Christian conversions. Pandita Ramabai, the remarkable, protofeminist Maharashtrian woman who converted to Christianity in England in 1883, retained and developed a restless and argumentative spirit, which deeply worried her Anglican mentors. She developed doubts about the Trinity, was angered by signs of racist contempt, and insisted on continued freedom of individual belief and choice: ‘‘I have a conscience, and a mind and judgement of my own. . . . I have with great effort freed myself from the yoke of the Indian priestly tribe so I am not at present willing to place myself under another similar yoke by accepting everything that comes from the priests as authorized command of the Most High’’ (quoted in Viswanathan, Outside the Fold, 126) I turn now to the third of the reasons for suspicion against Christians that I have been exploring. This relates to the notion of di√erence. Ramabai’s pro-

364 Sumit Sarkar

test is a reminder of the pressures of priestly or orthodox conformity that have operated within all religions in diverse ways. Christian histories in modern times have been particularly complex and contradictory.∫ At the same time, dissident readings of Christianity have also been central to a large number of movements of the oppressed, to an extent perhaps more visible than in most other religious traditions. Two obvious instances are late-medieval European peasant movements and black slave culture and music in the United States. And recently, of course, the churches have been changing in quite striking ways, through the spread of ‘‘liberal theologies’’ that have contributed substantially to revolutionary movements in Latin America and elsewhere. In India, too, there has been a welcome tendency among some Christians, in the face of brutal Hindutva attacks, not to retreat into sectarian or fundamentalist shells but to build bridges through dialogue and joint work with secular, liberal, and left groups. In conclusion, I would like to suggest that ‘‘secular’’ has come to mean in India not antireligious—or even, most of the time, nonreligious or particularly rationalistic—values, but opposition to communalism, so much so that the deeply religious Gandhi has come to be acknowledged as India’s greatest secular martyr. ‘‘Secularism’’ in this sense of anticommunalism, is susceptible to the oft-repeated Hindutva charges that secularists have ‘‘double standards,’’ play ‘‘vote-bank’’ politics, and are ‘‘pseudo-secular.’’ Thus, the occasional e√ort of noncommunal formations in power to interpret secularism and toleration as the maintenance of an equipoise between concessions given to fundamentalist or aggressive groups of di√erent religious communities can be particularly disastrous in its fallout. The classic example, of course, is that of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the mid-1980s, balancing the surrender to Muslim orthodoxy in the Shah Bano case with opening the locks to the Babri Masjid and thus paving the way for the agitation that led up to December 6, 1992, and the destruction of the Babri Masjid. But, sadly, even the Left Front government in West Bengal has not been free from this temptation. It recently banned a volume of Tasleema Nasreen’s autobiography for being anti-Islamic, thus contributing to the systematic gagging and persecution of that very talented feminist writer by the forces of Muslim patriarchy and fundamentalism. Such policies of the state have also disastrously hindered the e√orts at criticism or change being made by reformist or progressive groups within the Other community; hence they have unwittingly helped the forces of chauvinis-

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tic consolidation and reaction. The implicit, often almost unconscious, assumption underlying such views or policies seems to be that e√ective toleration, coexistence, the core of what in Indian English has come to be called ‘‘secularism,’’ is necessarily dependent on di√erences being minimal, on members of one community somehow learning to know, respect, and like the beliefs and practices of another. In the context of conversions, this often takes the form of an emphasis on the ‘‘cultural’’ or ‘‘civilizational’’ continuities bridging communities. But surely acknowledgment of and coexistence with di√erence becomes really meaningful only when the Other is not in every respect likeable, and thus not close to being the same? Perhaps that old eighteenth-century liberal maxim of disagreeing violently with the opinion of another but being ready to defend his right to express his views still should have some importance. That secularism often takes the form of mere anticommunalism in India has a lot to do with its specific historical origin—which lies not primarily in any rationalist critique, antireligious protest, or growing indi√erence toward religion through a Weberian ‘‘disenchantment of the world,’’ but in the requirements of a united anticolonial nationalist struggle. Such a specific meaning has been a source of great strength, vastly broadening the reach of ‘‘secularism’’— but also in some ways a weakness. For secularism, all too often, is seen as indissoluble from, perhaps even no more than the means to the end of, national unity, integration, defending and strengthening the nation-state. The ‘‘unity’’ elements then tend to dominate over the ‘‘diversities,’’ in terms of that old catchphrase ‘‘unity in diversity,’’ in ways not immune to appropriation by ideologies of majoritarian Hindu nationalism. But secularism, in the sense of toleration, coexistence, the abjuring of a communal violence that can quickly escalate into state-sponsored genocide on the model of Gujarat, surely serves more than this instrumental purpose. It ought to represent a set of human values that would remain indispensable even if Indian unity broke down. Conversely, it is, unfortunately, not inconceivable that a totally dominant Hindutva would be able to maintain Indian unity by terrorizing minorities and all dissidents into submission—but at the price of a fascistic subversion of all human values, above all those of secularism and democracy. Notes An initial version of this paper was presented in a seminar at Hindu College (Delhi University) in December 2003 on the theme of ‘‘Policing the Boundaries.’’ I am grateful for the comments and criticism made on that occasion. 366 Sumit Sarkar

1. In January 1999 Graham Staines, an Australian missionary who had been working in the tribal belt of Orissa for thirty-four years, and his two young sons were brutally murdered by a group of Hindu men suspected of having links with the Bajrang Dal. 2. Conversions to Hinduism, it may be noted, do not seem to raise any such doubt: witness the spread of Hare Krishna and sundry other cults and ‘‘godmen’’ across the seas. 3. In the 1770s, the British had decided that in matters of religion, caste, and family, they would be guided by the Dharmashastras for Hindus, and the shariat for Muslims, as interpreted by their respective religious experts (Brahmins and ulema). Superficially not dissimilar to Mughal practice, this came to mean a major change insofar as the Mughals had never integrated the judicial system through a systematic hierarchy of appellate jurisdictions and left most disputes to be settled at local and village levels through a multitude of customary standards little influenced by textual principles. 4. Census 1911, vol. 1, sec. i (India). 5. A few names and dates of organizations might help to substantiate this point. The halfcentury between c.1875 and c.1925 was marked by the formation of the Indian National Congress (1885), the Muslim League (1906), and the Hindu Mahasabha (c.1915); the development of strong regional nationalisms in Bengal, Maharashtra, Andhra, Tamilnadu, and elsewhere; the foundation of the All India Trade Union Congress (1920); and of early women’s organizations like the Bharat Stree Mahamandal (1910), the Women’s Indian Association (1917), and the All India Women’s Conference (1927). 6. W. L. Owen, District Superintendent of Police, to District Magistrate, Faridpur, March 19, 1873, Bengal Judicial Proceedings, March 1873, n. 179. 7. About the e≈cacy there can be no doubt whatsoever. The bjp won in state elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chattisgarh in 2003 in significant part through tribal votes, and the central Indian tribal belt in general was the one area in which it made advances even in the May 2004 general elections, which they lost. In such areas, as well as notably in Gujarat and Orissa, the Sangh Parivar outfit called the Vanavasi Kalyan Sangh has been propagating a virulently anti-Christian message for years. One of its principal leaders, Dilip Singh Judeo, was seen on tv throughout the country apparently accepting bribes from a foreign business concern, accompanied with the slogan ‘‘Money is God.’’ This may have even benefited the bjp in Chattisgarh, not through denial but by implying that the money was needed to fight the missionaries. 8. One remembers the Inquisition, the horrors condoned or committed in the name of converting the ‘‘heathen’’ in many parts of the colonial world (though hardly ever, it needs to be noted, in South Asia), numerous instances of arrogance and Eurocentrism, the religious right in the United States today who form a significant part of Bush’s following, and the bitter hostility displayed toward so many progressive causes from the French Revolution down to the Spanish Civil War.

Christian Conversions and Secularism 367

APPENDIX Chronology of the Career of Secularism in India

Dwaipayan Sen

1829 British outlaw sati (see 1856 and 1891 below). 1856 British make it legal for widows to remarry. 1857 First War for Indian Independence, aka Sepoy/Indian Mutiny, in which Hindu and Muslim concerns were allegedly united against the British. 1875 Founding of Arya Samaj. 1885 Founding of the Indian National Congress (inc). 1889 Formation of British Committee of Indian National Congress with o≈ces in London to put pressure on the Parliament in India. 1891 Age of Consent Act by British government: it is illegal for a man to have sexual intercourse with a girl under twelve. The act is the third major colonial reform relating to women—the others relate to outlawing sati and legalizing widow remarriage (see 1829 and 1856 above)—that is attended by controversy and conflict between the British government and those supporting reforms, on the one hand (the modernizers), and those opposing it on grounds of interference with Hindu ‘‘custom,’’ on the other. 1892 India Councils Act a major victory for Congress, but it still did not envisage electoral representation. 1905 First Partition of Bengal; Swadeshi Movement boycotting British-made goods. 1906 Founding of Muslim League (ml); Indian National Congress demand for Swaraj. 1909 Founding of Punjab Hindu Conference; Minto-Morley Reforms considered first concerted e√ort at constitutional reform.

1910 Hindu Mahasabha formed. 1911 Bengal Partition annulled. 1914–18 (World War I) India contributes about 1.7 million troops to British imperial war e√ort. 1916 Lucknow Pact between the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League agreeing to a power-sharing arrangement and acceptance by inc of separate Muslim electorates. 1920–24 Khilafat Movement–last major movement representing Muslim-Hindu unity. 1919 Government of India Act based on Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms. 1923 Savarkar first uses the term ‘‘Hindutva’’ in his book titled Hindutva: Who Is a Hindu? 1924–27 Gandhi’s Constructive Program inspired by his social philosophy. 1925 Adoption of Hindi as o≈cial language of All India Congress Committee (aicc) sessions as opposed to Hindustani. Mid-1920s Social programs of Shuddhi/Sangathan and Tabligh/Tanzim become principal source of Hindu-Muslim tension and violence. 1927 Simon Commission appointed; British Labour Party passes resolution for Indian Dominion Status; formation of All-India Women’s Conference. 1928 Indian National Congress: The Nehru Report causes Jinnah to lose confidence in Congress and is considered the start of the gradual decline in the unity of Hindu-Muslim nationalist concerns. 1929 Indian National Congress demands full independence; Fourteen Points of M. Jinnah. 1930 Dandi Salt March; Indian National Congress Civil Disobedience Movement for Dominion Status; Muslim League Allahabad Address (M. Iqbal) calling for separate Muslim homeland. 1930s Dalit Social Movement in Maharashtra headed by Ambedkar as a third alternative to the communally charged atmosphere of the League and the Congress. 1931 Indian National Congress passes the Karachi Bill of Rights. 1930–32 Three Round Table Conferences in London—the arena for major conflict between Gandhi and Jinnah and Ambedkar. 1932 Gandhi fasts against Ambedkar’s proposals for separate electorates for untouchables, leading to the Poona Pact, which ensures that in return for a larger number of reserved seats the lower castes would give up the idea of separate electorates; MacDonald’s Communal Award to safeguard minority communal interests. 1934 Jinnah returns from London retirement to become ‘‘sole spokesman’’ of the Muslim League. 370 Appendix

1937 Congress rejects Muslim League demand for joint electorates, considered the final basis for Jinnah’s appropriation of Savarkar’s two-nation theory— ‘‘India’’ and ‘‘Pakistan’’ would be the homelands for Hindus and Muslims respectively. 1939–45 (World War II) India commits about 2.5 million troops to the British imperial war e√ort. 1944 Gandhi-Jinnah talks break down over Pakistan issue. 1946 Cabinet Mission Plan; Jinnah calls for ‘‘Day of Direct Action’’; violence in Bengal: six thousand killed; Muslim League withdraws after Congress’s majority in Constitutional Assembly. 1946–50 Constituent Assembly Debates. 1947 India and Pakistan declared independent; millions die in communal violence and about ten million are made refugees in the cause of the partition of the subcontinent. 1948 Gandhi murdered by Nathuram Godse (as part of a Hindu right-wing conspiracy); Ambedkar presents first draft of constitution to Constituent Assembly; Telengana Movement for peasants’ rights in Andhra Pradesh. 1950 Communal riots in West Bengal; sporadic riots from 1920s onward; rise of the Jan Sangh and its a≈liated organizations. 1953 E. V. Ramasami’s attack in Tamil country on worship of Ganesh to protest against religious superstition. 1955 Hindu Code Bill—actually a series of laws called the Hindu Marriage Bill, the Hindu Succession Bill, the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Bill, and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Bill. 1957 India annexes Kashmir, a source of Indo-Pakistani tension for years to come. 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence. 1975 Indira Gandhi declares a state of emergency, under which her political foes are imprisoned, constitutional rights abrogated, and the press placed under censorship—considered the first major deterioration of principles associated with democracy. 1976 The Forty-second Amendment to the constitution includes ‘‘secularism’’ in its preamble for the first time. 1983 The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (vhp) or World Hindu Council launches a campaign to build a temple on the mosque site in Ayodhya. 1984 While fighting the Sikh secessionist movement of Jarnail Singh Bindranwale, Indian troops destroy the holy Sikh shrine of the Golden Temple; Indira Gandhi assassinated; massive anti-Sikh riots in wake of assassination.

Appendix 371

1985 Shah Bano judgment causes major controversy; government passes Muslim Women’s Act. 1987–90 Doordarshan (India’s state television) telecasts the serial based on the Hindu epic Ramayana. 1989 Ramjanambhoomi campaign launched; Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses banned. 1990 Implementation of Mandal Commission Report recommendations sought by V. P. Singh government; leads to widespread protests by upper-caste Hindus. 1991 Rajiv Gandhi assassinated. 1992 Babri Masjid demolished by kar sevaks and shiv sainiks (December 6); Uttar Pradesh government voluntarily resigns; in the wake of riots in a number of cities, Union government issues a ban on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (rss), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (vhp), and Bajrang Dal; the president dismisses state governments and state legislative assemblies in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Himachal Pradesh. 1998 bjp rides to political center stage on manifesto supporting the building of the temple in Ayodhya to form coalition government at the center with secular allies. 2002 February 27: Godhra train violence followed by widespread ‘‘Hindu retaliation’’ in what has come to be known as the Gujarat Pogrom. March 13: Supreme Court upholds 1994 decision that status quo must be maintained at Ayodhya until other legal disputes are resolved. 2004 General elections—surprise victory of Sonia Gandhi-led Congress over the bjp. Manmohan Singh declared new leader of India’s coalition government following Gandhi’s refusal of the post of prime minister.

372 Appendix


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