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Tolerance, Secularization and Democratic Politics in South Asia

What is the relationship between secularization and tolerance? Critically analyzing the empirical and theoretical foundations of a putatively linear relationship between the two, this volume argues for moving past both romanticized readings of pre-modern tolerance and the unthinking belief that secularization will inevitably lead to tolerance. The chapters collected in this volume include contributions from across South Asia that suggest that democratic politics have added a layer of underexplored complexity to questions of peaceful co-existence. Modern transformations in religious thought and practice have had contradictory implications for tolerance, which offer rich insights into contemporary debates in the region. This multi-disciplinary volume, which spans history, sociology, anthropology and political theory, questions the uncritical acceptance of tolerance as the best framework for engaging with difference and probes the complications created by and through democratic politics. h u m e i r a i q t i d a r is the author of Secularizing Islamists? Jamaate-Islami and Jamaat-ud-Dawa in Urban Pakistan (2011) and led the ERC-funded project, ‘Tolerance in Contemporary Muslim Polities: Political Theory beyond the West’. t a n i k a s a r k a r is the author of Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation: Community, Religion, Cultural Nationalism (2001) and Rebels, Wives, Saints: Designing Selves and Nations in Colonial Times (2009), among other books. Her research lies at the intersections of religion, gender and politics in colonial and postcolonial India.

Tolerance, Secularization and Democratic Politics in South Asia Edited by

Humeira Iqtidar King’s College London

Tanika Sarkar Jawaharlal Nehru University

University Printing House, Cambridge CB2 8BS, United Kingdom One Liberty Plaza, 20th Floor, New York, NY 10006, USA 477 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne, VIC 3207, Australia 314–321, 3rd Floor, Plot 3, Splendor Forum, Jasola District Centre, New Delhi – 110025, India 79 Anson Road, #06–04/06, Singapore 079906 Cambridge University Press is part of the University of Cambridge. It furthers the University’s mission by disseminating knowledge in the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence. www.cambridge.org Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9781108428545 DOI: 10.1017/9781108582834 © Cambridge University Press 2018 This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published 2018 Printed in United Kingdom by Clays, St Ives plc A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Iqtidar, Humeira, editor. | Sarkar, Tanika, 1949– editor. Title: Tolerance, secularization, and democratic politics in South Asia / edited by Humeira Iqtidar, Tanika Sarkar. Description: New York : Cambridge University Press, 2018. Identifiers: LCCN 2018000614| ISBN 9781108428545 (hardback) | ISBN 9781108450249 (paperback) Subjects: LCSH: Democracy–South Asia. | Secularism–Political aspects–South Asia. | Toleration–South Asia. Classification: LCC JQ98.A91 .T68 2018 | DDC 320.954–dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018000614 ISBN 978-1-108-42854-5 Hardback Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

Tolerance, Secularization and Democratic Politics in South Asia

What is the relationship between secularization and tolerance? Critically analyzing the empirical and theoretical foundations of a putatively linear relationship between the two, this volume argues for moving past both romanticized readings of pre-modern tolerance and the unthinking belief that secularization will inevitably lead to tolerance. The chapters collected in this volume include contributions from across South Asia that suggest that democratic politics have added a layer of underexplored complexity to questions of peaceful co-existence. Modern transformations in religious thought and practice have had contradictory implications for tolerance, which offer rich insights into contemporary debates in the region. This multi-disciplinary volume, which spans history, sociology, anthropology and political theory, questions the uncritical acceptance of tolerance as the best framework for engaging with difference and probes the complications created by and through democratic politics. h u m e i r a i q t i d a r is the author of Secularizing Islamists? Jamaate-Islami and Jamaat-ud-Dawa in Urban Pakistan (2011) and led the ERC-funded project, ‘Tolerance in Contemporary Muslim Polities: Political Theory beyond the West’. t a n i k a s a r k a r is the author of Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation: Community, Religion, Cultural Nationalism (2001) and Rebels, Wives, Saints: Designing Selves and Nations in Colonial Times (2009), among other books. Her research lies at the intersections of religion, gender and politics in colonial and postcolonial India.

Tolerance, Secularization and Democratic Politics in South Asia Edited by

Humeira Iqtidar King’s College London

Tanika Sarkar Jawaharlal Nehru University

University Printing House, Cambridge CB2 8BS, United Kingdom One Liberty Plaza, 20th Floor, New York, NY 10006, USA 477 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne, VIC 3207, Australia 314–321, 3rd Floor, Plot 3, Splendor Forum, Jasola District Centre, New Delhi – 110025, India 79 Anson Road, #06–04/06, Singapore 079906 Cambridge University Press is part of the University of Cambridge. It furthers the University’s mission by disseminating knowledge in the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence. www.cambridge.org Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9781108428545 DOI: 10.1017/9781108582834 © Cambridge University Press 2018 This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published 2018 Printed in United Kingdom by Clays, St Ives plc A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Iqtidar, Humeira, editor. | Sarkar, Tanika, 1949– editor. Title: Tolerance, secularization, and democratic politics in South Asia / edited by Humeira Iqtidar, Tanika Sarkar. Description: New York : Cambridge University Press, 2018. Identifiers: LCCN 2018000614| ISBN 9781108428545 (hardback) | ISBN 9781108450249 (paperback) Subjects: LCSH: Democracy–South Asia. | Secularism–Political aspects–South Asia. | Toleration–South Asia. Classification: LCC JQ98.A91 .T68 2018 | DDC 320.954–dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018000614 ISBN 978-1-108-42854-5 Hardback Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

Tolerance, Secularization and Democratic Politics in South Asia

What is the relationship between secularization and tolerance? Critically analyzing the empirical and theoretical foundations of a putatively linear relationship between the two, this volume argues for moving past both romanticized readings of pre-modern tolerance and the unthinking belief that secularization will inevitably lead to tolerance. The chapters collected in this volume include contributions from across South Asia that suggest that democratic politics have added a layer of underexplored complexity to questions of peaceful co-existence. Modern transformations in religious thought and practice have had contradictory implications for tolerance, which offer rich insights into contemporary debates in the region. This multi-disciplinary volume, which spans history, sociology, anthropology and political theory, questions the uncritical acceptance of tolerance as the best framework for engaging with difference and probes the complications created by and through democratic politics. h u m e i r a i q t i d a r is the author of Secularizing Islamists? Jamaate-Islami and Jamaat-ud-Dawa in Urban Pakistan (2011) and led the ERC-funded project, ‘Tolerance in Contemporary Muslim Polities: Political Theory beyond the West’. t a n i k a s a r k a r is the author of Hindu Wife, Hindu Nation: Community, Religion, Cultural Nationalism (2001) and Rebels, Wives, Saints: Designing Selves and Nations in Colonial Times (2009), among other books. Her research lies at the intersections of religion, gender and politics in colonial and postcolonial India.

Tolerance, Secularization and Democratic Politics in South Asia Edited by

Humeira Iqtidar King’s College London

Tanika Sarkar Jawaharlal Nehru University

University Printing House, Cambridge CB2 8BS, United Kingdom One Liberty Plaza, 20th Floor, New York, NY 10006, USA 477 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne, VIC 3207, Australia 314–321, 3rd Floor, Plot 3, Splendor Forum, Jasola District Centre, New Delhi – 110025, India 79 Anson Road, #06–04/06, Singapore 079906 Cambridge University Press is part of the University of Cambridge. It furthers the University’s mission by disseminating knowledge in the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence. www.cambridge.org Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9781108428545 DOI: 10.1017/9781108582834 © Cambridge University Press 2018 This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published 2018 Printed in United Kingdom by Clays, St Ives plc A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Iqtidar, Humeira, editor. | Sarkar, Tanika, 1949– editor. Title: Tolerance, secularization, and democratic politics in South Asia / edited by Humeira Iqtidar, Tanika Sarkar. Description: New York : Cambridge University Press, 2018. Identifiers: LCCN 2018000614| ISBN 9781108428545 (hardback) | ISBN 9781108450249 (paperback) Subjects: LCSH: Democracy–South Asia. | Secularism–Political aspects–South Asia. | Toleration–South Asia. Classification: LCC JQ98.A91 .T68 2018 | DDC 320.954–dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018000614 ISBN 978-1-108-42854-5 Hardback Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

For Aditya, Zehra and Taimur

Contents

List of Figures List of Contributors 1 Introduction humeira iqtidar and tanika sarkar 2 Languages of Secularity sudipta kaviraj

page viii ix 1 22

3 Secularization of Politics: Muslim Nationalism and Sectarian Conflict in South Asia sadia saeed

50

4 Temple Building in Secularising Nepal: Materializing Religion and Ethnicity in a State of Transformation sara shneiderman

75

5 Secularization and Constitutive Moments: Insights from Partition Diplomacy in South Asia joya chatterji

108

6 Tolerance in Bangladesh: Discourses of State and Society samia huq

134

7 In the Void of Faith: Sunnyata, Sovereignty, Minority aishwary kumar

156

8 Pillayar and the Politicians: Secularization and Toleration at the End of Sri Lanka’s Civil War jonathan spencer Index

191 215

vii

Figures

4.1 Map showing Suspa-Kshamawati VDC, Dolakha, Nepal. These were the VDC boundary lines until the May 2017 local elections. Map adapted from public domain Map Displaying Village Development Committees in Dolakha District, Nepal, United Nations. page 77 4.2 Suspa Bhumethan on Bhume Jatra, Suspa-Kshamawati, Dolakha, Nepal. May 2008. Photo by author. 80 4.3 Members of the museum committee visit the Rangathali site, with Tilak Pokhari in the foreground. Suspa-Kshamawati, Dolakha, Nepal, June 2014. Photo by author. 97 4.4 Mahadevsthan temple after the earthquake, Suspa-Kshamawati VDC, Dolakha, Nepal, May 2016. Photo by author. 104 8.1 (a and b) Portraits of political leaders, Pillayar temple, Chulipuram, Sri Lanka. Photo by author. 192 8.2 (a and b) Murals, Siva temple, Kokkaddichcholai, Sri Lanka. Photo by author. 198

viii

Contributors

joyce chatterji Cambridge, UK

Trinity

College,

University

of

Cambridge,

samia huq Department of Economics and Social Sciences, BRAC University, Dhaka, Bangladesh humeira iqtidar Department of Political Economy, King’s College London, London, UK sudipta kaviraj Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies, Columbia University, New York, USA aishwary kumar Department of History, Stanford University, California, USA sadia saeed Department of Sociology, University of San Francisco, California, USA tanika sarkar Department of History, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, India sara shneiderman Department of Anthropology and School of Public Policy & Global Affairs/Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia, Canada, Vancouver jonathan spencer Department of Anthropology, Edinburgh University, Edinburgh, UK

ix

1

Introduction Humeira Iqtidar and Tanika Sarkar*

Religious differences and violent hatred against vulnerable religious minorities have come to problematize South Asian democracies in a particularly severe way. Concerns and anxieties about the fraught relationship between secularization, tolerance and democracy unify this collection of essays that ranges across very diverse times and spaces in South Asia. The present collection began as the result of our interest in the relationship between secularism and secularization in South Asia, and versions of some of the papers included here were published as part of a special issue of the Economic and Political Weekly in December 2013. Even though there has been extensive and significant research on secularism – beyond, as well as within, South Asia – there is, as yet, little clarity about how secularism – as an ideological framework and as state policy – is linked to secularization, the social process. Indeed, South Asian scholarly and popular usages often equate secularism with secularization1 and, more often, make both interchangeable with state and social tolerance towards religious minorities. In other words, we tend to conflate secularism, secularization, and political and social tolerance, all into one neat package. Consequently, we have neither a clear theoretical conception nor a sound historical context to understand whether secularism necessarily involves a progressive diminution of religion when the state steps in to regulate interactions among different faiths, even if on the basis of neutrality, or if a tradition of co-existence and mutual * We gratefully acknowledge the support of the European Research Council for the project titled ‘Tolerance in Contemporary Muslim Polities: Political Theory Beyond the West’, which funded the workshop bringing contributors together at King’s College London in June 2014. We would also like to thank Sunil Khilnani and the India Institute at KCL supporting for the workshop. Two anonymous reviewers raised excellent questions for us to think through and we are grateful to them. Walid Jumblatt and Arij Eishelmani provided invaluable help in editing and formatting the papers. A big thank you to Lucy Rhymer for her patient encouragement from the very start of this project. We would also like to thank Liz Kelly for her careful editing, and Ishwarya Mathavan for her thorough project management. Finally, we would like to thank Aniket Alam for the suggestion that started it all! 1 As editors, one interesting aspect of our conversations with contributing authors has been the difficulty some faced in separating the two terms.

1

2

Humeira Iqtidar and Tanika Sarkar

tolerance can, by itself, overcome the increasing violence that besets much of South Asia today. In other words, we are still puzzled by the question of the desirable relative weight of, and relationship between, secularism, secularization and tolerance in a democratic polity. These are extremely contentious matters. Some scholars see no rationale for secularism or for secularization, and consider that toleration arising from within a true understanding of ‘authentic’ faith would suffice to maintain peace. They castigate both secularism and secularization as Western concepts and imported social processes that are irrelevant to South Asian cultures. Others want to preserve secularism as a governing political and ideological framework but seek its roots in specifically South Asian histories and traditions.2 Mid-twentieth-century scholarship and political leadership had assumed a somewhat linear relationship: secularism as state policy would lead to secularization at a societal level, and that, in turn, would foster tolerance. Fundamental to this position was a certainty about the definition of religion: that political leaders and the electorate will easily recognize it when they see it. It is the possibility of easily defining, and thus containing, religion within a ‘proper sphere’ that has, in fact, proved chimerical. Popular debates over the last few decades are premised on competing ideas about defining religion: what is religious, and what is not? What is essential to a religious tradition, and what is peripheral to it? If the canonical texts of a dominant faith prescribe contempt for certain groups of people – women, outcastes, outsiders – then how far should we still recognize their authority, and who is to adjudicate that thorny question? When is a particular manifestation to be regarded as true Hinduism/Islam/Christianity/Buddhism? The definition of religion, as a category of analysis, is beginning to receive academic attention, especially following the influential work of Talal Asad (1993). In recent years, scholars from across the disciplines of intellectual history, anthropology and political theory have paid increasing attention to the role of European Enlightenment thought in the articulation of a universal definition of religion3, and to the impact of capitalism and colonialism in providing the institutional framework for making religion a distinct and politically salient sphere of human life.4 2 3

4

A good introduction to both these positions is provided by various contributions in Bhargava (1998). Asad (1993, 2003) and Masozawa (2005) alert us to the specific history of the definition of religion as a universal construct. Asad (1993: 29) argues that, ‘there cannot be a universal definition of religion, not only because its constituent elements and relationships are historically specific but because that definition is itself the historical product of discursive processes’. This is an area where South Asian scholars have contributed in remarkably influential and significant ways. A sustained questioning of politicized religiosity was undertaken by South Asian scholars partly to understand the traumatic partition of India. The

Introduction

3

It is this notion of religion as a separate sphere of life that was an innovation and imposition. It remained so despite the fact that in India the British were careful not to impose conversion to Christianity on Indians, unlike the Spanish colonialists in the Americas, or, indeed, the British themselves in settler colonies such as America or Australia. The British Empire, which had ruled over almost all of South Asia, presided over multireligious polities where the white colonial officials constituted a minuscule demographic element. The dominant faiths of the colonized, moreover, were opaque to rulers, and calculations of political expediency dictated that interference or forced change from above could be politically explosive – as was especially dramatized in the massive rebellion of 1857 after Indian soldiers of the British Indian Army turned against their masters who were insensitive to their ritual habits. Given these constraints, the British were, by and large, careful not to require mass conversion of the colonized even though Britain was not a secular state at that time5 and despite some pressure from European missionaries. Instead, the British supported- compelled at least in part by the imperative to ‘divide and rule’- competing religious communities to found and run their own sects, trusts, places of worship and their own educational bodies. The most critical impact of colonialism was, however, was at an ontological and epistemological level, in the very understanding of religion as a distinct sphere of human life. There have been important debates within and outside post-colonial studies about the academic and popular tendency to view non-Western societies through the prism of Western categories and classificatory orders, sometimes called an imperialism of categories. One of its effects has been to create neatly signposted and clearly demarcated divisions between the social, the political and the religious as quite distinct spheres in life. This approach unravels very quickly as soon as a granular view of historical or contemporary life in the region is undertaken: both the political and the religious become very difficult to define without reference to each other. In her bibliographical essay for a collection that we edited in Economic and

5

partition of India was premised on a religious nationalism that developed a somewhat unexpected depth in a relatively short period of time, between the late 1930s and critical1940s. The development of this religiously infused politics has thus received detailed attention (Alavi, 1988; Chatterjee, 1993; Gilmartin 1991, 1998; Mufti, 1995; Pandey, 2001 to name just a few). Van der Veer (2001) has detailed how Britain was an overtly and explicitly religious state when a colonial policy of neutrality towards different religious groups was articulated in India. That this policy was inconsistently and opportunistically implemented was not surprising.

4

Humeira Iqtidar and Tanika Sarkar

Political Weekly, Mohita Bhattia (2013) provides a useful overview of the ways in which the place of religion in public and private life in South Asia has been approached in the last few decades. Taken together, these studies across disciplines suggest an emerging, new conceptualization of religion as a more fluid, plural and internally contested category. This re-evaluation of the definition of religion alongside a reconceptualization of politics significantly undermines a basic tenet of mainstream secularization theory: that it is possible to easily define and distinguish religion from politics and society. Many of the studies that Bhattia mentions recognize that fuzzy boundaries and chaotic slippages operate between one religion and the other, as well as between the religious and the secular and/or political. Academic discussions about the segregation of human life into separate compartments – religious, economic, political, social and so on – seen as a defining feature of modernity (Casanova, 1994; Eisenstadt, 1999), often seem to forget that these are conceptual and analytical frames primarily. The actual division of lived human life into these compartments has been, of course, a fundamentally fragmented and unfinished project. Even in Europe, the putative home of modernity, segregation and differentiation of human life is not complete; social, political and economic life continues to slip across the borders academics have tried to set up. Secularization in Europe, too, has been a hesitant and non-linear process since the Enlightenment, as nation-building projects, as well as empire building in the name of civilizational superiority, led to heightened religious fervour in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Crepell, 2010). Similarly, modernity in South Asia has never been bereft of deep religiosity (Sarkar, 2000). The compartmentalizing of human experiences, or what sociologists call differentiation, that did happen was, above all, linked to institutional mechanisms imbricated in the development of capitalism. From South Africa (Comaroff, 1985) to Nigeria (Marshall, 2007) to Lebanon (Nada Moumtaz, 2018), India to England (Brown, 2010) or the Netherlands (Klausen, 2010), the attempt to carve religion as a distinct sphere that can be conceptualized in separation from other aspects of life emerged along with the legal and political structures that deepened the reach of capitalism by commoditizing land, labour, relationships and communities. The conceptual separation of the religious from the political was, among other things, important for opening up ecclesiastical lands and resources for market circulation and deepening the reach of capitalist institutions. This compartmentalization has, however, had an uneven life in political imagination around the world, with more acceptance in some parts than in others. Iqtidar (2011) has argued that rather than privatization of,

Introduction

5

or a decrease in, religiosity, secularization is best understood as a conceptual shift in mass political imagination where religion is increasingly seen as a distinct and internally coherent sphere of human life, and as a homogenized entity that has to be free of contradictory practices/ideas. This requirement for coherence within religion was necessary for imagining it as a separate entity, a stand-alone feature of human life. Secularization, thus, entails a much more conscious engagement at the mass scale with what the role of this distinct entity ‘religion’ is to be in a person’s life, rather than an unconscious following of norms. It may lead to less religiosity or more; it may lead to more public expression or none. There is no clear theoretical and historical reason for either development. Secularization is, then, best understood as a qualitative shift in how religious thought and practice are imagined within society rather than as the quantitative change (less religion, less public religiosity, etc.) that influential social and political theory had posited.6 Such a definition of secularization allows us to move past the less defensible aspects of secularization theory: thinking of secularization as a decline in religion or as privatization of religiosity. Both of these have been, empirically, the most easily refuted, given the contemporary rise of public religions, from the USA to India (Casanova, 1994). Yet, there is no denying that something has changed about religious thought and practice in modern times. Understanding secularization as a shift in political imagination allows us to move beyond the limitation of sociological theories that have taken differentiation in social life as an empirical fact. Differentiation, as we have discussed above, has a more concrete existence in academic analysis, and to some extent in legal structures, than in lived experience; social, political, economic and religious life seem to continuously bleed into each other. Recognizing the force of differentiation as a conceptual apparatus opens up the possibility that the attempt to carve religion out of social life and to cleanse it of internal contradictions is ongoing, and one that is likely to produce much more passionate engagement, less flexible religiosity and an equal likelihood of politicization as of privatization. We know less about the implications of this secularization, and it is to this we hope future researchers will attend. Shifting the focus from secularism to secularization seems to us particularly pertinent at today’s historical juncture, which is marked by close to three decades of heated debates about secularism and a sense of fatigue with the religious rhetoric of the war on terror. At a time when 6

Bruce (1996) provides a good overview of the more quantitative understanding of secularization.

6

Humeira Iqtidar and Tanika Sarkar

many religious nationalist parties in South Asia are reaping electoral benefits of long-standing social engagement, whereas Leftist politics approaches a phase of exhaustion in many places, it is important for progressive activists to pause and reconsider the value of privileging state-focused activism alone, often for legal changes, which has been the mainstay of their engagement, particularly in India and Pakistan. It is, indeed, time to think of grass-roots social and cultural movements that try to expand equality for all. At the same time, as states become increasingly complicit with majoritarian ambitions and violence against vulnerable religious communities, it is equally necessary to reimagine a new order of engagement with the state. It is within this fraught landscape that the idea of tolerance has now gained currency to combat a host of political and social problems, while its relationship with secularization and democracy remains unexamined. This is a dangerous move, we propose, because it valorizes tolerance without understanding its limitations, if it remains divorced from notions of democratic equality and relies primarily on civilizational claims. Such a move encourages an understanding of conflict- and its remedy tolerance- as divorced from actually existing situations of inequality and injustice enforced by state or non-state actors. Civilizational imperatives become even more prominent because of the framing of the war on terror within such terms. This has brought about, in reaction, a quest to locate resources for tolerance solely from within religious practice and thought.7 In this volume, contributions by Kaviraj, Kumar, Spencer and Huq (Chapters 2, 6, 7 and 8) tackle some of these issues directly across Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic traditions. Historicizing Tolerance Notwithstanding long-term mutual borrowing, fusion and cohabitation across religious traditions in South Asia, we want to distance our discussion here from a romanticized notion of innate peacefulness in traditional religion. The rich cultural cross-fertilization also has a long tradition of conflicts along religious lines, though their contours have changed over time. Scholars need to address both past theological contestations and competition between communities for material resources in the name of faith, and they need to track how modern conflicts draw upon and depart from them. We can acknowledge the specific ways in which modernity politicizes religious thought and practice – the emphasis on the ‘quantity’ 7

See Iqtidar (2016) and Mojahedi (2016) for a critique of the civilizational framing of political tolerance in Islamic thought.

Introduction

7

of believers, a relative shift from doctrine to community interests and from community to state, legalization and homogenization of religious traditions and so on – without falling into the trap of ascribing a golden halo to the pre-modern. Rather than attributing harmony and serenity to traditional faith and ascribing modern violence to their distortion by an irreligious world, we reiterate that the binary between good/old and bad/modern religion essentializes both, and ignores uncomfortable historical processes. As always, there is a longer history that needs to be considered. The colonial state’s management of religious thought and practice was singularly suited to increasing the role of religious identity in politics even while by and large, the state practised a certain amount of neutrality dictated by its self-interest. Democratic politics under colonial rule was structured around the notion of selected representation of a community rather than of individuals. Much has been written about how the colonial state’s legal, political, economic and discursive strategies created the conditions for a heightened awareness of religious identity among subjects who may not have previously foregrounded it.8 Scholars have also pointed out that new communicational resources of print, press and associations helped to foster imagined nations, as well as imagined religious communities (Robinson, 1993; Sarkar, 2002: 10–38). While colonial administrators may have been enthused by utilitarian or ethnocentric ideas as much as they were riddled with anxiety about ruling over a society very different from their own, they built largely upon existing ideas of authority in South Asia. One implication of these contradictions was that they did not allow for homogenized structures of religious practice and erasure of diversity to the same degree as was the case in Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Rather, secularization in late nineteenth-century South Asia became associated with liberal elite efforts to reform what they saw as problematic aspects of their religious ideas and practices – partly so that they could come closer to the ideal of religion established in Europe (even if this was a reified image of the fairly uneven dynamics within Europe), but also out of dissatisfactions with established religious practices. The disavowal, in these efforts, of politics as premised on unequal power, even if not disingenuous, was bound to be in tension with questions of democratic representation. However, the colonial state’s strategic turn to inciting communal politics to divide and weaken anti-colonial movements from the early 8

A quick insight is provided by Kaviraj (2010). See Gilmartin (1998) for a detailed treatment.

8

Humeira Iqtidar and Tanika Sarkar

twentieth century and its lack of reflexivity about the use of a Protestant definition of religion in its legal framework led to a situation where colonial practices of secularism could never quite lead to secularization of identities if we define it as decrease in public religiosity (Iqtidar, 2011: 38–55). Moreover, handing over the realms of caste, marriage and property relations to religious texts and customs – often privileging their most orthodox interpretations – similarly reduced the prospects of secularization as decline in religiosity and allotted very large and important slices of social life to the control of clerical hierarchy (Sarkar, 2009). In a compelling monograph, Adcock (2014) has traced the link between colonial political structures, political parties and the discourse of tolerance in India. She argues that Congress – the main anti-colonial platform – mobilized a particular vision of tolerance that placed the burden of conflict on anti-caste religious mobilizations and conversions, while keeping intact its own undemocratic power structure, and later, in post-colonial India, allowed it to remain embedded in existing hierarchies of caste and religious identities. Moreover, the Congress version of secular nationalism in India required untouchables to be Hindu and Muslims, thus, to be a minority (Tejani, 2008). While caste Hindus had long treated Dalits, or untouchables, as outside the Varna – and thus the Dharmic or religious – order, modern electoral compulsions coupled with new imaginaries of quantifiable communities, led to a push to count them as Hindu to create a political majority. The very framing of tolerance, then, in terms of the rights of minorities, became entangled in a politics of enumeration that, despite its liberatory potential, comes with a dark underside. This sinister aspect is the built-in political imperative to classify and contain people into fixed categories so as to retain stable majorities and minorities. There are other implications too: it limits hybridity and appreciation of difference by shutting down avenues of interaction and synthesis in social life. The discourse of tolerance can then produce strikingly intolerant effects.9 In post-colonial times, as newly independent South Asian states turned to electoral democracy, the emancipatory promise of equal citizenship rights to all individuals irrespective of creed, caste or gender was compromised by the simultaneous classification of persons as members of majority or minority communities. To say this is not to ignore the latter’s special vulnerabilities and argue, instead, in favour of an already-there 9

In similar vein, Wendy Brown (2008) has argued for an interrogation of the discourse of tolerance in the USA arguing that by shifting the political conversation away from questions of equality or justice, this discourse had allowed continued existence, and sometimes intensification, to inequality particularly across racial lines.

Introduction

9

equality. Such a move, especially in times of inflamed communal violence of a majoritarian kind, will only make constitutional equality an empty rhetoric. It is not accidental that the Hindu Right in India clamours for an eradication of the special rights of religious minorities. Rendering visible the tensions within democracy is, of course, not an argument against democracy. We are arguing here for better understanding of the processes through which particular visions of tolerance might actually limit the egalitarian promise of democracy. Certainly concerns about equality may, at times, clash with norms of liberal tolerance. In the Indian case, the one major modern proponent of outright atheism has been E. V. Ramaswamy Naicker or Periyar, who was an outspoken and determined opponent of Brahmanical power and values. That raises a new problem. Do we read his attacks on caste-led religious practice as an instance of intolerance? B. R. Ambedkar, the Dalit leader whose work addressed the experiences of exploitation, humiliation and subjugation of Dalit castes in the name of sacred injunctions and prescriptions of Hindus, was filled with a visceral anger against a culture that can so dehumanize both the oppressor and the oppressed. He also denied any radical efficacy to otherworldly devotional resources that might recognize social inequality and yet make no efforts to address them in this world; in fact, by offering a spiritual transcendence of these divisions, they serve to reconcile Dalits to their actual lives in the world. His burning of Manusmriti or Periyar’s indictment of Hindu ItihasamPuranam could be read as violent and intolerant acts. How do we come to terms with their passionate intolerance against the inhumanity that sacred texts endorse? Without that intolerance, is there hope for social transformation or social justice? We need to engage with these difficult – indeed, disturbing – questions more and more as the crisis in South Asian social and political institutions increasingly rule out easy platitudes and bland assertions of hope in an essentially tolerant and non-violent South Asian civilization. Times are far too dangerous for false comforts. Secularization and Democratic Politics A source of some limited comfort is the fact that debates within South Asia are particularly rich due to their simultaneous engagement with a range of religious traditions, non-Abrahamic religions as well as the Abrahamic ones. For instance, South Asian Islamic thought has been enriched by its engagement with Hindu, Sikh and Jain traditions, as much as it has benefitted from the coming together of Arabic and Persianate influences. Even though much of scholarly work focuses on one tradition rather than analyzing the dynamic across several religions at

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the same time, in everyday life there is, even if perforce, an engagement with the rich diversity of religious thought and practice in this region. Several contributions to this volume (Chapters 5, 6 and 8) attempt to move beyond the somewhat ghettoized mode of focusing on a singular tradition. This volume asks some fundamental questions about the relationship between secularization, tolerance and democratic politics by taking a close look at different South Asian countries and, sometimes, simultaneously across two countries. The contributions do not all challenge the positive normative associations with tolerance but complicate its relationship to secularization and democracy in important ways. Our purpose is neither to discount nor to valorize religiously inspired tolerance as the binary opposite of secular tolerance. Moving beyond a simplistic association between tolerance and secularism, it remains important to understand how religious thought and practice are changing in contemporary South Asia. We need to build a thicker and more granular understanding of such changes to ascertain whether these are taking us towards a more equal society or not. Sudipta Kaviraj’s reading (Chapter 2), in this volume, of Rajeev Bhargava’s distinction between ethical and political secularism renders ethical secularism closer to secularization in as much as it is about an attitude towards beliefs rather than a political arrangement. Bhargava does not draw this out explicitly, but Kaviraj goes some way in exploring the implications of an attitude towards belief – not just the belief itself. In a nuanced elaboration of the differences as well as the similarities in their understanding of the relationship between secularism and secularization, Kaviraj implies that both T. N. Madan and Ashis Nandy were right – though they were harsher than was necessary – in claiming that secularism and secularization were out of step with India. Madan’s proposition that, given the lack of secularization in India, secularism was an imposition by a small elite doomed to stay out of touch with religiosity of the masses was matched by Nandy’s implicit claim that secularization is neither inevitable nor inherent in modernity. While Kaviraj discusses some important limitations in Madan’s understanding of secularization in Europe, the most critical shortcoming of both Madan and Nandy’s analyses is that they underestimate polyvalence in tradition and modernity. However gently delivered, Kaviraj’s critique of existing criticisms of secularization in India is scathing at two important levels. By pointing to a fundamental misreading of tradition in Nandy’s and Madan’s analyses of both Indian and European societies, Kaviraj undercuts the force of their arguments by showing that within tradition may lie many a possibility for totally different futures. This goes some way towards opening

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up an approach to secularization that can be enthusiastic about the results without assuming a singular path to peaceful co-existence. Kaviraj suggests the possibility of deep respect for opposing points of view that comes from firmly held but different religious beliefs. The second important thrust of Kaviraj’s argument is a call to consider seriously the implications of increasingly disconnected public spheres structured around the different languages of India and the limitations of theoretical/political debates conducted in English alone. During the nationalist movement, political leaders and the intellectual elite were rooted in at least two languages: a vernacular one and English. However, over the decades the move towards English alone has meant that their connection and engagement with vernacular debates have been broken in a profound manner. The drifting apart of the two ‘floors’ of discussion and argument about religiosity and political tolerance then has profound implications for democratic politics and reflects a structural change that needs attention. Tying the two facets of Kaviraj’s argument together, it seems that he suggests greater focus on thinking through how secularism, secularization and tolerance may be discussed in vernacular languages that are more deeply imbricated with tradition without assuming that this association will limit the futures imagined. Sadia Saeed (Chapter 3) provides an insight into some of the structural transformations brought about by the colonial administration in India that led to increased competition between, but also within, religious communities. She marks the reworking as well as the appropriation of that colonial legacy in newly independent Pakistan and focuses on specific moments that put religious minorities at a disadvantage, whether in symbolic terms, such as the choice of design for the Pakistani flag where an alternative form that was explicitly inclusive of non-Muslim citizens was disregarded, or in practical terms, such as the 1984 Ordinance that prohibited Ahmadis from claiming any of the activities reserved for Muslims as their own. This included the call to prayers (Azan) as well as the right to call their place of worship a mosque. Placing these moves within a framework that recognizes the pressures of democratic politics alongside the compulsions of religious nationalism, Saeed argues that 'the political field’ in Pakistan has been unable to develop a political vocabulary that could accommodate and live with religious differences, whether in secularist or religious idioms. By focusing on democratic politics, Saeed broadens the discussion beyond religious nationalism. This is a useful move. As Ali (2011) has argued, even within the framework of religious nationalism many new futures, including socialist and communist ones, had been imagined in early post-colonial Pakistan. These were sidelined partly due to historical

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exigencies, not just the inherent logic of religious nationalism. It is, for instance, important to remember the role that Cold War politics played in entrenching a particularly narrow Islamist vision within state institutions that came along with US support for General Zia’s regime. Saeed suggests that the increasing use of religious framing by the state in Pakistan can be seen as desecularization. She recognizes that this term suggests a prior secularization that has been limited or overturned, but this is not what she intends. However, she seems to suggest that this notion of desecularization carries many of the same dilemmas that the concept of secularization did. For instance, the notion may indicate that the past was less overtly religious than the present, much like secularization theorists assumed that the European or South Asian past was more religious. In the case of Europe, recent research is beginning to suggest that this assumption of intense religiosity is misplaced. Within South Asia, there needs to be more careful consideration of how religious thought and practice have changed without assuming a teleological trajectory. Certainly, the history Saeed lays out alerts us to another common feature of both desecularization and secularization: their inherently fragmented unfolding and ongoing contestations. Sara Shneiderman (Chapter 4) highlights the mutual imbrication of religious and ethnic contestations under democratic compulsions in Nepal. She shows how religious practice is beginning to take on a different shape in popular imagination under the Nepali state’s specific policies of secularism and due to democratic pressures. This new conceptualization of religion defies an easy prognosis of decline in religiosity. If anything, the particular version of secularism practised by the contemporary state had the contradictory effect of privileging religious identities over ethnic ones as the policy facilitated access to state grants through religious identity. Shneiderman’s Thangmi interlocutors did not think of themselves primarily as a religious group. They had been trying to develop a community centre to express their interests as an ethnic community. However, when the state set aside funds for the development of temples, they made opportunistic use of these funds to build this community centre, capitalizing on the overlap between Thangmi ethnicity and Hinduism. Indeed, much like the secularism of the colonial state in India, the very attempt by the state to explicitly manage religious thought and practice has created a heightened awareness of religious identities among groups that may not have given this aspect of their lives much political salience. At the same time, Shneiderman cautions us to recognize Nepal’s differences with other South Asian countries. In particular, she points out that, unlike many other states, in Nepal, the project of secularism is a

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widely held one and indeed not one instigated by the ‘liberal elite’ (cf Chapter 2). As a result of a wide-ranging and long-term Maoist mobilization in opposition to Nepal’s Hindu monarchy, there is a wider acceptance of political arrangements supporting a plurality of beliefs and unbelief. By discussing the Thangmi temple-building practices, she brings into sharp relief once again the disconnect between secularism as an ideology or a state project and secularization. She shows how secularism may, in fact, make religious identities sharper when combined with democratic political imperatives, even where there is appreciation of religious pluralism. It is useful to remember, in this context, that there is never any ready-made majority (A. Marx 1998; Iqtidar 2012) and, in fact, it is the task of political entrepreneurs in a democratic polity to create one through political mobilization. Secularization, Violence and Inequality Shneiderman mentions the desire among her interlocutors to live amicably together – milera basne – within a diverse but increasingly politically charged context. That violence and conflict are neither easy options nor often a result of explicit choices for ordinary citizens is often forgotten.10 The history of contemporary South Asia can easily be envisioned primarily as a history of violence. From the partition of India to the partition of Pakistan, the rise of the mujahideen of various brands and of Hindutva, from Tamil Tigers to Al-Badr/Al-Shams, from the Indian state’s militarization of Kashmir to Pakistani army’s ongoing operations in the tribal areas, from Sri Lankan state’s massacre of Tamils in 2007 to the Nepali state’s actions against the Maoists – it is easy to read the history of South Asian state and non-state actors as one of unremitting violence. What this focus on spectacular violence, however, obscures is the continuing, through frayed, thread of peaceful co-existence in an immensely diverse part of the world. The urban centres of South Asia, for instance, bring together a diversity that European cities have only recently started to experience. 10

See the important contribution of Amrita Basu (2015) in taking seriously the question of when political leaders use violence. Basu argues that contrary to predictions, the Hindu nationalist party BJP has not engaged continuously in violence against minorities. Its use of violence is much more conjectural and is linked to both opportunities afforded by internal party structure and political context and to oppositions faced from competing parties and social movements. In a different context, in her granular study of a Karachi apartment complex, Laura Ring (2006) has highlighted that if at all there are choices to be made in everyday situations, active engagement and emotional energy are more often exerted to maintain peace rather than pursue violence.

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While there has been much anguish about the role that increasingly politicized religious identities have played in recent decades, it is worth acknowledging that much of this discussion has come at the cost of a focus on class divisions. In Chapter 5, Joya Chatterji highlights the dynamics of holding one’s religious identity in abeyance in situations of shared class interest, through a focus on the debates between Pakistani and Indian diplomats right after Partition about the modalities of division. Chatterji demonstrates how elite diplomats, who were part of the Calcutta Committee, made conscious decisions to set aside deeply divisive concerns of religious identity and focused instead on operationalizing the Partition of India. More critically, she provides a perceptive and sharp articulation of how a class habitus comes into play in such emergency situations and argues that a kind of pragmatic secularization was enacted and embodied in this period that is not acknowledged in academic research. At the same time, her rendering allows us to see secularization as a much more fragmented and fragile process than is generally imagined. Pre-empting a possible critique that this was a very limited form of secularization that did not permeate down to other parts of the state machinery, Chatterji then discusses the example of protocols agreed upon between police officers in the contested area of Kutch to show how elite decisions or decisions in one part of the system tend to travel elsewhere, albeit in precarious ways. The chapter highlights not just important limitations to assuming wide-ranging pervasiveness to nationalist and religious identities but also foregrounds the theoretical limitations of secularization theories. Secularization is often presented as a one-time event, a relatively permanent result of a linear trajectory to modernization that, once achieved, is hard to dislodge. Chatterji on the other hand, shows how secularization can also be a fleeting and fractured process: one that may permeate some aspects of life but not all and resonate in some contexts more strongly than in others. By highlighting the shared class background of these diplomats and civil servants, Chatterji also alerts us, implicitly, to the limitations of according religious tolerance a privileged position in contemporary discourse. The diplomats here hold aside their religious identities, but their ‘others’ are lower-class refugees and displaced migrants who crossed the newly formed borders of India. The glimpses that Chatterji provides in her chapter into the conversations during the Calcutta meeting are fascinating for the ways in which class interests and habitus seem to override religious and nationalist concerns. She is careful to insist that this can neither be seen outside the specific context nor as an aberration only, but as another space in which the partition of India played itself out.

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This is, nevertheless, as important a venue and these players as critical in understanding the future trajectories of the two countries and their relationship with each other as the many who lived the partition in much more tumultuous ways. A later and no less acrimonious separation – that of Bangladesh from Pakistan – haunts Samia Huq’s chapter about the Bangladesh state’s attempts at managing religion. She moves away from a focus on good versus bad secularism to explore Bangladesh’s aspirations to the secular through a look at the Islamic Foundation of Bangladesh, a semi-autonomous religious entity that describes its purpose as ‘research, publication and expansion of Allah’s one and only chosen complete code of life in order to enrich the lives of majority of the country’s population according to the beneficent stream brought by Islam’. She brings to the fore not just the transformations within the Islamic Foundation itself, but also the varied readings of Islam supported by the Bangladeshi state at different historical junctures. The inclusion of secularism as one of the pillars of the newly formed Bangladesh state in 1971 was operationalized through a vision of secularization that entailed the banning of religious parties. Not only was this politically useful for keeping the Jamaat-e-Islami out of the space of legitimate politics – after the treacherous role the party had played during Bangladesh’s war of independence, this was important for the new government led by Mujib-ur-Rehman – but it also allowed a transcendence beyond religion to Bangladeshi politics. At the same time, Huq invokes the writings and ideas of Abul Hashim, the one-time ideologue and head of the Islamic Foundation during Ayub’s era who espoused a modernist vision of Islam. Abul Hashim’s close association with the Ayub regime has tainted later readings of his role but Huq shows how his reading of Islam allowed for a more capacious understanding of the self, polity and religious duty. Huq’s innovative reading pays several kinds of dividends. First, this exploration of Abul Hashim’s thought is part of a growing body of academic literature on political thought from non-Western contexts that highlights the continuous and creative entanglement between contemporary Islamic thought and modernism over the last two centuries. Second, she sensitizes us to the compulsions created by a hermeneutic approach adopted by the state. The current version of the Islamic Foundation that garners much support from the Bangladeshi government, Huq argues, actually fosters a narrower conception of Islam and of the relationship of Muslims with non-Muslims. This is in spite of the fact that the party in government is committed to a version of secularism that espouses, at least at the level of rhetoric, rights for minorities and non-Muslims in the Muslim majority state. She argues that the Islamic Foundation supports a highly ritualistic definition of religion and cleaves

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too sharp a delineation between different kinds of religious practices. In contrast, Abul Hashim’s approach privileges ijtehad (carrying out independent interpretation of sharia, the term used for Islamic normative guidelines) and huquq-ul-Ibad (the rights of other human beings) over ritualistic practice. Third, this analysis allows us a comparison between two avowedly secular regimes in the region: one under General Ayub (when it was East Pakistan) and the other under Sheikh Hasina today. Rather than the usual comparisons between professedly secular or religious regimes, this allows us a glimpse into the permutations that are possible within the secular. Additionally, through her brief exposition of the thought of another intellectual and activist, Ahmed Soofa, Huq highlights a vision of Islamic tolerance that recognizes, and is in direct conversation with, the class divisions that define the political valence of different kinds of religious practices: the elite continue to claim one kind of religiosity, and the lower classes proclaim another. Neither gives up their claim to Islam and, thus, the constitutionally secular state of Bangladesh remains embroiled in defining which version of Islam is the correct one. The question of equality is central to Ambedkar’s thinking in Aishwary Kumar’s reading. Kumar articulates a sharp suspicion and critique of the Hindutva narrative that privileges Hinduism as the quintessential religion of tolerance. He is as uncomfortable with ‘the moralistic tone of a theological secularism’ as he is with a romanticized vision of indigenous tolerance that may depend upon ‘a Mauryan edict here and there . . . a Mughal farman.’ He argues that Ambedkar’s acute sensitivity to social inequality and to the ways in which social ties get subsumed in discourses of state secularism, led him to oppose nationalist secularism in a most profound manner. Ambedkar recognized the void of trust and faith that goes into making majoritarian secularism. He recognized also the dangers of constructing Hinduism as a religion that is not a religion: one where there is no one god, no one ritual and so on. It is in this “notness” that a quasi-transcendental unity is created between aggressive religious nationalists and secular critics of liturgical Hinduism. Kumar argues that this unity blurs the difference between India’s ‘political majority’ and the ‘communal majority’. Ambedkar’s critique, then, is not just one of pure religion but also a critique of specific critiques of religion. He questions a critique of religion that does not recognize the inequality legitimized by particular definitions of religion. In the Indian context, this inequality was and is upheld by subsuming of the Dalit identity into Hindu identity and the political majority that this creates. In Kumar’s reading then, Ambedkar is much more alive to questions of inequality that are baked into particular conceptions of political

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secularism and the definitions of religion that underpin them than both Nehru and Gandhi, the two prominent architects of Indian nationalist secularism. Jonathan Spencer’s contribution (Chapter 8) does something very rare in South Asian scholarship: he engages with the dynamics across several religious traditions rather than focusing on just one. Based on research in Sri Lanka, which has seen immense political violence structured around ethnic identities, Spencer provides an interesting insight into Muslim, Hindu and, to a lesser extent, Christian religious leadership in a context of war where one kind of minority identity, that of ethnic Tamils, is politically salient. Spencer explores the malleability in religious thought and practice while engaging with the institutional representatives of religious organizations – the priests and monks – as well as popular guides and informal community leaders in order to look at how they have tried to contain or manage the conflict within which they are enmeshed. His chapter is a valuable reminder that in many situations, institutional hierarchies offer useful resources for containing the spread of violence. At the same time, he also recognizes the role that informal religious healers can play in providing a different kind of public space that is open to multiple communities. Yet, he argues, there is an important difference in the role that these different types of religious leaders play: leaders involved in mediation owed their positions to strong hierarchical institutions, most obviously the Roman Catholic Church. Those institutions and their leaders, at other times, devoted a great deal of energy to shoring up the boundaries that kept religious and ethnic communities apart. Charismatic healers were less dependent on strong institutions, and they attracted followers from all religious communities. Both however, made contributions towards containing violence within society. Sri Lanka also offers an interesting contrast to Pakistan, India and Bangladesh in that the debate in the country is not about secularism. If anything, rather like traditionalist ulema (Islamic scholars) in these countries and the framers of the constitution in the USA, the fear among the dominant religious group, the Buddhist sangha leaders, is that politics will pollute and infuse religion. Thus, they are keen to keep some kind of a separation between the state and their institutions. Yet, the sangha also maintains a privileged position within the Sri Lankan public sphere. Spencer suggests that it is useful to shift our attention from attitude to practices or processes in much the same way as Walzer suggests that we make a difference between tolerance, the attitude, and toleration, the practice. So, too, with a shift from ‘secularism’ to ‘secularization’, our attention moves from a putative condition or ideology to a process or possibly a set of practices. Spencer’s chapter provides an insightful

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articulation of the value of focusing on secularization in grappling with the empirical details that continue to escape the confines of secularism or tolerance alone. He also sees this focus on secularization as a way to bring together the conversation between two immensely influential scholars of modern religion: Talal Asad and Jose Casanova. Spencer argues that moving beyond their rather inconclusive conversations about secularism and focusing on secularization instead allows us to think about potentially contradictory processes in all their messy details. The relationship between secularization and tolerance then might depend upon the vocabulary within each tradition and also on the structure and/or hierarchy within it as well as its relationship with the majority population – the last being an explicit acknowledgement of the role of mass democratic politics in contemporary religious life. In recent years, the scope of tolerance has been defined largely as the protection of religious minorities. Much of the debate has sidestepped the question of how a minority comes to be conceptualized as such. While some scholars focusing on other parts of the world are only now beginning to engage with this question (Mahmood, 2012), South Asian scholars, perhaps of necessity, had to think through some aspects of how and why minorities are formed as a result of the tremendous shock of partition and because of continuous tensions among religious communities. They had started to address the problem more explicitly in recent years (Adcock, 2014; Appadurai, 2006; Iqtidar, 2012; Kaviraj, 2010; Mufti, 1995; Tejani, 2008) to see how minorities emerge and how closely the process of minoritization is linked to democratic politics. Communities and individuals who may have imagined differences with their neighbours or more distant others on different axes were encouraged by politicians to think in terms of their majority or minority identities. This emphasis on quantification is part of an inherent thrust within democratic politics where the task of political entrepreneurs or politicians is the articulation and shaping of that majority or minority. In part, this is why aspects of human life and identity that were not seen as public in the past – identities such as sexual preference, gender and ethnicity or religion – became open to politicization through the construction of a majority presence, voice or opinion. Liberal discourses of tolerance require a conscious acknowledgement and celebration of the acts of forgiving or acceptance of difference. This emphasis on conscious acknowledgement has implications, not just for how these acts are perceived by those who are tolerated, but also for those who tolerate. Such self-consciousness appears to be a distinctive feature of liberal tolerance. On the other hand, practices of peaceful co-existence in South Asia seem to be, by and large, the result of other compulsions

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and rationales. Peaceful co-existence has often been the by-product rather than the sole raison d’être of various social arrangements, and often a victim of various political ones. Lacking that conscious language of tolerance but not the practice of co-existence, these countries have been designated as available for intervention by local and international powers. For almost two decades now, US policy makers have used the language of tolerance and minority rights to indicate gaps in the governance of various countries. Predominantly Muslim countries, in particular, have received much attention as part of a multipronged approach to curb Islamic militancy. In both Pakistan and Bangladesh, the relationship between tolerance, secularism and democracy has become complicated in a way that is not the case for India, Sri Lanka and Nepal. The relationship between tolerance, secularization and democratic politics has many areas of tension, and the contributions to this volume do not offer a singular vision of that relationship. They do open up the possibility that if secularization entails a re-imaging of religion as a distinct sphere of human life that has to be free of internal contradiction, then it does not necessarily also entail an increase in the resources for sustaining multiple forms of co-existence. At the same time, taking tolerance out of its liberal packaging allows us an insight into other possible sources of peaceful co-existence, particularly as socioeconomic equality and a multireligious habitus. That entails a genuine broadening of democracies – in popular, participatory directions beyond mere adult franchise and beyond the day of the election. Without a strengthening of larger democratic and egalitarian values, the future of peaceful coexistence cannot be ensured. The contributions here differ in their approaches in many respects. The authors bring diverse disciplinary concerns and points of view. Our purpose in bringing together this broad range of scholarship is to engage more critically with these notions rather than proposing a singular narrative. This is important not for arcane academic and theoretical debates – although we love them too!– but for important political purposes. Such an understanding will bear important implications for political projects that insist on safeguarding a plurality and equality of beliefs as well of unbelief. References Adcock, Cassie S. 2014. The Limits of Tolerance: Indian Secularism and the Politics of Religious Freedom. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Alavi, Hamza. 1988. ‘Pakistan and Islam: Ethnicity and ideology’ in Fred Halliday et al., eds. State and Ideology in Middle East and Pakistan. London: Macmillan Publishers: 64–112.

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Appadurai, Arjun. 2006. Fear of Small Numbers: An Essay on the Geography of Anger. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Ali, Kamran Asdar. 2011. ‘Communists in a Muslim land: Cultural debates in Pakistan’s early years’. Modern Asian Studies 45(3): 501–34. Asad, Talal. 1993. Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam. London: Johns Hopkins University Press. 2003. Formation of the Secular: Christianity, Islam and Modernity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Basu, Amrita. 2015. Violent Conjectures in Democratic India. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Bhargava, Rajeev, ed. 1998. Secularism and Its Critics. Delhi: Oxford University Press. 2010. The Promise of Indian Secularism. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Bhattia, Mohita. 2013. ‘Secularism and Secularisation’, Economic and Political Weekly, 48(50): 103–10. Brown, Callum. 2010. ‘Gendering secularisation: Locating women in the transformation of British Christianity in the 1960s’ in Ira Katznelson and Gareth Stedman Jones, eds. Religion and the Political Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Brown, Wendy. 2008. Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Bruce, Steve. 1996. Religion in the Modern World: From Cathedrals to Cults. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Casanova, Jose. 1994. Public Religion in Modern World. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Chatterjee, Partha. 1993. The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Post-Colonial Histories. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Comaroff, Jean. 1985. Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance: The Culture and History of a South African People. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Crepell, Ingrid. 2010. ‘Secularisation: Religion and the roots of innovation in the political sphere’ in Ira Katznelson and Gareth Stedman Jones, eds. Religion and the Political Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 23–46. Eisenstadt, Shmuel, N. 1999. Fundamentalism, Sectarianism and Revolution: The Jacobian Dimension of Modernity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Gilmartin, David. 1991. ‘Democracy, nationalism and the public: A speculation on colonial Muslim politics’, South Asia, XIV(1): 123–40. 1998. ‘A magnificent gift: Muslim nationalism and the election process in colonial Punjab’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 40(3) (July 1998): 415–36. Iqtidar, Humeira. 2011. Secularising Islamists? Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamaat-udDawa in Urban Pakistan. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. 2012. ‘Secularism and dilemmas of citizenship for the majority’, Citizenship Studies, 16(8): 1013–1028. 2016. ‘Tolerance in modern Islamic thought: Introduction’, ReOrient, 2(1) (Autumn): 5–11.

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Jalal, Ayesha. 1985. The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League, and the Demand for Pakistan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Kaviraj, Sudipta. 2010. ‘On thick and thin religion: Some critical reflections on secularization theory’ in Ira Katznelson and Gareth Stedman Jones, eds., Religion and The Political Imagination, Cambridge University Press: 336–356. Klausen, Jytte. 2010. ‘Europe’s uneasy marriage of secularism and Christianity since 1945 and the challenge of contemporary religious pluralism’ in Ira Katznelson and Gareth Stedman Jones, eds. Religion and the Political Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 314–336. Marshall, Ruth. 2007. Political Spiritualities: The Pentecostal Revolution in Nigeria. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Mahmood, Saba. 2012. ‘Religious freedom, the minority question, and geopolitics in the Middle East’. Comparative Studies in Society and History 54(2): 418–46. Marx, Anthony. 1998. Making Race and Nation: A Comparison of United States, South Africa and Brazil. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Masuzawa, Tomoko. 2005. The Invention of World Religions. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Mojahedi, Mohammed. 2016. ‘Is there toleration in Islam? Reframing a postIslamist question in a post-secular context’. ReOrient 2(1) (Autumn): 51–72. Moumtaz, Nada. 2018. ‘“Is the family Waqf a religious institution?” Charity, economy, and religion in French Mandate Lebanon’. Islamic Law and Society. 25: 37–77. Mufti, Amir. 1995. ‘Secularism and minority: Elements of a critique’. Social Text, 45 (Winter): 75–96. Pandey, Gyanendra. 2001. Remembering Partition: Violence, Nationalism and History in India, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Robinson, Frances. 1993. ‘Technology and religious change: Islam and the impact of print’. Modern Asian Studies, 27(1): 229–51. Ring, Laura. 2006. Zenana: Everyday Peace in a Karachi Apartment Building. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Rudolph, Susanne. 2005. ‘The imperialism of categories: Situating knowledge in a globalizing world’. APSA Presidential Address. Perspectives on Politics 3(March): 5–14. Sarkar, Sumit. 2002. Beyond Nationalist Frames: Postmodernism, Hindu Fundamentalism, History. Delhi: Permenant Black. 2000. ‘A prehistory of rights: The age of consent debate in colonial Bengal’. Feminist Studies, 26(3)(Autumn): 601–22. 2009. Rebels, Wives, Saints: Designing Selves and Nations in Colonial Times. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Tejani, Shabnam. 2008. Indian Secularism: A Social and Intellectual History, 1890-1950. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. van der Veer, Peter 2001. Imperial Encounters: Religion and Modernity in India and Britain, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

2

Languages of Secularity Sudipta Kaviraj Columbia University

Introduction This chapter is driven by two related concerns. The first and more obvious one is to take stock of the relatively recent debates about secularity in Indian social science. This debate was truly remarkable in several senses: it began a searching reexamination of Indian thinking at two levels – analyzing the historical trajectory of the relation between politics and religious life, and at another level, also an indirect reexamination of the way critical concepts like secularity, secularism, modernity and tradition were deployed in the discussions of Indian history. But it was also important in a second sense: it will not be an exaggeration to state that this was the first wave of a deep rethinking about religion and secularity in social sciences in general – with fundamental disquiet about their deployment in the Islamic world and in the Christian and post-Christian West. The debate was triggered by a general concern about what most observers saw as a deep transformation of the mental landscape working behind political institutions, which might, they thought at the time, shift the nature of these institutions themselves. This potential transformation of political thinking and practices required a new historical reckoning. By all standards, the Indian discussion was an immensely interesting churning of ideas and arguments at many levels. The arguments were intrinsically interesting in themselves. The debate as a whole showed a vitally significant truth about the nature of social theory: that theoretical evolution depends as much on purely intellectual elaboration of arguments as on concerns forcing themselves into the placid world of academic thinking from the historical world. Finally, it showed how the elaboration of social thought about a historical context like India inevitably leads to forms of argumentation that in one sense extend and in another move away from the established corpus of (Western) social theory. My second concern is more parochial. At the time when Indian thinking produced the most interesting original insights about the colonial side of modernity (I take it for granted that it is admitted that modernity 22

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produced two worlds at its metropolitan and colonial ends and not a single one spread from the center to the periphery as conventional modernization theory suggested.)1 it was characterized by the existence of a public sphere that was structured in a complex fashion, quite unlike the monolingual public sphere iconically captured in Habermas’s study.2 During the debates of the national movement, Indian society gave rise to a vibrant “public sphere” with a more complex construction, different in its structural features from nineteenth-century Europe. Unlike Europe, the Indian public sphere was marked by deep illiteracy, yet it enabled the relay of nationalist ideas to an uneducated peasantry that became deeply politically mobilized. This created a different balance between speech and writing and between discursive and visual circulation of ideas. More importantly, it was a public sphere of great diversity – vernacular public spheres were marked by intense activity and agitation and were more homogeneous, though truncated by uneven spread of literacy. Floating above them, as a first floor (as opposed to the ground floor on which vernacular was spoken) was another equally vibrant, uproariously contentious sphere of English discourse. Both the vernacular and the English spheres were extremely diverse, but they were marked by different kinds of diversity. This two-floor architecture of political communication existed since the middle of the nineteenth century until the mid 1960s. Both floors were noisy and argumentative, though the arguments at times were not identical. Not only the language but the constituents of these universes of discourse were distinct. In recent decades, these two public spheres have shown signs of drifting apart – though in some ways this process began after independence.

1

2

Indian authors have spent a decade making this critical point against the earlier academic conception of a homogeneous modernity – though I take Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay as the first intellectual in India to make this critical point with real intellectual force. Chattopadhyay was primarily a literary writer, and his characteristic way of putting it was to use humor at two levels. The main aesthetic form of his writing on this subject was, of course, caricature. However, that form suited his theme because what he saw in his lifeworld was all principles, structures and ideals of modernity turning into their caricatured, degraded doubles when they entered the world of colonialism. Literary caricature simply reflected and captured history’s caricatures. I think the main differences between earlier modernization theory and more recent theories of modernity rest on two points: first, the insistence of this double-ness of modernity leading to the conviction that it was futile to wait for the reenactment of the “real” modern in the colonial world, and, second, the related idea that modernity as it spreads leads to a plurality of trajectories and social constellations. Habermas, 1989. Habermas’s work has given rise to a vast literature, both in elaboration of its arguments and historical criticisms; Calhoun,1992. But those critical arguments refer to the European public sphere whose linguistic and sociological features were quite distinct from what we encounter in Indian history.

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The Nehru government inherited the two-tier communicative structure from the nationalist movement, but allowed it to degenerate into even more separate spheres through lack of vigilance.3 This was linked to other fundamental structural shifts in Indian culture, which are ignored by our social science. Significant changes occurred in education – the process through which individual cultural agents are formed and given intellectual competence. Although in colonial India formal education privileged English education as the high road to all opportunities, rising nationalism required elaboration and pride in vernacular cultures. Nationalist elites were generally bilingual in their cultural practice. Ironically, after independence, everyday cultural changes produced a predominantly monolingual, English-based elite who replaced their nationalist bilingual predecessors and saw India as their theatre of cultural action.4 Ranged against them were equally monolingual vernacular elites who carried on an increasingly intensive inward-looking discourse in their regional cultures, often intensely resentful of the English-using elite, and characterizing them as unpatriotic successors of colonial rule.5 With economic growth after 1991 and the opportunities offered by globalization – movement into the global middle-class economy – this bipolar structure has undergone further change. Oddly, the altered demand is not for a restitution of strong bilingual education, but for entry of all classes into the monolingual English educational culture. Lower classes do not want to alter the structure of cultural production; they simply want to be like the elite. This might be the most significant change in cultural politics in recent decades, and this is another reason why older Leftist radicalism has lost its resonance. As a consequence of these sociological changes, the question of the public sphere – the way we talk to each other – has been reopened. I want to make a point about the relation between the modern and premodern conceptual languages of secularity that is linked to the question of language. Historically, there were three distinct stages through which modern India fashioned a language in which questions of secularity could be thought. If secularity meant a culture divested of religiosity, secularity 3 4

5

I outlined the structure of this diglossia in “Writing, Speaking, Being” (1989), in Kaviraj, 2010. Before independence, an Indian meant someone who would have to speak some vernacular language in order to be an Indian; several decades later, sociologically, a new “Indian” elite existed. This elite was spatially highly mobile, did not have exclusive roots in any particular region and normally did not speak or write a vernacular language. The meaning of “who was an Indian” had shifted decisively. This stance is normally associated with politicians like Mulayam Singh Yadav or Lallu Prasad Yadav because of their colorful expressions of that view, but they represented an increasingly large segment of India’s influential democratic politicians.

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in its modern form was a strange, entirely unfamiliar idea for a culture that had, for centuries, thought through the category of dharma. How could a society and its culture deeply infused with religious ideas of the most plentiful kind come to have a language in which even the possibility of a world in which religion had no serious place could be conceived? Presumptions inherited from European social thought predispose us to think that this was an obvious, inevitable course of events; but it was not, unless we fall into the comfortable habit of treating European history as a prefiguration of all others. After all, development of secularist conceptions was an endogenous process within the European civilization, while in the colonial world it was not. The existing literature neglects the historical sociology of Indian secularity and the language that tracks its emergence. In this chapter, I want to deal with the last stage in the history of ideas regarding secularity in India. Even to understand the last and final stage of this intellectual history – the academic debate in social sciences from the 1990s – it is necessary to have a clear conception of the previous stages through which this language evolved. The central new idea in this evolution is the introduction of the conception of the secular in the narrow sense. Traditional social languages recognized the difference between the demands of religion and mundane pursuits of the world. Hindu thinking made a clear distinction between the life of the grhastha _ and of the sannyāsī. The underlying distinction is that the householder has to attend to requirements of mundane purusārthas – like artha and kāma, while the renouncer can pursue the life_ of dharmic principles untrammeled by other demands. In fact, that was why a person who had to follow the rules of religious life exclusively had to renounce the domestic world. Similar differences are implicit in the Islamic thinking about dīn and duniyā.6 In examining this history of ideas, we must register the disturbance and gradual destabilization of the cultural language that talked about religious issues. At least three separate linguistic modes were commonly used in premodern Indian culture immediately before the entry of Western influence. Two separate languages of religious thinking existed side by side in the Hindu and the Islamic orbits of thought, and a third mode should be more accurately called not a language but an idiom. On the Hindu side of this discursive public sphere, despite theological differences between Saivas, Vaisnavas, Saktas and other sects, there was a common use of languages of disputation drawn from Mīmāmsā, Advaita or Nyāya that constituted the underlying

6

For the Islamic side of this intellectual history, see Alam, 2004.

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unity of a field, rather than of languages, much less of doctrines.7 Although major philosophical-theological schools disagreed, disputed fundamental issues and often generated their own discrete internal “technical” vocabularies, their disputes presupposed a common intelligible language in which the disputes were conducted.8 Islamic religious thinking was carried out in similarly well-recognized linguistic terms and conventions. Dabistan-i Mazahib demonstrates a convention of religious disputes that is conducted not merely among Islamic sects, but also between them and the Jews and Christians.9 Between these two linguistic fields, on both sides, a third, accommodative form of thought had devised a terminology of exchange, often of mutual respect – through ideas like suhl I kul,10 or sarvadharmasamabhāva.11 But strictly speaking, this is semantics of religious experimentation, not of secularity, in its usual sense. This was still a language of religion, for religion, used by religious people. To have that accommodative disposition towards other religious paths required a deep but unusual interpretation of one’s own religious faith and those of others. This world was untouched by the possibility of a potential decline of religion. Authors who used these ideas would have found the idea of a world without religion incomprehensible.12 The major rupture between this earlier language and the modern language is the very conception of a social world, or significant parts of it that were totally independent of religious principles. Two Stages of the Intellectual History of Secularity We must record the initial complexity of the intellectual influences that accompanied colonial power. A major strand of thought that entered the Indian public sphere was associated with Christian missionary activity, which was religious but sought to undermine Indic religious doctrines. 7 8 9 10 11

12

An excellent analysis of how even the language was disputed between Saivas and Vaisnavas in seventeenth-century South India can be found in Elaine Fisher, 2017, An excellent compendium for premodern Hindu intellectual schools was the much-used compendium by Mādhavācārya, the Sarvadarśanasamgraha of the fourteenth century. _ Dabistan i-Mazahib, 1843. Dabistan-i Mazahib offers a classic exposition of this view from debates in Akbar’s court. A conventional example of this attitude can be found in a the work of P. V. Kane as an illustration of religious accommodation among the Hindu sects, but evidently, this text can also be read as a subtle presentation of a hierarchy (Fisher, 2017, 32). The typical Indian uses of the word “secular” in two senses – first, to refer to a nonreligious world, or nonreligious parts of the world, and second, to refer to those who advocate accommodation between religious doctrines and communities – is confusing from that point of view. For the distinction between these two senses in the Indian language of political debates that he describes as political and ethical secularism, see Bhargava, 2006: 636–655.

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Alongside Christian missionary ideas, however, modern educational culture introduced secular modes of thought.13 Even after the entry of Western influences through the twin instrumentalities of colonial power and missionary debates, the idea of secularity did not force a sudden intellectual rupture. It enters stealthily through small, initially unnoticed steps and through minor readjustments in arguments as debates about religious ideas grow in scope and intensity. Rammohun Roy’s fierce attacks on all conventional religions – Hindu, Muslim and Christian – was the essential first step in an intellectual evolution that spawned entirely unintended and uncontrollable consequences.14 Evidently, fierce Deist attacks on all established religions, though made on behalf of a position that was itself deeply religious, could have an eventual effect of undermining religious belief in general.15 It is true that Rammohan’s crusade was conducted against premodern religiosity from the point of view of a modernist rationalist religion.16 Precisely because of its ferocity, its comprehensiveness, its implacable hostility to a premodern religious ontology, this earliest Brahmo polemic produced complex unintended consequences. Arguments drawn from that corpus of thought led to at least two dissimilar points of arrival. By rejecting rituals, caste observance, and priestly mediation, it gave birth to a highly spiritualized, aesthetic religiosity best articulated by Rabindranath Tagore; on the other side, by a separate line of radical interpretation, it led to Bengali Marxist atheism. If an “immanent frame” was accepted,17 some were led to ask why did they need a god any more – either as a creator of the universe that could run itself on its own or as the central force of ethics when this could be found within human beings themselves. It was not hard to part with a god who had become so superfluous and noninterfering. This line of cultural development from a Deist conception of God to an acceptance of the immanent frame to eventual atheism was similar in its main outlines to the history of emergence of European secularity. This was the first crucial step in the development of a sense of the secular. About half a century after Rammohan, in evolving debates about the new Indian National Congress, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan added a second

13

14 15 16 17

The remarkably forceful initial impact of those ideas could be seen through the immense influence of Derozio, the charismatic Anglo-Indian teacher at Hindu College whose pupils formed the first “secular” groups of Bengali intellectuals. See Chaudhuri, 2008. As an illustration of both the nature of the arguments and the sparkle of the polemic, we can use Hay, 1963. For a description of how this happened in Europe, see Taylor, 2008. That it had the character of a crusade can be ascertained from the tone of the polemic which is grasped fully only in the vivacity of the vernacular. See, for instance, Hay, 1963. Using the term made influential by Taylor, 2008.

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essential dimension to the modern reflection on religion. In his criticism of orthodoxy, Syed Ahmed Khan was similar to Rammohan, and he offered a rationalistic translation of Islam, turning it into a religion that could be at home in modernity. But he saw a connection between emerging political forms and the social community of religion that was absent from earlier speculations on the future. Syed Ahmed Khan foresaw that political life was going to assume fundamentally different forms in which the numerical size of communities would become important. Muslims constituted a preexisting aristocracy in Mughal North India. But new political forms would make that status obsolete and introduce new representative institutions in which Muslims would face disadvantages. In his criticisms of the Indian National Congress, Syed Ahmed worried about what representative forms of modern politics, as opposed to the traditional politics of the aristocracy, would mean for his qaum, which his translators rendered as his “nation”.18 After his interventions, the question of the state and its relation to religious communities – the second context of the idea of secularity – became an irreducibly central concern of public life.19 By the 1880s, the two predominant concerns of modern secularity – decline in religious control over social life (ethical) and the state’s address to religious communities (political) cemented by interpellations generated by modern politics – had been sharply defined. Clearly, the task for Indian intellectuals was to fashion a new language in which these two primary concerns of modern religiosity could be examined. By the end of the nineteenth century in English, Urdu and the vernaculars, sufficient cognitive resources had developed to elaborate a range of positions regarding these two sets of issues. The first half of the twentieth century saw a vibrant, uproarious and eventually deeply fractious debate about the translation of modern social imaginaries into Indian history – leading in the end to partition, the creation of two significantly different state structures and, on the Indian side, the construction of a secular constitution for the state.20 This period is crucial for understanding both the strengths and vulnerabilities of Indian secularism as some of the most influential figures of modern Indian political thought – Gandhi, Tagore, Nehru and Ambedkar – joined 18 19

20

Of course, his picture of Muslims as aristocracy could be faulted; they were not exclusively an aristocracy. It will be seen here and throughout this chapter that I use Rajeev Bhargava’s distinction between the two sides of secularity – the ethical and the political – because it gives us a way of thinking clearly about the complex mass of issues involved in this field (Bhargava, 1998). For an excellent exposition of the principles underlying the constitutional design, see Bhargava, 2011.

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that historic discussion. That stage of the debate was dominated by those who were in favor of a secular state.21 The Originality of the Indian Debate End of colonial rule opened in three continents an immense field of political experimentation; the future direction of these polities remained uncertain. Generally, few nationalist leaders agreed with Gandhi’s powerful but idiosyncratic views on the question of religion and politics. He claimed that these societies were at a crucial historical point. Colonial modernity had not decisively restructured their social worlds: these societies were “on the cusp of” modernity, which meant, for him, these societies retained the historical option of following the Western path into the modern social forms or spurn it for a future more in tune with their own premodern social forms.22 Few, if any, nationalist leaders would have agreed with his assessment of the historical moment. Nearly all agreed rather with a vision Nehru expressed with force and clarity. He drew upon a strand of critique from thinkers like Bankimchandra,23 which said that the project of modernity was always cursed by an internal diremption: under colonial power, hopes of a genuine “British” rule – i.e., where forms of European modernity would be created in the colonies – were delusive. Colonialism could only produce “un-British rule”24 offering an always-degraded version of modernity. The real march towards modernity could begin only after colonialism ended. The historic opportunity, in the Nehruvian view, was not a turn towards some reconfiguration of the premodern, but a genuine surge towards authentic modernity. This Nehruvian vision implicitly made a distinction between the abstract ideals of modernity and their historically contingent realization in Europe, and degraded enactment in the colonies. Colonialism had soiled the ideals of the Enlightenment. 21

22

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24

That did not mean that the opposite point of view was not represented with force: Savarkar, Golwalkar, S. P. Mookerjee presented arguments that favored a radically different vision of freedom – based on a Hindu nation, a Hindu state and institutional dominance of the religious majority. I am indebted to my colleague Akeel Bilgrami for this insight – which he presented in cotaught courses. It is also important to remember that Gandhi’s thoughts on this question were inconsistent, complex and, at times, cryptic. It is hard to extract from his works an unambiguous blueprint for the future. To say Nehru was generally influenced by Bankim will be misleading, but there is no doubt that Bankim decisively broke with the ideological belief that colonialism created a replication of European modernity in the empires. To him, it undermined traditional cultures and established a caricatured, degraded form of the modern. Dadabhai Naoroji’s famous phrase.

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After independence, the modernist elite led by figures like Nehru, Ambedkar, P. C. Mahalanobis, evinced a strange dual attitude towards the high ideals of the Enlightenment, quite different from the way academics give their assent to social theories. On one level, modernist leaders accepted the demands of the European ideals directly, without qualification. To them, ideals of democracy, liberal equality, or socialism appeared as unproblematic, universal conceptions untainted by their European provenance. At the same time, to people like Nehru, to conceive of the high ideals of rationality, secularism or even socialism as “European” was misleading. These were intrinsically universalist human ideals that were generated by early modern European debates.25 In many ways, these ideals were not like theories: they could not be ascribed to individual authors but were complex figurations of ideas that were slowly elaborated by the combined efforts of thinkers and practical public actors.26 When they went about “applying” these principles or ideals as practical politicians, they necessarily had to submit to the logic of present historical conditions. The logic of their actions showed quite a different understanding of how these ideals could be made to work. Unfortunately, the constitution framers, like many nationalists, had a tendency to underrate the newness of their own institutional moves. Yet the actual constitution refused to follow any single Western model, despite claims that these systems constituted legal–rational wholes that could not be taken apart. The significant innovation lay not in any specific legal clause or particular provision but in the constitution’s general design. Western societies where modern constitutions were already functioning, and which served as the major sources and exemplars of constitutional thought, had undergone a prior historical process of individuation, and social habits in economic work or political association could assume a highly individualistic form of conduct. India was radically different; thus, a simple provision for equality of entry into the market economy – equality of opportunity in legal terms – was not enough. The constitutional design in India produced a major transfiguration of liberal political systems – crafting a set of legal rights of communities to various goods.27 Bhargava’s

25

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27

Many Indian thinkers used the concept “human” in expansive and interesting ways to support ideas of cosmopolitanism. One example is Tagore’s idea of a “religion of man”; see Tagore, 1961. This is a necessarily crude way of putting it; for a concise statement of the interconnectedness of these ideals, see Taylor, 2008. The concept of social imaginaries rather than theories has several advantages, but that is a separate discussion that cannot be taken up here. I use transfiguration in a literal meaning. From abstract general principles of liberal ideals Western societies evolved distinctive figures/figurations of political institutions.

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analysis of Indian state secularism – in the literal sense of taking apart the principles and discovering the rules of assemblage of the legal machinery – shows this vital truth by demonstrating that Indian state secularism was not an imitation of the French or the American design. Variations in institutional design arose not from a “failure” to follow these models but from a deliberate crafting of different rules to respond to a historically distinct situation. Against the conventional judgment that every divergence was a “failure,” this argument reevaluates them as deliberate acts of political craft and steps of innovation. It invites us to invert our optics about the relation between Western and Indian constitutional designs. Democracy and Secularism I shall reuse an argument from a general analysis of modernity I have offered before. The structure and texture of the modern in each society is determined, I argued in earlier work, by the sequence in which modern processes commenced.28 A major difference between Europe and India was that in Europe, institutions of state secularism emerged and entrenched themselves in the aftermath of religious civil wars long before the framing of democratic constitutions. Rules that formed the core of American and French secularity were devised and embedded in their political systems centuries before modern democracy was realized.29 Consequently, secularism as a state principle did not have to undergo a democratic test, though democracy is a powerful principle that can decide to rescind legal regimes established in the past. By contrast, in India, the constitution established universal suffrage democracy and state secularity through the same constitution, and, partly due to partition, secular principles were contentious from the start.30 A dominant strand of Muslim nationalism formed the state of Pakistan rejecting that principle, and a large segment of nationalists in India remained unreconciled to it.31 Unlike in Europe, the whole question of the secular state, simply because of the coincidence of the two principles in the constitution,

28 29 30

31

I want to stress that the framers of the constitution used identical principles but crafted a different figuration of institutions to match their circumstances. Kaviraj, 2005: 497–526. We should date the emergence of modern democracy unromantically after the 1930s and not accept confusing arguments that its origins lay in the Glorious Revolution. Though this is not the place to analyze that fascinating period of intellectual history, the Partition could be used in favor of arguments that were diametrically opposed: that with the Partition, state secularism in India became redundant or that state secularism became essential. Hindu nationalist writers like Golwalkar saw minority rights as illegitimate “privileges.” See Golwalkar, 1939.

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was implicitly subject to a democratic test. Ever since, this has been a question that can be reopened if Hindu nationalists get a sizable electoral presence. Given the circumstances, state secularity required not merely powerful justifications but also careful designing of institutional mechanisms.32 Ideas of state secularism ran into unexpected trouble after four decades. Political institutions can be forcefully justified by two distinct kinds of arguments. The first kind is philosophical, which defends institutions and the principles behind them as the best possible ones. Institutions are often defended by arguments of a second type, which could be called historical, as the justifications are not made in that unconditional form but by reference to specific historical circumstances, assumed, in the argument itself, to be transient. Some legal provisions in the Indian constitution clearly fell into the second category – indicated by constitutional locutions. Although Muslim personal law was allowed, the Directive Principles of State Policy exhorted the state to strive to introduce a uniform civil code.33 By contrast, protection for minority cultures and languages is justified not by historically transient but unconditional reasons. We can infer that the framers hoped that at some time in future, civil codes would be made uniform but the protections given to minorities would continue. Often in actual policies of the ruling Congress Party, these finer distinctions in the logic of constitutional provisions were ignored. Besides, exigencies of electoral politics led to indefinite continuation of some measures that were originally regarded as temporary. Decades later, Hindu nationalist opinion could focus on these shortcomings and level a charge of unfair treatment of the Hindu majority in their own land.34 Transformation of Hindu Nationalist Idiom However, I want to focus on a “linguistic” shift that underlay the new surge of Hindu nationalism from the mid-1980s usually unremarked in 32 33

34

For an excellent exposition of the innovativeness of Indian secularism and its structures of justification, see Bhargava, 2011. This showed that though the framers thought that philosophically a uniform code was justified, historical circumstances required that family laws of minority groups were not legally reformed. Some intellectuals believe that Nehru’s policies were misguided on this question; protection of traditional personal law militated against the interests of the more vulnerable sections inside the community and gave undue power to traditional intellectuals. On the other hand, Nehru should have taken a much stronger stand on the question of Urdu as a language of some of the Indian states. For a robust defense of the constitution and on the untenability of some of these charges, see Sen, 1998: 454–485.

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academic discussion. From the 1940s to the 1980s, Hindu nationalists asserted an openly antisecularist stance, claiming that, after partition, there was no case for a secular state in India; India ought to be a Hindu state, as Muslims have got “their” state in Pakistan. This line of reasoning ran from founding texts like Savarkar’s The Essentials of Hindutva to Jana Sangh’s everyday propaganda. Consistent with this position, it attacked the Congress Party for its policies and the constitution for its secular principles. A clearly antiliberal majoritarianism, its definition of democracy was an unrestricted rule of the majority community, with little defense for minorities and their rights. At the heart of this line was Golwalkar’s argument that protection of minorities under a liberal constitution was according them “privileges.” Its central political argument was that the Hindus were denied their legitimate right to rule as a putative majority and to stamp their cultural identity on the state. It is a different matter that this idea is full of solecisms: that the majorities relevant to democratic decisional processes are deliberative not identity majorities35 and that democracy is meaningless without guaranteed minority rights. What I wish to observe are not the theoretical faults in the normative ideas, but a significant historical shift in the theoretical basis of Hindu nationalist arguments. From the mid-1980s, the forces of Hindutva imperceptibly shifted the grounds on which they criticized the constitutional structure and the Congress Party as the primary instrumentality for its translation into policies. Explicit attacks on constitutional secularity were slowly faded out, replaced by a rearrangement of the geometry of party positions. The Congress Party was not seen any longer as a builder of a detested secular polity; it is no longer claimed that India should have been a mirror image of Pakistan – a Hindu state by constitutional proclamatation. The Congress was implicitly separated from the constitution, which was not directly attacked; rather, provisions like the directive principle urging a common civil code were deployed to claim that the Congress was really “pseudo-secular,” its policies travestied the liberal equality of all citizens. Clearly the implication was that a secular state was desirable only if it was administered by parties that followed its principles honestly. It is important to take note of this vast reconfiguration of Hindutva polemic because it is also an indirect admission that a direct attack on secular principles was perceived as counterproductive. This reveals a complex movement in Indian political culture. At exactly the time when Hindu nationalist forces began a renewed campaign to gain electoral dominance, it 35

This seems to me a crucial point, which has not been given due attention in Indian debates, even in the 1940s. For a fuller statement, see Ahmed and Kaviraj, 2018.

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acknowledged a failure of its earlier rhetorical strategy. Its change of strategy was linked to fundamental shift in the very structure of our political discourse – a slow, unacknowledged rise to dominance of the distinctive language of a political imaginary of liberalism. Liberal political ideology is fundamentally concerned with dignified treatment of all individuals and groups: “equal treatment” propels demands for dignity and an acute sensitivity against “discrimination.”36 Four decades of democratic politics resulted in a strange dissemination of basic liberal values. What was strange about it was that this political– moral imaginary of “good treatment” was not fiercely argued out by intellectuals in a literary public sphere. Ideas of nondiscrimination filtered down into everyday transactions of political life through legislative initiatives, mundane electoral campaigns and even through the murky politics of the everyday at state and local government levels – driven primarily by desire for elective political office, unaccompanied by high principles. Yet lower-caste politicians, regional political groups and neglected communities all spoke in the name of political equality and demanded the end of discrimination. More than the rationalistic power of political theoretical arguments, these ideas circulated and came to dominance in a practical form, as ordinary political agents learned to use them with fluency and efficacy in everyday political contests at less spectacular levels of the democratic public sphere. As all parties began to use these principles as a common currency of underlying arguments, this resulted in a deep entrenchment of these ideas, so much so that these liberal argumentative forms began to be taken for granted, working as a kind of Gramscian “common sense” of political discourse. Interestingly, two antiliberal strands of Indian politics – the Left and the Hindu nationalists – slowly reduced their hostility to these liberal ideals and also started to use them as a matter of course. In the last few decades, liberalism has won a significant unremarked victory over rival languages; even before liberalization began to transform the economy, Hindu nationalism sought a way of repositioning itself in this transforming discursive universe. It had to find ideas that could compete with the appeals of caste and regional solidarity – both of which spoke, characteristically, in the language of “fighting against discrimination” by dominant “others.” Formerly, the great cause was a revolutionary overthrow of an exploitative order, but with this stealthy but decisive victory of liberalism, 36

It is important to recognize the profound change in the language of our political universe: from the 1940s to the 1980s, the major trope in political discourse was exploitation/ oppression drawn from a socialist imaginary; since the 1980s, this has been replaced by the liberal sensitivity to discrimination.

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politicians rephrased their demands in terms of a fight against discrimination – against backward regions or against lower castes and untouchables.37 Indisputably, “discrimination” rather than “revolution” became the new currency of political discourse. This shift caused immense awkwardness for Hindu nationalism: for, in actuality, their “cause” was to turn government policy against the Muslim minority because in their strange perception of the world, a minority that had lost its traditional social leadership, treated with unremitting suspicion and educationally and economically deprived, still constituted a “threat” to the Hindu majority. As presenting India’s Muslims as a serious threat was entirely implausible, the only way of refurbishing the anti-Muslim argument was to side with the powerful popular endorsement of the idea of nondiscrimination. In the 1980s, Hindu nationalist ideology fashioned two complementary arguments – one relating to past injustice and another to present ones. Gradually, in a rearticulation of their hostility to the Muslim minority in India, Hindu nationalists began to argue that, just as Dalits and lower castes had a justified grievance against historical injustice against them, Hindus as a community could protest at least two types of unjust discrimination. Past Muslim rulers had destroyed temples, and justice required their restitution; but more urgently, a state exclusively solicitous about minority interests had treated them unfairly by practicing systematic discrimination against the majority community. After all, Hindus and Muslims were practitioners of different religions, and in the name of minority rights, allowing some privileges to Muslim and Christian institutions while denying them to the Hindus was unjust and discriminatory. Despite the real continuity of political ideology between the two stages of Hindu nationalism, we should not ignore this major discursive reshuffle. Hindu nationalists thought they had discovered a clever combination of identity politics and demand for justice, similar to the demands of lowercaste politics. Thus, their demands were not to be seen as antithetical to the logic of the claims of Dalit and lower-caste groups but parallel to them. If those arguments could be justified, so could theirs. They hoped to mobilize the power of liberal ideals to endorse their fundamentally illiberal project. The Academic Debate about Secularism It is not uncommon for academic analysis to trail behind actual occurrences – particularly when the cognitive objects are not historical events but processes. T. N. Madan’s 37

It is interesting how often the Marxist-led government of West Bengal criticized the Centre for discrimination against their state.

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remarkable lecture on the question of secularism startled academic opinion. It invited academics to recognize that the creeping crisis of the secular state also meant a parallel crisis of explanations.38 A powerful critique of the secularist “consensus” was articulated earlier by Ashis Nandy,39 but that could be ignored as idiosyncratic dissent from orthodoxy paradoxically because of Nandy’s taste for heterodox ideas. Madan’s essay stressed that it was not a dissenting intellectual’s criticism of an academic mainstream but a serious response to a gathering crisis in political life. The rise of the BJP to a position from where it could challenge the hegemony of a dominant Nehruvian pluralism forced academic observers to enquire into both the justifications of a secular state and the social ecology surrounding it to ask whether it could be sustained in the face a potential electoral challenge, which could put democracy and secularity in contention, and whether, from the point of view of political sociology, the secular state in its familiar form could survive.40 Madan’s answer to the first question, along with conventional secularists, was affirmative. Though his paper has been at times misinterpreted as providing support for Hindutva politics, in reality, it was concerned entirely with the second question of historical sociology – the political viability of a secular state in a deeply religious society. By connecting two aspects of secularity, Madan’s essay offered a powerful and plausible argument – viewing the historical process of secularization as a condition for state secularity, and both as dependent on a peculiarly Christian conceptual culture.41 First, unlike other religious traditions, Christianity goes through more thorough secularization in both senses because of the seventeenth-century scientific revolution and the rise of Protestantism. The second was rendered possible by the peculiar conceptual map internal to Christianity allowing a separation between the realms of God and of Caesar. Madan’s argument thus saw secularization as a process facilitated paradoxically by Christianity’s own

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T. N. Madan delivered “Secularism in Its Place” as a keynote address to the Fulbright program of the American Association of Asian Studies in Boston in 1987. It was remarkably prescient, as it diagnosed a deep malaise in Indian politics many years before this manifested itself in the first government led by the BJP. Nandy, 1995: 35–64. Similar cases of collapse of narrowly based secular states were seen in cases of Algeria and Turkey. Recently, similar comparative questions were asked in Walzer, 2015. Madan’s arguments are stated fully in his work, Locked Minds, but I am concerned here primarily with his widely noted essay, because of its immense impact. There are some similarities between Madan’s criticisms and later critiques of secularism by other scholars like Talal Asad: but these are limited to the point that Christianity has a distinction between two spheres internal to its vocabulary which was expanded by later developments of secularism.

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conceptual system, which meant, by implication, that it would be harder or impossible for other religious systems. The rise of secularity out of Christianity was not surprising, but it would be surprising if similar processes could happen elsewhere. This argument makes the secularization process unique to a single religious culture and historical constellation of circumstances. Despite its undoubted force, two aspects of this argument could be questioned.42 A first objection is historical, based on a different reading of the evolution of European secularity. European states devised secularist political arrangements in a second stage of their response to the challenge of disastrous religious conflict. In the first stage, European elites tried to settle the problem of religious difference by a system of treaties, which sought to create entirely monoreligious states that legislated serious disabilities and formal legal discrimination against minorities. For long periods, minority communities in Europe were forced to accept their subordinate status, but their existence remained a persistent problem. Forces of economic and social modernity drove European societies in the direction of more interaction and mixture rather than population purity. As the experiment was hard to sustain in the face of socioeconomic exigencies, which sustained minorities within these monoreligious states, the only rational alternative was to create a legal system that acted blind to religious differences of the subjects. Against a romanticized picture of European modernity, it is essential to note that these legal developments were very late, and inadequate.43 Undoubtedly, this practical impulse was assisted by the movement of ideas – the increasing philosophical dominance of liberal thinking on social questions. Madan’s position on the relation between secularity in its two senses – of state secularism as a legal doctrine and secularization as a historical process – is complex. Clearly, he recognizes the difference between these two ideas. His derivation of the idea of state secularism appears to be a trifle too intellectual, because he derived it from the preexisting conceptual distinction between the fields that belong to Caesar and to God. It is true that his argument requires some sociological casual trigger for Protestantism. After all, the conceptual distinction existed in preReformation Christian scriptures; there must have been some sociological process that utilized this conceptual binary and turned it into the practical regime of state secularism. A conditional connection between state secularism and the degree of secularization of culture is 42 43

I have presented these two objections in my short introduction to the section on the sociology of religion in Kaviraj, 1998. This is merely an expansion of those two points. For a discussion of this process, see Jones and Katznelson, 2011.

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asserted far more forcefully in Madan’s analysis of India. Madan’s doubts about the prospects of the secular state arise precisely from this strong analytical connection: it is hard to sustain the legal practices of state secularism in a society that is not secularized. Although the rhetorical and analytical force comes from the dual occurrence of the term “secular,” the semantics of the term in the two cases are clearly distinct. The first use refers to state secularism, and the second to societal secularization, roughly similar to what Bhargava separates as political and ethical secularism.44 In fact, the analytical force of this distinction lies in the fact that the moment this distinction is proposed, it allows us to see a difficulty in Madan’s powerful thesis. It also helps us perceive an important discrepancy between historical and social–theoretical arguments about Western modernity. Historical accounts of the rise of secularity faithfully describe the eventuation process through which the experiments of the secular states emerged. They clearly show that the institutional device of the secular state arose as a response to the intensity of religious wars. The first impulse of the owners of the astonishingly new mechanisms of disciplinary power, which were called absolutist states, was to make the religious question disappear by forcible religious homogenization of their populations. But this solution was illusory – for three reasons. (i) Despite all efforts to effect ethnic purification, small pockets of heterogeneous groups always remained inside these states; therefore, the question of just treatment still existed – though on a small scale. (ii) Usually, religious subgroups exist within the great religions, which could also demand separation using this homogenizing principle. (iii) Finally, there exist nonreligious communities within states, which could demand equal treatment on an analogical principle – i.e., demanding equal treatment exactly like warring religious groups. For liberal states, it becomes impossible to escape the threat of group conflict if they are based on a slope of rights rather than a level field. In the end, most European states recognized this fact and devised a legal system in which, although society remained deeply religious, the state formulated legal procedures according to which, when citizens faced the state, the state would treat them as if they did not have any religious identity. That was not a sociological fact but an essential legal pretense. The initial creation of secular states in Europe was thus a response not to secularization of culture but to the conflicts of a deeply religious society. There is another interesting side of the paradox. Contemporary Europe shows many liberal states with a formal established church, as in the United Kingdom. 44

“Roughly,” because Bhargava’s distinction is primarily a conceptual one, not related to questions of historical sociology.

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Historically, in these states, religion has declined as a determinative influence on everyday culture – with falling church attendance and general decline of religiosity. Interestingly, minority religious communities often complain about discrimination on other grounds but not directly against the state’s formal relation with an established church. With secularization of society, the formal absence of state secularism becomes a minor feature of institutional life. Madan’s understanding of the origin of state secularity then is based on a questionable reading of European history. State secularism was not caused by prior or attendant secularization of society. Once society became secularized, whether the state was secular or not became a relatively minor problem, allowing states to remain formally connected to particular faiths. Despite that criticism, which is about the reading of European history, Madan’s thesis about India still remains very forceful because the foregoing argument establishes only the normative appropriateness of a secular state in independent India. There is a sociological isomorphism between the European situation after the religious wars and India in the twentieth century. These were deeply religious societies threatened by conflict between politically mobilized religious communities. Our argument also needs to be clear about its own status. Madan bases the creation of the secular state on elements of intellectual history of Christianity; I suggest, on the contrary, that the relevant analytic considerations are historical–sociological. A particular configuration of social forces in Europe led to a crisis to which the invention of the secular state was an answer. After the bloody mobilizations of the partition, the sociological situation of India was structurally similar. The institution of a secular state was therefore normatively appropriate from the point of view of statecraft. But Madan’s sociological analysis still has great force. How a society will respond to the construction of state secularism is a contingent empirical question, and as we shall see, here Ashis Nandy’s argument comes into play.45 Madan’s critique of Nehruvian statecraft is based on the sociological discrepancy of a secular state foundering in a deeply religious society. His contrast between Nehru on one side and Lenin and Ataturk on the other, startling at first sight, becomes understandable on this premise.46 If a secular state can succeed only if a society is secularized, then it makes sense to say that the task of the same state is to follow policies that can accomplish this secularization as rapidly as possible to create the conditions of the success of this state from the very moment of its creation. Evidently, Lenin’s Soviet Union and Ataturk’s 45 46

Nandy, 1998: 321–344. For a paper with a more polemical title, see Nandy, 1995: 35–64. Madan, 1987.

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Turkey sought to implement this policy – with intense state coercion. By contrast, Nehru’s direction of the state appears indecisive and weak. The central point of the argument is that the political elites of the Soviet Union, Turkey and India followed similar elite projects with different degrees of political will. In this view, Nehru’s politics appears both elitist and feeble. The internal logic of the argument is consistent.47 Ashish Nandy’s analysis of the crisis of the secular state is commonly placed parallel to Madan’s, though, in fact, it is similar only in parts. One segment of his analysis is directly opposed to Madan’s. In his sociological analysis of the causes behind the difficulties of Indian state secularism, he entirely agrees with Madan. He, too, regards secularism as “a dream of a modernist minority”48 who acquired state power fortuitously through Nehru’s dominance and who believed that they had the intellectual power for remaking the masses.49 But Nandy’s understanding of the project of modernity is unusually complex: against conventional sociological theory, he regards both elite secularism and the irruptions of mass politics in favor of “communalism” as dual pathologies of modernity.50 He regards them as united in viewing the state as central to the life of society and being intent on its capture. They are different only in the uses to which they will put this power: in case of the secularists, to impose their atheism or agnosticism on ordinary religious people, in case of the religious militants, their majoritarian or communal imagination on the rest of society. In Nandy’s historical analytics, the divide between secularism and communalism is over-determined by the divide between the premodern and the modern. Modern conditions of history transform religion itself – from religion as faith to religion as ideology, utterly refiguring the structure of religiosity. Traditional religion was concerned with questions of cosmology and an ethical life; modern religion is concerned only with political power of the community through capture of the state apparatuses. Turning away from the first cluster of questions, modern religion focuses on the second cluster. In contrast to Madan, for Nandy, secularism has two forms: a modern, intellectual form in which its arguments are elaborated from fundamental premises of unbelief or agnosticism and from a skepticism drawn from modern science about 47

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Partha Chatterjee, however, argues in his paper, “Secularism and Tolerance,” that there is a fundamental difference between the Soviet and Turkish cases and India. The Nehruvian state was, in fact, ratifying a prior agreement for reform among the Hindu elites. So the cases are not historically comparable. For reasons of space, I cannot expand on this aspect of the debate. See Chatterjee, 1994: 1768–1777. Though this is Madan’s phrase.(Madan, 1987). Taylor views this as crucial to the processes of secularization in Europe. Nandy, 1998: 321–344.

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the very existence of God, in opposition to a premodern form, which begins its thinking from an unquestioned faith in God’s benevolent and permeating presence in the world. Additionally, modernist secularity wants to impose its imaginary on society by state action, which is seen as predominantly coercive. Traditional “secularity” – which Nandy prefers to call “religious tolerance” – is deeply religious and does not work through the state. It is likely that Madan would accept this way of viewing the question of secularity, given his theoretical predilections, but technically, if we read them in a literalist fashion, the difference between the two arguments is quite striking. Although they have a common critique of Nehruvian statecraft, which is somewhat unfair in my view (upon which I will expand later in this chapter), Madan’s analytics sees secularism as an exclusively modern project, and by implication, the great mass of common people with deep religious beliefs as alien to secularity. Nandy, by contrast, initiates the insightful distinction between the two aspects of religion – which subsequently many others picked up and inflected in their own ways51– that allows him to offer an astonishingly distinctive sociology of the politics of religious conflict. For Nandy, the difficulty about secularism is not the conflict between intolerant traditional religiosity and modernist rationalist tolerance; as a critic of modernity, he is totally unwilling to accept the self-images of the modern. He recognizes the basic separation of the premodern and the modern but refuses their binary characterization as productive of hostility and of tolerance. Rather provocatively, he redeploys this distinction in an inverted form; for modernists of all kinds, there are two objectives. Because they are all entirely convinced of the correctness of their own beliefs, they seek the comprehensive conversion of the whole society to those right dogmas – in an attempted replay of the success of European elites in remaking the masses in their own image. Since they believe that their beliefs are the right ones, the fact that others do not see them as right is not an ethically or cognitively troubling obstacle that should lead to self-examination; rather, there is something wrong with all those who fail to recognize the correctness of these manifest rational truths. Ordinary people are mired, in the incomparable marxist phrase, in false consciousness, a lack of understanding of what is good for them. Use of coercion against them thus appears an act for their own good.52 Just as by

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I have tried to develop an argument on thick and thin religion that draws on Nandy’s initial insight. See Kaviraj, 2013. There is a long and varied tradition of this argument in Western thought from Locke (ordinary people cannot reason, they must believe), to Rousseau (they must be forced to be free) to Marx (false consciousness).

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conversion, the followers of true faith rescue unbelievers from damnation, modernists save the “unintelligenstia” from themselves. They are altruistic, as the elite give the ignorant free use of their own enlightenment. With appropriate variations, Nandy suggests, this is the common structure of reasoning shared by the secular and religious modernists53. There can be two readings of what Nandy implies about premodernists, “traditional” people in his language. It appears from his suggestion that all traditionalists harbor a fundamentally tolerant, accommodative view of religious life. This would be an untenable opinion in the teeth of ample historical evidence that traditional people did not lack the spirit of hostility or vengeance.54 It will be better for the argument, if not for a textual understanding of Nandy’s essay, to read it as a slightly more nuanced claim: traditional religion is usually concerned with the cluster of ethical–ideal questions and broadly interprets them in an accommodative manner to live adjacently to other religions. Notably, Nandy did not explicitly connect his modern/traditional distinction with two linguistic spheres: the vernacular to the traditional, and the English to the modernist. Academic analysis of secularity and its discontents has been significantly advanced by Nandy and Madan’s interventions by forcing adherents of simple secularist evolutionary paradigms toward far greater complexity. They forced the academic community to acknowledge that the rise of Hindu nationalism was not a matter of mere fluctuation of everyday electoral politics but a crisis of Indian secularity. Therefore, it required a new analysis of Indian secularity and its problems, and this, in turn, required a new analytics of secularization theory. Evidently, they tried to supply the sociological analysis and theoretical analytics in different – but perhaps complementary – ways. Madan challenged the general belief that Indian secularist institutions were secure and all they required to succeed was simply governmental will. His work offered a sharply argued thesis that set up a concomitance if not conditional dependence between social secularization and success of state secularism; and it challenged Indian political pieties by suggesting that, since secularism was the dream of a small, Westernized minority, there was 53

54

The fact that such ideas can be found in Locke, Rousseau and Marx – i.e., liberal, antiliberal and socialist thinkers – actually shows how widely these ideas are held in the tradition of modernist thought. In medieval India, for instance, opposed to tendencies represented by Abul Fazl and Akbar, there are less accommodative trends offered by the historian Badayuni and more hostile strands like Sirhindi. Similarly, Bhakti devotional forms were not the only form of Hindu religious practice; conventional Brahminical sects practiced a form of Hindu faith that was not tolerant towards other religious paths.

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something intrinsically undemocratic in its project. This was an unsettling, unorthodox and original claim that admitted an uncomfortable possibility of conflict between the operation of democracy and secularism. Ashis Nandy’s challenge to social science orthodoxy was also radical, consisting of a series of inversions of individual articles of Weberian faith. First, he broke with the evolutionist orthodoxy that, in time, all societies must become secularized, but more significantly that modern secularists were exclusively tolerant people, and intolerant aggression came from atavistic traditionalists. Innovatively extending arguments from the Frankfurt School,55 which saw a deep connection between instrumental rationality and projects of domination, he viewed the modernist governing groups, exactly as Madan viewed them, as a small elite, alienated from the belief culture of their own people but adept at the capture of the state apparatus, intolerant imposers of their political imaginary on a suppressed populace who felt insulted and who reacted through fundamentalism and militancy, answering modern state power with another, equally modern version of power. Though Nandy did not directly elaborate his ideas in this direction, it had a clear implication that replacement of the modernist secular elites by religious fundamentalists would replace one form of domination by another. Crucially, in his view, religious fundamentalists were also entirely hostile to older religion ‘as faith’. Fundamentalists were not articulating the natural voice of popular religion but intending to impose their own modern conception of religiosity on the vast majority of ordinary believers.56 A second, more surprising element of Nandy’s thought was his claim that the extent to which Indian society enjoyed religious peace was due to deep irenic influences coming out of traditional religiosity. This was not only a repudiation of the Weberian thesis on secularization but also a deeper invitation to a new analytics of religion and social power. Since it rejected the picture of modern evolution towards secular tolerance, replaced it with a contrary picture of the rise of an intolerant disciplinary state with new techniques of disapproval and control and explained religious peace by the continuity of religious traditions, it implicitly put the responsibility of further research on social scientists. Nandy’s radical hypothesis forced social scientists to respond to it in two ways: to examine if this hypothesis was true; and if it was – i.e., if social peace was a result of traditional tolerance nestled inside culture rather than the legal prohibitions of state 55 56

In some ways, the most profound influence that can be detected in Nandy’s reflections come from The Dialectic of the Enlightenment. It is perverse, therefore, to think of his argument as giving solace to Hindu nationalists. Sensitive to this point, Hindu nationalists have treated Nandy with hostility.

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secularism – to explore what ideas Indian religious traditions contained.57 This was a radical demand for postcolonial analytics of religious life and modern states. Nandy is, thus, rightly seen as a notable figure in the origins of postcolonial thinking. Several interesting and theoretically substantial interventions were elicited by the Madan–Nandy discussion in the 1990s. I shall focus briefly on Rajeev Bhargava’s contribution because this will facilitate the introduction of a critical argument. Bhargava’s central contribution was in showing that Indian debates about secularity got confused because of the conceptual coverage of the term “secular” included two entirely different sets of issues.58 Secularism meant, in one context, a structure of beliefs that involved the derivation of the fundamental bases of moral conduct from human sources, not from the divine, which he called ethical secularism. By contrast, the principles through which political authorities sought to produce mutual accommodation between potentially hostile religious communities were called political secularism. Once this distinction was in place, it became easy to parse some of the confusing peculiarities of the Indian use of the secularist vocabulary: for instance, calling Gandhi and Nehru both “secular” politicians. To outsiders, calling Gandhi a secular leader seems particularly perplexing. Bhargava’s distinction served to show that they were “secular” in profoundly different senses, which should be kept apart. This also enabled criticisms against some of the large generalizations implicit in both Nandy and Madan’s positions. First, it could be asserted forcefully that ethical secularity was not a precondition for the search for political secularism. Gandhi was the greatest force for political secularism without coming anywhere near ethical secularity, i.e., acceptance of an atheistic or agnostic basis of morals. Deep religiosity was no obstacle to the pursuit of accommodation between communities. But it could also guard against the excessively simple binary between modern–intolerant and traditional–tolerant in Nandy’s vision, just as this could open up a necessary and politically critical distinction – disallowed by more extreme secularists – between the communal and the religious. Nothing stood in the way of modern secularists accepting that religious belief itself was not a catalyst for 57

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On this matter, there is an obvious disconnect between the persistent presentism of social science research and the demand for historical analysis of religious traditions. Claims about both intolerance and tolerance of traditional thinking tend to be abstract and general – with little attention to sects, texts, thinkers or specific propositions. Social scientists usually trade in generalities – like the belief that Hinduism is a tolerant religion or the contrary one that it is oppressive or that Sufi and Bhakti devotion encourage universal brotherhood. I called these, following him, two clusters of questions.

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invariable fanaticism. Ordinary religious people in their everyday life followed generally irenic principles towards groups of other faith. True, Bhargava’s analysis was predominantly conceptual and intended to produce normative considerations for examining secularity, not sociological or historical trends. Yet it introduced a major clarification that allowed us to think clearly about the more obscure corners of the debate. By separating ethical secularism from political secularism, it clarified the apparently odd agreement between Gandhi and Nehru: despite divergent opinions on the question of ethical secularity, they had entirely similar views on political secularism. It allowed a criticism of Madan’s thesis that a small caucus of militant ethical secularists alone pursued the imposition of their views on a reluctant religious society by the power of the state – which made Nehru appear much closer to Ataturk than he really was. It showed that ends of political secularism could be the pursued by those who believed in ethical secularity and those who did not. Most significantly, it radically reinterpreted the historical achievements of Nehruvian secularism. Instead of every difference between Indian and Western secular arrangements showing a deficit, it helped us see these as historical innovations and adjustments. Bhargava suggested, against Madan, that what the Nehruvian state sought to achieve was a state of affairs radically different from the objectives of Soviet and Turkish secularists. While they really sought to impose ethical secularity as a precondition for political secularism, the objectives of Nehruvian statecraft were more limited: instead of advocating an equal hostility to all existing religious doctrines, it really practiced a policy of “equal respect” but interpreted it not as unconditional distance from religious affairs but a “principled” one.59 59

The decision of the Indian political elites to seriously reform Hindu family law while leaving Muslim personal law untouched is a complex analytical case. Bhargava calls their stance “principled” distance clearly to differentiate it from the equidistance demanded by American practice of a wall of separation. Both supporters and critics of the Nehruvian regime noted the asymmetry in treating the religious communities separately and noted that they were not treated equally. Bhargava’s argument is that the state intervened in religious practices when it believed such action was required in the interest of nonsubjection. That creates a difficulty. It is clear that the political leaders treated castes in that fashion and saw it as central to Hindu religion; abolishing untouchability, therefore, applied only to Hinduism, not other religious groups. Sociologically, however, caste segregation and caste-based discrimination are fairly widely practiced phenomena, which led to complaints from Muslim and Christian groups that their disadvantage was not addressed due to this restriction. On the status of women, it is hard to argue that changes in Hindu law and noninterference in Muslim practices were based on this criterion unless it is claimed that Hindu codes are discriminatory and Islamic codes are not. However, there was a principle involved, though it was a different one. It was based on a historical circumstantial judgment that, given the sensitivity of Muslims after Partition, their personal laws should not be reformed until later.

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I wish to add to this continuing discussion two propositions about the academic debate. The first is that the picture of initiatives of the Nehruvian state presented in Madan’s work – and, to a lesser extent, Nandy’s – are one sided and misleading. Upon initial review of their written works, there is little difference between Ataturk and Nehru except a feebleness of political will; the political techniques by which both Ataturk and Nehru wanted to create a secular state were identical. A relatively small, highly Westernized political elite whose ideas and ideals did not coincide with what the mass of the ordinary population believed sought to use the overwhelming power of the modern state to impose a secularist order.60 More detailed inspection reveals significant differences between the two cases: actually, the casual reference to Turkey shows the difficulties with Madan’s reading of Nehru’s secularist project. There are some similarities between India and Turkey on the first issue: modernist secularity, which assumed that historically religion would inevitably decline and which sought to base institutions on secular principles, was an ideal of a small elite whom Nehru represented. After the deaths of Gandhi and Patel, this elite, under Nehru’s leadership, had an opportunity to shape the nature of society through a secular constitutional order. The techniques deployed to establish this secular order were quite different: the Turkish elite used much greater coercion and the modern state’s unanswerable power; in the Indian case, Nehru depended on the democratic process to try to persuade ordinary people in favor of a secular order. The distinction can be seen as one between democracy and its absence rather than between feebleness and determination. On matters like rebuilding the Somnath temple, which, under the circumstances, was less a reconstruction of a Hindu temple than a reminder of Muslim destruction, Nehru engaged in a forceful debate with figures like Rajendra Prasad and K. M. Munshi – using the force of arguments rather than the power of the state.61 A second interesting feature of this discussion is the peculiar similarity between the views of Nandy and hard secularists on one point. Hard secularists would not deny the immensity of the task of secularization of society; they would simply view popular religious beliefs as “false consciousness” from which the “masses” should be forced to be free. Both views tend to draw a line between the entirety of traditional and modern 60

61

I am indebted to conversations with my colleagues, Alfred Stepan and Karen Barkey, about the Indian and Turkish cases of secularism. Some of these differences were not clear to me earlier. Some of these comparisons are pursued in the book from a conference on democracy and religious pluralism (Columbia University, Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life, February 2016). Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Series 2, Volume 16, i, pp. 603–12.

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segments of society and think of the world of beliefs of these two segments as entirely homogeneous. Consequently, the hard secularists – of both the Marxist and non-Marxist variety – think that the ideas of the masses living under false religious consciousness have to be overcome. Antisecularists like Nandy accept that sociological picture and fear precisely that secularist reforms will be imposed on a reluctant religious people by the alienated elite. The same set of ideas and ideals are regarded by Leftists as emancipation, and by Nandy as alienation. Bhargava’s criticisms make for a more complex and less homogeneous understanding of the two sides. This opens up the path to insert a possible new argument in the entire debate. Discussions about secularity invariably mix philosophical with sociological considerations. By absolutizing the binary between the traditional and the modern, the Nandy-Madan thesis obscures some important transversal connections that can be and were established between these two spheres. If we follow the logic of Nandy’s line of thinking, the collaboration between Nehru and Gandhi becomes inexplicable in any principled sense; it can be seen only as either sentimental affection62, or opportunistic alliance. However, in fact, it is quite possible to see how two lines of reasoning starting from strictly traditional and strictly modern premises can converge on crucial questions of practice. Tagore’s famous novel Gora offers an example of such convergence, which has not been sufficiently analyzed from this angle.63 But in historical fact, Nehru and Gandhi came to identical conclusions from a religious and an entirely secularist position: they were both opposed to the creation of states based on religious identity and they both believed not merely that historically religious communities have lived in social peace but also that constitutional legal construction based on such principles was both desirable and possible. Such possibilities of convergence between arguments produced through quite different languages is 62 63

In fact, some of their correspondence gives credence to this construction. In that novel, two entirely antipodal characters, a highly educated professional Brahmo man and an uneducated traditional Hindu woman, are able to take a calm and accommodationist view in the middle of all the hostile excitement of religious conflict. Tagore’s narrative shows – of course, diegetically – that it is possible for individuals who inhabit and think through traditional and modernist “languages” to craft decisional positions that are nearly identical, though working in quite different alphabets. Implicitly, Tagore stresses what I have called the alphabetic or “structural” quality of these languages. His story shows that neither Hinduism nor Brahmo religion constituted solidly homogeneous doctrines but structures of thinking that could be inflected in different directions by individual intellectual proclivity and experience. It seems to me that this is a narrative instantiation of Tagore’s larger philosophical views about an underlying connection between all religions, which he called in one of his works, manusher dharma, “the religion of man” (Tagore, 1961).

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significant not merely for understanding the problem of secularity, but other reasons as well. For instance, on the critically important questions of ecology, we can observe similar convergence between religious ideas about our connectedness to nature and scientific reminders about the limits of industrial extraction of resources. Without this understanding that traditional and modern languages can produce unexpected convergence, it would be hard to explain the actual history of the modern world. References Ahmed, Hilal and Sudipta Kaviraj. “Indian Democracy and the World’s Largest Muslim Minority”, in Alfred Stepan, ed., Democratic Transition in the Muslim World, New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2018, 201–226. Alam, Muzaffar. The Languages of Political Islam, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2004. Bagchi, Jasodhara. “Representing Nationalism Ideology of Motherhood in Colonial Bengal,” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 25, No. 42–43, 1990: 65–71. Bhargava, Rajeev. ed., Secularism and Its Critics, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998. “Political Secularism,” in Oxford Handbook of Political Theory, edited by John S. Dryzek, Bonnie Honig and Anne Phillips, Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2006, 636–655. The Promise of India’s Secular Democracy, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2011. Calhoun, Craig. ed. Habermas and the Public Sphere, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992. Chatterjee, Partha. “Secularism and Toleration,” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 29, No. 28, 1994: 1768–1777. Chaudhuri, Rosinka. ed. Derozio, Poet of India: The Definitive Edition, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008. Dabistan-i Mazahib, translated by David Shea and Anthony Troyer, London: Allen and Co., 1843. Fisher, Elaine. Hindu Pluralism: Religion and the Public Sphere in Early Modern South India, Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2017. Golwalkar, M. S. We or Our Nationhood Explained, Nagpur: Bharat Publications, 1939. Habermas, Jurgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, translated by Thomas Burger, Cambridge, MA.; MIT Press, 1989. Hay, Stephen, ed. Dialogue between a Theist and Idolater: Brahma Pauttalik Samvad, Calcutta: Mukhopadhyay, 1963. Stedman Jones, Gareth and Ira Katznelson, eds. Religion and the Political Imagination, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

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Kaviraj, Sudipta, ed. Politics in India, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998. “Outline of a Revisionist Theory of Modernity”, European Journal of Sociology, Vol. 46, No. 3, 2005: 497–526. The Imaginary Institution of India: Politics and Ideas, New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2010. Madan, T. N. “Secularism in Its Place,” keynote address to the Fulbright program of the American Association of Asian Studies, 1987, Boston, MA. Modern Myths, Locked Minds: Secularism and Fundamentalism in India: Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009. Nehru, Jawaharlal. Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Second Series, ed. S. Gopal et. al., New Delhi: Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, 1984. Nandy, Ashis. “An Anti-Secularist Manifesto,” India International Centre Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 1, 1995: 35–64. “The Politics of Secularism and the Recovery of Religious Tolerance,” in Secularism and Its Critics, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998, 321–344. Sen, Amartya. “Secularism and Its Discontents,” in Rajeev Bhargava (ed.) Secularism and Its Critics, New Delhi; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, 454–485. Tagore, Rabindranath. Religion of Man, London: Unwin Bks., 1961. Taylor, Charles. Modern Social Imaginaries, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008. A Secular Age, Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 2008. Tododov, Tsvetan. The Poetics of Prose, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977. Walzer, Michael. Paradox of Liberation, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.

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Secularization of Politics: Muslim Nationalism and Sectarian Conflict in South Asia Sadia Saeed1 University of San Francisco

Casting doubts on traditional claims of secularization qua modernization theory, religion remains alive and well in public and political spheres across modern societies.2 From grassroots Islamist movements to Catholic liberation theology, from violent acts of militancy undertaken in the name of religion to New Age spiritual movements, the world we witness today is undergoing an urgent search for new answers to old questions about if and how religious norms ought to govern individuals, communities and polities. Issues pertaining to the relationship between religion and state have become more contentious in countries as diverse as France, India, Indonesia and Egypt, to name a few. These realities have prompted scholars to propose different sets of questions: How do we theorize the present moment? Has secularization failed in much of the world, was the world never secular, or are we witnessing a postsecular moment? This line of inquiry has resulted in the crystallization of new approaches that have questioned some of the core hypotheses of older, and arguably cruder, versions of secularization theory that posited a decline in the influence of religion with increasing modernization (Berger 1999; Casanova 1994). An increasing number of scholars are also focusing on the historical evolution of categories of religion, secular, secularism and secularization (e.g., Agrama 2012; Asad 1993, 2003; Gauchet 1999; Masuzawa 2005; Taylor 2007). As a result of these interventions, there is now a more sustained engagement with institutional, 1

2

A shorter version of this chapter was published in Economic and Political Weekly [48(50): 62–70] as part of a special issue “Rethinking Secularisation in South Asia,” edited by Humeira Iqtidar and Tanika Sarkar. Here, I extend the analysis by drawing on my forthcoming book Politics of Desecularization: Law and the Minority Question in Pakistan (New York: Cambridge University Press). For classical statements on secularization thesis, see Berger (1967), Comte (1988 [1858]: 149–180) and Martin (1978).

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political, social, cultural and legal processes through which novel notions and practices pertaining to religion and secularism have emerged and become embedded in individual lives, societies, polities and intellectual traditions. A consensus has emerged that not only the United States and Europe but also non-Western national cases, of which India and Turkey are prominent examples, have something to contribute to our understandings about political secularism, both empirically and normatively.3 With respect to secularization processes, however, our scholarly understandings remain indebted to scholars of religion, primarily sociologists, who work in Western Europe and United States. The New Secularization Theory, if it may be called that, holds that the defining feature of modern secularization processes is the institutional differentiation of society into distinct social or “value” spheres such as religion, politics, economy and education.4 Secularization entails the emergence of “religion” as one differentiated social sphere among many others at the same time as these spheres are rendered autonomous from religious authorities (Chaves 2004). For example, Jose Casanova distinguishes between three propositions within classical secularization theory – secularization as religious decline, secularization as differentiation and secularization as privatization (Casanova 1994: 7). Casanova argues that only the differentiation dimension, which posits the functional differentiation and emancipation of social realms such as state, economy and science from the religious sphere, holds up to critical scrutiny. In a similar vein, Philip S. Gorski argues that the common core of numerous theories of secularization processes is “what might be called the differentiation thesis: They all argue that religious and non-religious institutions have become increasingly differentiated over time, at least in the modern West” (Gorski 2000: 140). This chapter deploys this conceptual understanding of modern secularization processes – that is, of secularization as differentiation – as a point of departure to pose the following question: how has the emergence of a modern and historically novel sphere of mass democratic politics produced distinct imperatives associated with public religion in colonial India and postcolonial Pakistan? In posing the question thus, this chapter pays heed to Talal Asad’s important argument that secularism is not a neutral political ideology but an element of modern “statecraft” through which “the secular” and “the religious” emerge as mutually constitutive categories that are managed by the modern nation-state to “mediate people’s identities, help shape their sensibilities, and guarantee their 3 4

On Turkey, see Göle (1996). On India, see Bhargava (1999). On Pakistan, see Iqtidar (2011). For Max Weber’s classical account of these different “value spheres,” see Weber (1958).

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experiences” (Asad 2003: 3, 14). At the same time, it qualifies the powers of the modern state to define the boundaries of secular and religious realms by highlighting the role of democratic politics. In this vein, I examine how sensibilities and institutional practices associated with democratic politics shape official ideologies and practices pertaining to state-religion relations. I understand democratic politics as primarily underpinned by secular reason that posits that the end of politics is political participation so that modern citizen-subjects can have a say in their own governance through their chosen representatives. Unlike Western liberal democracies, however, overtly religious sensibilities, discourses and claims routinely crop up in politics in South Asia. In other words, the democratic sensibility that “the people have a voice” exists alongside another equally powerful and politically significant idea that “the people have a religion.” This manifests in a highly uneven, fragmented and contentious public sphere wherein “languages of secularity” (see Kaviraj, Chapter 2 in this volume) contend with a host of others that are opposed to political secularism. In South Asia, political, cultural and symbolic struggles among proponents of these different languages have foundationally shaped the texture of mass democratic politics. Furthermore, outcomes of these struggles across time have shaped broader trajectories of religious change, including both secularization and desecularization. In deploying the term “desecularization,” I do not mean to suggest that secularization processes are reversible in the sense of restoring a bygone enchanted world.5 Nor is it my suggestion that the two are empirically discrete processes representing distinct historical phases. I argue that both are products of a world that is differentiated into multiple, relatively autonomous institutional spheres that are mutually constituted and governed through the sovereign and disciplinary powers of modern nation-states.6 The present chapter is motivated by a need to account for this trajectory of desecularization by situating it as a thoroughly modern political phenomenon that is crucially tethered to democratic politics. Desecularization is an instituted process, typically centered around the state, and entails specific actors, interests, practices and discourses through which the political importance of religion is reflected, reformed and transformed over time. Desecularization is neither reducible to “essential” features of religion nor to always–already present religious 5

6

While I agree that the etymology of the term suggests a reversal, I adopt it because of the lack of a better term. I hope my conceptualization will trump the awkwardness of the nomenclature. Asad (2003); Gorski (2003).

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zeal. Consequently, it is never inevitable and cannot be analyzed through teleological frames. It is a manifestation of central modern imperatives of state formation – defining, rationalizing and containing religion – in one set of societies in which citizens hold convictions about significance of religion in shaping political, institutional life. This imperative, and concomitant shifts in political and religious imaginaries, is not only visible in societies undergoing secularization (Iqtidar 2011) but also those undergoing desecularization. In other words, both state secularization and desecularization are political processes that relationally link particular conceptions of religion with state and politics. Desecularization, however, connotes processes that emerge when social actors seek to efface the perceived distance between “religious” and “secular” domains. Through a focus on Muslim historical experience in South Asia, I explore how democratic politics have constituted new imperatives and norms associated with management of “sectarian” religious differences among Muslims. I draw on my previous and forthcoming work on the relationship between the controversial Ahmadiyya movement and Muslim/Pakistani nationalism in colonial India and postcolonial Pakistan to argue that the origins of sectarian politics in Pakistan can be traced to the emergence of an institutional system of mass democratic politics that was underwritten by formal political representation on the basis of religious community under colonial rule. The secularizing colonial state laid the foundations of a public arena in which questions about religious authenticity and the boundaries of the Indian Muslim community became entrenched as political issues requiring formal action by colonial state authorities and Muslim political leadership. Although the system of formal political representation on the basis of religious community was effectively dismantled with the creation of the Muslim nation-state of Pakistan, concerns about authenticity and “protection” of religious sentiments of Muslims have continued to animate public discussions, official policies and legal discourses, ultimately defining a broader trajectory of religious change that I characterize as desecularization. Consequently, constitutional politics in Pakistan has increasingly drifted away from diffusing the excesses of majoritarianism,7 on grounds that it is antithetical to democracy, to accommodating it as a form of democratic politics.

7

I define majoritarianism as the impulse towards making political claims and defining public policies in the name of the “majority.” This understanding of majoritarianism as political discourse is conceptually distinct from concrete majoritarian practices where the representatives of a self-defined majority undertake political acts (e.g., through voting) to counter “minority” claims.

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Democratic Politics and Muslim Sectarian Conflicts in Colonial India Scholars of British India have forcefully shown that colonial principles of religious neutrality and noninterference functioned as modes of governance of a society perceived as consisting of an uncivilized body of Indians internally riven by “communal” divisions (e.g., Metcalf 1997; van der Veer 2001). These principles, which the colonial state started adopting at the beginning of the nineteenth century, had the effect of deeming “religion” and “community” “private” matters whose “public” manifestations were relevant for the state only to the extent that they disrupted “law and order” or created “communal” tensions (Freitag 1989). The relevant political arena from the standpoint of the colonial state was that of formal government in which local Indian elites came to participate in a highly limited fashion, especially with the passage of the Government of India Act of 1919. It is within this sphere that the colonial state’s conception of Indian society, as marked by rigid and insurmountable religious divides and as institutionalized through a distinct sociology of knowledge, functioned to normalize and entrench politicized religious identities (Cohn 1996; Pandey 1990). Seen from this vantage point, it is hardly surprising that British colonial rule in India led to the creation of two polities in the subcontinent, India and Pakistan. A large number of studies on the Muslim separatist movement for Pakistan have focused on the emergence and consolidation of the “Hindu-Muslim divide” under British colonial rule. This movement, which was led by the All-India Muslim League, has been extensively examined, primarily in relation to the Indian National Congress. Lesser attention has been paid to how it dealt with religious conflicts and divisions among Indian Muslims. Yet, this question cannot be reduced to simply one of the agency of Muslim League politicians in managing conflicts among Indian Muslims. It must necessarily extend into the institutional emergence of a bifurcated political field in colonial India organized around the categories of majority and minority. In order to begin this inquiry, let us first consider the nature of the religious field that was firmly entrenched in colonial India by the beginning of the twentieth century. The year 1858 witnessed the famous “Queen Victoria’s Proclamation” that explicitly laid out norms of religious neutrality, equality and noninterference vis-à-vis different religions of India. Interestingly, these principles were established while affirming the Christian identity of the British Empire. This contradictory symbiosis between Christian religious identity and religious neutrality was a defining feature of British imperial control and manifested itself differently

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across time. The relationship between colonial authorities and European missionaries, in India certainly but also across the British Empire, was fraught with tensions and vacillated between accommodation and antagonism, and facilitation and toleration (Comaroff and Comaroff 1991; Porter 2004). The perception that persisted in India, however, was that the colonial state had a distinct religious identity (van der Veer 2001: 41–44). The colonial state was perceived as an interested and not a neutral party, leading to resistance and occasional outburst of anti-missionary violence (Frykenberg 2003; Young 2002). The transformation of the religious field in India through the mushrooming of numerous religious reform and revival movements was also a response to this cultural and religious onslaught, perceived to be concentrated in the person of the Christian missionary receiving patronage from state authorities (Jones 1989). The religious field in colonial India was characterized by conflicts and struggles over religious truths and converts, both across and within different religious traditions. In other words, this was a shared space of religious contestations wherein spokespersons of different religious traditions sought to establish the truth and superiority of their religious beliefs and practices. Certainly such debates and contests, often organized through the patronage of regional and central court authorities, have a long and distinguished history in South Asia (Powell 1993). However, the texture of these debates changed significantly with the assumption of political sovereignty by the British. From the standpoint of the religious field, the critical shift was the secularity of the colonial state whereby all religious denominations were rendered equal in status by virtue of the state being free of religious commitments. This meant that new religious movements and splinter sects could now actively organize to expand their numbers by winning new adherents.8 Another differentiated and autonomous social sphere that emerged more or less at the same time was the political field (Saeed 2012). The British government authorized elections with highly restricted franchises in India at the beginning of the twentieth century to allow Indians a limited degree of involvement in colonial administration. This produced a colonial political field in which professional Indian politicians and British authorities interacted with each other over a delimited set of policy issues. However, entry into this political field was structured, among other things, along religious and regional lines. Colonial authorities perceived Indian society as consisting of an uncivilized and excitable

8

See, for example, Green (2011).

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body of Indians internally riven by religious divides.9 This perception readily aligned with the colonial state’s penchant for exerting its administrative and disciplinary powers through an elaborate structure of knowledge organized around “enumerated communities.”10 A consequence of this “colonial sociology” was the hardening of religious identities, especially as objectified religious categories took on a practical life of their own.11 In the political realm, this happened through the creation of “separate electorates” for Hindus and Muslims for the purposes of elections. The institutionalization of separate electorates meant that entry in the colonial political field was contingent on one’s claim to represent the religious community from which one hailed. It was this claim that was tested through elections. Consequently, the emergence of democratic politics produced at least two distinct political fields that existed underneath the “national-level” political field – one centered on Muslim “minority” politics and the other on Hindu “national” politics. These sub-political fields produced distinct public arenas of political debate and contestation. In the case of the political field centered on Muslim electoral politics, different Muslims competed with each other over political identities, religious truths and, ultimately, the imagined community of the Indian Muslim nation (Jalal 2000). This was the arena in which two distinct Muslim imperatives met and became entangled in distinct ways (Gilmartin 1998a). The first was the imperative of defining and proposing solutions for the unique predicaments of Indian Muslims in light of the social and political transformations wrought by British colonialism. The second was the imperative of choosing Muslim representatives to fill positions in the formal political apparatus that was increasingly opening up with the Government of India Act of 1919. While the first imperative manifested itself in an autonomous realm of internal intellectual, political and religious debates that pulled away from the gaze of colonial authorities, the second was oriented towards the structuring logics of formal political institutions. These imperatives worked in tandem to define a public arena of Muslim political activity in which different Muslim groups and individuals vied with each other over cultural and religious questions. These struggles, however, were entangled with material interests defined by capturing formal political leadership positions.12 In the eyes of the 9 10 12

See, especially, Ahmed (2009) for a good discussion of this theme. 11 Kaviraj (2010): 18–19. Cohn (1996). Jalal (2000) provides, in my view, the most comprehensive historical account of how these two imperatives functioned in tandem in public arenas of Muslim politics. For more analytically driven historical discussions that focus on Indian Muslims, see Gilmartin (1998b) for an account that takes the “partition” of India and Pakistan as its

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colonial state, this public arena was an apolitical cradle of primordial religious identities that had to be managed by the state in its (supposed and professed, although never believed) capacity as a neutral and disinterested arbiter of competing interests.13 In reality, this public arena was far from apolitical and was intimately entangled with the sphere of formal institutional politics. While these dynamics also defined the “Hindu” political field, here they were strongly tempered by Indian National Congress’s commitment to a secular nationalism. Consequently, Hindu religious nationalism was one among a number of political positions that were articulated in this arena. Hindu secularists were compelled to contend and compete with this Hindu nationalist discourse. At the same time, Congress’s claim to represent the “national” interest in the course of spearheading a momentous anticolonial movement meant that the Hindu nationalist position was, at least at that time, a marginal one. The crucial point, however, is that Hindu secularists developed considerable discursive and political strategies to resist both the Pakistan movement and militant Hindu nationalists. The Muslim political field, on the other hand, increasingly drifted towards a consensus with respect to the importance of an autonomous Muslim political entity in India.14 This was especially evident in Punjab where prominent Unionist leaders increasingly began to join or support the Muslim League in the aftermath of the Lahore Declaration of 1940. The Muslim political field became increasingly oriented towards differentiating between “good” Muslims (those who support Muslim League’s demands) and “bad” Muslims (those who do not support Muslim League). At this point, it is important to keep in mind that the demand for a separate state for Muslims is a secular-national demand to the extent that it is articulated in terms of Muslims qua minority and not Muslims qua Muslims. However, in the course of defining this minority community that would constitute “the people” of a political unit (first within an allIndia federation and later as an independent nation-state), the Muslim political field became increasingly entangled with questions of religious nationalism and, ultimately, conflicts in the religious field. As Muslims vied with each other for leadership positions within the state and community, they increasingly began to draw on and respond to conflicts in

13

point of departure, and Gilmartin (1998a: 417–9) for a discussion that emphasizes the structuring logic of elections. 14 See Devji (2007) for an incisive discussion. Gilmartin (1988).

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the religious field towards the end of articulating their own, distinct political positions that could differentiate them from their competitors. It is in this context that the place of heterodox sects such as the Ahmadiyya community within the imagined community of Indian Muslims became a contentious issue. A consideration of the issue of how the Muslim nationalists handled religious schisms within Indian Muslims reveals that the issue was not just one of the rights of a minority to form an independent polity wherein it would be free from the tyranny of the majority. It was also about the formation of a state that would positively be a Muslim state, whatever that might mean in practice. Ultimately, Muslim secularists who supported the demand for Pakistan – Jinnah, as I will argue in the next section, is the premier example – were unable to mount a significant challenge to those religious nationalists in the Muslim political field who were intent on differentiating between “good” and “bad” Muslims, sects, etc. Consequently, the political field in Pakistan has been unable to develop a political vocabulary centered on the question of accommodating and living with religious differences, either in secularist or religious idioms. Muslim League, Jinnah and the Ahmadi Question I will briefly consider the previously mentioned dynamics in the Muslim political field through an analysis of how the All-India Muslim League and its leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah dealt with the issue of Ahmadiyya religious difference in colonial Punjab. This Muslim reform movement emerged and came to age in the post-1857 rebellion period at which time the colonial state claimed religious noninterference as an orienting policy. Its controversial religious claims routinely aroused the ire of orthodox ulema (traditional Muslim religious scholars) since its inception and have continued to do so since. A number of religious tenets held by the Ahmadiyya community set them apart from mainstream Muslims. The most critical point of difference concerns the status of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908), the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement. Ghulam Ahmad made a series of theological claims that culminated in his controversial reinterpretation of the doctrinal issue of Khatam-e-Nabuwwat, or the Finality of Prophethood, to make room for his own claim to prophecy (Friedmann 1989). In 1938, the Ahmadiyya leadership in Qadian wrote a letter to Muhammad Ali Jinnah. As mentioned above, the Muslim League had just emerged from particularly dismal provincial elections in which it had failed to form a ministry in any province. In the letter, the Ahmadi representative Farzand Ali informed Jinnah that “the question whether members of the Ahmadiyya community should join the Congress or the

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League has been under serious consideration at the Headquarters of the Movement for some time past”.15 Their difficulty, Farzand Ali wrote, arose from the ban on Ahmadi membership in the Punjab Provincial Muslim League. The exact timing of the ban is unclear, although it appears to have been undertaken somewhere around mid-1930s and without consultation with the central Muslim League.16 All members of Punjab Muslim League intending to run for elections for seats in the Punjab Legislative Assembly were required to take the following oath: “I solemnly promise that if I am elected, I will seriously struggle to get “Mirzais” declared a separate minority from the Muslims for the betterment of Islam and Hindustan”.17 This ban suggests that the Punjab Provincial Muslim League had been either unwilling or unable to shield itself from religious controversies raised by anti-Ahmadiyya conservative religious groups such as the Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam (Ahrar). Furthermore, we can surmise that the appointment of Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, the anti-Ahmadi editor of the Urdu newspaper Zamindar (Lahore), to important positions within the Punjab Provincial League in 1937 must have created a hospitable environment for the ban on Ahmadis.18 Farzand Ali held that unless these views were “authoritatively discarded” and Ahmadis allowed to participate in the organization on equal footing with other Muslims, the Ahmadis could not be expected to join the Muslim League and “may be reluctantly driven to negotiate with the Congress”.19 Subsequently, Punjab Provincial Muslim League announced that Ahmadis were not eligible for nomination as Muslim League candidates for legislatures. The Ahmadiyya community wrote another letter to Jinnah with a request to clarify his position on the stance taken by the Punjab Provincial Muslim League. If Jinnah disagreed with these policies, it was suggested, he might “kindly take suitable steps to impress upon the Provincial Branch their mistake in this matter.”20 Jinnah responded tersely: “it is for you to adopt such course as you may consider proper.”21 15

16 18 19 20 21

Maulvi Farzand Ali, Nazir Amoor Amma, Ahmadiyya Movement, to M. A. Jinnah. February 19, 1938. Shamsul Hasan Collection, Volume 24 (Henceforth SHC 24). National Documentation Center, Islamabad. 17 Friedmann (1989): 37–38. SHC 24, translation mine. See “A Chronology,” 53. www.nihcr.edu.pk/Downloads/Chronology.pdf (Accessed on January 23, 2014). Maulvi Farzand Ali, Nazir Amoor Amma, Ahmadiyya Movement, to M. A. Jinnah. February 19, 1938. SHC 24. S. Zainulabedin W. Shah, Nazir Amoor Amma, Ahmadiyya Movement, to M. A. Jinnah. June 7, 1938. SHC 24. Jinnah’s response is quoted in letter from Nazir Amoor Kharijah, Ahmadiyya Movement to Nawabzada Muhammad Liaqut Ali Khan. May 19, 1940. SHC 24.

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Despite these thinly veiled threats, the Ahmadiyya leadership was reluctant to join the Congress. For one, Bashiruddin Mahmud, the spiritual leader of the Ahmadiyya community, was concerned about religious freedoms that Muslims would enjoy under a Hindu-majority state. Furthermore, Gandhi’s refusal to give assurances to the effect that proselytization would be freely allowed in independent India led Ahmadiyya leaders to remain aloof from the Congress.22 In a letter to Liaqut Ali Khan, the Secretary of Muslim League, a close aide of Jinnah and the future first prime minister of Pakistan, the Ahmadiyya community again requested a clarification of the League’s position towards Ahmadis.23 This time, the assistant secretary of the Muslim League, Shamsul Hasan, responded. He held that the League did not allow “communal representation” and that all members joined in their “personal capacity.” Regarding the reference to joining the Congress, Shamsul Hasan stated that that this decision “entirely rests on your free will and in that case the Congressite Ulemas like Ataullah Shah Bukhari and Habiburrahman Ludhianvi will be the best authority to be consulted for the religious stand point of your community.”24 Mentioning prominent Ahraris such as Bukhari and Ludhianvi was a sarcastic reference to the anti-Ahmadiyya elements within the Congress itself. Shamsul Hasan’s letter provoked a response from the Ahmadiyya community who protested to Liaqut Ali Khan that the response to their letter contained “a sort of vulgar gibe at us, referring to our relationship with Ahrar, [which] is absolutely uncalled for besides being couched in very bad taste.”25 They again requested a clarification of the Muslim League’s position and demanded that it explicitly define Muslim as “any member of a Class or Community who profess to be Muslim and whom non-Muslims look upon as such.” Shamsul Hasan responded that the word “Muslim” was best left undefined by the Muslim League for the sake of Ahmadis themselves. These interactions between Muslim League leadership and Ahmadiyya movement demonstrate that by the early 1940s, strictly religious controversies surrounding Ahmadiyya religious beliefs had become overtly political. The Ahrar’s anti-Ahmadi activities were a key feature of religious conflicts in colonial Punjab. Ahrar routinely advocated the idea 22 23 24 25

Friedmann (1989): 38. Nazir Amoor Kharijah, Ahmadiyya Movement to Nawabzada Muhammad Liaqut Ali Khan. May 19, 1940. SHC 24. S. Shamsul Hasan to Nazir Umoor Kharijah, Ahmadiyya Movement. June 4, 1940. SHC 24. Nazir Amoor Kharijah, Ahmadiyya Movement to Nawabzada Muhammad Liaqut Ali Khan. August 3, 1940. SHC 24.

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of sharia rule, referred to Jinnah as a heretic, deployed ulema to issue fatwas (non-binding but authoritative advisory opinions given by qualified Muslim authorities) against the Muslim League and Jinnah, and charged the Muslim League with being pro-Ahmadi.26 This rhetoric established some of the key terms of political discourse to which the Muslim League was obliged to respond. The Punjab Provincial Muslim League’s public anti-Ahmadi stance must be situated in this relational field. While Jinnah actively resisted Ahrar’s demand that Ahmadis be ousted from the Muslim community and banned from the All-India Muslim League,27 the issue was left in the hands of provincial authorities in Punjab. Ahmadis, however, continued to resist their marginalization within the Muslim nationalist movement. For example, the issue of Ahmadis joining Muslim League was raised once again by Ahrar in 1944. Jinnah categorically refused these demands. In turn, the Ahmadiyya movement publicized that Jinnah had explicitly stated in an interview that Ahmadis could join the Muslim League and would enjoy the same privileges as “other various sects of Islam.”28 This provoked the imam (prayer leader in a mosque) of Jama Masjid (main mosque) in the city of Batala to send a letter to Jinnah to convey that “the Muslims of Batala are feeling perturbed over this news. Would you very kindly let us know if an Ahmadi can become a Member of the Muslim League?”29 Jinnah responded by sending both the Ahmadiyya movement and the Imam a copy of the constitution of the Muslim League and iterating its clause that all members must be Muslim, residents of British India and at least eighteen years of age.30 Jinnah also issued a public statement to this effect, thereby avoiding making a specific statement on the issues of the religious status of Ahmadis. Earlier in 1943, however, Jinnah had unequivocally declared before the Working Committee of the Muslim League that “The constitution of the Muslim League is the most democratic that could be framed. There is no Muslim to whom the doors of the Muslim League are not open.”31 However, from the perspective of Ahmadis, the Muslim League’s stipulation that membership was open to all Muslims was an inadequate guarantee that Ahmadis would be able to join the Muslim League on an equal footing with others since Ahmadis were considered non-Muslim by many. 26 28 29 30 31

27 Jalal (2000): 418–422. Ibid: 442. Nazir Amoor Kharijah, Ahmadiyya Movement, to M. A. Jinnah. April 30, 1944. SHC 24. Nazir Hussain, Imam of Jama Masjid Batala, to M. A. Jinnah. May 4, 1944. SHC 24. M. A. Jinnah to Nazir Hussain, Imam Jama Masjid Batala. May 16, 1944. SHC 24. Quoted in Wolpert (1984): 225.

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In the public arenas of colonial Punjab in 1944, the Muslim League was actively engaged in winning support for its demand for Pakistan, which entailed defining a unified moral community of the proposed nation-state. At the same time, Jinnah could not afford to ignore the local sentiments of Muslims of Batala. The transcendental Indian Muslim community, as Jinnah had come to appreciate during the course of 1940s, would have to be defined through a pragmatic negotiation with particularistic and regionally based sensibilities. Given the popular antiAhmadi sentiment in Punjab, Jinnah chose to refrain from taking an unequivocal stance on the eligibility of Ahmadis into the Punjab Muslim League, a proxy now for the religious status of Ahmadis. The Punjab Muslim League, in its part, was actively wooing their nemeses such as Ahrar with an eye towards the upcoming elections. The 1946 elections were aimed at forming the Constituent Assembly for the future independent state of India. The Ahmadiyya movement approached Jinnah in 1945 and announced that it had “decided to cooperate with the Muslim League in all possible manner in the coming electoral campaign” with the expectation that they would not be given the same “step-motherly treatment” that they had received in the past.32 They proposed to Jinnah that only those persons who should be given Muslim League tickets were, regardless of their religious persuasion, those who were most likely to command the largest number of votes in that constituency. The Ahmadis could reasonably expect fifty to seventyfive thousand votes in Punjab, and they were persuaded that these votes serve the Muslim League since “at this critical juncture the Muslim voice should be one and united.” All Ahmadi candidates had been instructed to apply for Muslim League tickets and, if refused these, to contest the elections as independent candidates. There was no reply to this letter. This is not surprising when we consider that at this moment, the League abandoned its own long-standing members in favor of important Punjabi politicians with respect to issuing tickets33. These various episodes reveal that the Ahmadiyya movement found itself unable to forge a meaningful political alliance with the Muslim League in the decade preceding independence. Commenting on the religious rhetoric that was being deployed by Muslim League in its 1946 election campaign, one onlooker noted to Jinnah in March of 1946 that “at present one must shout with the crowd or get lynched by the crowd, and the feeling has been created that one who is not a Leaguer 32 33

Nazir Amoor Kharijah, Ahmadiyya Movement, to M. A. Jinnah. October 6, 1945. SHC 24. Talbot (1980): 89.

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is worse than a kafir [non-believer] and should be hanged like a dog forthwith.”34 However, while it was desirable that the numbers of “leaguers” increase, it was far from desirable that this be accomplished through including Ahmadis. From the standpoint of the Muslim League, Ahmadis were a liability since an alliance with them could compromise Muslim League’s attempts at consolidating their position as the only legitimate leadership of the Muslims of India. Democracy and the Politics of Religious Difference in Postcolonial Pakistan Thus far, I have argued that the emergence of a distinct and differentiated sphere of democratic politics organized around elections in colonial India was deeply entangled with emerging sectarian conflicts. The colonial state’s advocacy of secular norms of religious neutrality and noninterference in a context of a system of formal political representation on the basis of religious community laid the foundations of a public arena in which questions about religious authenticity and community originated and became entrenched as important political issues. Now I will extend the analysis further by considering how the institutional and cultural logics of democratic politics functioned to institutionalize an official religious nationalism in postcolonial Pakistan. I argue that Pakistan inherited a political culture characterized by religious majoritarianism that has been pivotal in shaping the trajectory of desecularization of Pakistani state and society. I define desecularization as an instituted process entailing specific actors, interests, practices and discourses through which the political importance of religion is reflected, reformed and transformed over time, constituting the texture of mundane political life in the process. It does not entail a return to “essential” features of religion nor can it be attributed to always–already present religious zeal. In other words, it cannot be analyzed through teleological frames. It is reflective of a central modern funtion of state formation – defining, rationalizing and containing religion – in one set of societies in which citizens hold convictions about significance of religion in shaping political, institutional life. Within the Muslim nationalist movement preceding the independence of Pakistan, no wholesale program of transformation of state-religion relations was advocated. However, religious and political actors in Pakistan actively engaged in defining a new role for Islam in the budding nation-state. 34

Quoted in Khan (2007): 53.

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I contend the resultant desecularization of Pakistan was a specifically postcolonial response to both the preceding regime of colonial secularity and the imperatives of nation-state formation. While desecularization of Pakistani state through the institutionalization of an official religious nationalism appears on the surface to be a reversal of secularization processes that were instituted under British colonial rule, I argue that both processes were underpinned by a similar democratic logic centered on religious majoritarianism. The rest of this chapter highlights how democratic politics functioned to institutionalize colonial-era religious sensibilities in a bid to render Islam legible within the structures of the Pakistani state. Once again, my aim is to demonstrate that this process proceeded through the exclusion of religious minorities. Islam, National Identity and the Postcolonial Polity It is generally held that political leaders who founded the state of Pakistan, particularly Jinnah, proposed a conception of a secular Pakistan. While a contentious issue, this is suggested by the speech delivered by Jinnah on August 11, 1947, three days prior to the official independence of Pakistan. On this day, Jinnah was sworn in as the President of the First Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. Jinnah held that the basis of inclusion in Pakistan was political citizenship that vested each formal citizen with “equal rights, privileges, and obligations.”35 One of the crucial distinctions that the polity would have to deal with, as Jinnah very well understood, was religious identity about which he proclaimed: “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”36 Jinnah further added: “You will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would 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.” On the whole, this speech gives a vision of the Pakistani state as a secular political entity. An overlooked dimension of this foundational moment in Pakistan’s history is that this speech was followed by a debate on the design of the future flag of Pakistan. This “flag debate” constituted the first legislation passed by the Constituent Assembly, attesting to the symbolic importance of the flag as a core symbol of a state’s sovereignty. More importantly, it formed the first formal engagement between Muslim and non-Muslim representatives over a crucial national symbol, and consequently over 35

Constituent Assembly Debates, August 11, 1947, 19.

36

Ibid: 20.

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national identity itself, of the emerging postcolonial state. An examination of this moment reveals the first institutional articulation of Pakistan’s trajectory of desecularization linking Muslim national identity with exclusionary politics vis-à-vis religious minorities. The origins of the Pakistani flag go back to the flag employed by the Muslim League during its struggle for Muslim autonomy in colonial India.37 The Muslim League flag was set on a dark green background with a crescent moon and a star in the center. The flag proposed and eventually adopted added a white rectangular stripe on the side to the same design. However, at the time the emergence of Pakistan became a concrete possibility, it was far from a foregone conclusion that the flag of Muslim League would become the flag of Pakistan. Jinnah had, in fact, received numerous letters and proposals from future citizens of Pakistan, both Muslim and non-Muslim, about the design of the flag (Saeed 2013). No mention of these proposals emerged during the flag debates that followed Jinnah’s speech. Liaqut Ali Khan moved the motion for adoption of the flag while maintaining that Pakistan “will be a State where there will be no special privileges, no special rights for any one particular community or any one particular interest.”38 The non-Muslim members of the Constituent Assembly unanimously expressed their disapproval of the proposed flag by stating that the minority communities had not been consulted in the designing of the flag and proposing that a new, inclusive committee be formed to reconsider the design. It was also noted that the proposed flag was “almost identical with the Party flag of the Muslim League”, represented “the flag of a particular community” and was, therefore, contrary to Liaqut’s own admission that “the flag should be a secular one, should not be identified with any religion or any community.”39 Two issues were thus raised: the first about the formal political processes of the determination of the design of the proposed flag and the second about the “content” of the flag, in particular its identification with religion. In his response, Liaqut alluded to the incorporated white stripe as making “room for not only all the minorities that are today but for any other minorities that might spring up hereafter.” Following this discussion, the motion to form a committee to reconsider the flag was put forth by minority representatives and defeated through the majority Muslim 37

38

The flag proposed by Gandhi in 1923 for staging collective Hindu and Muslim protests against the British was subsequently reframed as the “national” flag in 1931. It was criticized for being the flag of the Congress Party and hence not adequately representative. In 1937, the Muslim League officially rejected its use as the national flag (Virmani 1999). 39 Constituent Assembly Debates, August 11, 1947, 22. Ibid. 26.

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League vote. The flag proposed by Liaqut was put on the table and accepted by the majority Muslim League vote. The flag was neither a popularly charged symbol nor did it evoke vocal public debates of the kind that would emerge over the preamble of the constitution in 1949. The flag debate does, however, depict that the flag adopted did not represent consensus on the religious identity of the state. Instead, it was a moment in the formation of this identity. What is even more striking about the flag debate is that it occurred right after Jinnah’s speech. That Jinnah did not intervene in the debate suggests that for him, the issue was neither one of the role of Islam in state formation nor of establishing a substantively democratic practice. Jinnah’s silence, reminiscent of his earlier silence towards the question of the religious status of Ahmadis, is indicative of a majoritarian democratic logic aimed towards discursively articulating and “protecting” the assumed religious sentiments of Muslims in the interest of creating national unity. The marginalization of concerns of non-Muslim minorities at this stage set an important precedent for future constitutional debates, particularly on the preamble of the constitution termed the Objectives Resolution that took place in 1949 after Jinnah’s death in 1948. Akin to Jinnah’s speech, the Objectives Resolution, too, is well known and has been extensively analyzed.40 Indeed, its relevance has only deepened in Pakistan with time, especially with its insertion into the main text of the constitution by Zia-ul-Haq in 1985. Here I want to briefly note the remarkable similarity between the political form that the two debates took as well as the outcomes they produced vis-à-vis religious minorities. The Objectives Resolution was moved in March of 1949 in the same Constituent Assembly that had debated the flag. Of the eleven clauses of the resolution, reference to Islam appears explicitly in three, with the first clause of the resolution vesting sovereignty in God. The nation-state envisioned by the resolution is one constituted by the Muslims for the Muslim majority. Liaqut explicitly maintained that “Pakistan was founded because the Muslims of this sub-continent wanted to build up their lives in accordance with the teachings and traditions of Islam.”41 The checkered history of the idea of Pakistan as a bargaining tool for Jinnah until the very end of colonial rule and alternate visions of the nation-state were silenced as the “Muslim” category was placed at the center of the nationalist imaginary (Jalal 1985).

40 41

See Binder (1961) for an especially nuanced account. Constituent Assembly Debates, March 7, 1949.

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Liaqut also firmly denounced the notion of a theocracy: “If there are any who still use the word theocracy in the same breath as the polity of Pakistan, they are either labouring under a grave misapprehension, or indulging in mischievous propaganda.”42 While not a theocratic Islamic state, he maintained, Pakistan was to be a “Muslim” state, as Islam recognizes no separation between religion and politics. The ambiguity manifestly present in this distinction between an “Islamic” and a “Muslim” state was immediately noted by non-Muslim members of the Constituent Assembly. The objections put forth were numerous, and revisions intended to bring all religious communities on equal footing were demanded. Again, all such proposed amendments were shot down, and the original resolution upheld through a majority Muslim League vote. These instituted linkages among majoritarian politics and religiosymbolic dimensions of state formation have been pivotal in the emergence of the trajectory of desecularization in Pakistan. Instead of reflecting the social aspirations of the time, they reveal that distinct notions of politics (formal Muslim majoritarianism) and national identity (Muslim) were instituted through the simultaneous adoption of religiously infused national symbols and the institutional silencing of religious minorities by relatively secular political elite. Through discussing the legal exclusion and criminalization of the Ahmadiyya community, this chapter next traces the continuities and transformations of these notions in another formally democratic era. Democracy, National Identity and Law Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto came to office in 1971 following an election campaign celebrating “Islamic socialism.” Notwithstanding his rhetoric, Bhutto was neither personally nor politically religious minded. While he significantly shied away from turning Pakistan into a state based on Islamic laws, Islam was constitutionally declared the “state religion” of Pakistan for the first time under the 1973 constitution passed during his regime. Furthermore, the Second Constitutional Amendment of 1974 (SCA) that forcibly declared the Ahmadiyya community a non-Muslim minority was enacted by the democratically elected National Assembly formed under his regime. The SCA constitutionally defines a non-Muslim as: “A person who does not believe in the absolute and unqualified finality of The Prophethood of Muhammad (Peace be upon him), the last of the Prophets or claims to be a Prophet, in any sense of the word or of any description whatsoever, 42

Ibid.

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after Muhammad (Peace be upon him), or recognizes such a claimant as a Prophet or religious reformer . . .”43

The SCA, which was inserted into a constitution that upholds liberal rights to religious freedom and equality but while nominally declaring Islam the “state religion” of Pakistan, protects religious sentiments associated with reverence for Prophet Muhammad. It is one of the most significant moments in the trajectory of desecularization in Pakistan. It starkly demonstrates the enactment of exclusionary citizenship policies on the basis of Pakistan’s Muslim identity through formal democratic processes in ways that are reminiscent of both exclusion of Ahmadis from the Punjab Provincial Muslim League under colonial rule and of majoritarian politics of the Constituent Assembly discussed above. In 1984, military ruler Zia-ul-Haq, who came to power in 1977 through a coup, passed an executive ordinance titled Anti-Islamic Activities of the Qadiani Group, Lahore Group and Ahmadis (Prohibition and Punishment) Ordinance, 1984. This ordinance stipulates that the use of “epithets, descriptions and titles, etc., reserved for certain holy personages or places,” such as azaan [Muslim call to prayers] and masjid [mosque], is reserved for Muslims, and “misuse” by Ahmadis is liable to punishment by fines and imprisonment. Another section criminalizes any Ahmadi who refers to herself/himself as Muslim, who preaches or propagates her/his faith or “in any manner whatsoever outrages the religious feelings of Muslims.”44 The latter, highly amorphous phrase seeks to provide a rationale for the ordinance within its text. By elevating the sentiments and “religious feelings” of the putative Muslim Pakistani citizen, this law defers to those religious actors who claim to know the sentiments of Pakistani Muslims. A consideration of the circumstances surrounding the promulgation of the 1984 Ordinance reveals that it was also shaped by the cultural logic of democratic politics even though it was put into place by an authoritarian ruler. The 1984 Ordinance movement was preceded by an organized religious movement that sought to make the effects of the SCA more tangible for Ahmadis. Some of the demands put forth included introduction of death sentence for apostasy and complete ban on publication and distribution of Ahmadi literature. The Council of Islamic Ideology, a constitutionally mandated advisory body, openly aligned itself with these demands (Kaushik 1996: 63–4). In February 1984, religious groups threatened to launch a nationwide anti-Ahmadi campaign if the 43 44

Constitution (Second Amendment) Act 1974, Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Ordinance no. XX of 1984, Government of Pakistan.

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government did not accede to their demands by end of April. If the government did not demolish all Ahmadi mosques, it was announced, the ulema would be compelled to do so themselves. Popular national newspapers such as Jang and Nawa-e-Waqt advocated vocally on behalf of the movement. On April 26, the government promulgated the Ordinance. The religious movement preceding the Ordinance, however, was not a popular movement. According to Raja Zafar-ul-Haq, the minister of information at that time, the movement was not oriented towards gathering popular support. Indeed, amassing popular support would have been highly unlikely since “Zia was very close to religious parties and the common man, secularists and moderates did not want to associate themselves with a movement that would strengthen Zia’s hold.”45 The movement was “confined to religious parties” and was aimed at intimidation through gathering riotous crowds. The 1984 religious movement is reminiscent of the belligerent anti-Ahmadi movement of 1953.46 While state authorities had earlier responded to such threats by arresting religious leadership and imposing Martial Law in 1953 to quell an escalating “law and order” problem,47 Zia-ul-Haq and his aides quickly accommodated the demands after holding talks with religious leadership. In the highly revealing words of one senior minister at that time, “Zia was doing this more from the point that his constituency was the mullas [a colloquial and somewhat derogatory word for ulema]”.48 That Zia-ul-Haq’s perceived constituency was petit-ulema and not the “common man” indicates that political authorities accommodate narratives and demands of conservation religious groups because they both desire cultural alliances with religious groups for political ends – politics of expediency – and fear the mobilization potential of these groups – politics of fear. Perhaps Jinnah’s deference to Muslims of Batala before independence prefigured this politics that continues to characterize democratic politics in Pakistan. Conclusion Modern politics rests on making claims about “the people” in whose name the state, or claimants to statehood, claim legitimacy. Political 45 46

47 48

Interview with Raja Zafar-ul-Haq, Islamabad, February 7, 2008. A large-scale anti-Ahmadiyya movement was launched in 1952–1953 by religious groups but was unsuccessful in getting its demands deliberated by the Constituent Assembly. See Nasr (1994). Lahore High Court (1954). Interview with Sharifuddin Pirzada, Islamabad, March 12, 2008.

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claim making further entails defining a political community, a “we” in whose name political demands are articulated and the public good is defined. The contentious issue then becomes who can authoritatively speak on behalf of a political community that is constituted through political discourse. This dimension of modern politics is starkly visible when we consider Muslim politics in colonial India and postcolonial Pakistan. The central problem that the present chapter has identified and sought to examine is how and why this aspect of Muslim politics became entangled with sectarian conflicts that originated from the conflict-ridden religious field in colonial India. In taking up this line of inquiry, I was motivated by a broader concern with delineating the nature of secularization and desecularization processes in colonial India and postcolonial Pakistan. The emergence of a differentiated sphere of democratic politics, which, although institutionally autonomous from religious authorities, has been intimately entangled with sectarian conflicts since its inception. Politicized religious cleavages among Ahmadis and non-Ahmadis emerged under British colonial rule in India as a function of politics of colonial secularism. Defined by principles of religious neutrality and noninterference, colonial secularism functioned as a mode of governance in a society in which traditional “fuzzy communities” were being transformed into “enumerated communities” by the colonial state itself (Kaviraj 2010: 18–19). The power of numbers in the colonial imagination laid the foundation for a system of formal political representation on the basis of religious community (Appadurai 1993). In the public arenas of Muslim community politics that emerged under colonial rule, various Muslim groups and individuals engaged in mutual struggles over both formal political leadership and cultural questions about the nature of the imagined community of Indian Muslims. The institutional and political context defined by increasing participation of Indians in elected legislatures, the rise of anticolonial nationalism and the increasing relevance of religious identities both inside and outside the formal political arena had profound impact on the politicization of Ahmadi/non-Ahmadi religious differences. It was in this context that the famous Indian Muslim poet Iqbal famously declared Ahmadis heretics (Saeed 2015) and, as shown in this chapter, the “father” of the Pakistani nation-state, Jinnah, remained aloof from the Ahmadi question. It is my contention that an almost structural hostility to political secularism was embedded in the democratic system instituted by the British colonial state in India. This was most clearly visible in the workings of democratic politics in both “Muslim” and “Hindu” political

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fields. However, while the question of religious coexistence and tolerance was critical for the anticolonial movement led by the Congress given its claims to represent Hindus and Muslims, this question was not germane to the Muslim nationalist movement for Pakistan. Instead, the latter movement was centered on a cultural nationalism intent on defining the boundaries of the Indian Muslim community. As a result, secularism emerged as a practical solution to concrete social problems in both postcolonial India (Kaviraj, Chapter 2 of this volume) and in contemporary Nepal (Shneiderman, Chapter 4 of this volume). In Pakistan, however, secularism has had a precarious and marginal existence in a political field that has been dominated by religious groups vocally concerned with forging a viable “Muslim” polity through excluding and criminalizing the “heretics” within. The analysis of the colonial period is crucial for understanding the emergence of Muslim politics centered on the politicization of sectarian identities. First, it provides a picture of secularization processes under colonial rule in India, in particular the emergence of a historically novel sphere of democratic politics and how the secular reason of modern politics functioned to define new public imperatives and sensibilities associated with both the discursive articulation and institutional management of sectarian religious differences among Muslims. Second, it allows a contextualization of how religious cleavages that were politicized during the colonial period have impacted postcolonial politics in Pakistan. An examination of the colonial period throws light on the continuities between the colonial and postcolonial periods that were forged through the logic of majoritarian democratic politics. At the same time, this line of inquiry also points to ruptures between colonial and postcolonial polities, especially in relation to two distinct trajectories of secularization and desecularization processes, manifest in two different state ideologies of political secularism and official religious nationalism. References Agrama, Hussein Ali. 2012. Questioning Secularism: Islam, Sovereignty, and the Rule of Law in Modern Egypt. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Ahmed, Asad A. 2009. “Spectres of Blasphemy: Macaulay, the Indian Penal Code and Pakistan’s Postcolonial Predicament,” in Raminder Kaur and William Mazarella, eds., Censorship in South Asia: Cultural Regulation from Sedition to Seduction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Appadurai, Arjun. 1993. “Number in the Colonial Imagination,” in Carol A. Breckenridge and Peter van der Veer, eds., Orientalism and the Post-colonial Predicament. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

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Asad, Talal. 1993. Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 2003. Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Berger, Peter L. 1967. The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. New York, NY: Anchor Books. 1999. “The Desecularization of the World: A Global Overview,” in Peter L. Berger, ed., The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. Bhargava, Rajeev. (ed.) 1999. Secularism and Its Critics. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Binder, Leonard. 1961. Religion and Politics in Pakistan. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Casanova, Jose. 1994. Public Religions in the Modern World. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Chaves, Mark. 2004. “Secularization as Declining Religious Authority,” Social Forces 72(3): 749–774. Cohn, Bernard. 1996. Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge: The British in India. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Comaroff, Jean and John L. Comaroff. 1991. Of Revelation and Revolution: Christianity, Colonialism, and Consciousness in South Africa. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Comte, Auguste. 1988 [1858]. Introduction to Positive Philosophy. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett. Constituent Assembly Debates. August 11, 1947. Karachi: Government of Pakistan Press. March 7, 1949. Karachi: Government of Pakistan Press. Devji, Faisal. 2007. “Comments on Rajeev Bhargava’s ‘The Distinctiveness of Indian Secularism,’” in The Future of Secularism, edited by T. N. Srinivasan. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Freitag, Sandria B. 1989. Collective Action and Community: Public Arenas and the Emergence of Communalism in North India. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. Friedmann, Yohanan. 1989. Prophecy Continuous: Aspects of Ahmadi Religious Thought and Its Medieval Background. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Frykenberg, Robert Eric (ed.). Christians and Missionaries in India: Cross-Cultural Communication since 1500, with Special Reference to Caste, Conversion and Colonialism. Grand Rapids, MI, and London: William B. Eerdmans; Routledge Curzon Gauchet, Marcel. 1999. The Disenchantment of the World: A Political History of Religion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Gilmartin, David. 1988. Empire and Islam: Punjab and the Making of Pakistan. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 1998a. “A Magnificent Gift: Muslim Nationalism and the Election Process in Colonial Punjab,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 40(3): 415–436. 1998b. “Partition, Pakistan, and South Asian History: In Search of a Narrative,” The Journal of Asian Studies 57(4): 1068–1095.

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Göle, Nilüfer. 1996. The Forbidden Modern: Civilization and Veiling. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. Gorski, Philip S. 2000. “Historicizing the Secularization Debate: Church, State, and Society in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe, ca. 1300 to 1700,” American Sociological Review 65(1): 138–167. 2003. The Disciplinary Revolution: Calvinism and the Rise of the State in Early Modern Europe. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press Green, Nile. 2011. Bombay Islam: The Religious Economy of the West Indian Ocean, 1840–1915. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Iqtidar, Humeira. 2011. Secularizing Islamists? Jama’at-e-Islami and Jama’at-udDa’wa in Urban Pakistan. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Jalal, Ayesha. 1985. The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2000. Self and Sovereignty: Individual and Community in South Asian Islam since 1850. London & New York: Routledge. Jones, Kenneth W. 1989. Socio-Religious Reform Movements in British India. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Kaushik, Surendra Nath. 1996. Ahmadiya Community in Pakistan: Discrimination, Travail and Alienation. New Delhi: South Asia Publishers. Kaviraj, Sudipta. 2010. The Imaginary Institution of India: Politics and Ideas. New York: Columbia University Press. 2013. “Languages of Secularity.” Economic & Political Weekly 48(50): 93–102. Khan, Yasmin. 2007. The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Lahore High Court. 1954. Report of the Court of Inquiry Constituted under Punjab Act II of 1954 to enquire into the Punjab Disturbances of 1953. Lahore: Superintendent, Government Printing. Martin, David. 1978. A General Theory of Secularization. Oxford: Blackwell. Masuzawa, Tomoko. 2005. The Invention of World Religions: Or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Metcalf, Barbara Daly. 1999. “Nationalism, Modernity, and Muslim Identity in India before 1947,” in Peter van der Veer & Hartmut Lehmann, eds., Nation and Religion: Perspectives on Europe and Asia. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Metcalf, Thomas R. 1997. Ideologies of the Raj. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Minault, Gail. 1982. The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. Nasr, Seyyed Vali Reza. 1994. The Vangaurd of the Islamic Revolution: The Jama’at-i Islami of Pakistan. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Pandey, Gyanendra. 1990. The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Porter, Andrew. 2004. Religion versus Empire? British Protestant Missionaries and Overseas Expansion, 1700–1914. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press.

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Powell, Avril A. 1993. Muslims and Missionaries in Pre-Mutiny India. Richmond, UK: Curzon Press. Saeed, Sadia. 2012. “Political Fields and Religious Movements: The Exclusion of the Ahmadiyya Community in Pakistan,” Political Power and Social Theory 23: 189–223. 2013. “Desecularisation as an Instituted Process: National Identity and Religious Difference in Pakistan,” Economic & Political Weekly 48(50): 62–70. 2015. “Secular Power, Law and the Politics of Religious Sentiments,” Critical Research on Religion 3(1): 57–71. Shaikh, Farzana. 1989. Community and Consensus in Islam: Muslim Representation in Colonial India, 1860–1947. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Shneiderman, Sara. “Temple Building in Secularizing Nepal: Materializing Religion and Ethnicity in a State of Transformation.” (This volume) Talbot, I. A. 1980. 1980. “The 1946 Punjab Elections,” Modern Asian Studies 14(1): 65–91. Taylor, Charles. 2007. A Secular Age. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. van der Veer, Peter. 2001. Imperial Encounters: Religion and Modernity in India and Britain. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Virmani, Arundhati. 1999. “National Symbols under Colonial Domination: The Nationalization of the Indian Flag, March–August 1923,” Past and Present 164(1): 169–197. Weber, Max. 1958. “Religious Rejections of the World and Their Directions”, in H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, eds., From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Wolpert, Stanley. 1984. Jinnah of Pakistan. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Young, Richard Fox. 2002. “Some Hindu Perspectives on Christian Missionaries in the Indic World of the Mid Nineteenth Century,” in Judith M. Brown and Robert Eric Frykenberg, eds., Christians, Cultural Interactions, and India’s Religious Traditions. London: Routledge Curzon.

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Temple Building in Secularising Nepal: Materializing Religion and Ethnicity in a State of Transformation Sara Shneiderman1 Department of Anthropology and School of Public Policy & Global Affairs/ Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia

Introduction I was tired of my wife going away for several days each year to celebrate the Deolang Jatra (Festival of Deolang – a temple located two days walk away). I thought, “Why can’t we have our own temple here?” Then I wouldn’t suffer from my wife’s absence for so many days. We have our own deities, we know where they live in the earth around us, but we needed a temple to become a center for worship. So I began talking with other families in our area. They all said, “Let’s build the temple to look after the deity Seti Devi since it looks after us.” So we began raising funds. But it was very slow – 100 rupees here, a few sacks of rice there. It was only when the government began offering each Village Development Committee a new budget under the janajati [indigenous nationalities] heading after the Interim Constitution that we could fulfill our aspirations. Now the temple is built. We still need more money for some further work. But now everyone can see how powerful our deity is. And my wife does not leave to go to Deolang Jatra anymore! Former Chair of the Rikhipole Seti Devi temple committee, Suspa-Kshamawati VDC, Dolakha, Nepal (Interview with author, May 31, 2014)

How does secularism materialize? In other words, what are the political economic dimensions of secularization, and how do they intersect with ongoing expressions of religiosity during processes of state transformation? 1

Research was funded by the British Academy and Yale University in 2012 and 2014, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation in 2015–2016 (Grant number 8988), with additional support from the Department of Anthropology, Institute of Asian Research, and Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of British Columbia in the later stages of preparing this chapter. Earlier versions were presented at the Religion and Politics Colloquium at Yale University, a workshop on Religion and Ethnicity in the Himalaya at Aarhus University in 2013, and at the Third Association of Nepal and Himalayan Studies Conference at Yale in 2014. I am grateful to participants in those events for their feedback. Thanks to Bir Bahadur Thami, Mark Turin, and members of the Thangmi community cited here for their contributions; to Amy Johnson, Mukta Tamang, Deepak Thapa, Luke Wagner, and Cameron Warner for their substantive input; and to the editors of this volume for their insights and patience.

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In a place where “religion” has long been understood to operate in synthetic symbiosis with other elements of “culture” and “ethnicity” to comprise a key vector of identity for both historically dominant and marginalized groups, how does a constitutional commitment to political secularism materialize through the idiom of local development in places far away from the state center? What do these material experiences of secularization as a societal process tell us about the meanings of categories like “religion” and “ethnicity” for citizens living through a moment of great political change? How does secularization in such a context lead to “the objectification of belief”? (Iqtidar and Sarkar 2013: 38). This chapter addresses these questions through an ethnographic exploration of temple-building practices among the Thangmi (also known as Thami) community of Dolakha district in central-eastern Nepal since 2000. My ethnography focuses on the Village Development Committee (VDC) of Suspa-Kshamawati, Dolakha district, where at least six new temple-building projects (at varying levels of completion) have been initiated over the last fifteen years (see the map in Figure 4.1). Village Development Committees were the key subdistrict administrative units in Nepal’s governance structure until 2017.2 Called Gau Vikas Samiti in Nepali, they constituted an important unit of territorial belonging for rural Nepali citizens and the primary locus for funding and decision making about community development projects like the temples I describe here (CCD 2009: 5–6; see Shneiderman 2015b for more on how VDCs shape social relations). Taken together, the spiritual aspirations, aesthetic imaginaries, and administrative histories behind these temple-building projects tell us much about how religiosity, political agency, state policy, and concepts of development come to articulate with each other at the local level. These elements converge in the crucible of materiality facilitated by state resources made newly available as part of Nepal’s transformation from a unitary Hindu monarchy to a secular federal democratic republic, as asserted in the Interim Constitution of 2007. Investigating Nepal’s recent experience contributes to broader debates over the relationships between

2

As part of the country’s process of federal restructuring, the 2017 Local Level Restructuring Commission merged VDCs to create a smaller number of geographically larger administrative units, called nagarpalika (municipalities) or gaupalika (rural municipalities). These were implemented through the 2017 local elections, held in three phases. Suspa-Kshamawati is now Ward Number 1 of Bhimeshwor nagarpalika. This chapter is based on fieldwork completed before the restructuring took effect; I therefore use the terms Village Development Committee and VDC throughout to refer to the administrative units current at the time of research.

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Figure 4.1 Map showing Suspa-Kshamawati VDC, Dolakha, Nepal. These were the VDC boundary lines until the May 2017 local elections. Map adapted from public domain Map Displaying Village Development Committees in Dolakha District, Nepal, United Nations.

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secularism and secularization in South Asia (cf. Iqtidar and Sarkar 2013), which material from Nepal may illuminate from new perspectives. I make several related arguments in this chapter, each of which develops existing strands of scholarship. First, there remains a significant gap in our understanding of the meanings and material manifestations of secularization in localized contexts within Nepal. Early scholarly examinations of the concept in Nepal have primarily focused on how political secularism has been understood in judicial and constitutional terms at the national level (Letizia 2011, 2013; Malagodi 2011), and/or in Kathmandu-centric contexts of religious practice and activism (Hausner 2007; Leve 2007; Michaels 2011; Snellinger 2012).3 I argue that while the technical definition of “secular” – dharma nirapeksa in Nepali – may not always be well understood by common citizens in rural areas, many are highly aware of this element of state transformation (International Idea 2013), perceiving it primarily through material changes in the state’s management of resources earmarked for religion and culture, and adapting their own practices accordingly. Second, while there has been much discussion about the role of ethnicity in Nepal’s process of “postconflict” state restructuring since 2006 (Adhikari and Gellner 2016; Mishra and Gurung 2012; Shneiderman and Tillin 2015) and also significant public debate about the role and nature of secularism,4 there is still much to be understood regarding the relationship between these two debates and their impact at the level of everyday action. In other words, how have these two ongoing national conversations affected how Nepali citizens conceptualize the relationship between “ethnicity” and “religion”? My examination of temple building in rural Dolakha demonstrates that there have been significant shifts in the way that people understand the difference between – and, therefore, the relationships among – these two elements of identity. This shift results in large part from the way that the 3

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Religion, Secularism, and Ethnicity in Contemporary Nepal (Gellner, Hausner, and Letizia 2016) was released just as the present book was going to press. I could not fully incorporate the important new insights that Gellner, Hausner, Letizia, and their contributors offer; readers seeking further treatment of secularism and secularization in Nepal should consult their volume. Gellner and Letizia (2016: 12) cite Jha’s (2008) statement that, “Nepal became secular without adequate public discussion and debate on what it meant”. However, Bhargava (2016: 435–436) nuances this assessment with the trenchant observation that “it is not correct to conclude from this that it was embraced without any understanding. Nepalese political agents understood that to get on the path of a freer, more egalitarian, and more democratic society, they had to delink the state from Brahmanical Hinduism; the state simply had to be minimally secular. The Nepalese people have acted to bring it about and at least so far have managed to sustain it.” The ethnography presented in this chapter suggests further that it was not only central level political agents who acted upon this understanding, but also common citizens across the country who have a stake in state transformation.

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state has refigured its pragmatic usage of these terms for development resource allocation since declaring itself a secular federal democratic republic. The increasing consciousness of the official boundaries between such categories – even if their legitimacy is disputed in practice – tells us much about the work of secularism as an “engaged universal” (Tsing 2005). In a place where religiosity has long been understood to be the product not of a field of recognizably distinct “religions,” but rather of a fundamentally “syncretic” (Gellner 2005; Holmberg 1989; Ortner 1995) – or, as I prefer to call it, “synthetic” (Shneiderman 2015a) – set of boundary-blurring practices, the introduction of secularism has indeed worked to increase access to state development resources in a more inclusive manner across religious and ethnic categories. At the same time, it has increased awareness of such categories through processes of reification and objectification. Indeed, if we reconceptualize secularism “not as a one-time separation of religion and state, but as the management of religious thought and practice by the state,” we can begin to see how, in Nepal, “this management of religious thought and practice creates new opportunities for religious groups as well as profound changes in the fabric of religiosity” (Iqtidar 2012: 54). This insight provides the necessary context for my third argument, which attempts to explain why a community that identifies as a historically marginalized, “non-Hindu” adivasi janajati (indigenous nationality) group, has built so many new temples in seemingly Hindu aesthetic and architectural forms at precisely the moment of secularization (Figure 4.2). I suggest that while the state’s new commitment to political secularism has, in fact, extended access to development resources earmarked for religious and cultural purposes to a much broader range of Nepal’s citizens than was previously conceivable, many members of historically marginalized communities in rural Nepal such as the Thangmi of Dolakha still conceptualize the visible signs of progress in the aesthetic terms of Hindu modernity promoted by the Nepali state since the high modernist era of panchayat rule from the 1960s–1990s (Pigg 1996). This leads to the fourth and final argument about the importance of paying close attention to the materiality of religious practice in times of social and political transformation. Recent debates in South Asian studies have focused on the shortcomings of the influential Subaltern Studies collective. Much of the discussion has to do with how scholars like Ranajit Guha (1999) addressed – or not – the relationship between political economy and cultural practice in understanding the emergence of political consciousness at certain historical conjunctures. A sort of neoorthodox Marxian reading – exemplified by Vivek Chibber (2013) – argues that the subalternists invested too much in the cultural turn and

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Figure 4.2 Suspa Bhumethan on Bhume Jatra, Suspa-Kshamawati, Dolakha, Nepal. May 2008. Photo by author.

not enough in understanding the basics of materiality and how it compels people to act. In such representations, materiality is understood in a reductive manner that focuses on the material dimensions and sensations of “well-being” or its absence (Chibber 2013). But another group of scholars (Chandra 2016; Shah 2014) argues that the problem with the subalternists was that they did not accord enough attention to the truly substantive effects of religious experience on political consciousness. Here I suggest that a means of bridging these two approaches might be found in a focus on the materiality of religious practice in times of political transformation. “Material culture” as a concept at once recognizes the very pragmatic nature of the world around us and connects it to the representational practices that we understand to make up the domain of culture. Through my analysis of the newly emergent temple buildings in rural Dolakha, I develop an approach that at once recognizes the political economic dimensions of religious positionality in a secularizing, once-Hindu state and accounts for the soteriological, affective experiences of spiritual life that are at once embedded in and generative of such

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political economies. As such, my account contributes to Mohita Bhatia’s call to deepen the study of secularization by “locat[ing] conceptual propositions within the phenomenological realm of everyday reality” (2013: 106). Through all of these arguments, which emerge primarily out of empirical detail rather than comparative theoretical considerations, I contribute to the “anthropology of secularism” (Asad 2003; Cannell 2010). Rather than attempting to evaluate the success or failure of secularism as a normative category, however, the ethnography presented here works to “explore the plurality of the secular” (Bubandt and van Beek 2012: 9) as it has been experienced on the ground during Nepal’s ongoing state of transformation. Historical and Political Context Nepal has experienced several phases of political upheaval since its unification in 1769 by the Shah kings, who ruled it as a self-proclaimed Hindu state, or asal Hindustan (“pure Hindu land,” in implicit contradistinction to India under colonial rule). After a brief experiment with democracy in the 1950s, from 1960 to 1990, the country was governed as a “partyless panchayat democracy” under kings Mahendra and Birendra. After the 1990 People’s Movement, then King Birendra agreed to become a constitutional monarch, and Nepal “returned” to democracy. While secularism was already a major demand of the 1990 People’s Movement, the 1990 constitution still defined the country as a Hindu kingdom. 1996 saw the launch of the Maoist People’s War. The call for a secular state was one of the initial forty demands submitted by the insurgents to the state in 1996. After ten years of conflict, the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) set the country on the path towards its declaration as a secular federal democratic republic, a new state form that was ultimately enshrined in the 2007 Interim Constitution. In 2008, elections were held for the country’s first ever Constituent Assembly (CA). With the Maoists winning a plurality of seats, this 601-member body sat for four years before being dissolved in May 2012 without ever achieving its primary objective of promulgating a new constitution for the now ostensibly secular federal democratic state (Adhikari and Gellner 2016). The election of a second CA in 2013 signaled a shift to the right with the Nepali Congress this time winning a plurality of seats, while the Maoists faced significant losses. After protracted debates that focused on the nature and location of federal boundaries, the second CA finally promulgated a new constitution in September 2015. Coming in the wake

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of the massive April–May 2015 earthquakes, the new constitution was seen as a rush job fueled by political expediency, which resulted in a less progressive document than many hoped. Its promulgation yielded months of protest and a blockade along the long border with India. Some of the key contested provisions relate to federal boundaries, citizenship provisions that discriminate by gender, and the revised definition of secularism. Although it reaffirms Nepal’s commitment to secularism, the 2015 constitution adds an additional clause, stating in Article 4 that in the Nepali context, secularism is to be defined as, “sanatan-dekhicaliaeko dharma sanskriti ko samraksan”, which is unofficially translated as “the protection of religion and culture being practiced since ancient times” (as cited in Gellner and Letizia 2016: 5–6). This is read by some as being a not-so-covert reference to Hindu traditions, whose exponents often refer to their practices as sanatan dharma. The ethnographic work on which the present chapter is based was conducted between 2012 and 2014, before these most recent developments. It therefore serves as a period piece, documenting how secularization was understood at the level of lived, day-to-day reality in a rural context during the protracted period of political transition that Nepal experienced beginning in 2006. I argue that one of the silver linings in this extended period of political transformation was that people across the country – not only politicians or elite members of “civil society” – had the opportunity to think about what kind of state they desired to live in. Despite some representations of a fatigued and disaffected populace, I hope to show here that engagement with core constitutional issues like secularism and the federal design of the country was widespread at the grassroots level during the nine-year period between the end of the conflict in 2006 and the constitutional promulgation in 2015. However, in this contribution, I am unable to assess how the seminal events of 2015 – the earthquakes and the political upheaval following the promulgation – further shaped the experiences of secularization that I describe here. Articulating Religion and Ethnicity Nepal is an extraordinarily diverse country, with over one hundred languages and over fifty recognized adivasi janajati (indigenous nationality) groups; several regional minorities, notably the madhesi (plains) communities of the Tarai; and various dalit (formerly “untouchable”) groups. Nepal’s 1854 Muluki Ain, or legal code, rationalized the unequal status of individual ethnic communities through the Hindu ideology of caste (cf. Höfer [1979] 2004), recognizing inequality as the legal “basis of

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the state” (Onta 2006: 305). Since the 1990 return to democracy, these groups have asserted increasing political agency through organizations like the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) and an influential series of madhesi political parties.5 Demands from these groups for a more inclusive state shaped the process of state restructuring, and, indeed, agreements reached between the interim government and both NEFIN and madhesi leaders in the wake of the 2006 CPA played an important part in the declaration of the country as a secular federal republic in the 2007 Interim Constitution. One of the key debates during the period of transformation between 2006 and 2015 focused on how new federal boundaries would be drawn and whether they would acknowledge ethnicity as a basis for political constituencies defined in territorial terms. This debate to a significant extent eclipsed discussion about secularism, which was initially understood as a fait accompli after the 2007 Interim Constitution. After all, unlike redrawing territorial boundaries to achieve the objective of a federal state, the pragmatic mechanisms through which secularism was to be implemented were never so clear, and therefore secularism was less publically debated than federalism. In other words, precisely because the relationship between secularism as a political commitment and secularization as a societal process were unclear in Nepal, the shift to secularism did not initially provoke fears commensurate with those that emerged in response to the much more concrete proposals for identity-based territorial restructuring. I suggest that during the transitional period, the agenda of secularism in Nepal, therefore, came to serve as a proxy for the agenda of ethnic selfdetermination, leading to a complicated set of articulations between religious and ethnic identity for both ethnic activists and common citizens as they have struggled to understand what secularism actually means and what its relationship with secularization might look like. This process of articulation generated some unexpected expressions of identity – such as the new temple buildings that I will discuss later in this chapter – which demonstrate a complicated and rapidly changing set of relationships between religious and ethnic subjectivity. Figures on religion from the 2011 census show a country that is 81.3 percent Hindu, 9 percent Buddhist, 4.4 percent Muslim, 3 percent Kirant (an indigenous religion), 1.4 percent Christian, and 0.9 percent 5

On the historical dimensions of caste and ethnicity vis-à-vis the Nepali state, see Gellner, Pfaff-Czarnecka, and Whelpton 1997, and Levine 1987; on the contemporary dynamics of janajati organizations, see Hangen 2010, Onta 2006, and Shneiderman 2013; and on madhesi movements, see Jha 2014, Mathema 2011, and Sijapati 2013.

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other. But figures on ethnic and caste identity show approximately 44 percent high-caste Hindu (Brahmin and Chetri), 37 percent janajati, 13 percent dalit (who identify as Hindu, but due to their low-caste status might be seeking to transform terms of that identity), and 4.3 percent religious minorities. Adding the figures for high caste Hindu and dalit together, we reach 57 percent Hindu–which means that in order to reach the 81.3 percent Hindu figure enumerated in the religious identity section of the census, a significant portion of the 37 percent janajati or other “minority” respondents must have also identified themselves as Hindu. Nonetheless, at the political level, the janajati movement has explicitly positioned itself in opposition to a Hindu identity. This provokes the question: Whose demands have driven the secularist agenda in Nepal, if such a significant proportion of the population actually identify themselves as Hindu at the level of practice, even those who would identify as non-Hindu in ethnic terms? The implications of this question will become clear in the ethnographic discussion below. Lauren Leve suggests that, indeed, in post-1990 Nepal, the idea of “secularism became a rallying call for multicultural democracy” (2007: 84) in a manner that brought together in new ways a small group of well-positioned Buddhist activists and a much larger group of grassroots based ethnic activists. The latter group was most recognizably represented in the public sphere through NEFIN, which brought together more than fifty indigenous groups under an umbrella organization. One of NEFIN’s criteria for definition as an “indigenous nationality” group is that it is “not included in Hindu caste system.”6 There is some sleight of hand here because, at least from the state’s perspective, the 1854 Muluki Ain legal code brought these groups within the caste system as codified by the Shah kings in their project of state making (Höfer [1979] 2004). Further, it is clear from the census figures that at the level of personal practice, a significant number of those who identify themselves ethnically as janajati today also identify themselves as practicing Hindus. This is hardly news to most Nepalis, or to scholars of Nepal, who have long argued that exclusive definitions of religion as a singular identity are not appropriate in the Nepali context (Gellner 2005) and that, historically, non-Hindu groups have adopted Hindu practices over time as they sought inclusion in the explicitly Hindu Nepali nation-state. However, it prompts a more careful investigation of how the discourses of secularism and practices of secularization have been experienced by people on the ground for whom such multivalent religious and ethnic identities are 6

http://www.indigenousvoice.com/en/indigenous-peoples/national.html, Accessed April 22, 2018.

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integral parts of day-to-day subjectivity and how the broader political transformation in which concepts of secularism are embedded is shaping contemporary religiosity itself. Before turning to my ethnographic material from the central-eastern district of Dolakha, I should clarify here that the relationship between secularist and indigenous rights agendas in Nepal sets it apart from other South Asian contexts. Here, the most vocal advocates of secularism are not dominant “liberal elites” (cf. Kaviraj 2013) who promote the concept as part of a broader liberal agenda, as in India and Pakistan, but rather ethnic activists for whom secularism is not primarily a normative ideal but a tactical means of gaining a broader suite of minority rights. Arguments about the advent of secularism being undemocratic in quantitative terms might have some relevance here (cf. Kaviraj 2013; Chapter 2 of this volume, following Madan 1998); recall the discussion cited above over whether there was adequate “public debate” over the meanings of secularism before its political introduction. However, we also must acknowledge that in Nepal, the achievement of secularism is part of a broader agenda to refashion the polity in a newly inclusive manner by making it, for the first time in history, a “multiple agent-dependent state” (Bhargava 2013: 88) – by diversifying stakeholders beyond the historically dominant caste Hindu hill elite. For this reason, critiques of secularism have a different political valence in Nepal than they do elsewhere in South Asia. To critique secularism is not to critique a so-called liberal elite – many of whom in private may not support the notion of a secular state per se – but rather to undercut minority rights movements from below. This is not to say that critique is impossible but rather that it must be fashioned with a careful awareness of its potential real-world effects in a political context where these questions remain raw and open. To put a point on it, in the run-up to the 2015 constitutional promulgation, a new social movement crystallized around Hindu nationalist elements that sought a return to defining Nepal as a Hindu state, with the most publicly recognizable faction led by former Home Minister Kamal Thapa in his new role as leader of the royalist Rastriya Prajantantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N) (Wagner 2018). This mobilization seems partly responsible for the changed definition of secularism in the new constitution and suggests that despite constitutional affirmation, the category itself is still subject to political negotiation in the domains of both popular mobilization and legal opinion. The Thangmi Ethnographic Context The Thangmi (as they call themselves), or Thami (as they are referred to by the state), are a group of approximately forty thousand split between

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several districts of Nepal – especially Dolakha and Sindhupalchok – and the Indian states of West Bengal (in Darjeeling district) and Sikkim.7 For the purposes of this chapter, I focus only upon Thangmi temple building within Nepal, indeed within the single VDC of Suspa-Kshamawati in Dolakha district, but broader dynamics of ethnicity and religiosity certainly shape the highly localized scenario that I describe here. The Thangmi speak a distinctive Tibeto-Burman language (Turin 2012) and practice what they call Thangmi dharma, or Thangmi religion, which blends elements of Hindu and Buddhist religiosity into a synthetic form officiated by Thangmi gurus, or shamans, in a ritual register of the Thangmi language. For reasons that I have described elsewhere (Shneiderman 2015a: chapter 1), the Thangmi have remained historically understudied. They also have not been well represented within Nepali discourses of ethnicity and indigeneity until relatively recently. They were recognized as a janajati group by the 2002 Nepal Foundation for the Development of Indigenous Nationalities act, and their representative organization, the Nepal Thami Samaj, has been a member of NEFIN since then. However, as a relatively small janajati group in terms of population, Thangmi have often remained critical of janajati movement leadership, particularly around the cultural politics of identity. The Thangmi define themselves as ethnically distinctive and speak often about their history of exploitation at the hands of caste Hindus who migrated to their areas of settlement in Dolakha and Sindhupalchok in the mid-1800s, appropriating land previously held as Thangmi kipat, or legally recognized ancestral territory (see Forbes 1999; Limbu n.d.; Shneiderman 2015a: chapters 4 and 6). However, many Thangmi openly describe elements of their religious practice as “Hindu” – although such references are couched within the broader framework of Thangmi dharma as a synthetic religious system that incorporates motifs from a range of traditions including both Hinduism and Buddhism (Shneiderman 2015a: chapter 3). For this reason, over the years of my research, I have often observed the Thangmi coming into ideological conflict with janajati activists from other groups who have advocated the boycott of the Hindu state festival of Dasain (Hangen 2005), for example, or the prohibition of other “Hindu” practices in order to conform to the activist definition of janajati as being “non-Hindu”. To sum up, when defining themselves in ethnic terms, the Thangmi clearly opt for membership in the janajati category. They assert difference 7

For details of the Thangmi, see Shneiderman 2013, 2014, 2015a; and Gurung and Thami 2014.

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from caste Hindus, as well as janajati groups who practice Buddhism in a number of explicit and implicit ways (Shneiderman 2015a: chapter 3). However, when defining themselves in religious terms, Thangmi will combine the concept of Thangmi dharma with those of Hindu dharma and Buddha dharma to describe what they actually do in practice. Many Thangmi deities share names with Hindu and/or Buddhist counterparts, and the material objects of Thangmi religiosity also draw upon both symbolic fields; for instance, both “Hindu” trisul, or tridents, and “Buddhist” phurpa, or ritual daggers, play important roles in Thangmi ritual.8 Temple Building Projects and their Discontents In the early 2000s, I first observed how a Thangmi temple-building project became a site of contention. Thangmi worship sites were historically animistic ones: rocks embedded in the ground without any enclosure to set them apart from the rest of the natural world. But an activist teacher, decided in the late 1990s that it was essential to enclose Bhumethan, the most important Thangmi shrine in the village of Suspa. An active member of the Nepal Thami Samaj (NTS), the primary ethnic association representing the community at the national level, the teacher launched a local fundraising campaign to build a temple around the Bhumethan rock, and secured additional funding from a Japanese NGO. The annual festival of Bhume Jatra (honouring the territorial deity Bhume) held in 2000 marked the building’s inauguration, the first time the deity was surrounded by stone walls (see Figure 4.2). With wooden rafters, a yellow aluminum roof topped with a steeple, and an elaborately carved wooden door, the new structure alluded to both Hindu and Buddhist Himalayan temple architecture. Despite the temple’s hefty price tag of over 500,000 rupees (more than USD $7,000 at the time) and 742 days of villager manpower, Bhume apparently remained unimpressed, as the deity expressed its frustration through the voices of several shamans in trance. Although some villagers agreed with the teacher’s logic that spending money and time on such a structure showed their devotion to the deity and would also help make Thangmi practices more recognizable to outsiders, many felt that to enclose Bhume was to challenge the very source of the deity’s power. After all, Thangmi came to make offerings to the rock itself, embedded in the earth, not icons or statues installed in a 8

I cannot describe Thangmi ritual practice in further detail here; interested readers are directed to Shneiderman 2014 and 2015a.

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temple. As my hostess, an uneducated woman in her forties in the hamlet of Balasode, explained in 2000: For us Thangmi, Bhume is part of the earth. We are different from Hindus and Buddhists because we do not need temples to know that Bhume is with us. Now the temple that they have built makes our Bhume small and makes it seem like any other Hindu deity. The walls separate us from Bhume. I do not want to go inside there now. That temple belongs to Gopal [the teacher who had initiated its construction], not to Bhume or common Thangmi people like us (as cited in Shneiderman 2015a: chapter 6).

My hostess continued to describe how the temple building appeared to be a concession to a form of state-promoted Hindu modernity with which many Thangmi themselves felt uncomfortable. Since Thangmi religiosity itself was grounded in the worship of animistic deities who manifested in rocks or other natural features, historically, temple buildings had not been deemed necessary. In fact, as my hostess described, enclosures were felt to separate human from divine rather than bring them together. Such temple buildings were seen to be a feature of orthodox Hindu practice, which to my hostess and others in her school of thought symbolized the encroachment of caste Hindu values on Thangmi territory. In her view, building a temple to Bhume worked not to recognize the deity in Thangmi terms, but rather to make it over in the image of the dominant Hindu state in a manner that would transform the nature of Thangmi practice itself in an undesirable manner. Roll on to summer 2012, when I first set out to understand what the post-2006 political transformations had wrought. As I asked open-ended questions about “what has changed in your life,” and listened to responses that sometimes suggested no change at all but at other times articulately described transformation with terms like “secularism” (dharma nirapekshata) – literally meaning “religious non-alignment” – and “federalism” (sanghiyata), I also began to realize that the visual landscape was changing. There were several new temple buildings, and I began to seek an explanation for this in interviews. In the single VDC of Suspa-Kshamawati, there were a total of four new temple constructions and two more in process. I was taken aback by this proliferation of temple building. Based on my experiences from the early to mid-2000s, when such buildings were taken by many Thangmi as a capitulation to the idiom of state-promoted Hindu modernity – and strongly resisted, as evidenced by the quotation from my hostess cited previously – I had imagined that the transformation to a secular state would have taken Thangmi projects of material self-representation in a different direction. I was aware of several such

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ongoing projects, like the initiative to standardize and codify Thangmi shamanic ritual chants to create a text out of previously oral practice. But, contrary to my expectations, such initiatives that focused on ritual practice were complemented by a rapid acceleration in temple building, mostly along the same aesthetic lines as the earlier project to enclose Bhume, which had resulted in such vigorous debate within the community. As I inquired further about this apparent paradox, an intriguing story began to emerge. People talked about how resources of the state were newly available to them for their own cultural projects. Such resources came largely in the form of grants available at the district level for “development,” which could also be interpreted in terms of cultural and religious development. Several of the new temples had been funded through such grants, and others in conjunction with donor-led development projects, such as the Janajati Social and Economic Empowerment Project (JANSEEP) funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) (Shneiderman 2013).9 Many of the local organizers involved with these temple-building projects spoke about how only after the state had become secular could they, as Thangmi, hope to apply for state funds earmarked for cultural and religious development purposes. Previously, they explained, such funds would have gone automatically to orthodox temples run by high-caste Hindus. The problem, several Thangmi interviewees told me, was that for their projects to even be recognizable as cultural or religious ones, certain categorical boxes had to be ticked. Building a temple where there was none previously was an aesthetically obvious project of cultural “development” in the modernist terms of progress understood by the still demographically largely “Hindu state,” even though it had officially espoused political secularism. Funds for the codification of oral tradition, as well as funds to support shamanic training, were also sought in the immediate post-2006 years, but such applications were not as easily granted. Somewhat counterintuitively, the declaration of official state secularism began to alleviate the sense that Thangmi difference needed to be protected in the manner that my hostess in the area had described in her response to the first Bhume enclosure in 2000. With the state now 9

The Arkapole Bhume temple funded by JANSEEP is one of the six new structures I refer to in this article; however, I cannot provide ethnographic details of this project here. Interested readers are recommended to read the present article in conjunction with Shneiderman 2013 for a more comprehensive understanding of the relationship between donor- and state-funded projects.

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officially recognizing the possibility of religious difference as legitimate within the national imaginary, people became less concerned about marking difference at the level of local practice. Moreover, as several Thangmi informants put it, in an environment where ethnicity was becoming an increasingly polarizing political category, they became concerned with promoting “tolerance” between themselves and their caste Hindu neighbors. Put literally in Nepali, they were concerned with ensuring their ongoing ability to live together amicably – milera basne – through focusing on shared elements of religiosity in an ethnically mixed and increasingly politically charged environment. Temple-building projects provided a perfect opportunity to do just this. As the ensuing ethnographic vignettes will show, the declaration of political secularism had preceded secularization as a societal process, but as the latter ensued, it at once served to objectify various categories of belief and to identify long-standing tropes of shared religiosity as a grassroots resource to counteract trends of ethnic polarization. The ability to live together amicably – perhaps what is elsewhere coded as “tolerance” or “peaceful coexistence” (see Chapter 1 of this volume) – itself became objectified as a shared value. Rikhipole Seti Devi Mandir Situated on a rocky outcropping known as Rikhipole, the white walls and bright yellow aluminum roof of the Rikhipole Seti Devi temple (hereafter referred to as “Seti Devi”) overlook the Thangmi hamlet of Pashelung. Although the first official meeting of the temple-building and management committee was held in 2005 and construction was only completed in 2010, the temple was first envisioned by a group of Thangmi men in winter 2000 over a drink one night when their wives were all away at the Deolang Jatra (as described in the epigraph to this chapter). At that time, construction on the Suspa Bhumethan had just been completed, inspiring this group of Thangmi to imagine their own local temple building. The Suspa Bhumethan is about a one-and-a-half-hour, steep walk uphill from Pashelung on a narrow rocky path that weaves between terraced fields and hamlets of mud-walled houses roofed with a mix of thatch, slate, and aluminum. Although the Thangmi from Pashelung always went there for the annual Bhume Jatra festival in the spring – just as they went to Deolang Jatra in the winter – they were beginning to wonder why they needed to go so far. The former chair of the Seti Devi committee explained the rationale behind their thinking: “In terms of recognition, once there is a temple in the middle of a village, it [the place] will be known. ‘There is a temple

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there,’ people will say, ‘it is possible to work there, it is possible to bring development there, it is not a sinful or polluted place’” (Interview with author, June 4, 2014). These statements reveal a similar logic to that which drove the teacher’s initiative to build the Suspa Bhumethan. Constructing a temple was explicitly imagined as a means of bringing “recognition” to this out-of-the way place and its Thangmi residents. It was also seen as the necessary prerequisite for attracting outsiders – such as the predominantly caste-Hindu representatives of the state, as well as national and international NGOs – and the various forms of development they might bring. The notion that the temple would designate the village as virtuous and unpolluted in the eyes of such outsiders demonstrates a strong awareness among the Seti Devi committee members in the early 2000s that, as Thangmi, the onus lay on them to prove their worthiness as recipients of state development by showing that they were willing to accept the terms of state-promoted Hindu modernity. In response to my question about how the temple committee had determined what the structure would actually look like – for instance, why they had chosen the pagoda style and painted it yellow, another member of the committee said, “It’s suitable. It suits us, it suits the deity, and it also suits the government.” (Interview with author, June 2, 2014). The chair continued to explain that they intended the Seti Devi temple to serve as a “center” – kendriya – for all sorts of community activities, not just explicitly religious ones. Indeed, youth groups held meetings there, wedding bands rehearsed there, and, as one member of the committee recounted in excited anticipation, plans for future development included the installation of what he called “cinema seating” to accommodate audiences for various cultural performances. Intriguingly, the Seti Devi temple stood immediately downhill from, and in easy view of, the official VDC “community building,” which had remained largely empty since local governments were disbanded in 2002. This compelled me to ask why it was necessary to construct a new temple building to serve as a community center when there was a perfectly sound nonreligious community building sitting unused right next door. The chair’s reply articulated the paradoxes of Nepali secularism perfectly: “There we have no access. It belongs to the government. This temple that we have built is ours, here the government has to recognize us” (Interview with author, June 4, 2014). These statements must be understood within the context of the Nepali state’s changing approach to religious and cultural resource allocation over the last decade. When the Seti Devi committee first began thinking about building a temple in 2000, it was nearly impossible for “non-Hindu”

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religious organizations to secure state funding. Despite efforts to build temples like the Suspa Bhumethan in a recognizably Hindu aesthetic mode, temples whose main officiants were other than verified Hindu pandits (priests) did not qualify for governmental support. In the wake of the Interim Constitution of 2007, these dynamics began to shift. Since it would have been politically impossible for the newly secular state to sever governmental support for Hindu religious institutions overnight, the Nepali state instead sought to demonstrate its commitment to secularism by expanding funding to other faiths. As Letizia writes, “Secularism has not sought to prevent the state from financing Hindu religious institutions, but has instead been seen as an opportunity for religious minorities to claim equal support” (2013: 41). The question then becomes how such groups have claimed support. The pathways are relatively clear for adherents of theistic traditions that are obviously non-Hindu, such as Islam and Christianity.10 By registering with the District Administrative Office, organizations belonging to these faiths could apply for governmental funds (US Dept of State 2012). Although they might experience discrimination during the registration process (US Dept of State 2012), their basic claims to be bona fide religious organizations were unlikely to be challenged, and once the registration process was complete, they could apply for funds earmarked for non-Hindu religious institutions. For groups like the Thangmi, however, securing the explicitly religious resources of the secular state was more challenging. This was because, in large part due to Thangmi projects of self-representation over the last few decades that sought to make themselves recognizable in Hindu terms, state functionaries were likely to classify Thangmi temple building projects as Hindu, and therefore, in effect, disqualify them from receiving funds intended for other faiths as part of the government’s commitment to secularism. But the Catch-22 was that since Thangmi temples’ primary officiants were traditionally Thangmi shamans, not Hindu pandits, they still would not qualify for funds formally designated for Hindu temples. Committee members spoke about encountering precisely this problem when they attempted to register Seti Devi with the Dolakha district authorities in early 2008 as a non-Hindu temple. They were told that they could not register the temple as “Hindu” since it fell under the jurisdiction of Thangmi shamans, but they also could not register it as belonging to another faith since Thangmi dharma was not one of the

10

On Nepal’s Muslim communities, see Dastider 2007 and Sijapati 2011. On Christianity in Nepal, see Fricke 2008, Gibson 2017, and Leve 2014.

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available categories. For this reason, the Seti Devi committee imported a Hindu pandit from elsewhere to consecrate the temple’s foundation and frame. However, members of the Thangmi community who had donated to the temple’s construction felt so uncomfortable with this strategy that after a single ritual, the pandit was dismissed and the committee began to consider other alternatives. It was just their luck that in the same year of 2008, the government introduced a new line item in local budgets disbursed at the VDC level. Known locally as the janajati sirshak, or “indigenous nationalities heading,” these funds were earmarked for local development initiatives benefiting janajati residents (and usually implemented by them).11 This was one of several ad hoc efforts to make local governance more inclusive in the absence of elected local officials. The terms of the last elected local governments had expired in 2002, and there were no local elected officials in place at the time of research – a situation that was only remedied with the 2017 local elections. In the meantime, the Interim Constitution of 2007 had established a mechanism by which the seven main political parties would constitute interim local bodies comprised of one member from each party (CCD 2009: 7). Although these were never formally established from the top down, in many areas, bottom-up arrangements that realized this seven-party consensus arrangement were formed. This was indeed the case in Suspa-Kshamawati VDC, where subsequent to forming the seven-party committee to manage VDC affairs in 2007, a subcommittee called the Adivasi Janajati Samanya Parishad (Indigenous Nationalities Official Assembly) was established in 2008. Although these structures of governance should have been established in VDCs across the country, Suspa-Kshamawati residents told me that their VDC was unusual in having a relatively well-functioning seven-party governance committee, as well as good working relationships among representatives of the different janajati groups in the area (in addition to Thangmi, these include populations of Jirel, Newar, Sherpa, and Tamang), who amongst themselves shared an appropriately diverse combination of party affiliations. Once the Janajati Parishad was established, it became responsible for disbursing a certain proportion of VDC funds every year. Local organizations representing janajati causes could apply to receive such funding.

11

As stated in the VDC Block Grant Guidelines of 2006, at least 18.75 percent of block grants “must go to focused programmes for women’s empowerment, mainstreaming dalits and uplifting Janajatis and other excluded groups (VDC Block Grant Guidelines, 2006, as cited in Inlogos 2009)”. I do not have comparable information regarding allocations for women and dalits.

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In the first year of implementation, the bulk of the janajati sirshak funding went to a local group that set up a subsidized computer training center for janajati residents of the area. In addition to technical problems encountered with maintaining the hardware in the village environment, this initiative proved unsuccessful due to its polarizing social effect. Questions were raised about who could access the computer center and how their membership in a janajati group should be documented. Nonjanajati members of the VDC governing body – as well as community members at large – raised the objection that providing such a basic service only to certain members of the VDC on the basis of ethnicity constituted a form of reverse discrimination. Such critics argued that janajati sirshak funds should not be used to provide discriminatory access to services that could be of benefit to all community members, regardless of ethnic identity. Instead, they argued, the earmarked funds should go to support “cultural” [word used in English] projects that were clearly recognizable as being by and for janajati. Several Seti Devi committee members were directly involved in this debate – the former Seti Devi chair was now chair of the Janajati Parishad – and quickly understood that they might be able to apply for funds to support their as-yet-incomplete temple-building project. But there was another Catch-22: the Thangmi community that had spent the previous decades establishing its “Hindu” credentials in order to receive state recognition was now being told that in order to secure development resources, they must show themselves to be recognizably janajati – which, according to the official NEFIN definition, as described earlier in this chapter, meant “non-Hindu.” Construction of the Seti Devi temple had already begun in 2005 with funds raised from community donations, with an architectural plan that replicated the Suspa Bhumethan’s yellow-roofed pagoda. Indeed, as the chairperson had explained, such aesthetics were then understood to suit everyone involved, from deity to government and the various ethnic communities in between. Assessing the situation astutely, the Seti Devi committee applied in 2009 under the janajati sirshak for funds to support a “Thangmi community building” at the site of Rikhipole Seti Devi. They did not explicitly state that it was to be a “temple” or that it was to have any religious function. Instead, they explained that it was to be a space for Thangmi cultural gatherings – along the lines of the youth group meetings and wedding rehearsals that my interlocutors attested now occurred there – hence the need for “cinema seating.” They spoke of decorating the interior of the building with “life-like” [word used in English] portrayals of Yapati Chuku and Sunari Aji, the mythical ancestors of the Thangmi people (see the following section and Shneiderman 2015a

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chapters 3 and 6 for details). For the purposes of the application, it was left as an unexplained coincidence that the site of the proposed structure was known as the abode of a local Seti Devi deity, which both Thangmi and caste Hindu community members venerated. The application was successful, and yielded Rs. 100,000 (approximately USD $1,000) toward the project from the VDC Janajati Parishad in its second year of operation. This amount was subsequently matched by the District Development Committee’s (DDC) counterpart to the Janajati Parishad. The story that I have been able to document so far does not tell what the debate over the application – if there was any – looked like at either the VDC or DDC level. The local actors involved must have all been aware of the religious functions and architecture of the building that was already visibly under construction at the site; however its official representation as a “non-religious” janajati cultural center seemed to suit everyone’s purposes well. The VDC could point to a material marker of its effective implementation of the mandated “provisions for the representation of the socially and economically weaker sections of society, ethnic and gender groups and other minorities” (CCD 2009: 3) by disbursing funds to a Thangmi “cultural project” under the janajati sirshak, while not muddying the waters by identifying it as a religious project that would have required further investigation of whether the temple was indeed “Hindu” or “non-Hindu.” The fact is that it was both. The resultant temple served not only the Thangmi community but also caste Hindu devotees of the deity Seti Devi, who also participated in the regular calendrical festivals and came to make offerings to the deity for personal purposes. The chair spoke about this as an explicit benefit of the project, as it eased tensions during this time of transformation by giving the interethnic community a space in which they could all live and worship together – milera basne. However, the crucial fact was that the temple management committee was composed exclusively of Thangmi members, and funds were disbursed from the government through the janajati sirshak for construction of the building as a Thangmi cultural site. With its state funding, the Rikhipole Seti Devi temple provided for the first time in this locale a material, governmentfunded marker of recognition of the Thangmi as a distinct janajati group with a legitimate claim to participation in state development processes on their own terms. This is what the chair meant when he contrasted the lack of “access” symbolized by previously existing state structures like the abandoned VDC building with the assertion of Thangmi control over governance symbolized by the Seti Devi temple. The paradox is that while the government represented by the VDC building had in theory become secular, for the chair, it was still identified with the oppressive dimensions of the Hindu state; while the Thangmi-controlled temple that for him

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represented greater inclusion and access to state resources was, in fact, a religious site which in aesthetic and devotional terms looked very much like its Hindu counterparts. However, through its classification by the state as a “cultural” site for a community defined in “ethnic” terms, instead of a “religious” one for a community defined in faith-based terms, state resources enabled the assertion of Thangmi ethnic identity and religiosity in new ways. In this sense, we can see how grassroots responses to state secularism have resulted in the “objectification of belief” (Iqtidar and Sarkar 2013: 38), through the reification and separation of the conceptual categories of “religion” and “ethnicity.” This might be seen as an unintended effect of the societal process of secularization, which in fact pulls in the opposite direction of the normative ideals of state secularism. Yapati Sunari Sangralaya tatha Tilak Pokhari Mandir The biggest “cultural construction project” yet in the area was just becoming visible during my summer 2014 visit to Dolakha: not a temple alone but rather a museum complex that included a site of worship. Construction had begun on the site where the Thangmi forefather and foremother Yapati Chuku and Sunari Aji were believed to have first settled in the Rangathali area of Upper Suspa, a short walk uphill from the Suspa Bhumethan. The complex included a large stone structure intended to house museum displays, which the site’s management committee was calling Yapati Sunari Sangralaya (Yapati Sunari Museum), as well as an open-air worship site at Tilak Pokhari, an alpine spring where Yapati Chuku and Sunari Aji are believed to have drawn their drinking and washing water (Figure 4.3). The logics behind the museum’s construction in some ways converge, and in others contrast, with those that drove the development of Rikiphole Seti Devi Mandir. Some of the starkest contrasts emerge from the different regulatory regimes of classification that each project encountered, while others have to do with the specific historical moment at which the museum project began to come to fruition.12 After the dissolution of the first Constituent Assembly in 2012, the political valence of the category of “ethnicity” shifted significantly (Adhikari and Gellner 2016), once again altering how it was conceptualized in relation to the category of “religion.” 12

In October 2016, members of the Thangmi community held a ritual to formally mark the establishment of the museum, which has been supported through new fundraising efforts in conjunction with members of Nepal’s fashion industry (Kantipur 2016). I hope to update the narrative offered here through future ethnographic work that considers how this new funding and the 2015 constitution affected the museum project.

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Figure 4.3 Members of the museum committee visit the Rangathali site, with Tilak Pokhari in the foreground. Suspa-Kshamawati, Dolakha, Nepal, June 2014. Photo by author.

The founding museum committee chair first submitted a proposal to both the VDC and the DDC in 2011 for funds to build a museum, entitled, “Why and How Do We Need a Thangmi Museum?”. The museum was to house items of cultural distinctiveness, including shamanic implements, as well as implements of everyday Thangmi life. The proposal includes a photographic argument for its need, showing all of the existing temples in chronological order of their building, and argues that this museum is the next logical step. It proposes developing a tourist trail linking all of the newly built temples, which would begin at the museum, conveniently located near a newly built agricultural roadhead that in the dry season brings vehicular traffic directly from the district headquarters of Charikot. As Dolakha is a district with a relatively small tourist economy, despite its many important cultural sites, the proposal argued, a Thangmi museum could serve as the lynchpin for a broader effort to develop cultural tourism in the region. As with Seti Devi, the initial proposal cast the project in cultural, rather than religious, terms and also emphasized the potential economic benefits a museum could bring to the region as a whole, not only the Thangmi community. Yapati Chuku and Sunari Aji were described as Thangmi “culture heroes” [words used in English], and the museum was conceptualized as a tribute to their legacy. Shamans, their costumes, and their ritual implements held pride of place in the descriptions of what the museum would display, but they were described as Thangmi cultural elders rather than religious officiants. The successful proposal garnered the temple Rs. 100,000 each from the VDC and DDC Janajati Parishad. With those funds in hand, ground was broken for the museum structure in 2012.

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However, the museum committee soon encountered a formidable problem. Soon after the groundbreaking, the Brahmin chairperson of the Community Forestry User Group (CFUG) in the area filed a court case to stay the museum construction. His main complaint was that the land upon which the museum was to be built was, in fact, public land entrusted to the management of the local community forestry user group and could not be used for purposes exclusive to a single ethnic community – in this case, Thangmi. This suit was only the most recent in a series of legal battles between caste Hindu and Thangmi residents of the area over land rights. As members of the museum building committee recounted (conversation with author, June 3, 2014), in 1963–1964, a suit was filed by sixteen Thangmi households against a caste Hindu family for appropriating their land illegally.13 The current CFUG chair’s father was the chief defendant. The land in question overlaps significantly with the site of the current museum project. After several years of legal battle, the case was settled with an agreement to reclassify the disputed territory as sarbajanik, or public land. It was just at this time that community forestry was being introduced to the region by the Swiss Development Corporation (SDC), and in the wake of the legal settlement, the area in question was reserved for community forestry use. The museum committee members told me that they recognized the validity of the territory’s legal classification as public land, but they disputed the exclusive equation of “public” with “community forest.” Following a broader trend in which indigenous scholar-activists in Nepal have called into question the caste and ethnic hierarchies of the country’s much-touted CFUGs (Tamang 2011), one of the Thangmi museum committee members alluded to the International Labor Organization Convention 169 on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (which Nepal became the second Asian country to ratify in 2007).14 He explained that since the area had historically been Thangmi territory – which only came to be classified as “public” in the wake of its illegal appropriation by others – the Thangmi community had prior 13

14

This description is based upon the narrative provided by members of the museum committee. I have not been able to interview the CFUG chair or access documentation of the court case. In a donor-commissioned social appraisal report addressing the challenges of inclusion in Nepal’s Community Forestry sector, anthropologist Mukta S. L. Tamang writes, “government and social movements are increasingly aware that existing official forest tenure systems in the country discriminate against the rights and claims of indigenous people and other local communities” (2011: 20). He also calls attention to Hemant Ojha’s statement that the Federation of Community Forestry User Groups Nepal (FECOFUN), “currently represents primarily high caste, economically middle class, and dominant pahade groups” (Ojha 2011: 11–12).

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rights to jal, jangal, and jamin (water, forest, and territory) in this location. Therefore, chimed in another museum committee member, the Thangmi community should determine to what “public” use the land was put, and their current desire was to build a museum. Clearly, this argument had its supporters at the VDC and DDC level; otherwise the proposal would not have been funded in the first place, as it outlined the museum’s territorial location and proposed use of public land in detail. The museum committee members continued to explain that their “supporters” [word used in English] at the DDC level had advised them to counter the CFUG chair’s suit by filing their own petition demanding the reclassification of the territory in question as dharmik ban – religious forest – instead of sarbajanik, or public land. While there was no longer any legal category approximating “ethnic territory” – as the concept of kipat had once done (Forbes 1999: Limbu n.d.: Shneiderman 2015: chapter 6) – the state still maintained the category of “religious forest” even after the advent of secularism. Just as the state had interpreted secularism to mean the expansion of resources to fund non-Hindu institutions – rather than the curtailment of funding for Hindu ones – here the “religious forest” category was maintained so that Hindu sites on government-managed forest land, such as Pashupatinath (Hausner 2007), would remain unaffected, while the category was also opened to applications from non-Hindu groups. As one of the museum committee members explained, in their petition to have the area reclassified as religious forest, they wrote, “Now the country is secular and everyone is entitled to have the protection of the state for their religious territory. This is the place of our ancestors; therefore it is the source of our Thangmi dharma ” (interview with author June 3, 2014).15 Quickly, a line item was added to the next year’s proposal to the VDC and DDC: a temple enclosure was to be built at the site of Tilak Pokhari, the sacred spring from which Yapati Chuku and Sunari Aji drew their water, and where Thangmi shamans propitiated the site’s territorial deities on a regular calendrical basis. Herein lies the rub. The Seti Devi temple committee envisioned their project in religious terms but had to recast it in cultural terms associated with their ethnic identity in order to fit their agenda into the relevant state categories at the time and place of their application. Less than a decade later, the museum committee members conceived of their project in cultural terms associated with their ethnic identity but were compelled to recast it in religious terms in order to take advantage of the relevant 15

This is based on the committee member’s oral account; I have not been able to review the actual petition.

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state category that would enable them to lay legal claim to the territory on which they wished to build the museum. Reframing their project in religious terms was not unappealing to the museum committee members. The committee certainly understood the site as a source of the sacred originary in relation to which Thangmi identity is forged (Shneiderman 2015a: chapters 2 and 3), so it was not much of a stretch to begin speaking about Yapati Chuku and Sunari Ama as ancestral deities as well as “culture heroes.” Moreover, by 2012, in the wake of the legal suit over the land-use designation at the museum site, it was becoming patently clear that the agenda of ethnic inclusion and identity-based federalism that had dominated much of the political space from 2008 to 2012 was becoming less popular. Despite the funds still available through the janajati sirshak, the museum committee realized they might do well to soften the specifically ethnic dimension of the museum building project. The CA was dissolved in May 2012 in large part due to the inability to agree upon if or how ethnicity should be recognized as a basis for territorial restructuring. Interest groups representing high-caste Brahmins and Chetris blocked the passage of a social inclusion bill that would have classified them as “others” and demanded instead that they, too, be classified as “indigenous” (Adhikari and Gellner 2016). Soon thereafter, international donors who had strongly pushed the concept of social inclusion in the early days of the state restructuring process by funding several community development and advocacy projects targeting janajati groups (such as the JANSEEP project that operated in Dolakha and funded the Arkapole Bhume temple described in Shneiderman 2013) began to back away from this agenda. By the time of my visit to Dolakha in mid-2014, these shifts in the national debate over ethnicity coalesced with the localized legal affront over land-use classification to sensitize the museum committee members to the challenges of advancing their project as an ethnic one – even though they had previously been encouraged to do just this in order to secure funds through the janajati sirshak. The following conversation with a Thangmi member of the museum committee demonstrates how local understandings of the relationship between ethnicity and religion were being refigured in relation to broader national discourses of state restructuring and secularism: committee member: author: committee member:

Secularism means that everyone can develop their own religion, so it benefits us. But is your project [the museum] a religious or ethnic one? They are inseparable. But if we say “it is ethnic,” others won’t let us proceed, while if we say “it is religious,” others will let us proceed. Everyone has religion.

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The implication here is that while “everyone has religion,” the same cannot be said of ethnicity. The vitriolic debate over the role of ethnicity in shaping federal boundaries had reframed “ethnicity” as an attribute belonging only to certain marked categories of people – notably janajati – not to caste Hindus who remained unmarked as “others.” Therefore, to describe the museum project as part of a Thangmi ethnic agenda would appear more exclusive of non-Thangmi residents of the area, while casting it as a religious project would appear more inclusive, since everyone had religion, even – perhaps especially – those who remained “unmarked” in ethnic terms. This was especially so because the declaration of secularism was a fait accompli, and it was understood by all that, at least in theory, all religions were to enjoy equal rights; while the role of ethnicity in determining one’s potential access to special rights remained an open question, and, therefore, its invocation made many uneasy. In order to further demonstrate the museum’s status as a religious project with broad benefit for diverse community members, the Thangmi-led museum committee invited two caste Hindu residents to join the committee, and an updated proposal compared the site to the Hindu Bhimsenthan temple complex in Dolakha bazaar to further emphasize the economic benefits of the museum as an anchor for tourism in the region as a whole. During my visit to the sacred spring of Tilak Pokhari in June 2014, the committee members explained that although they were happy to emphasize it as the spiritual center of the museum complex, they did not want to build a fully enclosed temple in the “Hindu” aesthetic style of the Suspa Bhumethan or Rikhipole Seti Devi. Indeed, although a low rock wall was built around the spring and a wrought iron door had been installed to mark the entrance to the sacred area just the day before I visited, there was no roofed temple. As one committee member explained, “This is how Thangmi religion is: natural religion. Before we had to show, ‘we are Hindu,’ but now that this country has become secular we can worship our deities in our own way. We must leave it open so that both gurus and common Thangmi can worship the deity” (conversation with author, 3 June 2014). In the years between the 2010 completion of the Rikhipole Seti Devi temple and the 2014 installation of the rock wall around Tilak Pokhari, the burden to prove their credentials as bearers of Hindu modernity that the architects of the earlier Thangmi temple buildings had felt in imagining the style of their sacred buildings had clearly lessened. Instead, leaving the sacred site unenclosed was seen as a means of returning Thangmi practice to its “natural” state of communion between gurus, common people, and the divine by doing away with the

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walls that people like my hostess in Balasode, as quoted earlier in this chapter, felt compromised truly Thangmi forms of religiosity. The museum building remains unfinished, and while the petition for religious forest classification has been approved at the VDC and DDC levels, it still requires final confirmation at the central level in Kathmandu by the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation. In 2014, an additional application for museum funding was submitted to the corporate headquarters of the Upper Tamakoshi Hydroelectric Project (UTKHEP), which is operating further north in mountain areas of Dolakha district and had called for proposals from community projects seeking funding. This possibility of privatized corporate funding adds an interesting new dimension to the landscape, and it remains unclear how UTKHEP would prefer to see the museum project represented – in ethnic, religious, or perhaps economic terms. Conclusion Taken together, these ethnographic vignettes demonstrate how the temple buildings emerging across the landscape of Dolakha’s SuspaKshamawati VDC are one materialization of the relationship between political secularism and the societal process of secularization in Nepal. The particular forms of religiosity they forge show how, over time, shifts in the categorical imperatives of state policy for resource allocation may actually shape spiritual practice. Moreover, such shifts in articulation between policy, resources, and practice work to materialize “ethnicity” and “religion” as distinctive, politically nuanced categories for those who enact them. In post-2006 Nepal, the advent of secularism emboldened new forms of claims making on the state, both in terms of accessing resources and political power. But for members of Nepal’s janajati communities who have appropriated various elements of Hindu religiosity over time, this has often been a vexed process. The process of secularization has compelled them to “objectify belief” as they work to disentangle the notion of “ethnic” identity from that of “religious” identity and bring these categories into new patterns of articulation on both political and ritual registers. The idiom of religious equality has enabled discussions of ethnic and cultural equality that otherwise might not have been possible, but it has also compelled the reification of religion as a category separate from culture and ethnicity. Although secularism in its orthodox definition implies the separation of religion from state, most Thangmi seem to understand the concept to

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mean the artificial separation of different religions – and religion from ethnicity – for the purpose of legislating equality. They see these as worthwhile and important objectives in themselves but nonetheless find it disconcerting to have to identify themselves as “non-Hindu” to make a case for “ethnic rights” – particularly when they felt the opposite was necessary until very recently. Many members of the community are very self-conscious about how they must adjust their own selfrepresentation and practices in order to access state funds for community development projects. They distinguish between the notion of Hindu religiosity in practice and “Hindu identity” as an ethnicized form of political self-positioning. The temple buildings – managed and built by Thangmi, for Thangmi, but open to caste Hindus who also make offerings at them – are a way of embodying the former while maintaining an identity that is at once distinct from the latter and recognizable in its terms. They are also a material manifestation of how ethnically and religiously diverse residents of shared territory manage and seek strategies that allow them to milera basne, or live together amicably, through everyday practice. Nonetheless, since the dissolution of the first Constituent Assembly in 2012, Nepal has witnessed the rise of an antisecular Hindu nationalist movement, led by the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal, which seeks the return of a Hindu state (Wagner 2018). Publically vocal activists like RPP-N leader Kamal Thapa were buoyed by Narendra Modi’s 2014 electoral win next door, and their subsequent mobilization succeeded in altering the constitutional definition of secularism in a manner with implications that are not yet fully understood. But if only such activists knew that the process of secularization in the wake of the 2006 declaration of state secularism had in fact prompted increased religiosity and temple building projects – both expressed in largely Hindu modalities – on the part of janajati groups like the Thangmi, perhaps they would change their tune. The 2015 earthquakes destroyed almost all of the temple buildings described in this chapter (Figure 4.4). Their architects in the Thangmi community are now starting all over again. It remains to be seen how the necessary resources will materialize in the postearthquake, postconstitution context. Will new temple building projects define themselves through the logic of ethnicity, religion, or perhaps commodification (cf. Comaroff and Comaroff 2009), in the manner that the current reinvigoration of the museum project seems to suggest? Will people’s ability to live together amicably be reinforced or challenged in new ways? Ultimately, material forces – natural, social, and economic – will continue to shape

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Figure 4.4 Mahadevsthan temple after the earthquake, Suspa-Kshamawati VDC, Dolakha, Nepal, May 2016. Photo by author.

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International IDEA. 2013. “Citizen Survey 2013: Nepal in Transition.” Kathmandu: International IDEA. Iqtidar, Humeira. 2012. “Secularism and Secularisation: Untying the Knots.” Economic and Political Weekly 67(50): 50–58. Iqtidar, Humeira and Tanika Sarkar. 2013. “Reassessing Secularism and Secularisation in South Asia.” Economic and Political Weekly 68(50): 38–41. Jha, Prashant. 2008. “Secularism in a Diverse State,” Nepali Times 419: 2. 2014. Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal. New Delhi: Aleph Book Company. Kantipur. 2016 “Thami Mujiyam Banauna Phesan” [The Fashion of Making a Thami Museum]. Aswin 11, 2073 [September 27, 2016] http:// kantipur.ekantipur.com/news/2016-09-27/20160927090906.html Kaviraj, Sudipta. 2013. “Languages of Secularity.” Economic and Political Weekly 68(50): 93–102. Letizia, Chiara. 2011. “Shaping Secularism in Nepal.” European Bulletin of Himalayan Research 39: 66–104. 2013. “The Goddess Kumari at the Supreme Court: Divine Kinship and Secularism in Nepal.” Focaal 67: 32–46 Leve, Lauren. 2007. “Secularism is a Human Right!: Double Binds of Buddhism, Democracy, and Identity in Nepal.” pp. 78–113 in The Practice of Human Rights, eds. M. Goodale and S. E. Merry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2014. “Cruel Optimism, Christianity and the Post-Conflict Optic.” FieldsightsHot Spots, Cultural Anthropology Online (24 March). www.culanth.org/ fieldsights/509-cruel-optimism-christianity-and-the-post-conflict-optic Levine, Nancy. 1987. “Caste, State, and Ethnic Boundaries in Nepal.” Journal of Asian Studies 46(1): 71!88. Limbu, Pauline. n.d. “From Kipat to Autonomy: Land and Territory in Today’s Limbuwan Movement.” Unpublished. Malagodi, Mara. 2011. “The End of a National Monarchy: Nepal’s Recent Constitutional Transition from Hindu Kingdom to Secular Federal Republic.” Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism 11(2): 234–251. Mathema, Kalyan Bhakta. 2011. Madhesi Uprising: The Resurgence of Ethnicity. Kathmandu: Mandala Book Point. Michaels, Axel. 2011. “To Whom Does the Pashupatinath Temple of Nepal Belong?” pp. 125–143 in The Politics of Belonging in the Himalayas: Local Attachments and Boundary Dynamics, eds. J. Pfaff-Czarnecka and G. Toffin. New Delhi: Sage. Mishra, Chaitanya, and Om Gurung, eds. 2012. Ethnicity and Federalisation in Nepal. Kathmandu: Central Department of Sociology/Anthropology. Ojha, Hemant. 2011. “The Evolution of Institutions for Multi-Level Governance of Forest Commons: The Case of Community Forest User Groups Federation in Nepal.” Conference paper, Hyderabad. India. http:// dlc.dlib.indiana.edu/dlc/handle/10535/7103 Onta, Pratyoush. 2006. “The Growth of the Adivasi Janajati Movement in Nepal After 1990.” Studies in Nepali History and Society 11(2): 303–354.

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Ortner, Sherry. 1995. “The Case of the Disappearing Shamans, or No Individualism, No Relationalism.” Ethos 23(3): 355!390. Shah, Alpa. 2014. “Religion and the Secular Left: Subaltern Studies, Birsa Munda and Maoists.” Anthropology of this Century 9. Shneiderman, Sara. 2013. “Developing a Culture of Marginality: Nepal’s Current Classificatory Moment.” Focaal 65: 42!55. 2014. “Reframing Ethnicity: Academic Tropes, Political Desire, and Ritualized Action between Nepal and India.” American Anthropologist 116 (2): 279–295. 2015a. Rituals of Ethnicity: Thangmi Identities between Nepal and India. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2015b. “Regionalism, Mobility, and ‘the Village’ as a Set of Social Relations: Himalayan Reflections on a South Asian Theme.” Critique of Anthropology 35(3): 318–337. Shneiderman, Sara, and Louise Tillin. 2015. “Restructuring States, Restructuring Ethnicity: Looking across Disciplinary Boundaries at Federal Futures in India and Nepal.” Modern Asian Studies 49(1): 1–39. Sijapati, Bandita. 2013. “In Pursuit of Recognition: Regionalism, Madhesi Identity and the Madhes Andolan.” pp. 145–172 in Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict in Nepal, eds. M. Lawoti and S. Hangen. London: Routledge. Sijapati, Megan Adamson. 2011. Islamic Revival in Nepal: Religion and a New Nation. London: Routledge. Snellinger, Amanda. 2012. “Secularism in Nepal: Against the Normative Grain?” Anthropology News. www.anthropology-news.org/index.php/2012/12/17/ secularism-in-nepal/ Tamang, Mukta S.L. 2011. Multi-Stakeholder Forestry Programme (MSFP) Nepal Social Appraisal. Submitted to Department for International Development (DFID), Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC), Government of Finland (GoF). Tsing, Anna. 2005. Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Turin, Mark. 2012. A Grammar of Thangmi with an Ethnolinguistic Introduction to the Speakers and Their Culture. Leiden: Brill. US Department of State. 2012. “Nepal 2012 International Religious Freedom Report.” Washington, DC: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Wagner, Luke. 2018. “A Rumor of Empire: The Discourse of Contemporary Hindu Nationalism in Nepal.” Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism 18(2).

5

Secularization and Constitutive Moments: Insights from Partition Diplomacy in South Asia Joya Chatterji1 Trinity College, Cambridge

This essay proposes an argument – on the face of it, outlandish and paradoxical – that the violent upheavals of partition, which divided British India along religious lines, encouraged trends towards secularization in India and Pakistan. In the very months when the subcontinent was engulfed in religious conflict, both countries took significant steps to produce common institutions – indeed a common statecraft – to manage mass migration and lawlessness across the new borders that divided them. I suggest this process secularized both states simultaneously in specific, admittedly partial, but remarkably similar, ways. This is not to claim, as others have done, that partition ‘solved’ the communal problem, by creating conditions in which (at least in India) it was easier for ‘secularism’ to flourish. I argue instead that the process of secularization occurred while communal attitudes remained pervasive, sometimes despite, and sometimes because of extreme violence. I hope to show that in seeking to contain the threat that communal disorder posed to their ability to govern, elites at the helm in both countries took measures that secularized their approach to communalism, to religious communities and to the ‘enemy’ across the border. To make this case, I deploy a conception of ‘secularization’ that is supple but not controversial. I use the term to mean a tendency towards differentiation – not only between the secular spheres, the state and the market – and the religious sphere; but also between state and society, society and the individual and state and religious communities. This notion of secularization draws attention to the growing institutional 1

I am grateful to Humeira Iqtidar for persuading me to engage with the history of secularization. Her candid feedback helped me tighten the argument. Tanika Sarkar, the participants of the workshop on secularization held at King’s College London, as well as the anonymous referees, have my gratitude for their helpful comments on an early draft. Simon Longstaff deserves warm thanks for his encouragement of these ideas at an embryonic stage.

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autonomy of these ‘spheres’. In addition, it notes that internal differentiation and stratification within these separate spheres is a feature of secularization. ‘Secularization as differentiation’ is a concept that many sociologists have used and continue to find helpful; indeed, as Jose Casanova has famously stated, this thesis remains ‘the valid core of the theory of secularization’.2 Periods of crisis and emergency, this essay proposes, can throw up conjunctures in which these separations are crystallized in one or more sphere,3 encouraging forms of secular practice to emerge. It suggests that in both India and Pakistan, the post-partition crisis was one such moment in the history of secularization. That the relationship between India and Pakistan after 1947 became mired in intractable conflict – as India pursued a policy of secularism, while Pakistan sought to build a state whose laws conformed to Islamic principles – has long been a cornerstone in South Asian studies.4 Recently, however, this consensus, rock solid for decades, has begun to crumble. Scholars are coming to identify much ‘mutuality and cooperation’5 between the two states in the aftermath of partition, in the areas of refugee relief and rehabilitation,6 citizenship regimes7 or inter-dominion relations.8 This chapter builds upon this scholarship but takes its conclusions in rather different directions. In particular, it investigates the hesitant, but nonetheless significant, conformity of policy and practice in tackling borderlands and border crossing in the late 1940s and early 1950s. It regards these as processes by which, on both sides of the Radcliffe line, the state withdrew from its commitment to safeguarding the welfare of a particular religious community in favour of policies that promoted order and stability more broadly. In this process, it suggests, the authorities in both India and Pakistan began to regard (and perhaps construct) the interests of the post-colonial state itself, and also of 2 3

4 5

6 8

Casanova (1994): 212. Also see Martin (2005). I am not suggesting that the ‘state’ did in fact separate itself from ‘society’ in any simple sense. It will become clear below that I see this distinction rather as Timothy Mitchell does, as an internal (and often notional) border within the wider network of institutional mechanisms through which a social and political order is maintained. Mitchell (2006): 170. E.g. Paul (2005); Blinkenberg (1998); Lamb (2002); Ganguly (1995). Joya Chatterji, ‘Mutuality and Cooperation in South Asia: An Alternative History of India–Pakistan Relations’, unpublished lecture, Royal Asiatic Society, March 2012, http://backdoorbroadcasting.net/2012/03/joya-chatterji-an-alternative-history-of-indiapakistan-relations. 7 Zamindar (2007); Chatterji (2012). Chatterji (2012). Pallavi Raghavan, ‘The Finality of Partition: Bilateral Relations between India and Pakistan, 1947–1957’, unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Cambridge, 2012; Bajpai, Chari; Cheema, Cohen and Ganguly, eds. (1995).

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property and the ‘private citizen’, as distinct from the interests of the ‘religious communities’ with which one or other ‘nation-state’ was (and to a great extent remained) strongly identified. They also began to conceive of ‘society’ as being an arena separate from ‘the state’. At these historical junctures, key actors on both sides took the view that the separation of the ‘state’ from ‘society’ was vital for the survival of both the ‘state’ and ‘society’. In focussing tightly on specific historical moments of post-colonial state formation, this chapter, I am aware, might be seen as going against the grain of scholarship on the subject. That rich and illuminating body of work suggests that secularization (in the modern West) occurred slowly, over a period of centuries, as the result of complex societal change.9 My aim is not to challenge the gradualist account of secularization. It is rather to investigate the relationship between ‘critical events’ and more leisurely historical transformations. The question it addresses is: what insights into that longer process of secularization can be gained from the perspective of ‘constitutive moments’? In periods of crisis, the essay suggests, trends and tendencies with long histories can rapidly crystallize into new institutional practices with a wider secularizing impulse. But it shows, too, that that these new institutions did not always survive, and when they did, their foundations often remained insecure. Reversals were as significant as gains, and incoherence was more common than ideological unity of purpose. In other words, while secularization might appear (from the comfortable distance of hindsight) to have been a seamless, unilinear process with powerful philosophical underpinnings, looked at from up close, it proves to have been formed by more fragile moments with tenuous outcomes and uncertain directions. By looking closely historical moments during which, metaphorically speaking, the hyphen between the (religious) ’nation’ and the ‘state’ was partly erased and the interests of the state took precedence over the nation (and the national ‘community’), this chapter draws attention to trends towards secularization that are hardly discernible and have rarely been discussed, but which, I argue, call to be better understood. The chapter analyses two such junctures, both at the earliest stages of the development of ‘third world’ diplomacy. Both case studies concern the management of the eastern and western frontiers, respectively, between India and Pakistan. One of my examples is drawn from the highest levels of India–Pakistan diplomacy, at the moment of its very 9

The classic statement of this position is set out in Charles Taylor’s magisterial work, A Secular Age, (2007).

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‘birth’; the other is based on evidence garnered at local levels, having to do with everyday policing of the new border that separated the two countries. These cases proved to have fascinating and surprising interconnections. Historians of India’s partition take the view that ‘partition in the east’ was fundamentally different from ‘partition in the west’, a consensus to which my own work has contributed.10 The two cases looked at in this chapter challenged my assumptions and throw a different light on partition studies as a whole. But there is also a remarkable ‘subtext’. Teasing that out, as I try to do in this essay, reveals much about the history of secularization in South Asia. I In several important respects, Radcliffe’s borders were governed differently in the east and the west. To summarize briefly a complex history: in August 1947, in the west, the two governments and their armies became involved in the rescue and transfer of minority populations11 and the recovery of abducted women.12 India committed troops to arrange the evacuation of Hindu and Sikh minorities from Pakistan13 and created a special unit to track down and recover Hindu and Sikh women abducted by Muslim men.14 Pakistan did the same for Muslim refugees and abductees. These arrangements were intended to apply to both parts of the divided Punjab. But after the September 1947 riots in Delhi and mass exoduses across north India and Sind15 the Punjab agreements had to be extended first to Delhi; and, following the anti-Meo pogroms that Ian Copland and Shail Mayaram have described, to Bharatpur, Alwar and Bikaner.16 After troubles broke out in Sind and Bihar, these rules began to be applied there, too,17 and were extended to the princely state of Hyderabad after India’s ‘police action’ in 1948.18

10 11 13

14 15 16 17 18

Chatterji (2001, 2007). Also see Samaddar, ed., (1997). 12 Jeffrey (1974); Kamran (2007). E.g. Menon and Bhasin (1998). Rajendra Prasad to Patel, 10 September 1947; and Patel’s reply to Prasad, 12 September 1947, Durga Das (ed.), Sardar Patel’s Correspondence, (10 vols, Ahmedabad, 1971) (SPC), iv, pp. 340–41. Government of India (GOI), Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), CAP Branch/F.8-CAP (AP)48. To avoid confusion, I have used throughout the contemporary (1948–50) spellings of place names, which subsequently changed several times, to avoid confusion. Copland (1998): 203–239; Mayaram (1996). Chatterji (2007). The regions where the rules applied were known as the ‘agreed areas’. Chattha (2011). Sherman (2011, 2015).

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At this point, India took measures to discourage the return home of evacuees of the ‘wrong’ religious denomination: first, by introducing a permit system in June 1948,19 and then, by draconian ordinances in 1949, taking over the property of all Muslim evacuees from ‘the affected areas’ – now extended to include all of India, except West Bengal, Assam and Tripura – who were deemed to have migrated to Pakistan.20 The evacuee property of Muslims was then deployed by the Government of India as the cornerstone of its projects to house and rehabilitate Hindu and Sikh refugees.21 Soon afterwards, Pakistan followed suit, taking over abandoned Hindu and Sikh property in western Pakistan for allocation to Muslim refugees.22 By threatening would-be migrants with dispossession, these reciprocal measures stabilized populations and stemmed the massive flows of refugees that had challenged the capacity of the state to handle and absorb these people in north, western, and south India and in west Pakistan. They produced a relatively impervious border between the two countries in the west, across which flows came to be strictly regulated. Later, the diplomatic corps of both countries were charged with exercising oversight over the welfare of ‘their’ minorities in the ‘other’ country.23 So in western Pakistan, as well as in large parts of northern, western and southern India, the two states developed policies for the welfare of refugees, evacuees and abductees that were reciprocal, but which nonetheless identified each of them strongly with the interests of the particular community (or communities) at the core of their conception of nationhood. In the immediate aftermath of partition, it was Hindu women, Hindu property, Hindu refugees and Hindu and Sikh minorities whom India sought to protect. Pakistan did the same for Muslims. Scholars have remarked, rightly, upon the implications of these policies for national identity, citizenship and belonging on both sides of the Radcliffe line.24 But there were large, and significant, exceptions to these rules. In Pakistan, the entire eastern wing (‘East Bengal’, latterly ‘East Pakistan’), which made up a majority of Pakistan’s entire population, was left out of these arrangements. In India, three entire provinces – West Bengal, 19

20

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GOI/ Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)/ F. 6/62/48-FI; GOI/MEA/F.21/48-Pak I; GOI/ MEA/F.2–1/48-Pak I; Zamindar, The Long Partition; Chatterji, ‘South Asian Histories of Citizenship’. ‘An ordinance to provide for the administration of evacuee property and for certain matters connected therewith’, Ordinance No. XXVII of 1949, The Gazette of India, 18 October 1949, GOI/MEA F. 17–39/49-AFRI. (India) Act XXXXIV of 1954, 9 October 1954. GOI/MEA/F.11–21/49-Pak III/ Secret. GOI/MEA/F.12–16/49-Pak A; Chatterji, ‘South Asian Histories of Citizenship’. Chatterji (2007); Menon and Bhasin (1998); Sherman (2011, 2015); Zamindar (2007).

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Assam and Tripura – were excluded. In concert, India and Pakistan agreed to adopt a very different policy towards cross-border migrants across the entire eastern region of the subcontinent than they had established in the west. The border here, they agreed, was to be left porous. There would be no state-assisted evacuation of refugees. The vacant property of emigrant minorities would not be deployed for the rehabilitation of incoming refugees. Instead, it would be held in trust for its original owners and managed by special Evacuee Property Management Boards, set up specifically for this purpose.25 Incoming refugees would largely be left to fend for themselves. These policies might be described in some senses as secular. In contrast to the west, in the east, the state in both India and Pakistan, the state appeared to dissociate itself from its responsibilities towards ‘core’ national (but religiously defined) communities that had fled – in both directions – across the eastern borders in search of shelter. How do we make sense of these arrangements, which, taken together, produced the specificities of ‘partition in the east’?26 Might they be understood as efforts by the state to step back from the arena of ‘community’, and hence as a form of secularization? And if this occurred, how and why did it come about? How did the participants in these processes understand or justify them? Fortunately, a detailed record of the first Inter-Dominion Conference between India and Pakistan in Calcutta in April 1948, at which the representatives of India and Pakistan hammered out these arrangements, has survived. Rather like the scribes in a court of law, a small army of stenographers recorded every single word that was spoken at the conference over the course of three days in Calcutta’s Writers’ Building. This transcript, only recently released for scholarly scrutiny, yields a fly-onthe-wall view of Indo-Pakistan diplomacy at this embryonic stage of that relationship. But more importantly for our purposes here, it also gives a hint of why this new policy for the east, so different from that recently adopted in the north and west of the subcontinent, appealed to policymakers on both sides. Before addressing this source in detail, some background information is needed to grasp its full significance. By December 1947, the Military Evacuation Organisation, established in September, had rescued and evacuated most of the refugees stranded in the two Punjabs. A semblance of order was returning to the divided Punjab, to Delhi and to the towns and villages of the north and west of the subcontinent that had witnessed

25

Chatterji (2012).

26

Samaddar (1997).

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the worst violence. To the relief of government on both sides, the huge migrations in the west of the subcontinent appeared to have ceased. It seemed that the crisis was finally over. But no sooner had things begun to settle down in the north-western tracts when trouble broke out in the east. In the summer of 1947, Calcutta and its surrounding townships had remained tense but largely peaceful.27 Yet despite the uneasy calm, over a million Hindu refugees from eastern Bengal had made their way across the border to Calcutta between August and December 1947; and perhaps half as many Muslims had fled from West Bengal, Assam and Bihar and crossed the border into East Bengal.28 In February 1948, however, localized violence sparked off fresh exoduses across the eastern border between India and Pakistan. Soon after, the Standstill Agreement between India and Pakistan on trade broke down after Pakistan decided to impose an export levy on jute.29 On 1 March 1948, the two countries declared ‘each other [to be a] foreign country as regards customs and excise duty’.30 Tensions escalated in the two Bengals and Assam, and frightened people of the minority communities once again began in to flee their homes in search of security. This was the context in which the first Inter-Dominion Conference was held in Calcutta in April 1948. This conference was quite different from the numerous previous meetings that had been held to discuss arrangements about refugees in the Punjab. There, agreement between India and Pakistan had been achieved within the joint institutional structures established by the Partition Council, with the meetings chaired by Auchinleck or by Mountbatten. The Calcutta Inter-Dominion Conference was, in this sense, the first properly ‘international’ encounter between the leaders of India and Pakistan, at which delegates from the two countries faced each other across the table without a British viceroy or his deputy in the chair, and this is in the broader context where a new international order was just beginning to emerge31 and widespread scepticism about the prospects of Asia’s two newest countries surviving as sovereign states.32 At Calcutta, K. C. Neogy and Ghulam Muhammad, refugee rehabilitation ministers of India and Pakistan respectively, led the two delegations. The Indian deputation also included Syama Prasad Mookerjee (then cabinet minister for industry and supply) and Sri Prakasa (the Indian high commissioner in Pakistan) as well as the chief ministers of 27 28 30

Although see Mukherjee (2017), who makes a strong case for continued, if low-grade, violence, throughout the period in Calcutta. 29 Chatterji(2007); Kamaluddin (1985). Tyagi (1958). 31 32 Blinkenberg (1998): 135. Mazower (2013); Raghavan (2012). Ali (1967).

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West Bengal (Dr. B. C. Roy) and Assam (Gopinath Bardoloi). Pakistan’s team included Khwaja Nazimuddin (chief minister of East Bengal), and Hamidul Huq Choudhury (East Bengal’s minister for finance, commerce, labour and industries, later to become the third foreign minister of Pakistan.) Politicians of long standing for the most part, these men inevitably had elite backgrounds: B. C. Roy was a wealthy society doctor in Calcutta; Sir Ghulam Muhammad, an Aligarh alumnus, had been accountant for the Ministry of Finance; Khwaja Nazimuddin, a prosperous landlord, was a scion of the Nawab of Dhaka’s family; Syama Prasad Mookerjee, son of Sir Ashutosh Mookerjee, had been called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn and went on to become the youngest vice chancellor of Calcutta University at that time. But few of these men had worked for the government (Ghulam Muhammad was an exception in this regard) and none of them had any experience of international negotiations. The agenda before them was ‘to discuss the causes of the present exodus of non-Muslims from Eastern Pakistan and Muslims from West Bengal and action necessary to create conditions in Eastern Pakistan and West Bengal which will make it possible for non-Muslims and Muslims respectively to continue to live there’; and ‘To discuss steps necessary to induce evacuees from Eastern Pakistan and West Bengal to return home and other ancillary action’.33 The agenda makes it plain that neither government felt able to cope with another exchange of population on the scale of Punjab, and each wanted to prevent the looming crisis before it was engulfed by another tide of refugees. Thus, the common goal for the delegates from India and Pakistan was to agree on ways to restore order on both sides of the border, which, in turn, would persuade members of minority communities in East and West Bengal to stay on where they were, and encourage evacuees who had already fled to go back to their homes. The verbatim transcript gives us a candid camera of the conference, to see how both sides went about the business of producing peace. Reading through the transcript, the reaction of the historian is just how remarkable it was that they succeeded. Minutes after the conference began, members of the two delegations reacted with rage when the subject of Muslim migrants forced to leave Assam was first mentioned34:

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‘Proceedings of the Inter-Dominion Conference held at 2.15 p.m. on the 18th April, 1948, at the Writers’ Buildings, Calcutta’, GOI/MEA/ Pak-I Branch, File No. 8–15/48. Since the late nineteenth century, Muslim peasants from Bengal, chiefly from Mymensingh District, had begun to migrate in increasing numbers up the Brahmaputra river into Assam, and colonize empty land in the Brahmaputra Valley for agriculture (Chattopadhyay 1987). Tensions had begun to rise between local Assamese

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the hon’ble h.h. choudhury: the hon’ble mr bardoloi: the hon’ble mr. ghulam muhammad:

Let the [Assam] Government not force [Muslims] out. I am not forcing anybody out. If you go on talking like this, I refuse to take part in this conference. Then let us agree that pending the discussion at the next Inter-Dominion Conference Assam government will not do anything to force the immigrants out . . . I do not agree to that . . .

the hon’ble mr. bardoloi: We are trying to give and take and not dictate. the hon’ble mr. ghulam muhammad: the hon’ble mr. neogy: Then we better call a separate inter-dominion conference. Let the resolution be like this: It is recommended the hon’ble mr. that a separate inter-Dominion conference ghulam should be called at an early date . . . to discuss muhammad: the question of migration of Muslims from East Bengal to Assam . . . Pending this conference both sides agree not to take any action to force or precipitate exodus on a mass scale from one province to the other. the hon’ble mr. neogy: Let us get on with the rest of the work.35

In effect, both sides decided to temporarily shelve talking about issues in Assam that so infuriated members, Indian and Pakistani alike, in order to get on with ‘the rest of the work’. They achieved this by separating the Assam question from all the others that had to be addressed. What had previously been seen as a single ‘communal’ question, conceived as being a conflict between monolithic ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ communities, was thus broken down (or differentiated) into discrete, regionally defined questions, each requiring a distinct approach.36 Indeed, deferral was a device that the delegates used more than once when the conference ran into troubled waters. When matters came up

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people and the Bengali migrants in the 1930s, escalating sharply in the 1940s when the Congress and the Muslim League became involved in the issue. Guha (1977). The conflict had assumed ethnic and communal dimensions well before the partition of India, but these were exacerbated after 1947. GOI/MEA/F.39-NEF/47/Secret. Also see Sharma (2011). Proceedings of the Inter-Dominion Conference, 16–18 April, 1948, at the Writers’ Buildings, Calcutta’, GOI/MEA/ Pak-I Branch, File No. 8–15/48. Emphasis added. The fact that Ghulam Muhammad had experience as a public servant in the railways in British India may or may not be relevant to his readiness to agree a solution to the problem. Neogy had no such experience.

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that prompted one or another incensed delegate to threaten to walk out, the other members quickly agreed to put the matter off, to be discussed at a future conference. This was in interesting tactic (and one that was frequently deployed at subsequent Indo-Pakistan negotiations), because it assumed – and thus laid the basis for – continued dialogue. It presumed that the two sides would continue to talk to each other and settle differences between themselves through discussion, albeit at some later date. It also ensured that in these ways, the agenda for a future conference and further dialogue had been mutually established. But at another level, the deployment of this tactic can be seen as a secularization of the process. By disaggregating ‘communal’ issues into separate parts, by postponing the discussion of matters about which delegates were ‘passionate’ (as opposed to reasoned and ‘rational’) and by first settling matters over which the two sides had achieved in a Rawlsian sense a kind of ‘overlapping consensus’, the two delegations were creating a secular practice of international diplomacy that would endure well beyond the crisis of 1948.37 Substantial agreement was even more swiftly achieved once delegates began to speak to each other quite openly as members of the same social class with common material interests and a common stake in a mutually beneficial settlement. One such instance was settling the scope of the proposed Evacuee Property Management Boards. Again, a word of clarification will be useful here. The two sides had intended to set up these boards, as their name suggests, for the express purpose of protecting and managing the property of distressed evacuees who had abandoned their homes during the riots. Both governments were clear that it was imperative to restore the confidence of minorities if they were to prevent another mass exodus on the scale of Punjab and to persuade those who had fled to return home. To ensure these twin purposes, H. M. Patel – a model career bureaucrat on the Indian side –38 proposed that the rather general term ‘minority’ in the proposed agreement be replaced with the word ‘evacuee’, which, by this time, had acquired a very specific legal meaning.

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Raghavan (2012). H. M. Patel, graduate of St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, and a distinguished member of the Indian Civil Service, served until 1950 as cabinet secretary to the Ministry for Home Affairs under Vallabhbhai Patel in 1946. He worked with Chaudhry Muhammad Ali, the future prime minister of Pakistan, on the implementation of partition. He was the head of the Emergency Committee administering Delhi during the outbreak of violence in September 1947. He continued as one of India’s highest-ranking civil servants until 1959. Times of India (Ahmedabad), 26 August 2004.

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H. M. Patel had represented India on the steering committee that had dealt with these issues in the west, so he knew well that this was a critically important distinction. Precedents in the Punjab and the north-west had established that the word ‘evacuee’ meant quite specifically those who held fled from one country to the other during the troubles and had abandoned property in the land of their birth and residence. But most delegates – who were surprisingly ill-informed informed about what had happened in the Punjab – misunderstood Patel’s intent. The exchange which followed is funny as well as telling: the hon’ble mr. hamidul I have got some property in Kalimpong [in Indian huq choudhury: West Bengal]. Will this Committee manage that property? the hon’ble mr. neogy: Yes, certainly . . . Do not discriminate between the different classes of people we have in view. . . I know of any numbers of landlords and businessmen who have never crossed the [River] Padma, although they own property in East Bengal. the hon’ble mr. ghulam We are considering here [how] to safeguard the muhammad: property of those people who have left against their wishes. You want to bring in all sorts of people . . . the hon’ble mr. neogy: I have some personal property. the hon’ble mr. ghulam Men like you would have served us in a higher muhammad: position and we are being deprived of that benefit. So we think these cases should be punished! (Laughter).39

Not surprisingly, this was quickly agreed among fellow landlords, despite H. M. Patel’s quiet protest. The Evacuee Property Management Boards, which had been established to protect the abandoned homes only of genuine evacuees, would now extend their jurisdiction to all property owners who belonged to the minority community, whether or not they had actually set foot in these estates, and regardless of whether they were actually evacuees or not. The boards would thus be empowered to act as state-backed estate managers for large private landowners who were, in fact, not evacuees at a time when private property everywhere had been rendered insecure. Once again, we see the delegates retreat from a commitment to specifically communal welfare, to a pursuit of beneficial arrangements for propertied groups on both sides. This is an interesting example of how private interests worked with and through the state to 39

‘Proceedings of the Inter-Dominion Conference’. Emphasis added.

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buttress both themselves and the state’s secular authority, while appearing to create official institutions (the boards) sharply distinct from society.40 A similar drift is perceptible in the discussion of measures to alleviate the ‘economic boycott and strangulation’ of vulnerable minority groups. These measures were intended to alleviate the hardship faced by vulnerable persons who were left behind (such as, for example, Hindu goalas, or milkmen, in East Bengal who had earned their livelihoods by selling milk locally, or Muslim artisans in West Bengal) who faced economic boycott by members of the majority community. Instead, the discussion quickly turned to cases, on both sides, of ‘unfair’ and ‘excessive’ income-tax demands levied upon individual (and famously wealthy) members of those minority communities. Some of them happened to be delegates at the conference.41 Once again, there was much laughter and mutual leg pulling, references to common acquaintances who had fallen foul of the taxman, and jokes about rapacious Finance Ministers. (‘The Hon’ble Mr. Nazimuddin: You don’t know what the Finance Ministers have [up] their sleeves!’) Not surprisingly, it did not take long for the two sides to achieve ‘absolute agreement in the matter’42. By the end of the first day of the conference, the parties who had started out at each others’ throats as angry spokesmen of violated and embattled rival communities were acting as ‘rational, sociable agents who meant to collaborate in peace to their mutual benefit.’43 Significantly, both sides also helped diffuse any remaining tensions by distancing themselves (and the wider social class to which they all belonged) from any responsibility for the communal violence and discrimination against the minorities in both countries. The delegates insisted that it was people lower down the social scale, Hindus and Muslims alike, who were to blame for the mess. As Hamidul Huq Chowdhury put it, ‘nobody occupying high position can ever think of molesting or injuring the interests of the minorities . . . It is generally the petty officers who being misled by a false patriotic feelings [who] are responsible for all this mischief . . .’ This theme crops up again and again, and at later conferences as well – the idea that it was lowly functionaries at the bottom of the food chain who spread the ‘contagion’ of communalism, while their enlightened superiors looked on in horror. Also interesting here is the reference to ‘false patriotic feeling’, presumably the passionate 40 41 42

Also see Mitchell (2006): 175. Khwaja Nazimuddin had considerable landed property spread over many districts. Hamidul Huq Chowdhury and K. C. Neogy also had substantial landed interests. 43 ‘Proceedings of the Inter-Dominion Conference’. Taylor (2007): 159.

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and irrational attachment towards the nation or community felt by the lower ranks, in contrast to the sensibly measured attitude of the elites to their respective communal affiliations. There was also a tendency on both sides of the table to blame some refugees for their own plight – those impoverished and in distress (as opposed, presumably, to the wealthiest, who had managed to transfer many of their assets in good time): ‘It is only some people who have gone from the Indian Union and who are themselves in difficulty about their own prospects, who are irritated for the sufferings they have undergone – it is they who are contributing . . . to the problem’.44 By the evening of the second day of the conference, the delegates appeared to be relaxing into a mood of mutual trust and good-humoured ease. Indeed, at several points that afternoon, they appear to have forgotten that they were at a serious international meeting and not at a social occasion in the company of friends and social equals. That night, the when the meeting broke off for dinner, the serious business was all done, bar the shouting – which was no longer the order of the day. The conference ended early the next day, several hours before the appointed time. Yet all the laughter and bonhomie should not blind us to the very serious decisions that were made at this conference (see Appendix 1). Nor should we avoid recognizing how – at a time of great tension and conflict – these decisions came to be made. First, both sides believed that it was imperative for their respective state’s survival to do everything they could to stem cross-border flows. Second, individual members of both delegations believed that the restoration of order and the security of property were vital to their own interests, and to that of their social class. If, in order to achieve this greater good, they had to retreat from commitments to the welfare of their more vulnerable co-religionists who had already fled their homes and were reluctant to return, so be it; that was the price they were prepared to pay. Third, arriving at agreement had required the delegates to take a view about who was responsible for the violence against minorities on both sides of the border. They quickly agreed it was not themselves or members of the wider social stratum to which they belonged. They distanced themselves from the ‘unfortunate’ actions of ‘misguided’ (or ‘irrational’) actions of their inferiors, on whom they placed the blame. They simultaneously and rhetorically separated the ‘community’ into two groups: the enlightened elite, to which they themselves belonged,

44

‘Proceedings of the Inter-Dominion Conference’. Emphasis added.

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and whose interests were closely aligned with the interests of both states in the restoration of order; and the unenlightened popular classes, who had been swayed by the passions of misguided ‘patriotic’ and communal fervour, and who were the cause of disorder. They also, as we have seen, disaggregated the ‘communal question’ into discrete local and regional questions. These processes of simultaneous (though not necessarily intellectually coherent) differentiation helped to secularize a space and a moment, and that in turn allowed the Calcutta agreement – which would have profound and complex legacies – to be signed. But it is also noteworthy that all of this happened without anyone professing any ideological commitment to ‘secularism’. Indeed, we can presume that at least some of the delegates (such as the Hindu nationalist Syama Prasad Mookerjee and K. C. Neogy on the Indian side and possibly Nazimuddin for Pakistan45), if tested, would have protested that far from being committed secularists, they were in favour of giving religious values a prominent role in shaping state institutions and, indeed, international relations. Yet so much was agreed by so many with so little needing to be said through jokes and teasing asides that all the delegates immediately seemed to understand. Hence, in order to understand how secularising institutions were created by religious men at the Calcutta conference, we perhaps have to fall back on Bordieu’s notion of habitus: the unexamined and shared predispositions or common-sense assumptions about the ‘obvious’ good of a post-colonial elite who arrived at the much the same conclusions from different starting points and achieved an ‘overlapping consensus’ without necessarily knowing how or why. This also might throw some light on the tricky question of how long-term societal change impacted upon a discrete governmental (and inter-governmental) process of decision-making. What we are observing, perhaps, was the outcome of long-term changes that had predisposed South Asian elites, whether Hindu or Muslim, Indian or Pakistani, to understand ‘the obvious good’ in the same way. II Once this key idea is given its due, it should no longer come as a surprise that the apparently intractable disputes over jute that had threatened 45

Chowdhury had played a key role in presenting the Muslim case before Sir Cyril Radcliffe, and was not at this point in his life well known for a conciliatory approach towards India. Chowdhury (1989). For his part, Mookerjee would soon resign from Cabinet and famously demand that India go to war with Pakistan.

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trade between India and Pakistan in March 1948 were settled at a new trade agreement in May 1948,46 and that in the matter of minority rights and refugee rehabilitation, the two countries went on to produce a whole series of entirely identical laws and regulations, in tandem (See Appendix II). Nor should it surprise us to find that after Calcutta, the same logic would be extended to other regions and other areas of governance. Soon afterwards, both sides would begin to actively cooperate with the other, first to realize, and then to bolster, the sovereignty of its counterpart in the western border zones. After the exchange of populations had been ‘completed’ across the western border, the border itself remained largely undefined, undemarcated and unsettled. This came to be a worrying issue for both governments, particularly where the border cut through sparsely inhabited and poorly policed desert tracts. Before December 1948, India and Pakistan had authorized the Inspectors General of Police in East and West Punjab, the epicentre of the troubles, to devise common measures ‘to bring under control the border incidents between the two states’.47 But in 1949, a new series of arrangements were put into place for the police forces of the two countries to co-operate in managing ‘ordinary’ crime in remote border areas, well beyond the killing fields of the Punjab. A new problem had arisen and become marked by the winter of 1948: policemen on both sides began to report increasingly frequent cross-border raids, particularly along the border between Bikaner, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer on the Indian side, and Bahawalpur, Khairpur and Sind in Pakistan. Men on horseback (often dressed in police or army uniforms) would come sweeping across the border and loot isolated villages on the other side, retreating with their booty across the border. In one typical incident on 12 November 1948, the police reported that ‘at 5 pm about 150 armed Muslims consisting of pathans from Bahawalpur state raided village Khilliwala on the border of Bikaner state’. The raiders, who were armed, broke up into three groups and encircled the village, attacking the villagers and ‘looting the whole village to their hearts’ content’. Eleven armed policemen of the princely state of Bikaner were stationed in the village, but most of them fled when the first shots were fired. Two people were killed. The residents of this village and four neighbouring villages on the Indian side abandoned their homes.48 By 1950, the Inspector General of the Sind Police reported that 168 incidents of this sort had taken place, 46 48

47 Blinkenberg (1998): 135. NAI/MEA/27–16/49 Pak III. Extract from Daily Situation Report dated 20 November 1948, from the Central Intelligence Office, Ajmer, NAI/MEA/36–15/49 Pak III.

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most of them concentrated in the sector between Khokropar and Gadro. ‘It was obvious that these raids have become common since partition’, he reported, ‘and were a regular menace to both sides.’ His Indian counterpart, the Inspector General of the Rajasthan Police, agreed with him, reporting 193 similar incidents in Rajasthan alone. ‘He stressed the raiders in several instances came in uniform and equipped with modern weapons’.49 Preserved in the archives is a fascinating set of reports of these meetings, at which measures to manage and contain these raids were agreed upon by local policemen from the affected zones of India and Pakistan. These reveal the depth and range of the ‘overlapping consensus’ – often at humble and quotidian levels – between the two countries across a whole range of questions. But for our purpose here, what is significant is the gradual shift in the police’s perception of these raids. At the beginning, the local police viewed these raids in unequivocally communal terms. So, for instance, in their first report on the Khilliwala incident, described above, the police insisted that the perpetrators were ‘150 Muslims’, without any evidence to support that claim. Less than three months later, in respect of an almost identical incident on 5 February 1949, in which five people were murdered in the village of Ragri (also in Bikaner), the police were a little more agnostic about the religious affiliation of the perpetrators, describing them simply as ‘Pakistanis’. By the time the chief secretary reported the event, he cautiously described the raiders as ‘alleged Pakistanis’.50 Gradually, over the next twelve months or so, officials increasingly began to see these raids as secular crimes against persons and property. They made fewer and fewer assumptions about either the communal (or national) identity, or communal motives, of the raiders. Instead, they began to refer to the perpetrators in the more traditional language of colonial policing,51 as ‘bad characters’.52 They spoke of the fact that ‘people residing within easy reach of the border in both India and Pakistan [were] very closely connected’. Indian and Pakistani officers agreed that ‘there [were] certainly some undesirable characters on both sides who encourage[d] the commission of many forms of crime,

49 50 51 52

‘Minutes of the border conference held in the office of the S.P. Sind C.I.D Karachi on 13 October 1950 at 15.30 hours’, ibid. Telegram no. 940 dated 7 February 1949, from Chief Secretary, Bikaner State, to Prime Minister, Bikaner. NAI/MEA/36–15/49 Pak III. Emphasis added. Chandavarkar (2007). Also see Sherman (2010). ‘Minutes of the border conference held in the office of the S.P. Sind C.I.D Karachi on 13 October 1950at 15.30 hours’, NAI/MEA/36–15/49 Pak III.

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including dacoity, robbery and cattle theft.’ They recognized that they had to work together to police these ‘badmashes ’53. The police also increasingly distinguished between the majority of ‘law abiding citizens’ who were ‘naturally disturbed’ by these crimes, and the ‘bad characters’ who committed them.54 Both sides agreed on the importance ‘for the Police on both sides to exchange lists giving names and necessary particulars of such persons to ensure that all are suitably dealt with’.55 The criminals were thus understood as individuals, with names and personal particulars, rather than as innominate representatives of entire communities. Their crimes were viewed as secular crimes (robbery, dacoity, cattle theft) against ‘law-abiding citizens’. The victims of crime, too, were simultaneously secularized: they were seen as upright, individual, property-owning members of ‘the public’ or ‘society’, rather than as a part of an homogenous and united, but essentially faceless, community/nation. This is not to suggest that the police or administration in the area abandoned a communal view of identity or of national belonging. They did not. We see this plainly in the exchanges between the chief commissioner of Kutch and the Government of India at the centre on the wisdom of extending to Kutch the mutually agreed cross-border policing arrangements set out in Appendix III. Kutch, a sparsely populated region situated on the Indian side of the western border between India and Pakistan,56 had a large number of Muslims. The chief commissioner of Kutch reported that no similar incident had ever occurred in Kutch, so extending these arrangements to Kutch was unnecessary. Moreover, he argued, to do so represented a real threat to India’s national security, as ‘the population on our side of the border [being] mostly Muslim . . . [it] cannot be relied upon in times of emergency’. He concluded that ‘it would not be advisable to allow any Pakistani officer to visit Kutch and get an idea of the existing conditions in Kutch’.57 His implication was clear: Kutchi Muslims were not reliable, and their loyalty to India was uncertain; if a Pakistani officer got wind of this, he might encourage his government to stir up trouble in the region, which was already the site of a border dispute between the two countries.58 What is particularly revealing is the central Ministry of State’s response to this missive. The deputy secretary in Delhi denied Kutch permission

53 57

58

54 55 56 Loosely, career criminals. Ibid. Ibid. Ibrahim (2009). D.O.C. No. C-129/49, dated 9 May 1950, from the Chief Commissioner, Cutch, to the Deputy Secretary, Ministry of States, Government of India’, NAI/MEA/36–15/49 Pak III. On the Sir Creek dispute, see Raghavan (2010).

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to stand apart from its neighbouring border zones, insisting that ‘we do not need to wait for the actual occurrence of serious incidents to create such a machinery in Kutch’. And ‘as for. . . the presence of an unreliable Muslim population, we feel that the visit of one or two officers for a meeting, which will be pre-arranged, will not in itself be a source of danger . . . Other security arrangements should be able to meet such dangers.’59 Note that the deputy secretary in Delhi did not challenge the Kutch commissioner’s claim that ‘such dangers’ indeed existed or question the assumption that the Muslim population was ‘unreliable’. He took for granted the ‘fact’ that Muslim loyalty was shaky. But he was clear that this was not in itself a ground to depart from established procedure. Here we catch another glimpse of the process of secularization at work. Secularizing institutional practice in one arena of government (interdominion relations and cross-border migration in the east) could and did influence the official approach to very different issues in a very different region and level of governance. So much so that the institutional practices set up by the Calcutta Agreement could reverse, at least in part, established aspects of border management in the west. Practices agreed at exceptional moments of crisis by elites could spread, and eventually came to affect more quotidian, but nonetheless significant, ‘cultures of governance’ at more humdrum levels. This spread did not, however, represent an abandonment of communal stereotypes or ideologies on the part of the men who implemented them. The two sets of dynamics, contrary though they were, existed side by side. Creating secularizing practices that helped to promote peace and enable Indo-Pakistan cooperation was not, then, all about motherhood and apple pie. Nor was it incompatible with communal perceptions and conflict. Cooperation between India and Pakistan drew heavily on their officials’ fear of anarchy and disorder; their elites’ powerful and shared perception that the survival of both states and the social order that sustained their own power was threatened by uncontrolled flows of people across unmanageable borders. It thus drew eclectically upon a shared (but shifting) legacy of colonial bureaucratic mindsets and a common elite ‘habitus’.60 As Gould, Sherman and Ansari have noted, the transition to independence and partition created stresses that ‘altered conceptions of loyalty among government servants, particularly with respect to minorities and political opponents’,61 and these new 59 60 61

GOI/MEA/36–15/49 Pak III; GOI/ MEA U/C No. D.4507-P/50, dated 16 May 1950. Chandavarkar (2007); ‘Customs of Governance’; Sherman (2010). Gould, Sherman and Ansari (2013).

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perceptions cannot be ignored. Yet remarkably, we find police in the borderlands slipping easily from seeing all crime as ‘communal’ to a familiar preoccupation with ‘bad characters’ (seen as habitually criminal individuals, distinct from ‘bad religious communities’), ‘conniving villagers’ and ‘harbouring villages’ (as opposed to homogenous communal groups). From the fascinating vignettes that emerge from the archives, it seems that Indian and Pakistani elites high and low, who also had the role of agents of these states in their negotiations with each other, shared an unexamined commitment to preserving social hierarchy and state authority by coercion, if necessary, and took it for granted that this was the ‘obvious’ thing to do. My aim in this chapter has been to investigate the relationship between ‘critical’ or ‘constitutive’ moments and the long arc of history. If one can draw on these particular moments to make observations about longer processes of secularization, the first thing to be said is that they were ideologically incoherent. Their ‘progress’, if one can so describe it, was piecemeal and illogical. It had many rationales – to promote local order, bureaucratic efficiency, social hierarchy and elite interests – and they sometimes contradicted one another. In one case, the imperative of orderly bureaucracy might trump local exception; in another, where the exception was more expedient, it trumped the rule. We get no sense of a clear, linear progression in a single direction towards a predetermined goal. Secularization involved differentiating between the state and the community, the community and the individual, national and regional interests, the community and class. But in the subcontinent’s postpartition crises, these differentiations did not occur in the same time, in the same way, with the same intention – or indeed any coherent intent at all other than the immediately and ‘obviously’ expedient. Reversals, too, were frequent. Large parts of the Calcutta Agreement 1948 did not endure for very long after the ink was dry. Safeguarding the life, property and cultural rights of minorities was observed more in the breach than in the substance62. In 1950, terrible rioting required a whole new agreement (the Nehru–Liaquat Pact) to be drawn up in another attempt to restore peace and stem migration. Passports were introduced for cross-border travel in 1952, and in 1965, the application of the Enemy Property Act of that year made nonsense of the substantive goals of the 1948 Agreement.63 Yet institutions and bureaucratic practices introduced in 1948 proved to be less ephemeral. The Evacuee Property Management Boards

62

Chatterji (2007); Roy (2013).

63

Farooqui (2000).

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established in that year survived for decades, and cross-border consultative processes of this kind (such as Joint Riot Enquiry Commissions, Joint Border Working Groups, monthly inter-Dominion meetings, Provincial and District Minority Boards and Inter-Dominion Consultative Committees) proliferated in the aftermath. Many of them have proved resilient. When Willem van Schendel conducted anthropological research in Bengal’s borderlands in the 1990s and early 2000s, he found that ‘in their pursuit of border stability, officials in border districts often quietly employed practices of cross-border co-operation and conflict management that flew in the face of the confrontational policies of territoriality employed by their superiors in the capital’.64 If secularizing institutions were created with tenuous outcomes and contradictory purposes, peace between neighbouring states – and thus ‘the international order’ – was sometimes the outcome of secularization. However, peace was not necessarily the goal of any individual actor. The protagonists in our story were, in one way or other, all agents of the state, and secularization occurred when they found it appropriate to place the interests of the state above the interests of their (religious) ‘community’ or ‘nation’. But often, they were driven to do so more by threats to local order or to their own social group than by commitment to any abstract conception of the state, the international order or a peaceful South Asian neighbourhood. None of this is intended to suggest that conflict was no part of the relationship between India and Pakistan. Of course it was. Kashmir was already a huge bone of contention in the early months of 1948. Junagarh, Hyderabad and the Indus Waters dispute would soon deeply compromise the fragile trust between these two nations. But the point here is that both sides had developed a pragmatic understanding that each of these conflicts had to be resolved, or if that was not possible, at least contained. Moreover, these areas of conflict must be understood alongside the very significant areas of agreement between the two sides. The contrapuntal relationship between the notorious disagreements which have dominated the conventional narrative on Indo-Pakistan affairs and their less well known but arguably more substantial agreements calls, as this chapter has suggested, to be explored more fully and to be better understood.

64

van Schendel (2005): 394, note 83.

Appendix 1

Calcutta Inter-Dominion Conference, April 1948: Agreements Reached to protect life and property of minorities to safeguard their civic and cultural rights to discourage propaganda for the amalgamation of India and Pakistan to warn government servants against dereliction of duty towards minorities, towards creation of fear and apprehension in their minds to curb tendencies towards economic boycott and strangulation of their normal life to set up Evacuee Property Management Boards in districts or areas from which a substantial exodus had taken place to postpone discussion of the question of Muslim migration between Assam and East Bengal to a separate inter-dominion. Pending this, not to take any action to force or precipitate migration to one province from the other on a mass scale

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Appendix 2 Key Legislation and Agreements Regarding Refugees and Evacuees in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh 1947–1972

Declarations establishing custodians of evacuee property Joint Defence Council decision to establish the MEO Calcutta inter-dominion agreement

Displaced Persons (Compensation) Act:

India, September 1947 India, September 1947 India, April 1948 India, 14 July 1948 India, June 1948. India, January 1949 India, April 1950 India, 1950 India, October 1952 India, 1954

Enemy Property Act

India, 1968

Permit ordinances Evacuee Property Ordinance: Karachi Agreement Evacuee Property Act: Liaquat–Nehru Pact Passports:

Vested Property Ordinance

Pakistan, September 1947 Pakistan, September 1947 Pakistan, April 1948 Pakistan, 15 October 1948. Pakistan, October, 1949 Pakistan, January, 1949 Pakistan: April 1950 Pakistan, 1950 Pakistan, October 1952 Pakistan, (NADRA rules) 1949–55 (Ordinance) Pakistan, 1969 Bangladesh, 1972

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Appendix 3 Protocol Agreed between Police Officers in the Event of Border Incidents

! Exchange of first information reports and daily reports of all incidents of raids. ! In the event of raids, police of both sides to exchange information by wireless, where possible, or telegram. ! ‘Earnest efforts’ to be made to recover stolen property. ‘This is imperative in the case of abducted persons particularly women.’ ! When a raider has been identified by name, ‘strong and effective action’ to be taken ‘to run him to earth’. ! Exchange of lists of ‘notorious persons’ strong and effective action against ‘these individuals’. ! Collective penal action ‘in the shape of collective fines or otherwise’ against villages conniving with border raids. ! Superintendents of police (SPs) and their gazette officers to ‘keep an eye’ on ‘the harbourers of the raiders’. ! Where possible, permanent permits to be issued to concerned SPs and gazetted officers to enable them to meet their opposite numbers without delay. ! Warnings to be issued to all border police, village defence societies, national guards and troops ‘to refrain from giving any direct or indirect assistance to the raiders’. ! Steps to be taken to publicize these decisions so that miscreants and raiders on both sides are aware that ‘adequate steps’ would be taken against them Source: ‘Instructions relating to meetings between police officers of Rajasthan and Pakistan to prevent border incidents’, NAI/MEA/36–15/49 Pak III.

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Tolerance in Bangladesh: Discourses of State and Society Samia Huq Department of Economics and Social Sciences, BRAC University

Introduction One does not need to be an expert or a scholar of politics and society to see that the predictions of modernization theory and the secularization thesis did not materialize into a decreased salience of religion in contemporary private and public life (Berger, 1967; Martin, 1978). Thus, religion’s intense presence has allowed scholars to rethink earlier treatises on secularization by historicizing the various categories such as religion and secularism, reframing them in light of power at the institutional, political, legal, social and cultural levels (Asad, 1993; Agrama 2012; Gauchet, 1999; Taylor, 2007). Given these newer insights, secularism is re-conceptualized as a statist project that does not lead to a separation but rather a regulation of religion by the state. Various forms of governing mechanisms thus keep the religious and the secular intertwined, whereby institutional imperatives have an authoring and constitutive effect by producing certain ideals of religion and the (religious) citizen-subject (Asad, 2003; Hirschkind, 1995; Mahmood, 2006). In this chapter, I bring to bear these insights on the tenacity of the religious within “secular” aspirations to shed light on how Bangladesh’s secular trajectory defined primarily by a separation of religion from politics has played out. I examine the implications of the attempts at a separation as the foremost measure of secularization to not only question the usefulness of the idea and resultant initiatives, but also to assess the consequent authoring of religion that hinges on several factors, such as populism, the ebbs and flows of democratic politics and class affinities. Starting with an account of two recent incidents, I demonstrate how an insistence on secularism defined by a separation of politics from religion results in a particular configuration of the two that falls short of fostering tolerance as the state continues to privilege very specific notions of religion. I argue that efforts at drawing a line between religion and politics deliver an unclear hermeneutic and an address to the “other.” Having highlighted some of the tensions that are produced, I move to the second part of the chapter in which I explore the works and 134

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ideas of Allama Abul Hashim and Ahmed Sofa to think through their approaches to religion, power, inequality and culture. This reflection of the past is intended to both lend insights into Bangladesh’s current “secular” predicament and also open up and assess possibilities for state and nonstate actors, as more effective means for secularization. Secularism and Secularization in Bangladesh In the Bangladeshi constitution, secularism, which is translated in Bengali as “dhormoniropekkhota” or religious neutrality by the state, was considered to be a founding pillar of the nation when the constitution was written in 1972. The inclusion of secularism was necessitated by the history of communalism in undivided India and the religiocultural hegemony of the Pakistani state. Thus, equality and tolerance without religio-political dominance by any group was an important political mandate, which the lawmakers of the time thought the political ideal of secularism would deliver. Kamal Hossain, who was the law minister and later foreign minister in the Mujib administration and also an important member of the constitution formulating committee writes, Secularism stands for the rejection of communalism in all its forms, and of the abuse of religion for political purpose. The principle of secularism that was embodied in the constitution was very carefully worded so as to make clear that it did not stand for hostility to religion . . . The principle of secularism shall be realized by the elimination of (a) communalism in all its forms (b) granting by the state of political status in favour of any religion (c) abuse of religion for political purposes (d) discrimination against, or persecution, of persons practicing a particular religion (Hossain, 2013: 142).

Such being the criteria for secularism, the government put this constitutional proclamation into motion through two main channels. The first was the banning of religious groups from the formal political space. The other rested on the mounting of a “Bengali” identity as the unifying face of the nation. In order to grant primacy and legitimacy to this Bengali identity, the political elite propped up a particular type of culture, literature and music as repositories of Bengaliness that would give Bangladesh the means and impetus to be secular. Over four decades later, a plea for the cultivation of certain kinds of music and literature remain a cultural marker of anti-fundamentalism, and thereby, extensions of a more tolerant and secular ethos. By removing religion out of the political space, religion was to play no role in determining public lives, policies and decisions of the nation. However, religion did remain in the public realm in Bangladesh, and the criteria of eliminating communalism and granting all faiths equal footing vis-à-vis the state were fulfilled through certain public appearances

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of religion. These included the beginning of government speeches and addresses with Quranic proclamations and television transmission with readings from Muslim, Hindu, Christian and Buddhist scripture. The removal of religious party politics also reinforced another assumption of the secularization theory – one premised on the good/bad religion distinction. Islam a la Jama’at-e-Islami was “bad” religion because it provided political and philosophical ammunition to those who aimed to thwart the war of independence in 1971. Thus, such an Islam did not represent justice for those Bengalis who believed and fought for the independence of Bangladesh on the premise of democratic justice and equality. However, the government’s assurance that secularism was to imprint itself on a polity of majority practicing Muslims was not bolstered by any substantive conversation on what should give content to the “good religion” that does appear in public in Bangladesh. Certain additional measures such as the banning of the Islamic academy until 1974 left the state-run mosques and imams bereft of public direction and focus. The vacuum that was created raised confusion about the religious content envisioned for the polity and the manner in which its citizens would be Muslim or of any other faiths and what the implications of these identities and embodied subjectivities would be for Bangladesh’s public/political life. In the face of these gaps, speeches by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman asserting that his government’s vision of secularism did not intend to render the nation or its citizens irreligious in any way felt unsubstantiated.1 Bangladesh’s use and application of the term “secularism,” thus, appeared to have inadequately wrestled with its theological, philosophical, and, therefore, political underpinnings. Consequently, this left a void that failed to clarify for the public the appropriate tone and contours of public expressions of faith for a self-avowed secular polity. In addition, measures of secularization such as the banning of all religious political parties or a heightened dependence on Bengali language, literature and culture seemed to narrow the field of public debate significantly, in contrast to the Pakistan period that was ripe with political and cultural experiments that actively sought to define an identity that was equally Muslim, Bengali and noncommunal.2 Therefore, reactions were strong, alleging that this brand of secularism was inorganic, removed from the past and from the 1

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Here I refer to a speech made by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in parliament in 1972 in which he said that secularism does not refer to an absence of religion and that in Bangladesh people of all faiths were free to believe and practice their religion as long as it is not used in politics. For full text, see Parliament Debates. October 12, 1972. Dhaka: Government of Bangladesh, 20. Two examples of this include the Tamaddun Majlish, which was a progressive Islamic cultural organization established in 1947 and the first to demand that Bengali and Urdu be given equal status as state languages of Pakistan. The second is Islamic Socialism of Maulana Bhashani, which called for redistributive justice and democracy while using Islamic concepts and ideas.

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heritage and sensibilities of the majority. Thus, in Bangladesh, as in many other parts of the non-Western world, the political idea of secularism was formulated before a substantive consideration of how new processes, or those already in place, were to give this project tangible form. The one measure of secularization, that aimed to keep religion out of politics, did not, in the end, endure for very long. Subsequent regimes and constitutional changes saw the ban on religious politics lifted, the preamble to the constitution Islamized and Islam declared the state religion. These introductions and changes that took place under military dictatorships left secular advocates worried not only about the rise of Muslim majoritarianism and the fate of minorities, but also about the absence of democracy that was posing many questions and obstacles for secular hopes. The period from 1990 to 2008 is considered the democratic era, where the two largest political parties have alternately come to power through elections held by a caretaker government. While critics of the military era had worried about the role of authoritarianism in Islamizing the political and public landscape, it appears that vote bank politics ensured that Muslim majoritarianism continues to thrive under democracy too.3 Recently, the term “secular” has been reinstated in the constitution and done so under the self-professed secular Awami League. Voted into parliament in 2008, they began, on popular mandate, the trial of the war criminals of 1971, most of who belong to the Jama’at-e-Islami. While many feel that the trials and the subsequent hanging of Jama’at leaders has purged the nation of its sins, the accompanying questions regarding religion’s role and legitimacy in politics and rhetorical calls about “restoring” secularism to what it was in the early years after Bangladesh’s birth are punctured by not only the political and conceptual difficulty of removing religion from politics4 and the murky business of rescuing identity from the cultural repertoire, but also by democratic intentions and processes.5

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In this volume, Sadia Saeed argues that Pakistan’s desecularization and its discrimination against minorities such as the Ahmadis is owed greatly to democratic impulses that can be traced back to the colonial period. This interesting correlation of desecularization to democratic imperatives in Pakistan, with its distinct motives and outcomes, is a problematic that is increasingly felt and used in Bangladesh, too, to question old assumptions, critically engage the reasons for a democracy deficit and reflect on precisely what kinds of political systems will deliver a tolerant society. Recent constitutional amendments aimed at restoring secularism have retained Islam as the state religion. Furthermore, religious language, imagery and examples from the past are often brought up by high ranking officials and even the prime minister in a bid to prove the Islamic credibility of her regime. See “Country to Follow Medina Charter” in Daily Star. www.thedailystar.net/country-to-follow-medina-charter-16830. While the transition from military dictatorships to democracy helps many causes, the democracy that Bangladesh inherited revealed many fault lines and failed to deliver on many promises – including securing rights of all religious communities and the freedom

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As the prime secularization modality of separating religion from politics has faltered, secularism has increasingly become a point of contention in politics and a source of anxiety for those who equate religion’s public presence with a loss of modernity and progress. In the section that follows, I explore further how this separation is managed with the consequent authoring of religion of both the minority and the majority. This elucidation corroborates the Asadian view that projects of secularism are statist ones that yield a certain religious majoritarianism6 and consequently author, not negate, religion.7 I assess the role of suspicion and indeterminacy in the Bangladeshi state’s modes of secularization8 and the notion of toleration that the state begets as a consequence. This discussion will highlight gaps and thus openings where processes of secularization may be activated by nonstate actors too. Some recent works have highlighted how secularization occurs outside of state’s direct intervention – in the hands of Islamists as well as the Catholic Church.9 These insights render the teleological assumptions of secularization theory, whereby the route to a tolerant end is a reduction/privatization of religion, untenable. This discussion of Bangladesh’s secular aspirations and what becomes of the chosen processes of secularization allows us to think beyond a static teleology and towards a multiplicity of actors and engagement for greater tolerance within and between faiths.10 The different actors I wish to discuss are drawn from recent history of East Pakistan and Bangladesh. I discuss two examples; two modalities of arriving at tolerance through theology and dialogue across social groups. The first is that of Abul Hashim, which was sanctioned by the state in the 1960s. This theological discourse allowed for a sense of nation and nationalism, lending itself to East Pakistani cultural sovereignty and yet remaining outside much of the purview of the Pakistani state’s hegemonic mandate. The second example elucidates Ahmed Sofa’s thinking on Muslims in Bangladesh and their ability to relate to others through a critical self-reflection that can help transform self, others and society. Sofa’s is a treatise on social transformation brought through bridging class divides, in which there is an address to secularization that one seldom hears these days.

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of expression – giving politics an unpalatable flavor. For an overview of Bangladesh’s democracy and its impact on tolerance, see Riaz, 2015. For further detail on the state’s role in managing secularism and the majoritarianism inherent in the workings of secularism, see Asad, 2003; and Mahmood, 2009. For a discussion on the relationship between secularism’s capacity to author and sanction religion, see Hirschkind, 1995; and Mahmood, 2006. “Secularism, Hermeneutics, and Empire: The Politics of Islamic Reformation” in Public Culture 18:2: 323–347. Agrama, 2013. For further discussion on the role of nonstate actors in promoting secularization, see Iqtidar, 2011; Casanova, 2001; Scott, 1998; and Sudiptakaviraj, 2010. For a discussion on the lack of tenacity a linear, teleological understanding of secularization holds, see Iqtidar, 2012.

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Discerning Difference and Tolerance from Recent Events In June 2012, when Muktadir spotted a Facebook post by his Buddhist friend Uttam Kumar Barua allegedly depicting a girl stepping on the Quran, a mob large enough to bring down centuries-old Buddhist temples in Ramu, situated off the coast of Chittagong, was mobilized. The mob frenzy, followed by an assault on the Buddhist community, was naturally read as an intolerant expression of majoritarian arrogance and disrespect. However, the larger geopolitical context within which this attack on Buddhists occurred is marked by acrimony between Muslim Rohingyas and Buddhists in Myanmar over the issue of the former’s citizenship rights. The context notwithstanding, the sense of outrage among secular activists and civil society members made this an issue of utmost concern with regard to interfaith/communal harmony and the secular ethos and sensibilities of Bangladeshi citizens. State management of the affair fell short of justice. Law enforcement officials who had failed to prevent the violence from escalating were only transferred to a different region without demotion or punishment. But more importantly, the state’s response infringed directly on religious sensibilities of Buddhists. In their bid to “restore order,” the government defied the wishes of the Buddhist community to solemnly honor a religious observation and insisted that the Probarona Purnima celebration be held through lighting and setting afloat of fanooshes. By privileging jubilation as a show of solidarity over the wishes of the Buddhist community, the government managed to delink a set of embodied practices from the Buddhist religious tradition. The Buddhist community was hurt by this. A Buddhist monk reacted by saying that a fanoosh is not a balloon, and to treat it as such is to belittle the Buddhist tradition.11 The state was not only soft on the perpetrators but also infringed upon, changed and appropriated Buddhist religious practices. A wider civil society critique of state interventions and consequent outcomes was based on an analysis of class oppression and business interests. Some commentators see the religious riot as a manifestation of the land grab that resulted from the opening up of tourism in the region.12 These clashes are, according to these critics, a playing out of neoliberal ambitions that will inevitably lead to a persecution of the weak and appropriation of their properties. Apart from the authorization of 11 12

For a detailed discussion of the Ramu incident, see Ahmed, 2012. Ramu is situated in the greater Cox’s Bazar area, which is the longest uninterrupted beach in the world. Barua argues that poor Muslims are not spared of this either, making the problem not only one of communalism. However, he does assert that the minority populations (in this area, the Buddhists) do experience more assaults due to their double disadvantage of being poor and minority. See Barua, 2013.

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religion that surfaces through state management of the Ramu incident, could there be another way to write religion – especially that of the majority Muslims – that could foster a more positive notion of equality and toleration? The need to look outside state authorization of religion for a more egalitarian and tolerant relationship between faiths becomes even more urgent when we look at how the state sanctions a particular view of Islam. This authoring comes out clearly in another recent clash – this time between Muslims – bringing to a head interpretation and varied constructions of self, the constitution of “true” Islamic behavior and the question of moral injury that stems from it. The incident took place at the height of the Shahbag movement, when young students and activists had come together under the banner “GonojagoronMoncho” (GJM) to protest the war tribunal’s verdict of life imprisonment, as opposed to the death penalty, given to the war criminal Abdul Quader Molla, a high-ranking leader in the Jama’at-e-Islam. In spite of GJM’s embrace of the death penalty, the movement represented a new moment for national politics when, after decades of apathy the youth were enthused about a political cause. GJM’s demand consisted of not only trying and hanging the war criminals, but also of banning the Jama’at in its entirety. While there were some voices expressing concerns about whether this would fuel Islamist backlash or whether banning the party along with its welfare and financial institutions was practical, given the outreach of its welfare work, secular advocates welcomed the call as a return to secularism that would expel religion from the public political space. As waves of protest demanding these bans soared through the educated segments of the country, a blogger from the Shahbag movement was killed for his blog posts that allegedly defamed the Prophet Muhammad. Initially, the brutal killing was condemned and used to further strengthen calls for the banning of religion from politics. However, very soon, these voices receded to the background as people began to question the validity and limits of hurting religious sensibilities. Hefazat-e-Islam, a nonpolitical coalition of Qaumi madrasah teachers, rose to the forefront of protests against the “secularists,” and the Shahbagh movement in general. The anti- and pro-liberation contours of the debate on nationalism acquired new dimensions as the dividing line was redrawn between the believers (astik) and the unbelievers (nastik). Faith, and faith of a particular type, as a defining condition of national belonging, raised alarm bells for secular advocates. The demographic composition of the Hefazat-e-Islam coalition also reinforced the secularist stance that madrasah education breeds regression. However, there were segments of the population who

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found Hefazat’s call compelling. These segments did not consist of middle-class, urban folk who flocked to the gaiety and festivity that marked the Shahbag protests, but rather of factory workers, poor madrasah students, office peons and tea-boys. Clearly, class (and gender) dimensions and distinctions defined the construction of the polity and the religion-nation question. The state intervened in the divide in two ways. First, it arrested some bloggers for offending religious sentiments. While this was done under the rights to religious freedom law/statute, secular advocates were extremely concerned at the signal the state was sending to the citizens regarding freedom of expression and construction of faith. Next, the state also clamped down on Hefazat, using tear gas and bullets against a large congregation of madrasah students who had traveled to Dhaka from different parts of Bangladesh to declare and emphasize their thirteen-point demand.13 While the state’s show of force was deemed necessary by some, others found the violent means of silencing demands – religious or otherwise – counter-productive in the long run. Since the controversial operation, Hefazat had been silent, or as many suspect, “silenced.” Hefazat’s absence from the public scene has allowed the state to privilege a notion of secularism premised on privatized religion. However, very recently, Hefazat was heard from again, this time supporting a Jatiya Party lawmaker who had insulted and removed a Hindu head master from his position for allegedly insulting Islam. Hefazat took out a huge rally in the town of Narayanganj supporting the MP as a “defender of Islam,” and demanding the resignation of the education minister for reinstating the head master back into his job.14 These incidents show that the state’s secular aspirations pivot around a constant negotiation between maintaining order and managing moral injury. While this management sometimes results in appeasement of some and in opposition of others, the question of what kind of a de-politicized religion should emerge as fit for the public space from amidst the negotiations and how this religion should speak to secular values such as right to speech, freedom of expression remains to be worked out.15 The spate of blogger killings that have ensued since Shahbag have not invoked much of a response by the state. In fact, whatever responses they have given lead

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For a detailed explanation of the thirteen-point demand made by Hefazat, visit their website www.hefazat.org. For news report, see The Daily Star, 2013. Hashmi, 2016. Not only has Sheikh Hasina arrested bloggers for hurting religious sentiments, she has failed to take a stand and give public statements denouncing the murder of bloggers. See Bdnews24, 2015.

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many to sense in them an apology for free thinking and a message that indirectly validates the attacks on it.16 The constant effort of the current regime to draw a line between religion and politics, as evinced by the incidents discussed above, seems only logical, given that a separation between religion and politics was considered a primary condition of secularism as envisioned in the first constitution and that establishing that boundary constituted the primary modality of secularization that was to establish and consolidate secularism as a political reality. The call that secularism must be restored following 1972 standards is premised on a logic that continues to see an extrication of religion from the political arena as a primary means. However, the question remains, if politicized religion is to be dispelled from the public arena, what should be the contours of the religion that remains public, the religion that even heads of governments refer to and draw on, so that it approximates (secular) goals of tolerance, respect, freedom of expression and right to religious freedom? What are the process and justifications and authoritative decisions taken on these matters? Currently, attempts to eject the Jama’at-e-Islami and its definition of religion, state and polity from public view are being theologically supported by a debate on the supernatural versus ordinary nature of the Prophet Muhammad. The state-funded Islamic Foundation is actively backing the view that the prophet was a man of mystical properties, quite apart from the ordinary nonprophetic human. This position can be contrasted with the Maududi/Jama’at view that it is the human properties, rather than the mystical properties, of the Prophet that are important for Muslims to think of as they emulate his life in order to be ideal Muslims. When Hefazat was asked to leave the public arena, it was done so on the pretext of “maintaining order,” which they had allegedly disrupted on their May 5th congregation in Dhaka. Rumors that many top-ranking Hefazat leaders had also played a disruptive role in 1971 further supported the view that religious voices with such anti-nationalist tones are not fit for any public role. The state made very clear that Hefazat’s survival and status as an apolitical and nationalist religious group depended on its redrawing into the four walls of religious education. This stance does not adequately factor in the public significance of education. It is plausible that certain concessions were made to them based on the premise that Hefazat is known to have a mystical bent theologically. Thus, the mystical bent of Hefazat as well as that which the state was attempting to adopt were ways to take on the “literalist” yet modernist Jama’atis.17 How the 16 17

For an overview of the critique of government responses, see Fidalgo and De Dora, 2016. For an overview of the differences between Hefazat and Jama’at, see Mustafa, 2013 and Khalidi, 2013.

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state’s position on mystical bent was to be different from Hefazat’s was to be different from Hefazat’s (if at all) and how the two would accommodate differences in faith, or degrees of it, were not made manifest by the state. How a mystical conception of Prophet Muhammad may lend itself to notions of community life, connectedness and moral injury were not issues the state had elaborated upon. Thus, their superficial treatment of locking up the “atheist” bloggers and then cracking down on Hefazat, and undertaking it all for the sake of restoring secularism and fighting fundamentalism, left many questions unanswered and conceptual matters entangled. Is it plausible that in the midst of suspicion and confusion that possibilities may open up for authoring religion and reaching out to religious quarters in a manner that better begets tolerance? Or, as Agrama has argued, will suspicions reign to give content to the “real” secularism, which by (de)merit if its constituting elements of indeterminacy can never deliver on its normative promises? (Agrama, 2013). Even if that were the case, I wish to look back at two instances where the matter of public religion and its boundaries had been approached differently – with different theological and sociological underpinnings. I undertake this exploration by elucidating the work and contribution of two critical thinkers: Abul Hashim and Ahmed Sofa. I do so in order to bring to life ideas of another time, its own suspicions and indeterminacies notwithstanding, in order to re-imagine possibilities of a different kind of and path to secularization. Looking Back I

Pluralizing Theology in Centralizing Times

Abul Hashim was one of the earliest lawmakers within the Bengal Muslim League. His training as a lawyer, the early influence of Maulana Azad Subhani18 and his insistence on a united Bengal all framed the worldview within which his politics and, later on, writing on religion unfolded. After a falling-out with Suhrawardy19and the failed United Bengal movement of 1946, Hashim retired from the politics of Muslim 18

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Azad Subhani (1896–1963) was a theologian and heavily involved with anticolonial Muslim politics in British India. He was a key figure in the Khilafat movement and also in the establishment of the Jamiyat-e-Ulama-e-Hind. Considered to have been influenced by left of center ideals, Allama Subhani formed various organizations in India before and after partition. Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy (1892–1963) was a Bengali politician and statesman, the last Prime Minister of Bengal in the British Raj and the fifth Prime Minister of Pakistan. He was a key figure in early Awami League politics in East Pakistan and played a central role in the defeat of the Muslim League by the United Front in the election of 1954.

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Bengal. Having thereafter engaged himself with the formation and then brief sustenance of two Islamic cultural/political organizations – the Tamaddun Majlish and Khilafat-e-Rabbani,20 Hashim spent the remaining years of his life practically blind but as the chief of the Islamic Academy, set up by Ayub Khan in 1961. Thus, Hashim’s appointment coincided with, and was also perhaps intended to buttress, Ayub Khan’s national integration project, which was testing the parameters of a new nationalist framework for a unified Pakistan. In this framework, religion was to be subsumed under culture, whereby “culture” would promote a nationalist ethos. This approach contrasted others, which advocated that nationalism has to have a theological basis.21 In order to counter these forces, the hegemony underpinning the project of constructing a homogeneous culture demanded that religion/Islam be explained and understood as a civilizational and not as a religious project. However, while Abul Hashim’s stance on Islam worked within the rubric of such a project, its wrestling with sources and structures of power also left open the possibility of countering such totalitarianism. The Islam that Hashim etched on the Eastern side of Pakistan (with Fazlur Rahman working as his counterpart in the Western wing) was reformist in content and mystical in tone. He advocated a “dynamic reading of the Quran,” a critical reevaluation of the Hadith literature, the primacy of ijtihad or critical/innovative reasoning that pushes the boundaries of existing dogma. All of these, to him, were critical to ensure that ownership and redistribution of wealth does not end in “absolute right” for individuals or society.22 To that end, Hashim critiqued the excesses caused by private ownership of property. Such ideas led critiques from other religious scholars who accused him of communist/ socialist leanings. Hashim was close to several communist leaders and even sought the assistance of a young communist by the name of Nikhil Chakrabarty to draft the sections on secularism and equality for men and women of the Bengal Muslim League manifesto.23 However, later in life, Hashim grew equally critical of socialism. He wrote, “Socialism is social ownership of wealth as distinct from and opposed to individual ownership. A nation is but an individual in the community of nations. Socialism, therefore, is individualism writ large and contains within its womb all the ills of individualism in colossal proportions.”24 Neither to the right 20

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Tamaddun Majlish and Khilafat-e-Rabbani were established in 1947 and 1953, respectively. Both groups were formed to give voice to the linguistic and other cultural and political struggles of Bengalis who, as Muslims, had come to occupy East Pakistan (Umar, 1995). For a detailed discussion on the contestations around Pakistan’s construction of culture as a unifying force, see Toor, 2005. 23 24 Hashim, 1950. Hassan, 2005. Ibid., 39.

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nor to the left (at least in the sense espoused by the communist/socialist leftists), Hashim’s deployment of Islam was aimed at constantly using critical reasoning to carve out a “middle path” towards equality and justice. It is these beliefs and the associated practices that were at the heart of his thesis on “Rabbaniyat” that explained the ways in which man was to achieve God’s vicegerency on Earth25. Hashim’s “middle path” represented, to him, the essence of the Islamic faith and also spoke to people of other faiths in accommodating ways. For example, in his explanation of shirk (partnership with God) and kufr (denial of God), Hashim clearly writes that shirk is not the worship of idols, as even an intelligent and reflective idol-worshipping Hindu would say that forms worshipped are mere representations of the immanent God whom they, in reality, worship. Thus, to worship the personal desires that go beyond the limits set by Rabbaniyat and service to humanity is what constitutes shirk in Hashim’s interpretive framework. While he does label a belief in a tripartite understanding of God (that is, the trinity) as constitutive of shirk and the denial of God, Hashim’s definition of trinity is not the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost, as understood by Catholics, but “the ills of desire, such as power (shokti), wealth (shompod) and lust (kaam).”26 Abul Hashim’s Quranic exegesis muted the question of religious culpability of non-Muslims, bringing the focus back to the self whereby any human being, through uncontrolled material desires and ill-directed use of power, can deny God. Within such a framework, Hashim argued that the Quran itself in the chapter titled “Fig” gives evidence that Buddha was indeed a prophet of God. He writes, “As the concrete proof of nobility of human nature and its potentiality the Holy Quran cites as living examples the four specimens of perfect humanity: Buddha, Jesus, Moses and Muhammad (peace be upon him) by means of the four symbols, the fig, the olive, the Mount Sinai and Mecca . . . The Muslim commentators are disinclined to and shy of accepting Gautama Buddha as a prophet. They argue that non-Semitic prophets are not specifically mentioned in the Quran. They forget that there is no room for prejudice or conceit in Islam. Historically the Fig is definitively the symbol of Buddha; He attained nirvana under a Fig tree.”27 Hashim further argued that dissimilarities between certain contemporary Buddhist beliefs and practices and the fundamental teachings of Islam should not be seen as a negation of Buddha’s lack of divine inspiration. Rather, today Buddhism, like many other faiths, has become distorted just the way Muslims have corrupted Islam in the 25 26

For a detailed discussion on Abul Hashim’s theology, see Huq, 2013. 27 Hashim, 1970. Hashim, 1950.

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past and may do so again in the future, lest they live by the ideals of set by a certain hermeneutic, ethics and both spiritual and social practice. An argument made in favor of multiplicity within a highly centralizing state apparatus, appears, needless to say, highly paradoxical. Such a method – pursued both by Abul Hashim and Fazlur Rahman – became the epistemological premise on which certain milestone reforms were initiated. It is such thinking that provided the theological impetus for changes in family laws through the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, 1961– an amendment that remains, to date, the single most forceful change in a highly sensitive realm of family life in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Theologically, there remained sharp critiques of this approach, notably from the more traditional Islamic quarters. These critiques were both methodological as well as simply reactionary, whereby Hashim and Rahman’s approaches were considered to have inadequately theorized on what constitutes “essentials” from within the tradition. The approach was seen as an over-adherence to modern values to the extent that the need for an alignment with modernity may dispel certain other essentials in the Quran.28 Due to backlash from traditionalists, Fazlur Rahman found it difficult to continue living in West Pakistan, cornered both by the opposing rhetoric of the Jama’atis, as well as the demands of the Ayub Khan administration. It is plausible that the inward-looking and poweramassing state was not only stifling possibilities for democratic space but also was a platform for discussion and debate on the role and purpose of religion in public life. However, the political landscape of East Pakistan was different and fast changing. The struggle for economic, cultural and political self-rule relied on a democratic rhetoric for its goals. The shift in power that envisioned this democracy resulted in bringing to the fore cultural markers and identities that were being marginalized by the larger Pakistani culture propagated by the Pakistani state. Thus was born the assertion for Bengali self-hood with all its cultural signifiers, such as the Bengali language, music and the arts. The Muslimness of the Bengali Muslims of East Pakistan was not to be eschewed but rather subsumed within the “democratic” doctrine of secularism. The theological pluralism of Hashim premised on a fight against absolutism – economic or otherwise – did not particularly contradict this Bengali calling. In fact, Hashim’s stance on Islam, premised on wrestling with forces and structures of power, also allowed him the privilege of critiquing the hegemony underpinning Ayub’s project. Even as director of the Islamic Academy, Hashim was able to openly condemn the Pakistani administration’s 28

Hallaq, 2009. For a detailed summary of the critiques of a modernist interpretation of Islam, see also Moosa, 2003.

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efforts at writing Bengali in the Urdu script. He was equally critical of bans imposed on the music and other work of Rabindranath Tagore. Hashim’s hermeneutic stance allowed him greater sensitivity and influence in supporting pluralism under a centralizing and aggressively secular state that had undertaken a multiplicity of measures, ranging from curbing the powers of pirs and ulama to changing education policies as part of secularization, all of which aimed to give religion a cultural/civilizational status as opposed to one that actively forms and informs faith and ritual practices and the political life of a people.29 Hashim’s hermeneutic espoused a certain modernism, while looking for a rationality that had links with mysticism and spirituality. However, it was able to resist the homogenization sought by the centralizing state and lend itself to the East Pakistani cause of fighting for its own cultural sovereignty. The idea that a certain cultural form and content should reign supreme and could be legitimized through religion was refuted by Hashim. In other words, he sought sources of tolerance and plurality within religion without reducing religion to culture or vice versa. In bringing his hermeneutic approach to bear upon such a political reality and struggle, Hashim quietly took a stand against measures of a statist secularization that gave religion no more status than an arm of a modernist civilizational mission. II

Bridging Gaps in a Polarizing World

The period from 1971 to 1977 saw many changes in Bangladesh. The first was the loss of popularity of Bengali nationalism, which was concurrent to the end of the Awami League rule delivered by the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975. The end of this era (albeit not the brutal killings) was legitimized through various rationales. The first was the lack of political governance and the institutionalization of a one-party rule – all contravening the plea to democracy that characterized the struggle for independence and the promised mode of governing the new nation. The second issue that had stifled the sensibilities of many was an over-investment of particular renditions of language, literature and culture to the omission of others in the construction of a national “Bengali” culture.30 For many, the absence of our past “Muslim” experiences and experiments with the Bengali language, literature and other art forms were inorganic and partial. The construction of a national cultural imaginary that was premised on the relegation of religion to the private 29 30

Jaffrelot, 2012. For a discussion on the construction of Bengali culture and its implications for secularism, see O’Connell, 2001.

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sphere and a ban on religious politics were the two primary means of secularization. The end of this era began with the promise of a new ethos. In post 1975 Bangladesh, a more inclusive “Bangladeshi nationalism” that does not conceal its religious identity and also incorporates its nonBengali indigenous population was to represent Bangladesh’s national cultural personality. The political economy of this nationalism made openings for friendly relations and cooperation with the oil-rich Middle East, as well as the (re)entry of Jama’at-e-Islami into the political space. Both of these forces have strengthened the Islamic imprint on the nation. However, what that Islam might be, and what its theological groundings and political vision were to be, was not spelled out. The ever-increasing potency of the Islamic rhetoric, supported by countries of the Middle East as well as other transnational ties through both ideas as well as money and resources, has stifled platforms regarding how to think and talk about Islam creatively. Thus, what it means to be Bengali, Muslim and secular is held hostage by the two conflicting nationalisms – Bengali versus Bangladeshi nationalism. The inability to bridge the gap between the two has become endemic to both nationalist politics and the cultural imagination. In addition, the question of class and poverty where large segments of the population increasingly relied on madrasah patronage, much of it funded through overseas/Middle Eastern support, added an additional dimension to Bangladeshi nationalism. The Hefazat debacle was a prime manifestation of this conflict, making apparent the polarization of society and the inability for people on either side to relate to one another. By the early 1980s, such fault lines were already starting to show. During this period, Ahmed Sofa’s thesis on Bengali Muslims shed a helpful light on redressing the fissures amongst Bengali Muslims. Sofa argued that Bengali Muslims have always been a beleaguered people – an oppressed community who, in spite of converting to Islam, remained enslaved to a caste-like system dominated by the landed gentry and aristocracy. These sharp divisions between the higher and lower echelons of society prevailed, and cultural and intellectual thoughts regarding progress were never quite able to traverse the divide. Sofa asserted that the North Indian reform initiatives brought about through the likes of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and his Aligarh movement failed to speak to the vast peasantry that mostly constituted the category “Bengali Muslims.” A hapless lot, the peasants sitting in the lower echelons of society had acquired Muslim traditions/culture, beliefs and practices. However, their poverty and lack of access to education meant that winds of modernist progress and change that were affecting the middle classes (through an emulation of the Hindu awakening) were out of their reach. This is not to say that the peasantry had never experienced any movements for change.

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Sofa points out the Wahhabi movement of Titumir and the Faraizi movement led by Dudu Mian as two landmark mobilizations that had touched peasant life. Sofa argues that while class struggle was very much part of the driving force of both movements, the language was one of religion and religious purification rather than of modern philosophies of state and society.31 In other words, the peasantry remained beholden to reform through the rhetoric of piety to the point that thinking about the “fundamental rights” of existence – such as livelihood, civil and political rights – failed to achieve an ontological status in their lives. Sofa further asserts that a shying away from such basic and fundamental thoughts could also be found in Bengali Muslim literature and cultural pursuits, all of which rode on religious revival and the cultivation of personal piety of some degree or other.32 Ahmed Sofa argued that refraining from such critical thinking about one’s relationship to powers of the state and others had led to a “fear of reform” by majority of the population. However, the left-leaning Sofa did not ascribe this to anything intrinsic but rather a class divide that had consistently failed through history to allow the peasantry to develop critical thinking separate from religious rhetoric. While Sofa himself privileged a modern approach to critical thinking in which religion was rationalized and debated along certain modernist, rational lines, his belief is that condescension towards the peasantry as incomplete or inadequate serves very little for the causes of Muslims, fundamental thought, class cohesion and progress. This critical perspective calls for a change in the distance felt between the classes, in general, and the disdain with which the higher classes look upon the lower classes and their religious subjectivities, in particular. Sofa argued that the constant class divide which bifurcates the population into two distinct streams of education, i.e., the school and the madrasah, cannot be free of the secular-religious polarization and underlying arrogance and suspicion that keep the cleft alive. Sofa’s historical analysis of madrasah education, beginning with the anticolonial Wahhabi, Deobandi movement, through its survival over the decades on Middle Eastern patronage, ends in a sociological analysis arguing that the madrasah model suffers both from a defensive religious attachment and discrimination on the basis of their class position. In the midst of such sentiment, any plea for reform in madrasah education is seen as an attack on Muslim ways of life. Sofa writes, “Madrasah education cannot continue as it has for all this time. Many argue that there is a deep link

31

Sofa, 1981.

32

Ibid., 37.

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between madrasah education and religion. Be that as it may, religious education cannot be equated to the creation of unproductive citizens . . . If any change is to come to madrasah education, it must be initiated by madrasah teachers and students themselves. If reform is imposed upon them, it will be ineffective.”33 Indeed, self-collectivization by the madrasah constituency was an essential means for redressing the class divide. Sofa understood that to expect such self-collectivization to be stripped of its religious appearance and ethos would be asking for the impossible. Sofa’s nonantagonistic and accommodating approach towards the madrasah bloc can be attributed to several factors. The first was his early years growing up in the Potia region of Chittagong, which has historically been a strong madrasah belt. The region has also historically been a stronghold of sufis and mystics, along with strong left-leaning, nationalist figures and politics. Sofa’s family could trace its Hindu ancestry as well as claim some sufi saints or pirs in their lineage. Sofa came of age amidst this rich, hybrid milieu. While his personal affinities lay in the left-leaning movement of Bhashani, it was in the midst of the Potia region that he found the worldview with which to arrive at his thesis on Bengali Muslims and their nationalism. Sofa’s firm belief in self-collectivization was premised on his thesis of Bengali Muslim “inferiority,” which could and should be addressed by the people themselves if they wish to change the destiny of their lot. With the vast majority of the population remaining peasant-like, Sofa argued that singling out madrasah education for reform was a piecemeal approach, burdened with additional layers of complexity that was highly unlikely to succeed. Rather, if we were to see the entire society as part of the peasant condition and psyche, and to think of the entire education system as needing change towards economic and cultural self-assertion, we would do better justice to the cause of change. In other words, Sofa believed that the critical approach required to reform the “others” adhering to madrasah education was equally applicable to liberal minds and the institutions that shaped them. But how and why would madrasah teachers and students want reform? What would be a bottom-up approach to self-collectivization and change that resonates with the Muslim ethos and aspirations of madrasah students and yet propels them towards a more modern education? According to Professor Salimullah Khan,34 Sofa began to think of these questions when the presidential 33 34

See, regarding madrasah education, Sofa, 1995: 69. Professor Salimullah Khan is a prominent public intellectual in Bangladesh today. He was an associate of Ahmed Sofa and is known to have the largest holdings of Sofa’s published and unpublished work. I interviewed Professor Khan in May 2014.

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candidate Maulana Mohammad Ullah Hafezzi Huzur of the “Khelafat Andolon” (struggle for Khilafat) – an Islamist party secured more votes than the left-leaning Mohammad Jalil in 1981. The cause of Sofa’s intrigue lay in the fact that he had been involved with Jashod35 politics for a long time. Having striven for redistributive justice for the Bengalis in Bangladesh from a platform that gave almost no space to religion, Sofa was curious when the representative of a clearly religious group was able to demonstrate strength and popularity. In order to better understand how this popularity was generated, Sofa decided to reach out to members of the Khelafat Andolon. Through a conciliatory and synthetic approach, Sofa was able to establish familiarity and friendship with madrasah teachers and students. Sofa chose to engage deeply with the madrasah at Kamrangirchar, which continues to be a hotbed of Qaumi madrasah activity – political and otherwise. This madrasah was picked also because of its proximity to Jinjira – an industrial town just outside of Dhaka that is famed for producing counterfeit goods. Sofa’s overtures to the madrasah students and teachers included a plea for modern, technical education, in the hope that some of those acquired skills could be applied in Jinjira towards an “industrial transformation.”36 In speaking to and mixing with madrasah folk, Sofa also engaged in a wider conversation on religion, rituals and practice where both he and men from the madrasah humored each other’s views. His grand ideas of engaging the students of Kamrangirchar towards an industrial transformation remained in the realm of ideas. As optimistic and visionary a scheme as it may have been, Sofa, could not have engineered this change alone. These aspirations of economic transformation were untimely given where Bangladesh was in the early 1980s. However, Ahmed Sofa’s vision, his overtures, along with his thesis on the predicament and needs of Bengali Muslims, remain unique and important, especially given how questions of tolerance continue to hinge on the class-religion nexus that the madrasah bloc represents. State initiatives to “modernize” madrasah education remained superficial: introducing English and science as additional subjects so that some graduates may have lateral entry into mainstream secular education later on. This approach to reform was not holistic, as Sofa had advocated. Consequently, the negligible reform measures that were adopted have neither bridged the class divide between the madrasah and non-madrasah sections of society nor have they occurred through a systematic rethinking of the entire education system. The continuing 35 36

Jashod is a left-wing political party founded in 1972. Unpublished essays by Ahmed Sofa discussed by Professor Salimullah Khan.

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cleft between the two streams of education and the accompanying tensions regarding what constitutes the most authentic and best form of Islam keep the discourse on tolerance, at best, static and stale. Conclusion What lessons can we draw from the ideas of Hashim and Sofa on tolerance? The pluralizing theology of Abul Hashim under the rhetoric of a unifying culture was about creating a dynamic and tolerant society, i.e., Pakistan, yet leaving ample space for Bengali self-assertion to be accommodated within it. While there is much critique of a reformist hermeneutic within Islam today – some of that critique also resonating in the Bangladeshi state’s stance on Islam –37 do Hashim’s methodology and conclusions provide any conceptual and practical measures for the state? What is at stake in the shift towards a discourse that foregrounds a wrestling with forces of power for greater equality and justice? And do current conditions in politics and in religious authority prevent such a discourse from making any headway and leaving its imprints on how Bangladeshi Muslims envision and live just and tolerant lives? Equality and the need for Muslims to move out of states of marginalization appear to be Ahmed Sofa’s driving force too. While his thesis on the entire Bengali Muslim community’s backwardness and innate “peasantness” sound reactionary and perhaps even redundant in today’s context, Sofa’s approach does offer a way for one to envision the absence of stark gaps between the religious and the secular. It also puts forth a theory of change that is premised on a change for all, where effecting change in others must result in, if not arise from, a change in oneself. To assume that these frameworks can be meaningfully put into action is simplistic. In a neoliberal world with global competition and transnational networks, and where constructions of religion and religious selves and others are weighed down heavily by these networks and other considerations, envisioning tolerance differently may require arduous labor that cuts through many layers of social, economic and political complexity. However, it is also important that we not forget past visions and articulations. Given Bangladesh’s polarized terrain and aspirations of secularism that have left Islam to Islamists and a “modern” reading of Islam that lurks in its shadow, many lament the absence of an in-between space where Islam could be considered and molded differently. The ideational frameworks and approaches such as dialogue developed by Allama Abul Hashim and 37

For a discussion on these debates, see Huq, 2013.

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Ahmed Sofa spoke in a dynamic manner to being Muslim in South Asia at a particular historical moment. These frameworks unfolded under particular socio-political contexts with certain kinds of force and visions. While the context is quite different today, the issue of secular aspirations of tolerance and the formation of religious subjectivities remain important issues. Thus, to revisit these frameworks may help provide other directions to assessing current contexts while drawing new boundaries to being Muslim, Bengali and tolerant in today’s Bangladesh. References Agrama, Hussein A. 2013. Questioning Secularism: Islam, Sovereignty, and the Rule of Law in Modern Egypt. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Ahmed, Rahnuma. 2012. “Punishing the Innocent.” Shahidul News. November 3, 2012. www.shahidulnews.com/part-i-punishing-the-innocent. Asad, Talal. 2003. Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Barua, Jyotirmoy. 2013. Ramu: Samprodayik Shohingshota Shongkolon. Dhaka: Drik Publishers. Bdnews24. 2015. “Avijit’s Wife Bonya Criticises Bangladesh Government for Not Doing Enough.” BDnews24. May 11, 2015. http://bdnews24.com/ world/2015/05/11/avijits-wife-bonya-criticises-bangladesh-government-fornot-doing-enough. Berger, Peter L. 1967. The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. New York: Anchor Books. Casanova, J. 2001. “Civil Society and Religion: Retrospective Reflections on Catholicism and Prospective Reflections on Islam.” Social Research 68 (4): 1041–1080. Daily Star. 2013. “Hefajat Demands.” The Daily Star. April 6, 2013. http:// archive.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/hefajat-demands/. Fidalgo, Paul and Michael De Dora. 2016. “Bangladesh’s Shameful Response to Religion Critic Killings.” CNN. April 20, 2016. http://edition.cnn.com/ 2016/04/20/opinions/bangladesh-murder-responses-fidalgo-dora/. Gauchet, Marcel. 1999. The Disenchantment of the World: A Political History of Religion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. The Guardian. 2011. “Third Atheist Blogger Killed in Bangladesh.” The Guardian. May 12, 2011. www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/12/thirdatheist-blogger-killed-in-bangladesh-after-knife-attack. Hallaq, Wael B. 2009. Sharia: Theory, Practice, Transformations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hassan, Morshed. S. 2005. Purbo Banglay Chintadhara: 1947–1970: Dondo o Protikriya Onupom Prokashoni, Dhaka. Hashim, Abul. 1950. The Creed of Islam or the Revolutionary Character of Kalima. Dacca: Islamic Academy. 1965. As I See It. Dacca: Islamic Academy. 1970. Rabbanir Drishtiteh. Dacca: Islamic Academy.

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Hashmi, Taj-ul-Islam. 2016. “Fallout from Naraynganj: Hope and Despair.” The Daily Star. May 27, 2016. www.thedailystar.net/op-ed/politics/hope-anddespair-1229911. Hirschkind, Charles. 1995. “Heresy or Hermeneutics: The Case of Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd.” Stanford Humanities Review 5(1): 35–48. Hossain, Kamal. 2013. Bangladesh: Quest for Freedom and Justice. Dhaka: The University Press Limited. Huq, Samia. 2013. “Defining Self and Other: Bangladesh’s Secular Aspirations and Its Writing of Islam.” Economic and Political Weekly XLVIII (50). Iqtidar Humeira, 2011. Secularizing Islamists? Jama’at-e-Islami and Jama’at-udDawa in Pakistan, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. 2012. “Secularism and Secularisation: Untying the Knots,” Economic and Political Weekly XLVIII (50). Jaffrelot, Christophe. 2012. “Secularism without Secularization in Pakistan: Research Questions,” No.14, September 2012, Centre d’etudes et de recherches internationales. Science Po. Kaviraj, Sudipta 2010. “On Thick and Thin Religion.” in Ira Katznelson and Gareth Stedman Jones, eds., Historical Conditions, Ideological Struggles and State Policies towards Religion and the Political Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Khalidi, Toufique Imroze “Behind the Rise of Bangladesh’s Hefazat.” Aljazeera. May 9, 2013. www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/05/ 201356134629980318.html. Khan, Salimullah. 2010. Ahmed Sofa Shonjiboni, Dhaka: Agami Prokashani. Mahmood, Saba 2006. “Secularism, Hermeneutics, and Empire: The Politics of Islamic Reformation in Public Culture.” 2009. “Religious Reason and Secular Affect: An Incommensurable Divide.” in Talal Asad, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler and Saba Mahmood, eds., Is Critique Secular? Blasphemy, Injury, and Free Speech. The Townsend Center for the Humanities. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Martin, David. 1978. A General Theory of Secularization. Oxford: Blackwell. Moosa, Ebrahim. 2003. “The Debts and Burdens of Critical Islam” in Omid Safi, ed., Progressive Muslims. Oxford: One World Publications. Mustafa, Sabir. 2013. “Hefazat-e Islam: Islamist Coalition.” BBC Bengali Service. May 6, 2013. www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-22424708. O’Connell. Joseph T. 2001. “The Bengali Muslims and the State: Secularism or Humanity for Bangladesh?.” In Rafiuddin Ahmed, ed., Understanding the Bengali Muslims: Interpretive Essays. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Government of Bangladesh. 1972. Parliament Debates, October 12, 1972 (Dhaka: Government of Bangladesh, 1972), 20. Rahman, Fazlur. 1979. “Towards Reformulating the Methodology of Islamic Law: Sheikh Yamani on ‘Public Interest in Islamic Law’” New York University Journal of International Law and Politics 12: 219–24. Riaz, Ali. 2015. “The Troubled Democracy of Bangladesh: ‘Muddling through’ or ‘Political Settlement’?” ISAS Special Report, No. 25, National University of Singapore. www.isas.nus.edu.sg/ISAS%20Reports/ISAS%20Special%

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20Report%20No.%2025%20-%20The%20Troubled%20Democracy% 20of%20Bangladesh.pdf. Saeed, Sadia. 2013. “Desecularization as an Instituted Process: National Identity and Religious Difference in Pakistan.” Economic and Political Weekly 48 (50): 62–70. Scott, James C. (1998): Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Sofa, Ahmed. 1981. Bangalee Musalmaner Mon. Dhaka: Khan Brothers and Company. 1995. “Madrasa Shikkhar Kotha” in Rajnoitik o Orajnoitik Probondho. Dhaka: Jagriti Publishers. 2002. Amar Kotha or O Onnanno Probondho, Uttoron. Dhaka: Mowla Brothers. Taylor, Charles. 2007. A Secular Age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Toor, Sadia. 2005. “A National Culture for Pakistan: The Political Economy of a Debate.” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 6(3): 318–340. Umar, Badruddin. 1995. Bhasa Andolon Proshongo, Dhaka.

7

In the Void of Faith: Sunnyata, Sovereignty, Minority Aishwary Kumar Stanford University

It is on account of sunnyata that everything becomes possible . . . it is on the impermanence of the nature of all things that the possibility of all other things depends. Ambedkar, The Buddha and His Dhamma Or that revolutionary daring which flings at the adversary the defiant words: I am nothing but I must be everything. Marx, A Contribution to the

Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

For someone who has been for so long and so decisively consigned among the incorrigible secularists of his time, it is fascinating that Ambedkar himself rarely speaks in the language of secularity (or invokes the trope of tolerance) without an immense reserve, if not downright reservation. If he does fall back on that grammar at all, it is more often than not meant to reveal the limits of religious tolerance and equality in their doctrinal forms, and, ipso facto, the desire for theological and political sovereignty upon which the humanist rhetoric of secularism has itself come to thrive. More strongly than any other thinker in the anticolonial tradition, Ambedkar detects in anxious nationalist concern with secularism – in India as elsewhere – a paradoxical response to the moral exigencies of republican democracy founded on the logic of numbers (a logic that lies at the root of all religious and theocratic fanaticism, majoritarian and otherwise, rather than being their solution) and the correspondingly mutating forms and desire for transcendence and sovereign power (a desire that comes to be tethered to the grammar of national integrity and security as the postwar reality of stateless religious and racial minorities unravels worldwide).1 Secularism as an institutional program and secularity as a cognitive, linguistic, and normative condition (or proposition), Ambedkar insists, is not an antithesis but rather constitutive of the theologico-political foundation of modern democratic culture anchored in the nation-state (and its sacrosanct rules 1

The classic account of this conjuncture is Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Schocken, 2004; originally published 1951). Ambedkar’s Thoughts on Pakistan (1941) gets its apocalyptic tone from this interwar moment most directly.

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of counting and measure). And at its empty center is not the truthful equality of faiths but an unraveling project to manage the insurrectionary force of the outnumbered minority, held in its place by a peculiarly modern pact between constitutional restraint in the political realm and fanatical populism in the social. “To diehards who have developed a kind of fanaticism against minority protection, I would like to say. . . Minorities are an explosive force which, if it erupts, can blow up the whole fabric of the state,” Ambedkar warns in November 1948 as he presents the draft constitution to India’s Constituent Assembly. “The history of Europe bears ample and appalling testimony to this fact.”2 Yet, there is something exemplary about the grammar and structure of Indian secularity, difficult as it has been to separate it from both the minoritarian struggle for equality, on the one hand, and the majoritarian rhetoric of civilizational antiquity, on the other. This suturing of secularity with civilization (and, by implication, civilization with citizenship), a gesture that characterizes Indian intellectual traditions of all hues, marks the insurmountable limit on what, minutes earlier in the same speech in the Constituent Assembly, Ambedkar calls “constitutional morality.” In fact, the anchoring of citizenship in a civilizational construction marks the sovereign limit on the thought of freedom itself. Where in Europe, secularism is seen to constitute an inaugural moment in the history of early modern statecraft, a point of descent of divine will into human capacity and its constituent power (before statecraft and Christian humanism eventually become inseparable from republican ideals of liberty, equality, and perpetual peace), in India, something else happens. Here, secularism lays the groundwork for a metaphysics of moral ascent and transcendence – a flight from freedom – itself. The repercussions of this secularization of transcendence – imbuing secularism with a civilizational value practiced by the majority of the land – have been profound. Secularism in India, it is thus claimed for instance, cannot be dated. Like the structure of religiosity along whose walls it has grown for millennia (but which it has never overthrown), a certain ethos of secularity – beyond innumerable semantic variations and dynastic vicissitudes – has always been present in India’s ancient pastures and hamlets, among ordinary people and communities, in shared interest and mutual trust of everyday life. Ambedkar remains thoroughly suspicious of this fiction of classical secularity – not because he is unaware of its immense moral value but precisely because he is aware that this 2

Ambedkar, “Motion on the Draft Constitution,” 4 November 1948, in Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches (Bombay: Govt. of Maharashtra, 1978–), 24 Vols. BAWS 13: 62; hereafter cited as BAWS.

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language of secularity itself acquires, across the ideological and rhetorical divisions of anticolonial politics, the moralistic tone of a theological secularism.3 For what emerges from this moral theory of interest rooted in soil and antiquity, habit and trust – its timeless vitality traced here in a Mauryan edict and there in a Mughal farman, its mutable presence invoked here by the conservative right and there by the liberal nationalist (if in different accents) – is not an ethics of faith and neighborliness but rather an abstract equality of religions (sarva dharma sambhava) tethered to the rhetoric of civilizational antiquity or, within certain limits, syncretic medievality – that must, by its nature, transcend the democratic principle – the principle of immanence – in whose name it claims to speak. Beneath the many competing pluralisms and agonistic languages of secularity in India, thus, is a paradoxical interest rooted at once in identity and transcendence, an unsaid claim of being sovereign by virtue of having always been here. It is an ontotheology of sovereignty that exists as an exceptional paradox, at once drawing from and lending the classical atheology of Hindu nondualism (advaita) its most powerful juridical dimension. An immemorial law (sanatan dharma) of being and presence – which is to say, the truth claim of having been always on this ground and present here sovereignly – finds its purest, most paradoxical potentiality 3

The most illustrious and thoughtful proponent of this transcendental historicity of India’s ancient ethos is Romila Thapar, whose recent attempts to rethink the foundations of democratic resilience through a return to civilizational categories is symptomatic of a certain turn in the language of Indian secularity. For a sensitive articulation of this genealogy of resilience, see Romila Thapar, Indian Society and the Secular (New Delhi: Three Essays Collective, 2016). That Thapar’s argument today seems relatively less distinct from Ashis Nandy’s grammar of rustic religiosity – or that the medievalist Irfan Habib today looks up to Gandhi in order to salvage an ethics of civic conduct – is not an entirely oblique sign of majoritarian success in shifting the discourse on secularity toward an irreducible conservatism, forcing together political idioms and beliefs about the national past that seemed passionately irreconcilable barely two decades ago. Ashis Nandy’s Traditions, Tyranny, Utopias: Essays in the Politics of Self-Awareness (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993) exemplified an important moment in that steady theoretical and political shift. Perhaps such civilizational gestures, which constitute the rhetorical arsenal of nationalist secularism no less powerfully than they do of majoritarian orthodoxy, are symptomatic of a deeper transformation in the moral psychology of democracy itself: the slow and grinding acceptance of populist, everyday religiosity – and nothing is riskier for Ambedkar than an unmediated celebration of the everyday, the pastoral, and the vernacular as repositories of the originary purity of meaning and values– as part of South Asia’s democratic future. That the silence on him – and the studiously cultivated distance of political theory from works such as Philosophy of Hinduism and Castes in India – intensifies in the 1990s, the very decade that begins with the December 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and the parliamentary consolidation of political Hindutva, is not by any measure an academic coincidence. When I thus ask what the secularist avoiding of religion means for Ambedkar, I also take it to ask: what has avoiding Ambedkar meant for the secularist?

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in the equally timeless law of nonbeing and absence. Here appears the apophatic, nondualist doctrine of neti neti – not this, not that – in its purest linguistic (and yet unbridled legislative) form, as Ambedkar recalls in The Buddha and His Dhamma. Now this sovereignty that accrues from the claim of being here by not being, this power that legitimizes itself by not needing to be at all – this sovereign void, in other words, in which the very duality between being and nonbeing, presence and absence, sense and nonsense, care and abandonment, is overcome to yield an existence even “more than real,” as David Shulman probingly puts it – can be thought neither without the pleasure of speech, nor outside the logic of grammar, nor, above all, beyond the structure of language.4 Nothing escapes the presence of sound (sabd), whose power – like the existence of the listener – resides only in awareness of itself. The nondualism of sound (sabdadvaita) makes no rigid distinction between actuality and imagination, utterance and desistance. This is why in this linguistic and juridical tradition, power at its most intense, most unavoidable, and the highest, comes not necessarily from being itself – that is, from being power – but also from not-being-power; not only from speech but also from silence; not only from saying but also from not saying anything at all. The casualty here, Ambedkar argues, is political responsibility – or stronger still, “constitutional morality” – which is disseminated so ethereally, in such rigorous gradation of office and duty that any semblance of concert and obligation evaporates into emptiness. Whatever remains of liberty is in manipulative hands and demagogic tongues perverted into license. A transcendent figure – Ambedkar’s favorite is Manu, already established by the third century as the final voice on all matters legal and celebrated author of the classical juridical treatise Manusmriti – thus gives the law of peace in intricate everyday detail, its punitive reason (dandaviveka) finding its legitimacy in violent breach and negation of the everyday trust of the very people in whose name it speaks, its moral law of

4

David Shulman, A History of the Imagination in South India (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 21. The key figure here is the fifth century thinker Bhartrhari, who, at first glance, seems rather removed from the politico-juridical dimension in which Ambedkar later anchors his critique. In one way, he is. Yet, such a view can also obscure the continuum between aesthetics and law, pleasure and penology. In fact, Ambedkar’s critique of violence and of the law— its genres, names, and sounds— rarely swerves away from his rigorous archaeology of relations between language and force, imagination and freedom, potentiality and actuality. At their intersection alone does his own conception of sunnyata— drawn from another tradition of apophasis— become thinkable as an anchor of democratic judgment.

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obedience and social order barely distinguishable from the liturgical “lawlessness” and “police power” of the people’s pastoral habit.5 It is not surprising that Ambedkar’s critique of the ideological foundations of the modern nation-state, mounted with such force in Thoughts on Pakistan, derives so much of its polemical charge from his relentless focus on the pastoral force field – nomadic hordes, itinerant invaders, shifting frontiers, agrestic antisociality, tribal honor codes, punitive, life-extracting customs – that gives form to social relations and religious conflict in India. Ambedkar’s problem is not with the pastoral, let alone with the heroic universe of the military and the sacrificial structure of the religious as such. It is the manner in which the pastoral is pulled into the vortex of organized religion and nationalist statecraft that troubles him, their fiscal interest and fanatic street militias annihilating the possibility of a truthful “love of politics” forever.6 The argument for referendum made in Thoughts on Pakistan is of a piece with Ambedkar’s immense faith in the rational will of the people to resist ecclesiastical interest and political corruption. Yet such moments, when he defers to his commitment to – and faith in – the people, are never too far from his immense, lingering doubt about the integrity of their practical reason. Not before Ambedkar arrives on the scene of anticolonial politics in the 1920s, at any rate, is the exceptional paradox of India’s struggle for self-determination nailed down with such heretical passion: a paradox in which liturgy and lawlessness, measure and excess, religious aggression and theological denegation work in a calibrated rhythm. It is in his work that the sheer violence of self-determination, the deafening consensus around independence from the empire, now fortified even more fanatically by the grandeur of a civilizational telos and territorial aggression, is linked most directly to the specter of transcendence and its secular afterlife. The majority’s relentless desire for power beyond power, law beyond law, measure beyond measure, is nothing if not an arrogant ambition to occupy the place where God once was (and for a majority within this majority, still is). It is this power of transcendence that at once makes nationalist proclamations of democracy possible and compromises democracy from its tragic inside, revealing an abyss of moral indifference – the abyssal void of trust and faith – at its very center.7 5

6 7

For a powerful analysis of the relationship between politics and habit as it is reworked in Ambedkar’s groundbreaking thought, see Soumyabrata Choudhury, “Ambedkar Contra Aristotle: A Possible Contention on Who Is Capable of Politics,” SHSS (2013), 79–98. Ambedkar, Thoughts on Pakistan (Bombay: Thacker & Co., 1941), 125. This notion of the spectral as a figure of the political – the mysterious, ethereal, neverceasing, and never-complete return of religion to the scene of politics, and of politics to the scene of the religious – appears with greatest force in Pakistan, or the Partition of India,

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How to Not Avoid Speaking This much, one might argue, can be said of many places and traditions in the modern world. For the institution of popular sovereignty has always required a careful management of emptiness of power and deficit of trust, especially a people’s distrust of its own government and its withdrawal from the reality of the political realm.8 The question for Ambedkar is not whether secularism, even if anchored in one particular – albeit vindictive – theological worldview, has any value for the protection of minor religions and minorities. To this, looking west toward Judaism and Christianity and to their traditions of militant exile and antislavery abolitionist movements, he has no problem in answering in the affirmative. And although the French, Pakistani, Israeli, or American situation today might have disabused him of his faith in the ability of monotheistic traditions to transcend their colonial pasts, these societies, too, have simply proven his more fundamental point about – and his distrust of – ecclesiastical and organized religions at large. This universality of the relationship between religion and violence notwithstanding, there is something exceptional about India. For what gives the elliptical, secretive bond between belief and government, religion and counting, liturgy and debt – or, as Ambedkar writes repeatedly in his critique to the death penalty, the elliptical bond between caste and blood – its exemplarily violent form in the Indian subcontinent (the logic and structure to which in 1945 he gives the name “Indian Political”) is that – unlike the monotheistic traditions and the theories of political secularism to which they give rise in Europe, Middle East, North Africa, and elsewhere – the everyday bond here between religion and mastery is anchored not in the theological injunction of one God but instead in the asymmetrical, spectral twoness of the people itself. There is not one people in a community of imagined equals in India. Rather, there are two promiscuous majorities that, in their spectrality and nonexistence or notness, enable each other to transcend the principles and obligations of the very democracy that gives them birth. And it is this residual transcendence or quasi-transcendence (whose structure can only be called theologico-political, if not altogether ethereal) that makes religion constitutively political in India (as opposed to making politics truthfully

8

xix. “I am sure burying Pakistan,” Ambedkar writes there, “is not the same as burying the ghost of Pakistan.” See, for instance, Peter Mair, Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy (New York: Verso, 2013).

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religious).9 To read Ambedkar is to understand the enormity of this residual transcendence and learn how to not avoid speaking of it, which is to also ask what, for Ambedkar, avoiding means. There is, firstly, that whose very structure is founded on avoidance. If there is theological unity and truth to Hinduism at all, it comes from the doxa that there is none; that there are many gods and no sovereign lawgiving God; that dharma is not religion in the Latin, European, and Christian (or monotheistic) sense. In this ideological cacophony – “clatter of liberals,” says Ambedkar – about the intransitive notness of Hinduism as religion, in this liturgical unity without unity, God without God, Hindu nondualism or advaita apophatics finds its most punitively dogmatic form. It exists by avoiding its own truth, as if it were one unending experiment in truth. There is an element of democracy in Hinduism – or rather an element that resembles in its logic and structure the plurality of a democratic kind – that gives its life-extracting violence less the texture of a sacrificial battlefield and more a touch of rustic, artisanal execution of debt. “Why this circumlocution?” asks Ambedkar, as he proceeds to unpack the mystical speech and “mystical sacrifice of Purusha” in Riddles in Hinduism.10 Ambedkar is not unaware that this structure of apophasis – unity without unity, God without God, sacrifice without sacrifice – might take different rhetorical, performative, and confessional forms across diverse political formations and persuasions. But he cannot ignore the truth either that this apophatics finds a powerfully shared and equally vital presence in the discourses of Hindu majoritarian, Gandhian, and nationalist constructions of classical Hinduism, all of which obliquely ratify this religion’s spectral life by insisting that it is not. There is immense risk, indeed an element of perjury, in this denial of the phantasmatic power that Hinduism’s acclaimed nondual nonexistence wields over politics and statecraft. It is a risk inherent in all negative theologies, of course, which is perhaps what Ambedkar tries to counter in Philosophy of Hinduism when, in an attempt to save a certain structure of mystical atheism, a certain ethics of religious denegation, he deliberately places Hinduism among the “positive religions” instead. For it is in this notness – which exists in its own denial – that the ethereal, quasitranscendental unity between the aggressive fanatics and secular critics of liturgical Hinduism is secretively forged, a unity that blurs with terrifying indifference the lines between India’s “political majority” and its 9

10

But for a different view on the political value of advaita’s “notness,” see Ajay Skaria, Unconditional Equality: Gandhi’s Religion of Resistance (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016). Ambedkar, Riddles in Hinduism, in BAWS 4: 14–24.

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“communal majority.” Nothing escapes the secret, which, by its very name, does not exist except in crypts of unspoken privilege and inheritance. This ability to insinuate itself into the normative language of secularity makes Hinduism a modern religion par excellence, whose only eradication, Ambedkar proposes in a remarkable passage in Annihilation of Caste, lies in making its liturgical order the responsibility of – and opening its priesthood to – the state, which might then appoint the priests through a system of public exams. Such radical transparency alone can possibly regulate Hinduism’s everyday violence – which is otherwise encrypted into laws of primogeniture and succession, purity and reproduction – by rendering its liturgical economy visible and making religious tolerance the formal business of the government, while democratizing the access of the general public to priestly authority at large.11 Nothing irrigates caste more perennially, more unfailingly, more invisibly, after all, than the logic of blood and birth that keeps guard over laws of priesthood and pollution, prayer and property, worship and water. To approach Ambedkar as a thinker of the Indian majority – a majority at once measurable and mysterious, permanent and fluid, untrustworthy and impregnable – is to approach him as a thinker of this sovereign secret that lies at the heart of democracy.12 It is to approach him as a thinker of the apophatic structure of emptiness as such. Never does he cease to interrogate the paradoxical relationship between majority and measure, transcendence and calculation, scrupulously probing in such essays as “From Millions to Fractions” the logic of ennumeration that encodes 11

12

“It should be provided by law that no Hindu shall be entitled to be a priest unless he has passed an examination prescribed by the State and holds a sanad from the State permitting him to practice.” The state cannot be an instrument of generalized surveillance; rather, it would be the master of religion alone. “A priest should be the servant of the State and should be subject to the disciplinary action by the State in the matter of his morals, beliefs and worship, in addition to his being subject along with other citizens to the ordinary law of the land.” But, above all, the state must keep measure. “The number of priests should be limited by law according to the requirements of the State as is done in the case of the I.C.S. To some, this may sound radical. But to my mind there is nothing revolutionary in this.” Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste: Speech Prepared for the 1936 Annual Conference of the Jat Pat Todak Mandal of Lahore But Not Delivered, 3rd ed. (Jalandhar: Bheem Patrika Publications, 1968; originally published 1944), 89–90; hereafter cited as Annihilation of Caste. The series of meditations that Ambedkar assembles in the 1940s and the 1950s on this intersection between sovereignty and secrecy must be approached, in the final instance, as part of that other enduring preoccupation of his political thought: the risk of delegitimation of democracy as a political and social form and its collapse under the weight of the distrust of the very people in whose commitments alone it finds reasons to continue to exist at all. One sees this concern with democratic legitimacy now reappear in Europe with the force that has for long been reserved for the Global South. See, for example, Pierre Rosanvallon, Counter-Democracy: Politics in an Age of Distrust, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

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majoritarian tyranny at once by lending it the legitimacy of counting and letting it flagrantly exist beyond its own numbers. In fact, he discerns the logic of this empty center of the Indian political quite early. Which is also why he persistently refuses the normative notion that caste cruelty – in all its mutability and mobility, its tactility and ethereality – might ever be grasped and redressed through mere adherence to the laws of procedural and “mathematical exactitude.”13 Instead, against the ethereal mutability and axiomatic indifference that constitute caste cruelty – caste as cruelty – one must think about, he insists, another emptiness, another faith, another freedom itself. Ambedkar’s most passionate critique of the analytical symmetry between religious conservatism and anticolonial struggle for selfdetermination, one that lends this axiomatics of indifference its spectral form, appears in Annihilation of Caste. But his own vision of an antifoundational, antiviolent, and anarchic faith grounded in friendship and dissidence, even majesty, appears not before his final essays, especially “Buddha or Karl Marx,” which is also the title of a projected book-length study he never finishes. As in so many of his later speeches and writings, the theme of death penalty appears in this essay too, increasingly difficult as Ambedkar finds it in his later years to separate the question of the minority’s purported betrayals and infidelities from democracy’s fundamentally sacrificial structure and the majority’s punitive demand that the minority pay back; a logic of debt and demand that is formulated at the same time, he argues, in the tongue of civilizational transcendence and liturgical restitution, moral fairness even. This is why in nationalist doxa and majoritarian commonsense alike, Buddhism has always represented a chapter of mere civilizational error, to be at once punished and appropriated into the concentric logic of classical belief and juridical order. At best a heterodox remnant of Hinduism whose damage must be repaired by a combination of violence, forgiveness, forgetfulness, and appropriation, Buddhism is also at its worst – in its obverse and yet immiscible resemblance to Islam – a memory of political betrayal beyond restitution. Not surprisingly, within the theological construction of Indian secularity, it has never been seen for what it is: a revolutionary antithesis mounted against the majoritarian economy of debt and mastery, payback and retribution. Does The Buddha and His Dhamma continue to remain on the margins of Indian philosophy because it lends political, moral, and performative urgency to that classical and apophatic antithesis, that inappropriable ethics of 13

Ambedkar, “From Millions to Fractions,” in Ambedkar, Essays on Untouchables and Untouchability, Book III: Political, in BAWS 5: 229.

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nonindifference at whose center is not the abyss of blinding theological power but the void of the minor’s “conversion” to unavoidable force (or, as a Madhyamika might say, unavoidable nonforce)?14 Now, one could posit this force – a force that stays truthful to the principle of nonforce, a mastery that is committed to the principle of nonmastery – only when one keeps the faith that neither real force nor real nonforce (nor, above all, the idealistic distinction between them) exists. What exists is only the action of its truthful bearer. Here, by putting the emphasis on action over belief, truth over ideality, Ambedkar posits a new, noninstrumental realism, one whose ends is to be found in its very means; that is, in dissidence.15 “I regard my feelings of hatred as a real force,” he writes in his 1943 essay, “Ranade, Gandhi, and Jinnah.” “They are only the reflex of the love I bear.” It is in such love, which can be posited only in the act of its own denegation, that the insurgent minor appears; a minor whose love of truth exists in the annulment of liberal interest, whose inappropriable passion is anchored in the refusal of nationalist affection, whose irreducible “right to justice” begins by defaulting on the majoritarian economy of debt (even in throes of death). “I will not die a Hindu,” Ambedkar elsewhere declares, two decades before his conversion. This principle of annulment – annihilation – cannot be tethered to the sovereignty of self-knowledge, belief, or even learning. On the contrary, in embracing the ineluctable finitude of existence, the minor affirms a fearless survival beyond all interest in infinitude and mastery. Having emptied out from the heart of sovereignty the mortal fear of debt and death – the fear that gives the majority its power – the minor does not simply turn away in ascetic withdrawal from community. On the contrary, in exiting the majoritarian measure politically, as an equal, it embraces the place of emptiness as the place of action – emptiness as the conversion of the political – as such. In his unfinished autobiography

14

15

I use the notion of the “minor” in the sense developed by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986). A figure at once heterogeneous and inseparable from its status as minority, the minor becomes itself precisely in defiance of that which makes it: the majoritarian regime of counting and measure. While it may seem that denegation and non-mastery cannot be realistic political and ethical positions, since political realism by its very name is rooted in the vision of changing the human condition by any means (including deception), Ambedkar’s phenomenology of action – his refusal of idealism and its substitution by the “selfevident” or axiomatic dignity of thought – compels us to think exactly otherwise, especially about the relation between faith and principle, truth and politics, love and force. On issues in realism, see Raymond Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).

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Waiting for a Visa, Ambedkar calls this tragic and creative emptiness, this unavoidable void of dalit identity, this abyssal place in the heartlands of India – where a war for survival is waged on the streets (and sometimes under them) every day – the “dungeon” of untouchable experience. It is a place where the will to knowledge, sovereignty, and identity of the self – the quasi-transcendental stability of the concept of the self itself – reaches its limit, its breaking point. A place where one simply waits in faith, where one waits to leave for a place whose only attribute is that it might be the other of where one already is, that it might be outside of the mythic dimensions – “length and breadth” – of politics as such. What, after all, forces an outnumbered, antiviolent Siddhartha to renounce his republic or a fearless Socrates to exit the polis is precisely this axiomatic – even founding – tragedy of politics: that the principle of equality does not belong to it.16 And, therefore, it must be found elsewhere. That “elsewhere” of equality – which is so axiomatically, and yet so obliquely, invoked in the outcaste’s wait for a visa – is not another mythic territory, a safer and immunized homeland. Instead, it is another imagination of place as such. It is the making political of the very void of dalit placelessness.17 To look for one’s faith in this void, to look for one’s identity in a radical nonidentity, to seek refuge in placelessness: this is the fundamental conversion inscribed at the heart of political action, one that requires not simply a critique of pure religion, Ambedkar insists, but a critique of critiques of religion too. It requires not the easy grammar of secularity but the resolute, risky courage to atheism, a renunciation of the tempting mystery of sovereignty itself. The responsibility of becoming-minor in the throes of nonbeing – in the contingency of an inappropriable, insurgent act of nowness that revolts against the teleology of civilizational plenitude and debt – institutes the minority’s passion for freedom from the majoritarian injunction of staying minor forever. “Impermanence of the living individual,” states that Nietzschean formulation in The Buddha and His Dhamma, “is best described by the formula: Being is becoming.”18 Sunnyata is the void 16

17

18

“Nothing is by itself political,” Jacques Rancière writes, “for the political only happens by means of a principle that does not belong to it: equality.” Rancière, Dis-Agreement: Philosophy and Politics, trans. Julie Rose (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), 33. As Arendt says of the paradigmatic refugee of modern life, it is the very nonforce of the minor that lends his act – the act of entering the political realm – the power of a transformative coup de force. “As soon as the pariah enters the arena of politics, and translates his status into political terms, he becomes perforce a rebel.” See Hannah Arendt, “We Refugees,” in The Jewish Writings, ed. Jerome Kohn and Ron H. Feldman (New York: Schocken, 2007), 284. Ambedkar, The Buddha and His Dhamma, in BAWS 11: 240.

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where the minor – in its very finitude and emptiness – breaks from the infinite foreverness to which the majority condemns it, exiting the transcendental stricture of time itself. Sunnyata is the becoming-political of force in the very search of freedom from it. As a young Ambedkar, at once possessed by this inexhaustible force and seized by his own nonforce, concedes in his precocious 1916 essay “Castes in India,” “I may seem hard on Manu, but I am sure my force is not strong enough to kill his ghost. He lives, like a disembodied spirit and is appealed to, and,” warns the student prophetically, “I am afraid will yet live long.”19 What we see emerge in this encounter between an insurgent prodigy in New York and the ghostly genius of Indian antiquity is an atheology, a moral and political stance toward religion that is marked indelibly by that which it opposes (law), constituted by that which it neither has nor seeks (force), and yet, experienced as limitlessness (faith) at the very moment of finitude and inadequacy. When I approach Ambedkar along the theologico-political vector, I do not do so in a theistic sense, then. I simply intend to illuminate what I believe is his hesitant yet immense sensitivity to the persistence of transcendence, a sensitivity that takes the form of a search not so much for the transcendent itself as for the immortal, a striving not so much for the indestructible as for the inappropriable. The Majority’s Two Bodies But as soon as one begins to approach Ambedkar’s immense thinking of sunnyata as a critique of democratic reason, things get more complicated. For despite and especially because of the violence with which the mysterious structure of the fanatical majority saturates Indian politics, Ambedkar’s “radical atheism” calls, courageously, patiently, and religiously, for a responsibility to think and embrace the mystical – the secret, the void, the empty place of quasi-transcendental power – ceaselessly wrenching at the moral and political center of modern democracy.20 What this giving of thought to the mystical involves is not giving politics over to the sacrificial violence of communal religion. What it involves instead is an anarchic thinking of freedom, a freedom without – rather than simply a 19 20

Ambedkar, “Castes in India,” in BAWS 1: 16. I draw the term “radical atheism” from Jacques Derrida, On the Name, trans. David Wood, John P. Leavey, Jr., and Ian McLeod (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995), 80. Elsewhere, Derrida associates such radicality with denegation; with one’s success in passing off as an atheist, even and especially if one is not entirely faithless, or not sure if absolute faithlessness is indeed possible without being affected by the theological. I return to this issue below.

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freedom from – the moral rules and norms of autonomy. It involves not a negative liberty in the liberal sense but a fearless exit from the economy of closure, exclusion, and debt that ascetic foundations of sovereignty and transcendental conceptions of selfhood are anchored in. It involves, Ambedkar writes in The Buddha and His Dhamma, a fundamental indifference toward the question of the existence or nonexistence of God, and thus, a release from the ontotheology of representation itself (including hero-worship and idolatry in all its political forms). Thinking the mystical involves, above all, a responsibility – what the later Ambedkar calls maitri – without ground and without height; which is to say, a responsibility anchored in the nonsovereignty of precisely those who find themselves in the throes of the most intense, most sovereign vulnerability. This responsibility, which exceeds the anthropological limits and frontiers of (national) humanism and places its “faith in equality” in the unconditional groundlessness of faith as such, is at once the closest and farthest from what, within the framework of the Indian political, has come to be called “secularism.” Ambedkar’s ceaseless questioning of the linguistic, liturgical, and performative matrix of Indian secularity – its oblique avoidances and silences no less than its rhetorical turns and linguistic ploys – is marked, therefore, by a complex double gesture toward the void. This is to say, toward the place of nothingness that the secret is and occupies in politics. By double gesture, I mean, on the one hand, his determined resistance against the secretive structure of India’s two majorities – ecclesiastical and secular – that, as he puts memorably in Annihilation of Caste, neither show their force nor force their hand openly and yet are inseparably joint in the mastery they desire. On the other hand, I mean his immense struggle to think the extreme violence and visible emptiness of the social: a thinking that in its passionate commitment to formulating an antiviolent, antifoundational, and antifundamentalist politics must, by its very nature, take seriously the void – the incalculable deficit and immeasurable force – of faith in politics. In some ways, this is a fundamentally twentiethcentury taste for the secret and secrecy, one that puts Ambedkar’s thought in the moral and political vicinity (among others) of Georges Sorel’s mobilization of a mystical anarchism for his theory of the “general strike,” a motif of profound significance also in W. E. B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in America and one that finds powerful resonance in Ambedkar’s theory of “general mobilization” in the 1930s, reaching him both via Gabriel Tarde’s Laws of Imitation and Henri Bergson’s Two Sources of Religion and Morality; Georges Dumézil’s transwar studies on the “magico-religious risks inherent in the exercise of the royal function,” published around the same years as Ambedkar’s 1940s studies on

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the liturgical matrix of sovereign power in Indian traditions, in which the relationship between war and untouchability, mastery and tactility, political majesty and ritual distance, constituted the theoretical center; Ernst Kantorowicz’s studies on the ecclesiastical origins of secularization and sovereignty, bound together as a secret in the king’s two bodies; Hannah Arendt’s attempt to understand the place of secrecy and “lying in politics” (to which she gives most explicit expression in the aftermath of the Pentagon Papers Affair); and on a more apophatic register, Jacques Derrida’s scrupulous investigations into the theologico-political bond between perjury and pardon, sovereignty and dignity.21 I believe that if Ambedkar brings something like an unflinching dignity to the Indian trajectory of secularism, that something cannot be retrieved without taking up the challenge that his conception of the religious poses.22 Fundamental to this challenge is his enduring commitment to deconstructing the arcana imperii, or what Arendt calls the “mysteries of government.”23 Leaving aside for now the relationship between mystery and government, democracy and the secret, and simply going by the title of that revolutionary interwar treatise – Annihilation of Caste – where Ambedkar’s conception of “essence,” “principle,” and “responsibility” first find its incandescent form, it is clear that at the very least, the structure of the religious is not that which must be – or, more importantly, can ever safely be assumed to have been – annihilated into nothingness. Instead, the structure of the religious belongs to the order of essence that (for good and for the worst) always remains. To have faith in 21

22

23

Georges Sorel, Reflections on Violence, trans. Edward A. Shils (Glencoe, IL: The Free Press, 1950; originally published 1906); W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America (New York: Free Press, 1998; originally published 1935); Georges Dumézil, MitraVaruna: An Essay on Two Indo-European Representations of Sovereignty (London: Zone Books, 1988; originally published 1940/48); Ernst Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957); Hannah Arendt, “Lying in Politics: Reflections on the Pentagon Papers,” in Arendt, Crises of the Republic (New York: Harcourt, 1972); Jacques Derrida, The Beast and the Sovereign, 2 Vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009–11). And let us only underscore here the immense influence of Marx and Engels, whose work on the insurrections of 1848–1849, Revolution and Counter-Revolution– initially published between October 1851 and October 1852 in the New York Daily Tribune – provided both the rhetorical fabric and analytical suture for Ambedkar’s unfinished work, Revolution and CounterRevolution in Ancient India. Marx, Revolution and Counterrevolution or Germany in 1848 (Chicago, IL: Charles H. Kerr & Company, 1912). Two remarkable papers on the question of denegation and apophatics of the “nothing” guide my discussion here: Jacques Derrida, “How to Avoid Speaking: Denials” in Psyche: Inventions of the Other (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008), 143–195, and Arindam Chakrabarti, “The Unavoidable Void: Nonexistence, Absence, Emptiness,” in Nothingness in Asian Philosophy, ed. Jee Loo Liu and Douglas L. Berger (New York: Routledge, 2014), 3–24. Arendt, “Lying in Politics: Reflections on the Pentagon Papers,” 4.

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this remnant is to retain faith in that which takes the infinitesimal, the nothing, the invisible, the untouchable, the mortal, the weakest, and the annulled, seriously. It is to retain that which “lives by itself” in an inappropriable, placeless, atheistic emptiness of faith, in a majesty anchored neither in knowledge nor in philosophy but – and Ambedkar is categorical here – in the thought and craft of reclaiming the axiomatic value of dignity, in the fearless putting to action of finitude against the infinitude of majoritarian mastery. To think of secularity truthfully, beyond the shadow of the majority, is to think of another relationship with sovereign power itself, or, as Ambedkar had hoped in New York, desisting from sovereignty altogether. But one must ask, following the rhythms of Ambedkar’s courageous atheism, what is the form and content of the theological secularism that he so tirelessly confronts? What is its foundation? Theological secularism, one could most schematically state, is that which gives over theology and secularism, simultaneously and equally, to the logic of measure (and thus, Ambedkar might argue, compromises both theology and secularism). Or simpler still, theological secularism is at once the ineluctable and willful secularism of the modern majority. “It is useless to make a distinction between the secular Brahmins and priestly Brahmins,” he diagnoses. “Both are kith and kin. They are two arms of the same body and one bound to fight for the existence of the other.”24 Secularity and liturgy are two threads of a transcendental weave of belief and law, two hands of a body politic that speak in the language (at once) of trust and mastery, self-determination and transcendence, and whose mystical relationship is arranged under that ancient, spiritual, and ambiguous theologico-political word, dharma.25 The Indian majority is not a “political majority,” warns Ambedkar repeatedly in the 1940s, as he begins to formulate the conditions of possibility (and inefficacy) of a Constituent Assembly for India. This majority is a “communal majority,” immune by its very constitution to the shifts of electoral fortunes and alliances. True, it is a majority that deploys measure in the conventional sense of counting (and exists through its results and rhetoric). It is a majority that rules by the strength of numbers too. And yet this pernicious majority, exemplary of the Indian political, at once communal and sacrificial – communal precisely 24 25

Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste, 78–79. I examine this permanence – and vacillation – of the theologico-political nexus between dharma and limit, and relatedly, between maryada and the border, which anchors the figure of the minor, the outcaste, and the woman in Indian juridical traditions in “Can the Sovereign Gift? Gandhi’s Maryada and the Moral law,” Contemporary South Asia 25, No. 4 (2017), 415–422.

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because its politics is anchored in an economy of sacrifice – remains heterogeneous, immune, and resistant to that very enumerative logic of modern politics that gives it its intensity and power. It exists through measure but never within it. A communal majority is one that runs away with the advantages of a political majority without the need of numbers. Constituted by the very logic of democratic counting, it twists free and institutes itself in an antidemocratic, extraconstitutional measure against measure. “How can a communal majority,” Ambedkar asks prophetically in Thoughts on Linguistic States (1955), “run away with the title deeds given to a political majority to rule? To give such title deeds to a communal majority is to establish a hereditary Government and make the way open to the tyranny of that majority. This tyranny of the communal majority is not an idle dream. It is an experience of many minorities.” Here, the “communal” is not that which is circumscribed by boundaries of denominational, confessional, or communitarian commitments and identities. Instead, the communal is that which has cryptically saturated – through generations of pernicious repetition and succession – the entire logic and structure of the political. It is cryptic because its language transcends (and outlives) the temporal vicissitudes of democratic counting and electoral fortune. It is silent because it can simply run away with measure rather than legitimately seeking it. And it can be impregnable, dangerous, fatal. For it is nothing like the political majority, “which is always made, unmade and remade,” Ambedkar warns. “A communal majority is a permanent majority fixed in its attitude. One can destroy it, but one cannot transform it. If there is so much objection to a political majority, how very fatal must be the objection to a communal majority?”26 To dream of destroying this entrenched majority without objecting to it (because of the risk of fatality that accompanies such a dream), to dream of destroying the rules of its religion without renouncing the religious principle as such: does this oblique passion for the religious, one that produces in the minor a strange and estranging sense of duty, not also institute in the minority, as liberals safely ensconced in their secularist hubris are all too quick to allege, a certain passivity in mannerism, an acquiescence to voluntary servitude, or worse, a desire for mastery (and for the State) itself? Trails of this impasse are already found in Ambedkar’s writings of the 1920s, around the Mahad Satyagraha. And traces of his later struggle to develop a phenomenology of nonpower in its various iterations – maitri, karuna, ahimsa – give even higher amplitude to this

26

Ambedkar, “Communal Deadlock and the Way to Solve It,” in BAWS 1: 377.

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enduring struggle. There is a fecund irresolution here. For this nonpower, or better still, unpower (aasakti), is no ordinary vulnerability and weakness. Rather, it is a sense of gripping, a forceful weakness, a “weak force” as Ambedkar calls it, one that attaches to the unconditionality of the minor’s freedom in the most fragile and intense experience of inequality.27 It is not always clear, then, if, given a choice, Ambedkar might decide to be on the side of a secular state grounded in a people’s immanence or on the side of a sacrificial freedom that seeks refuge in a countertranscendence outside of it. Yet, what he is absolutely clear about is that to give oneself the power of emptiness—the void of destituent nonpower— is not the same as giving oneself over to the violence of religion that lies at the empty center of sovereign power (which is precisely where the violence of the communal majority resides). To speak of and in the abyss of the nothing – which is where the minority finds itself every day – is not the same as saying nothing at all (as the communal majority in India does). And it is in this decision of the minor to not avoid the thought of the nothing – including the abyssal nothingness of silence – that Ambedkar sees hope for constituting a people with faith in their ability for truthful action rather than a people habituated to living on moral precepts and commandments. As democracy in India plumbs new depths of indifference and distrust, might this mystical line between the oppressive silences of sovereign decision and the heretical faith of dalit desistance, this inseparable tangle between mastery and avoidance, be the line to tread again for a dalit truth (still to come)? Might the way out of the mannerisms of the majority be a firm, rigorous line of dalit inscrutability, even untranslatability? A line drawn along the dalit refusal to speak in the language of the oppressor’s secularity – one that might finally undo the opposition set by the oppressor between avoidance and freedom, silence and force, passivity and activity, atheism and faith? The Rigorous Dignity of Truth Whence the paradoxical (and possibly impossible) demand of the Indian Political. To be an atheist here is committing oneself less to the secularist duty of freeing politics from religion (in the European sense) and more to faithfully freeing religion from politics anchored in inheritance and blood instead. In this struggle for freedom – a freedom of which faith and atheism are equal part – the minor forges a new thinking of equality. The inseparability of equality and freedom – or shall we say, right and 27

“Untouchables, a weak force . . .” he posits, almost as an aside, in his short essay “Held at Bay,” in BAWS 5: 259.

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responsibility – that is thus posited comes to tether Ambedkar’s singular, intricate, and rigorous thinking of the minor, a thinking that will be compressed most powerfully in his militant and sacrificial exhortation to “faith in equality.” This expression, which appears among his speeches of the late 1920s (at the very moment that the Manusmriti is audaciously and heretically burnt at Mahad), institutes, for the first time in anticolonial thought, an insurrectionary axiomatics of becoming-minor. It is by a lake in 1927 in Mahad, that small town in Bombay Presidency, that Ambedkar articulates one of the most important critiques of civilizational exemplarity, positing in its opposition an ordinary language for political philosophy itself. A small gesture – drinking water from a lake the animal might dip in but the outcast was barred from even approaching – cracks open a million mutinies of thought, a revolution in norms, with no commensurate example, precedent, or equal in Indian history. Mahad institutes a majestic – even sovereign – “norm of equality” where once a void existed. It is equality at once incommensurable, inappropriable, and above all, incommunicable. In India’s incomprehension of Mahad – in secularism’s vast silence on this frontal destruction of the law of dharma and in nationalism’s failure to translate Mahad into its jargon of authenticity – perhaps lies the greatest triumph of its radical inscrutability. Of this exemplary untranslatability, Ambedkar is certain. Do not let yourselves suppose that the Satyagraha Committee has invited you to Mahad merely to drink the water of the Chavadar Lake of Mahad. It is not as if drinking the water of the Chavadar Lake will make us immortal . . . We are not going to the Chavadar Tank to merely drink its water. We are going to the tank to assert that we too are human beings like others, It must be clear that this meeting has been called to set up the norm of equality . . . I am certain that . . . it is unprecedented. I feel no parallel can be found in the history of India.28

The insurrectionary intensity of an event such as Mahad – or the event of conversion three decades later – cannot be comprehended without the defiant and dissident figure of force that permeates Ambedkar’s political thought: a force of insurrection that he posits in opposition to the degenerative stasis and violent immortality of sovereign power. Insurrection here must not be understood simply as a sacrificial mode of action, nor simply as an act of offering one’s life to the other – or extinguishing it – in a fit of anger (although this, too, has its proper place in revolutionary thought). Instead, insurrection is that which – in the throes and gift of

28

“Dr. Ambedkar’s Speech at Mahad” in Poisoned Bread: Modern Marathi Dalit Literature, ed. Arjun Dangle (Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 1992), 223–233.

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death – bears the minor’s courageous and inscrutable relationship with truth. “Satyagraha is a difficult test of persistence,” Ambedkar cautions the satyagrahis in December 1927 as they prepare to take the decisive measure of burning the Manusmriti. “You will have to observe very strong restraint on yourself while suffering the difficulty in Satyagraha . . . we are willingly offering our lives to others.”29 Here, offering life to the other is not a gesture of violent (let alone nonviolent) sacrifice that seeks immortality at war. Instead, it is an institution of truth that claims dignity by imbuing the other – master, dominant, Brahmin, enemy, combatant – with humanity even as it reclaims the “self-evident value” of one’s own, without any need for the master’s affirmation. “If there is truth at the roots of any action,” Ambedkar had declared a month earlier in Amravati, “then there shall be no doubts about its success.”30 Truth is a gift that becomes gift, thus, not within an economy of exchange – that is, not in an economy of debt and expectation of reciprocity (that would be the poison of caste, says Ambedkar) – but precisely in the minor’s refusal of the usury and debt of majoritarian liturgy. Truth is a gift that is neither given nor accepted but instead circulates in the dignified annulment of all measure and calculation. Beyond the economy of “mathematical exactitude” that reduces life to an indifferent number, truth survives in the minor’s resolute negation of the mystery of religion, a calculating religion that promises to give life and yet almost always breaks its own word. Renouncing that broken word demands from the minor at once an incendiary denegation of normative value, a refusal to allow his dignity to be measured on the one hand, and a rigorous mastery without mastery that takes the minor’s value to be irreducible and irrefutable on the other. Annihilation and faith must proceed in an anarchic, axiomatic rhythm then. “We should either burn down these scriptures and turn them to ashes,” Ambedkar proposes, “or master them and falsify the rules that teach untouchability.”31 To master the word in order to craft a lesson in nonmastery and nonindifference – it is in this affirmative ruination of scripture, which is also an apophatic affirmation of the structure of the religious, that the minor institutes a new faith in equality.

29

30 31

Ambedkar, “Presidential Speech, Mahad Satyagraha Conference” Mahad, 25–27 December 1927, in Ambedkar Speaks: 301 Seminal Speeches, ed. Narendra Jadhav (Seattle: Konark Publishers, 2013), 3 Vols., 1: 99; hereafter cited as 301 Seminal Speeches. Ambedkar, “Presidential Address at Second Conference of Untouchables from Berar Province,” Amravati, 13 November 1927, in 301 Seminal Speeches 1: 84. Ambedkar, “Speech No. 2,” Nipani, 11 April 1925, in 301 Seminal Speeches 1: 67.

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Now, “‘new’ does not have the force of custom,” nor does it have the authority of a customary statute behind it, Ambedkar cautions again, “and how so ever attractive it may look, people hesitate to accept it.” This means that this newness, which insists on the dignity of the minor – this new thought of freedom that is proper to the minor, the unattractive, and the forceless alone – must not only (and persistently) reject custom, violence, and force. Its insurrectionary force must itself lie in the act of becoming-minor, in the positing of a new “norm of equality,” in the principle of nonforce, in the mastery of nonmastery.32 Such nonmasterly faculty – which is, in the final instance, the faculty of political judgment – emerges not in the internal reasons of the self. It is forged out of a militant freedom – even blasphemy – in a community of reasons and reasoning. “If you have faith in equality,” declares Ambedkar in Mahad, “you will never attempt to divide the people; you will try to bind them together instead. Therefore, based on these principles, where there is equality, there is fraternity and where there is fraternity, there is truth. And any action to establish these principles is Satyagraha!”33 Ambedkar is firm here. The stakes of this faith are fraternal, pluralist, and social. But they are not only that. Instead, they belong to the order of the axiomatic “principle.” That is to say, this thought must perforce be ontological, necessary not merely to the redress of a historical wrong but to politics – to the very phenomenology of action – as such. The dignity of this thought is at once so self-evident and immortal – beyond any example or parallel – as to be nonexistent; that is to say, its truth must require no evidence or exemplary precedent. In fact, it neither has any theological or epistemic proof nor can it give any. “From the point of view of annihilation of caste, the struggle of the saints did not have any effects on society,” Ambedkar declares elsewhere. “The value of a man is axiomatic and self-evident; it does not come to him from the gilding of Bhakti.”34 This is indeed the aporia of dalit axiomatics: it can – it must – situate itself in the negative (but) affirmatively, on the ontological verge of the

32

33 34

“The philosophers of Upanishads did not realize that to know truth was not enough,” writes Ambedkar in a tenor resonant with the eleventh of Marx’s Eleven Theses on Feuerbach. “One must learn to love truth . . . Philosophy is concerned with knowing truth. Religion is concerned with the love of truth.” So the task is still to change the world in the way philosophers refuse to do, and yet to change it with a love of truth that only the religious might institute. See Ambedkar, Philosophy of Hinduism, in BAWS 3: 86. Ambedkar, “Amravati Address,” in 301 Seminal Speeches 1: 84. Dhananjay Keer, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission (Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1954), 109.

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unthinkable, the thoughtless, the inappropriable, and the inscrutable. And yet, this axiomatics must also communicate fiercely. It must break from the logic of excommunication that banishes it from the social. It must annihilate the law that outlaws its genre, its voice, its speech, its very sound to the outer frontiers of the political. The radicality of Mahad lies in precisely the fact that, for the first time, the minor’s faith in equality is anchored in the thinking of that place – justice – that is as yet unthought within nationalist thought. It is a thought so blasphemous – letting untouchables enter places such as temples or draw water from wells that have for millennia been protected from their shadows – that it is heretical to the extremity of being thoughtless. It is a thought that might possibly never manage to address or make itself heard to the oppressor in the oppressor’s mythic language. It must maintain, then, a passionate pessimism about – and distance from – the conventional rules and norms of speech as such. It must maintain a certain dignity of desistance and silence, a taste for the incommunicable secret even, and it must do so at the very heart of rhetoric and language. After all, this heretical faith in equality is anchored in the thought of those who have never been thought of as thinking beings, who have always been thought as being unequal to the task of what is called thinking, and whose thought therefore must, with all the force of truth behind it, inscribe itself in the void of all thinking and being that has preceded it. For in the face of classical partitions between learning and labor, mind and skin, spirit and hand, temple and tannery, partitions that exclude millions from disciplines, craft, and institutions of prayer and learning, a new faith in equality can only be cultivated in action that is free from the moral, disciplinary, and institutional norms of argumentation and even learning. And because this action – a cognitive coup de force – intervenes in dominant norms of speech too, it involves by its very nature a new axiomatics of thinking as such, or better still, an ontological thought of freedom anchored in the minor’s fidelity to truth. It is the lack of this freedom to love truth – and conversely, the absence of love for the principle of being free – that Ambedkar bemoans a decade later in Annihilation of Caste, when he asks, “Is the Hindu free to follow his reason?”35 Note that it is not reason as such, the most human among humanist virtues, the most sovereign among the foundations of autonomy, which the Hindu in Ambedkar’s view lacks. What he lacks instead is the freedom to convert reason to truth. For the very right of sharpening reason

35

Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste, 81.

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freely, the obligation to democratize its faculty, force, and value – the right and responsibility that together allow reason to be converted to truth – has been bound up with the rules of the moral law. Reason has been given over, Ambedkar declares, to the transcendental logic of dharma. And it is this obedience to dharma that scaffolds the prejudicial mystery of the Indian Political, one that yields a territory without truth, a civilization without citizen, entitlement without right, autonomy without freedom. It yields a fanatical abyss, in other words: an arid, desertlike emptiness, a sacrificial myth that fails to speak in nothing but the language of the majority. Against this mystery of theological secularism, the formula “faith in equality” invokes at once a radical transparency and a radical inscrutability, a pessimism of intellect even; a responsibility to let oneself and the other be – and become – equal; equality that can only be grounded, according to Ambedkar, in a courageous faith that thrives in exposure and vulnerability, force and nonforce, speech and silence, equally. A religion that fearlessly exposes itself to the “risk of conversion” rather than seeking the security and safety of numbers. This is the lesson Ambedkar draws from the perilous highway encounter between the Buddha and the dreaded Brahmin bandit Angulimala who, taken aback by the Buddha’s unreasonable and solitary courage, relinquishes his violent vocation that day. There is justice only in a religion that dares to go beyond the limits of rationality and calculation, beyond the distinctions of friend and enemy, private and public, belief and logic, and places its trust in the other, the uncertain, the inscrutable, and the cryptic. This responsibility and right to justice – a “principle,” Ambedkar says in The Buddha and His Dhamma, which “lives by itself” – is the immortal essence of faith, one that revolts against doctrinal secularism professed by modern majorities no less strongly than it revolts against the sacrificial rules and mysteries of liturgical and organized religions. Already by Mahad, the language of dalit atheism has turned irreversibly away from the grammar of secularist motives and its normative expectations. And this turning away never ceases. “Do not pray for my soul,” Ambedkar interjects three decades later in the middle of a parliamentary debate. “I do not believe in God. I have no soul. I have spared you that trouble.”36 Elsewhere, I have argued that this resistance against prayer, which marks the most intense form of Ambedkar’s atheism, is of a piece with his search for a truthful politics, a democratic sovereignty, or, better still, a 36

Ambedkar, “States Reorganization Bill,” 1 May 1956, Parliamentary Debates, in BAWS 15: 966.

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“sovereignty without theology.”37 Ambedkar, after all, distrusts the state but never annihilates – or takes – state sovereignty head on. Under many conditions, such as under the tyrannical regime of the communal majority, he does believe that the state promises a certain degree of formal and juridical tolerance – if not unconditional protection – against the threat of extreme violence and cruelty. But there is an inverse movement in his thinking as well, one that strives to imagine a time without sovereignty (in “Buddha or Karl Marx” this contingency – this ethics of chance outside of the transcendental historicity of majoritarian religiosity – appears in the conversion to Buddhism of the Mauryan emperor Ashoka); one that dares to invoke a faith in equality without the temptation to the theologicopolitical; one that is seized by a mystical atheism that affirms its faith precisely by negating it. This act of (religious) conversion, which opens the unity of time to self-difference and heterogeneity, which converts violence to antiviolence (and the imperialism of Mauryan power to the majesty of Buddhist justice), produces a faith in the very void of faith, freed from the temptation to state and government. It institutes a freedom that affirms its own force, its intense and atheological religiosity, by negating the eternal structure of power and debt, inheritance and blood, measure and counting. To be an atheist in India, for Ambedkar, then, is to not only question the sovereignty of scripture – the theological structure, laws, and injunctions of sovereign power – but also probe the transcendental mystery of India’s silent, communal, and mathematical majority in which all language of secularity has been encrypted. It is to defy the unspoken and unsayable power that the majority exercises over the meaning and name of religion as such (and therefore over the limits of atheism itself ), a defiance that immediately becomes – by the very logic of caste liturgy anchored in blood, birth, and succession – a political act. “I will say this publicly,” Ambedkar says the unsayable in Yeola in October 1935, “that even though I was born a Hindu, I will not die a Hindu.” For since one’s birth does not allow such acts of meddling with time and succession, being-atheist in India is to perforce engage in the anarchic act of becoming-atheist. It is to institute, in the very throes of negating the transcendentalism of limits, another transcendence, another relation with faith and death, another relation to survival, even immortality, another relation with the self in its very end and emptiness. It is to forge, in other words, a moral ontology of action that invokes the infinitude of one’s finitude, the mastery of one’s nonmastery. It is to refuse being an “absent people,” tucked away in the obliterating shadow of caste, reduced “from 37

Aishwary Kumar, Radical Equality: Ambedkar, Gandhi, and the Risk of Democracy (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015).

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millions to fractions” by the logic of democratic counting.38 It is to gift oneself and the other – in a manner at once poetic and political, literary and insurrectionary – the possibility of visibility and appearance, the chance of being seen and heard beyond the constraining laws of genre. It is to gift oneself and the other the passage to assembly and “general mobilization,” even sacrifice (which is to say, the equal right – and time – to at once be and renounce being, go anywhere and leave for nowhere). It is to inscribe, right at the heart of nationalist obsession with self-determination and autonomy, a radical heteronomy, a principle of self-difference, a place for and as the minor, one whose finitude is anchored not in the sovereignty of the self or civilization but in the void that displaces the infinite apparitional twoness of the majority. It is to become a minor whose faith is tethered to the nonsovereign groundlessness of nonself and nonplace itself. The Incompressible Minimum A faith, in other words, that touches its own void: such is the anchor for Ambedkar’s axiomatics of dignity. A faith that says nothing, hides nothing, negates nothing, exists in nothing, carves its niche into nothing, inherits nothing, and allows nothing to inherit it: this apophatic religiosity – indeed this absolute other of liturgical justification and juridical-penal reason– takes us centuries back to the deep history of a revolutionary atheism, to the only tradition of whose founder it is often asked: did the Buddha really say – or mean – what he is supposed – or reported – to have said? Did he say anything at all? Why did he not write anything? Was there anything in his sayings that might have been inherited truthfully?39 And what about Ambedkar himself, the annihilator of inheritances, whose own most fearless texts teem with apophatic moments, swerving between saying and not saying, destruction and saving, force and nonforce, punctuating with reserve and denegation, embracing an ethics of inscrutability even? “Some may not understand,” he cautions his readers in one such moment of desistance, “what I mean by destruction of religion.”40 What does Ambedkar mean by the destruction of religion? What is his understanding of destruction that must not be misunderstood, and yet, as he says, will almost certainly be misunderstood? 38

39

40

The expression “absent people” is Gilles Deleuze’s; see his Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Hugh Galeta (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), 215. It bears recalling that three exhaustive volumes belonging to the nondualist strand within Buddhism, whose most skillful practitioner was the philosopher Nagarjuna, appear in the original bibliography of The Buddha and His Dhamma. Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste, 86.

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To touch Ambedkar on the register of Madhyamaka apophatics is not to posit in any narrow sense a parallelism between negative theology and dalit fidelity. After all, if negative theology means anything across such spatially distant, historically diverse, and internally heterogeneous traditions of mystical Christianity, advaita Hinduism, or Madhyamaka Buddhism, such meaning might reside, in the most positive sense, in nothing at all. And yet, what might describe Ambedkar more faithfully than the principled, inexhaustible zeal with which he thinks of the power and reach of the nothing? His militant probe into the limits of that which is unsaid, unsayable, invisible, and secretive? His sustained inquiry into that crypt in the belief of the Indian majority that claims it is neither this nor that? To discern a strain of Madhyamaka apophatics at the heart of Ambedkar’s oblique passion for faith – his immense concern with themes of silence, desistance, and secrecy even as he crafts a new speech, a new grammar of the political – is to simply suggest that certain patterns of apophatic thought, idioms of affirmative negation and intimate ruination, habits of saying and not saying, ethics of being and not being, acts of idolatry and desecration, ways of transcending and descending, manners of desiring and destroying the social contract, facts of enchantment and disenchantment with the state alone illuminate the militant atheism – which also involves a militant uprooting of majoritarian secularity – at work in Ambedkar’s phenomenology of the minor. Here, the minor is one who defies the logic of inheritance and repetition and institutes in its place a principle of nonsuccession and difference, a principle of being without time, or stronger still, a principle of being in the void of time. There is one moment in The Buddha and His Dhamma where this antifoundational conception of time, this principle of groundlessness, finds its most anarchic form. If Kassyappa had collected the record of the Buddha’s life we would have had today a full-fledged biography of the Buddha. Why did it not strike Kassyappa to collect the record about the Buddha’s life? It could not be indifference. The only answer one can give is that the Buddha had carved no niche for himself in his religion. The Buddha and his religion were quite apart. Another illustration of the Buddha keeping himself out of his religion is to be found in his refusal to appoint a successor. Twice or thrice the Buddha was requested by his followers to appoint a successor. Every time the Buddha refused. His answer was, “The Dhamma must be its own successor. Principle must live by itself, and not by the authority of man. If principle needs the authority of man it is no principle. If every time it becomes necessary to invoke the name of the founder to enforce the authority of Dhamma then it is no Dhamma.”41

41

Ambedkar, The Buddha and His Dhamma, in BAWS 11: 216–17.

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The minor – here the Buddha himself – is not a mortal who simply perishes without a biography (or, in an act of will, simply refuses the logic of monumentalization and exemplarity). The minor is one who is fearless enough to keep even his religion, and therefore, all attempts to spiritualization – including attempts to spiritualize his self – apart from himself. There is a taste for the secret here, a love of crypt and inscrutability even, or, to use Arindam Chakrabarti’s expression, a taste for the “unavoidable void” in which all desire for exemplarity, every propensity for monumentalization, every will to sovereignty, every claim to exception, disappears: secret, thus, not because this religion is entrusted to a mysterious vault keeper or given over to a discourse on safety, sovereignty, and immunity (quite on the contrary), but secret precisely because nobody inherits it, because even its founder has no “niche” or sovereignty over it. Secret, most importantly, because this religion is its own successor, anchored in the majesty of an anarchic principle that must live by itself: groundless and inappropriable, Ambedkar’s religion is a secret proper to the minor, the meager, and the courageously outnumbered alone. It is a force that derives from being-without-God; a force that refuses all claims of communal immanence rooted in succession, inheritance, and primogeniture; a force, above all, that speaks of its own negation and nonforce, its own without and its own nothing – such as when Ambedkar refers, at another moment in the text, to the Buddha’s axiom of conversion without force as the greatest force (and risk), his fearless relinquishment of foundation – as the greatest heritage of dalit courage. Religion here, then, is simply that which gives truthfully and beyond secrecy unconditional access to the responsibility of a free self (a selfless nonself ) on the one hand, and an abyssal, inscrutable secret that nobody holds the key to, on the other. “I am not a part of the whole,” Ambedkar responds during a debate in the Bombay Legislative Assembly in 1939, when another representative questions his loyalty to the nation. “I am a part apart.” Such is the courage required of the freedom to be apart, to fearlessly and cryptically be a part that is never wholly one with the whole, grounding one’s very identity in radical nonidentity, indeed in its very void, through an unconditional relinquishment of place and limit. Is there a gesture more faithful to the religious than this denegation of the whole, the transcendental, the theologico-political? Can any thought be more faithful to Buddhism than that which avoids Buddhism itself, a thought that uproots itself from the very tradition in whose name it speaks? An uprooting marked most suggestively in that passage of The Buddha and His Dhamma where Ambedkar denies even the Madhyamaka conception of the void to be void? Perhaps Ambedkar chooses Buddhism not because he is wary of

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alien, monotheistic religions (as is often insinuated) or because he seeks to secularize belief in the manner of European civil religions (an impossibility in India given the spectral character of Hinduism, of which he had for long been convinced) but because, as he says, there is freedom in Buddhism to not be (not be even a Buddhist). Whether this apophatic structure of responsibility (a responsibility that must be irresponsible toward the very religion it professes faith in), this revolutionary possibility of grounding faith in its very groundlessness, pulls Ambedkar to Buddhism (and to the intriguing Buddhist resistance against autobiography) is a question that cannot be answered definitively in the space I have here. Suffice it to note that to posit a relationship between Ambedkar and negative theology is not to identify in him a theologian. Nor is it to take the “negative” in negative theology literally and claim that there is to be found in his thought an unequivocal denunciation of theology, if such an unequivocal gesture were possible (a belief that plagues many secularisms). Indeed, any unscrupulous atheism, which Ambedkar is often accused of or credited with, always threatens to return as an intensely civilizational and violent theism. Nobody is more aware, more watchful, of this specter of violence than Ambedkar. To posit a relationship between Ambedkar and negative theology – between Ambedkar’s conception of sunnyata and dalit responsibility – is, first of all, then, to propose an ethics of vigilance against the overt and covert, exclusive and complicit violence with which religiosity and secularity intervene in the political. It is, secondly, to probe the intensity with which the rhythm of Ambedkar’s thought expresses, in its desistance from the religious, the affinity between democratic atheism and a religious love of truth. It is, thirdly, to examine the structure of radical apophatics within which saying “no” – saying no to the unsayable and the mysterious at the very threshold of the mystical and unthinkable – becomes an affirmative political right, or pace Arendt, the “right to have rights.”42 It is, fourthly, to probe the passionate love of truth within which refusing measure and debt, refusing succession and heritage, and exiting the transcendental language, indeed perjury of the moral law, becomes the minor’s sovereign responsibility. One must perhaps go further still, finally, and say – and this must not be said without reservation – that what Ambedkar is really drawn to is a religion that neither calls itself a religion (especially a secular or civil religion) nor avoids the name and experience of the religious. And it is this “religion without religion,” a

42

Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 376.

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religion marked neither by theological positivity nor monotheistic unity nor even a simple denegation of belief but a religion that exists in its own erasure – a religion that says nothing, negates nothing, exists in nothing, and still finds its sense only in the void of faith – that Ambedkar wants to save and in whose mystical name he speaks.43 I am not sure Indian thought has arrived at this cusp yet, one where Ambedkar’s faith still waits. Toward a Destituent Nonforce Now, to pass off as an atheist (and rightly so), as Derrida argues more than once, certainly requires one to renounce religion, to refuse any religion of the Church or God that works through laws of secrecy (and keeps secrets, like the “ghost of Manu,” of which the faithful – even and especially the most immeasurably faithful – are never a part and from which they are constitutively excluded).44 But this atheism also requires a relationship with faith, a faith that must relentlessly strive for another responsibility to the secret, another measure of immeasurability. “When I urge that these ancient rules of life be annulled,” Ambedkar writes in Annihilation of Caste, “I am anxious that their place shall be taken by a religion of principles, which alone can lay claim to being a true religion.”45 Here again – sedimented in this struggle to think the principle – lie the tracks of Ambedkar’s search for another transcendence. But this principle is not a transcendental norm in the Kantian sense, anchored in the sovereignty of the moral law that each gives itself and thereby founds the conditions of possibility for his autonomy. Instead, the principle in its fully mobilized, ethical, and tragic generality is that which invokes the anarchic. It is an antifoundational, antirule, and annihilative nonforce. So constitutively antirule is this principle, indeed so antiprinciple is this principle that it must not even accept liberal or satyagrahic rules of nonviolence as a matter of principle. In fact, the principle grounds itself no less – and no more – resolutely in an ethical negation of nonviolence than it grounds itself in an ethical negation of violence. For any abstract negation of violence – and consequently, any embrace of an abstract nonviolence – as a moral rule, as if all rules of nonviolence were equally free of violence, is, under certain conditions, itself the most grievous and 43 44 45

The expression “religion without religion” is Derrida’s. See his The Gift of Death, trans. David Wills (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 49. Derrida, Circumfession, trans. Geoffrey Bennington (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 155. Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste, 89.

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insidious form of violence.46 It is an insidious violence perpetrated against those who have been historically and ontologically barred from choosing either violence or nonviolence freely, which is why Ambedkar’s principle must break not only from liberal and progressive decision to privilege national self-determination over equality. Nor can it rest only by breaking away from nationalist ontologies of sovereignty. Instead, the principle must politicize – make equal and free – the work of ontology itself. A page after positing a distinction between “principle” and “rule,” which are otherwise in the Kantian tradition of reasoning barely separable from each other, Ambedkar arrives in Annihilation of Caste at the theological and juridical universe of an irreligious religion anchored in rules. This difference between rules and principles makes the acts done in pursuit of them different in quality and in content. Doing what is said to be good by virtue of a rule and doing good in the light of a principle are two different things. The principle may be wrong, but the act is conscious and responsible. The rule may be right, but the act is mechanical. A religious act may not be a correct act, but must at least be a responsible act. To permit of this responsibility, religion must mainly be a matter of principles only. It cannot be a matter of rules. The moment it degenerates into rules it ceases to be religion, as it kills the responsibility which is the essence of a truly religious act . . . I have, therefore, no hesitation in saying that such a religion must be destroyed and I say, there is nothing irreligious in working for the destruction of such a religion. Indeed, I hold that it is your bounden duty to tear the mask, to remove the misrepresentation that as caused by misnaming this Law as Religion.47

For so much that Ambedkar says in this set of passages in Annihilation of Caste, that which he does not say, that which he chooses not to say or remains incapable of saying tactfully, remains most captivating. For to say something so freely about religiosity – in the name of a responsible and anarchic essence of religion – while refusing to say anything in favor 46

47

“Antiviolence,” I believe, captures Ambedkar’s idiom of ahimsa, his critique of violence – which is also his critique of the violence of nonviolence – more accurately. My use of “antiviolence” resonates with Étienne Balibar’s, which he develops with great acuity in his Violence and Civility: On the Limits of Political Philosophy, trans. G. M. Goshgarian (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015). But I approach the notion at a tangent from Balibar, inasmuch as I do not see it to be always synonymous with political and ethical expectations and norms – or dominant constructions – of civility. Ambedkar’s antiviolence is an axiomatic critique of the rules of civility (which are rules also of stasis), whose only authority comes from the fact that they belong to the arbitrary and disciplinary regime of custom. Can one think of antiviolence without an irreducible civility? I think Ambedkar has this irreducibility – this heteronomy and even untranslatability of the concept— in mind when he uses in his later works the notion of maitri, frequently leaving it untranslated. Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste, 87–88.

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of religion as such: such a deferred, oblique affirmation of faith seems to be silently walking on the edges of an apophatic politics. It is the “religion of rules,” Ambedkar insists, which must be faithfully (and as a matter of principle) destroyed. What must – or can – be destroyed is not religion as such (which does not exist), he scrupulously clarifies, but instead the lawlessness of the law – the moral law or dharma – that works in religion’s name and degrades its essence. Whence that apophatic declaration of fidelity to a religion without religion, principle against principle, an atheist saying that takes the form of an oath of fidelity to the religious. Twice in a sentence above Ambedkar says he says. “I have, therefore, no hesitation in saying that such a religion must be destroyed and I say, there is nothing irreligious in working for the destruction of such a religion.” Perhaps this mystical anarchism might alone posit a principle of the courageous, faithful, and dissident minor against the logic of theological transcendence on which majoritarian tyranny thrives. To reclaim the inappropriable vortex of freedom at the very limit of “religious responsibility,” or better still, to posit a religious responsibility so destructive, so forceful, so excessive that it might find its ground in an insistent, groundless void of an irresponsible atheism alone: that would be the axiomatic condition of the minor’s freedom from the structure of theological secularism. This other freedom is anchored not in abstract sovereignty of the people – in whose name the communal majority in India punitively speaks – but in the equality of their freedom: freedom of the citizen and noncitizen, major and minor alike from the sacrificial logics of transcendental reason and religion of rules. This other freedom is anchored in a truthful practice of principles, tethered to everyday virtues of the minor, the outcaste, the nothing. “Man has pradnya and he must use it,” Ambedkar writes in The Buddha and His Dhamma in the midst of his discussion of the Buddhist conception of ahimsa. “A moral man may be trusted to draw the line at the right point . . . To put it differently the Buddha made a distinction between Principle and Rule. He did not make ahimsa a matter of Rule. He enunciated it as a matter of Principle or way of life . . . A principle leaves you freedom to act. A rule does not. Rule either breaks you or you break the rule.”48 A rather anarchic sort of force is inscribed at the heart of this freedom, if not at the heart of Ambedkar’s conception of antiviolence itself. This force, Ambedkar cautions, is not violence or power, one that might be seen as compromising the rigor of Buddhist antiviolence. Instead, this force, which acts against the tyranny of the rule, is awareness and gnosis

48

Ambedkar, Buddha and His Dhamma, in BAWS 11: 347.

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(pradnya). It is a faculty constitutively restrained by the pledge of a just, free, and principled conduct (sila), a gift less of one’s autonomy – let alone mastery – that one gives oneself than the gift of a heteronomy one gives the other. Rather than being tethered to the maintenance of inherited hierarchies of knowledges and crafts (or the accomplishment of an end that ends in victory, or worse, sovereignty), this force is scalar, constituted by its negativity and ability to resist. Which is why, Ambedkar posits, “Pradnya is necessary . . . but Sila is more necessary. Mere Pradnya is dangerous. Pradnya is like a sword in the hand of man. In the hand of man with Sila it may be used for saving a man with danger. But in the hand of a man without Sila it may be used for murder. That is why Sila is more important than Pradnya.”49 What makes this force – this unity of pradnya and sila – singular is that in this unity, in which one holds back and even negates the other, force itself, at its highest ethical and political potentiality, at its most majestic and intense, is actually a destituent nonforce. And it is destituent precisely because of its social richness and granular intensity, one that displaces the abstract ideological and metaphysical conceptions of a people’s constituent power. This force becomes most true precisely when it is most intimate with its absolute antithesis, its own desistance, its own impotentiality. It becomes most pure precisely when it resists the temptation to – or holds back the sword of – violence. This antiviolent force, then, is not simply moral negation, legislative restraint, or even abstract goodness. Instead, it is a negation that negates its own self, its own potentiality, its own sovereignty, even as it annihilates the rule. Or rather, it is a void where freedom, freed from the tyrannical sovereignty of rules and the law, appears in its absolute unconditionality, in the intense emptiness of the unequal’s everyday experience of emptiness. A double gesture in sum: a principle of self-difference or nonself where atishudra experience is experienced only as emptiness, even as emptiness, in its encounter with the atishudra, is emptied out of its own emptiness. We thus arrive at the “emptiness of emptiness,” or sunnyata of classical parlance. The unequal becomes equal in this militant immeasurability of the void, where neither the self nor the other, neither nonviolence nor violence, neither force nor nonforce, neither speech nor silence exists in its majoritarian, nationalist, or satyagrahic determinations. In their stead emerges an unconditional equality of freedom that refuses the sovereign reason of the lawgiving, autonomous self and grounds itself in the interruptive nonforce of the nonself. We are at the verge of a mystical

49

Ambedkar, Buddha and His Dhamma, in BAWS 11: 295.

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anarchism here, one that inscribes nonidentity and self-difference at the very heart of democratic judgment. The Buddhist Sunnyata does not mean nihilism out and out. It only means the perpetual changes occurring at every moment in the phenomenal world. Very few realize that it is on account of Sunnyata that everything becomes possible; without it nothing in the world would be possible. It is on the impermanence of the nature of all things that the possibility of all other things depends. If things were not subject to continual change but were permanent and unchangeable, the evolution of all of life from one kind to the other and the development of living things would come to a dead stop. If human beings died or changed but had continued always in the same state what would the result have been? The progress of the human race would have come to a dead halt. Immense difficulty would have arisen if Sunnya is regarded as being void or empty. But this is not so. Sunnya is like a point which has substance but neither breadth nor length.50

What does this remarkable passage gives most to think? What is it that strikes most immediately, even before one is pulled into Ambedkar’s militant phenomenology, or what he calls the experience of the “phenomenal world?” Firstly, the apophatic idiom and idiosyncratic translation: diverging from conventional – and some Madhyamaka – renderings of sunnyata as emptiness or nonexistence, Ambedkar imbues the word with an ethical substance, a radiant virtue. Sunnyata, he posits, is the place – or radical nonplace – of a dimensionless impermanence. It is a void that must be nothing and yet must still be something – the incompressible, the bare, the minimum – that is marked by its own perishability. After all, only that which exists, that which exists forever as a mortal can be attributed a ceaseless transience, an immortal impermanence, an infinite finitude. It is a force only the weakest, those closest to the emptiness or sunnya of experience, those barred from the world of senses, those he elsewhere calls the “spent and sacrificed people,” possess.51 No, says Ambedkar, the minor in its nondescript singularity alone embodies this immeasurable measure of nonforce at its most forceful.52 It alone makes a nontheological, noncommunal, nonsacrificial faith in equality possible. For Ambedkar, the greatest weakness in Indian languages of secularity is not their dismissal of the power of religion – such gestures of dismissal of religion’s power are no less dangerous than the easy acceptance of 50 51 52

Ambedkar, Buddha and His Dhamma, in BAWS 11: 241. See Ambedkar, “Frustration,” in BAWS 12: 733. It is evidence of a certain scruple even in denegation that Ambedkar finds the embers of this destituent nonforce, this revolutionary passion that burns immortally, well after the destruction of the mortal body, in the figure of Marx. “What remains of Karl Marx is a residue of fire,” he writes, “small but still very important.” Ambedkar, “Buddha or Karl Marx,” in BAWS 3: 444.

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religion’s innocent purity – but their failure to understand the radical promise of religion’s very contradiction and self-denegation, one without which there would neither be faith nor atheism, nor, above all, freedom. The brilliance of Ambedkar’s atheism lies not simply in his grammar of a courageous annihilation of caste, then. It lies in his conviction that any straightforward destruction of Hinduism is a downright Brahminic gesture, an act of perjury complicit with the very mystery that lends itself so violently to modern secularisms of all hues. What is required instead is a groundless relation – or a relation of groundlessness – between religion and freedom, truth and the secret, faith and desistance. The denegation of the religious, which permeates so much of Ambedkar’s writings, is significant not because it settles the question of his commitment to secularism decisively. Far from it, I believe. Instead, this denegation, which lies at the heart of his responsibility to the “essence of the religious” is important because only by working slowly through the apophatic relation with faith forged in his thinking might we illuminate the void that joins Ambedkar’s two voices: one that, in its militant secularity, seeks to annul and destroy every trace of religion in the world, to the extent of breaking off from the world itself; and the other that speaks, in principle, of nothing but a responsibility – the nothing or sunnyata itself as responsibility – to the world, anchored in the inscrutable potential of emptiness. Ambedkar’s majestic conversion to Buddhism in 1956, weeks before his death, embraces nothing if not this essential nothing, this emptiness that refutes the logic, interest, and power of majoritarian measure. Conversion, I will go as far to say, inscribes a void at the heart of India’s democratic future, one that, precisely in its nonforce, troubles political Hindutva most forcefully and intensely today, accustomed as the latter is – like most fanaticisms – to seeing politics within the framework of interest and measure alone. For Ambedkar, conversion has force precisely because it yields (the) nothing. And nothing yields to conversion, which manifests itself only in a fearless majesty of the minority, a paradoxical responsibility to become equal in the insurgent and courageous act of becoming minor. Can we today again think freely of such a gesture, one that seeks to save religion but desists from favoring it, that speaks in its name without lending its empty center anything positive? A thought that breaks from the anthropological exclusions of normative secularity and puts its faith instead in the negative and the nothing, the nonforce and the nonself as the groundless ground of an emancipatory politics, a political realism even? Might this inappropriable groundlessness of faith be a place of refuge – and right – proper to the minor? A place where the minor,

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despite the extreme violence that surrounds it, becomes the incompressible minimum of politics? A minor who dares to forge another relation with the law and, in the final instance, sovereignty itself? Ambedkar dares to think not only of this nothing, this desistance and defiance at the heart of – and after – religion, but of religion itself as a void, the empty, unsayable heart of politics that must be at once destroyed and cleared as the ground of an essential responsibility. It is this negative affirmation or affirmative reservation, this anarchic search for freedom, in which lies the force of his radical atheism.

References Ambedkar, B. R. 1941. Thoughts on Pakistan. Bombay: Thacker & Co. Ltd. 1968 (1944). Annihilation of Caste: Speech Prepared for the 1936 Annual Conference of the Jat Pat Todak Mandal of Lahore but Not Delivered, 3rd ed. Jalandhar: Bheem Patrika Publications. 1987. Riddles in Hinduism, in Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches. Bombay: Govt. of Maharashtra. 1992 (1927). “Dr. Ambedkar’s Speech at Mahad” in Poisoned Bread: Modern Marathi Dalit Literature, ed. Arjun Dangle, Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 223–233. 1992 (1956). The Buddha and His Dhamma, in Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches. Bombay: Government of Maharashtra, Vol. 11 2013. Ambedkar Speaks: 301 Seminal Speeches, ed., Narendra Jadhav. Seattle, WA: Konark Publishers. Arendt, Hannah. 1972. Crises of the Republic. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace, & Co. 2004 (1966). The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York, NY: Schocken. 2007. The Jewish Writings, ed. Jerome Kohn and Ron H. Feldman. New York, NY: Schocken. Balibar, Étienne. 2015. Violence and Civility: On the Limits of Political Philosophy, trans. G. M. Goshgarian. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. Chakrabarti, Arindam. 2014. “The Unavoidable Void: Nonexistence, Absence, Emptiness,” in Nothingness in Asian Philosophy, eds., Jee Loo Liu and Douglas L. Berger, New York, NY: Routledge, 3–24. Choudhury, Soumyabrata. 2013. “Ambedkar Contra Aristotle: A Possible Contention on Who Is Capable of Politics,” SHSS, 79–98. Deleuze, Gilles. and Felix Guattari. 1986. Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. 1989. Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Hugh Galeta. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. Derrida, Jacques. 1993. Circumfession, trans. Geoffrey Bennington. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. 1995. The Gift of Death, trans. David Wills. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

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1995. On the Name, trans. David Wood, John P. Leavey, Jr., and Ian McLeod. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 2008. “How to Avoid Speaking: Denials” in Psyche: Inventions of the Other, Volume II, eds., Peggy Kamuf and Elizabeth Rottenberg, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 143–195. Keer, Dhananjay Keer. 1954. Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission. Bombay: Popular Prakashan. Kumar, Aishwary. 2015. Radical Equality: Ambedkar, Gandhi, and the Risk of Democracy. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 2017. “Can the Sovereign Gift? Gandhi’s Maryada and the Moral Law.” Contemporary South Asia 25: 4, 415–422. Marx, Karl. 1912. Revolution and Counterrevolution, or Germany in 1848. Chicago, IL: Charles H. Kerr & Company. Mair, Peter. 2013. Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy. New York, NY: Verso. Nandy, Ashis.1993. Traditions, Tyranny, Utopias: Essays in the Politics of SelfAwareness. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Rosanvallon, Pierre. 2008. Counter-Democracy: Politics in an Age of Distrust, trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Shulman, David. 2012. More than Real: A History of the Imagination in South India. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Skaria, Ajay. 2016. Unconditional Equality: Gandhi’s Religion of Resistance. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. Thapar, Romila. 2016. Indian Society and the Secular. New Delhi: Three Essays Collective.

8

Pillayar and the Politicians: Secularization and Toleration at the End of Sri Lanka’s Civil War Jonathan Spencer University of Edinburgh

Pillayar Will Prevail In July 2012, together with my friend and fellow anthropologist Sidharthan Maunaguru, I was trundling on a bumpy dirt road across paddy fields a few miles outside the town of Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka. Jaffna is the biggest Tamil city in Sri Lanka and, at the time of our visit, was still recovering from the thirty years of civil war between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). That war had started with the killing of thirteen Sri Lankan soldiers in an ambush on the edge of the city in 1983 and ended with the slaughter of the remaining LTTE leadership, and many of the people trapped with them, on a beach one hundred kilometres away in May 2009. As the van carrying us lurched its ponderous way round potholes and ruts, a curious sight appeared in front of us. Nestled among a grove of trees in the otherwise flat, featureless landscape was a pair of Hindu temples, their walls brightly painted. In front of the first temple was a low compound wall, which had been decorated with a series of portraits. The portraits were of Sri Lanka’s leading post-Independence politicians. Here, on one section of the wall, we see Ranasinghe Premadasa, whose presidency was abruptly terminated by an LTTE suicide bomber in 1993; Chandrika Kumaratunga, president from 1995 to 2005; her successor Mahinda Rajapaksa; Ranil Wickremesinghe, who, as prime minister in 2002, signed the ill-fated Norwegian-brokered ceasefire agreement, and J. R. Jayewardene, who was president in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the war started (Fig. 8.1 a, b). All of these were Sinhala politicians, elected by voters far from Jaffna, but other sections of the wall included prominent Tamil and Muslim politicians. We were, to put it mildly, intrigued. Although portraits of politicians are everywhere to be seen in Sri Lanka’s public culture, they are 191

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(b)

Figures 8.1a and 8.1b (together) Portraits of political leaders, Pillayar temple, Chulipuram, Sri Lanka. Photo by author.

invariably presented on quite strict partisan lines. Members of opposing parties are not routinely depicted alongside each other, and even members of rival factions within the same party would avoid casual juxtaposition; Chandrika Kumaratunga, for example, is never seen in the ubiquitous portraits of Mahinda Rajapaksa that adorned Sri Lanka’s towns and highways between 2005 and his electoral defeat in early 2015. In any case, partisan alignments aside, what were these people doing on the walls of a temple? We went inside to enquire and were told that it was

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entirely the idea of the chief priest of this temple. He was next door, hanging out with the priest of the neighbouring temple; we found him preparing tea with a couple of lay worshippers. We sat down with him and asked him to tell us about the story of his temple, hoping it would lead on to the murals and his explanation of their origins. It did. ‘Why these people?’ we asked. What do they have in common?’ ‘These are all the people who tried to solve this problem’, was the reply. ‘Tried – but failed.’ The portraits were the idea of the deity of the temple, Lord Pillayar, the elephant-headed god Ganesh. They came to the priest in a dream, which revealed that ‘this problem’ – an obvious euphemism for the Sinhala-Tamil divide that shaped the war – would never be resolved until Lord Pillayar himself appeared and sorted it out once and for all. What of the one key player missing from the mural – the LTTE leader Prabhakaran? ‘Of course he is there also’ (but just happened not to be painted on to the walls). The priest then proceeded to tell us the details of his dream, which must have come to him at some point in the second half of the 1990s, when Chandrika was president, newly elected on a peace ticket but bogged down in an increasingly fruitless war with the LTTE. He dreamed that Chandrika would be supplanted by another leader and Prabhakaran and the LTTE would suffer their military defeat. But he also dreamed – and here we pricked up our ears – that Chandrika would eventually return to power, and before that happened, Prabhakaran himself would also return and temporarily prevail. But nothing would lead to a long-term resolution until Lord Pillayar himself appeared to take charge of the situation. ‘I wrote a letter to Chandrika herself, to tell her what was to happen. But she didn’t reply’, he went on. Then she lost an eye in an attempted LTTE assassination at an election rally. He wrote again: ‘See, I told you this was going to happen’. This time she did reply and conceded he was correct in his appraisal of the history and in his prognosis for the future. Or so he told us. This is a very short account of a much longer story, a story we listened to raptly as we sat with the priest and his neighbour in the neighbour’s temple. Then, abruptly, our narrator stood up and announced he had business to attend to at his own temple. Once he had gone, his neighbour looked at us with an air of resignation, and said, ‘All that, of course, is his opinion. We have other ideas.’ What does this tale of Lord Pillayar and the politicians tell us about religion and politics in Sri Lanka? As readers may have guessed, there is a much, much bigger story here. Some context on religion, politics and civil war in Sri Lanka, might start to shed some light on the priest’s vision and its implications. To think through the relationship between tolerance

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and secularization, I start, paradoxically, with the question of religions and war, and with the paradoxical absence of temples like this Pillayar kovil in earlier research on religion and war. Temples and War Between 2006 and 2009, I led a team of experienced researchers in a project on religion as public action in the shadow of Sri Lanka’s civil war. The project focused on two districts in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province. With a population almost evenly divided between Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims (and a prominent Christian minority), Eastern Province is – apart from the largest city, Colombo – the most religiously and ethnically diverse area of the country. With a majority of Tamil speakers, it is a vital complement to the north in Tamil visions of a separate homeland, Eelam. But with Tamil-speaking Muslims less than enthusiastic about the prospect of becoming a new minority within this putative new state, from the mid-1980s on, it became one of the most bitterly contested areas during the war.1 In the early 1990s, the LTTE expelled the entire Muslim population from the island’s north, and LTTE cadres massacred Muslim men and boys at prayer in mosques in the east in what seems like an ill-conceived move towards ethnic cleansing. Our project started in 2006, just as a Norwegian-brokered ceasefire started to unravel. By 2007, the LTTE had been driven out of the territory they held in the east and started the long retreat that was to end so tragically in May 2009. Our work was, then, located in a region of considerable religious diversity at the moment when a long civil war started to turn into an uneasy, and for many unsatisfactory, peace (Spencer et al. 2014). My work with Maunaguru grew out of a curious absence from that original project. Although we discovered a great deal about the role of Catholic priests and Buddhist monks, Muslim organizations and new evangelical churches, the Hindu temples of the east remained on the margins of our enquiry. Hinduism has received relatively little academic attention in the Sri Lankan context, but we have two very different, but equally arresting, reports on Sri Lankan Hinduism during the war years in Eastern Province. One concerns healing, and the other, what we might broadly call ‘politics’. Both, though, involve attempts to bound off religious practice, broadly speaking, from the toxic politics of the war. Patricia Lawrence’s 1997 PhD thesis describes how local people, 1

In Sri Lanka, Muslims make up just less than 10 percent of the population. Most of them are Tamil speakers, but as a result of colonial political moves, they are classified as an ‘ethnic’ rather than a ‘religious’ group (Ismail 1995; McGilvray and Raheem 2007).

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especially women, took to village temples – especially temples devoted to the mother goddess Amman – as a source of solace and healing amidst the turmoil of the war. Families seeking news of the lost and disappeared came to see women like Saktirani who, through possession and the agency of the goddess, were able to bring a sort of a solace to those afflicted by the war. Saktirani, a woman in her mid-forties at the time of Lawrence’s fieldwork, cut a figure familiar to students of popular religion in Sri Lanka. Like the female ascetics in Obeyesekere’s extraordinary Medusa’s Hair (1981), she was someone who had transformed her own life and the lives of the people who come to her through her intense relationship with her chosen goddess. She found her goddess at a small temple on the edge of Batticaloa town. In those days, it was little more than a hut in the middle of a settlement of washer caste families (many of them Christian). When I visited it in 2008, it had grown into something much more imposing, with new buildings, lights, not to mention hints of Sanskrit in the well-attended Friday evening puja. The marginal space where figures like Saktirani provided solace in the worst days of the war had, in the intervening years, grown into an established religious institution visited by Hindu pilgrims from elsewhere in the east, visitors from the diaspora, not to mention members of the security forces and (so it was whispered) even incognito businessmen from the nearby Muslim town of Kattankudy. The rumoured attendance of police and army at the temple was nothing new. In the 1990s, Saktirani was occasionally asked to help young Sinhalese men from the armed sources with their troubles. Another oracle was summoned by senior army commanders and government ministers to offer her vision of the future of the region (Lawrence 1997: 106). In the many cases that Lawrence documents in the closing chapters of her thesis, Muslims as well as Tamils bring their troubles to her. Empowered by the goddess, Saktirani herself was free to transgress the normal disciplines of dress, gender and comportment. The space she created around her was one in which other people could cross boundaries of their own: between antagonistic communities and between speech and silence. There is a particular configuration of space at work here: one that allows people at times to step outside the deadly constraints of everyday life. In this particular case, it is a space of demotic religion, where ordinary people bring their problems, ignoring, however briefly, the political forces that otherwise divide them. At points in her text, Lawrence tries to locate this new space in terms of the familiar division between the public and the domestic. In Batticaloa in the early 1990s, she says, circumstances ‘were so repressive that temple rituals were one

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of the very few active and viable social spaces outside the household’ (Lawrence 1997: 88). Temples can become safe – like domestic spaces but unlike other public spaces – under the protection of the goddess. But a domestic space can itself become like a temple – and, therefore, a safe but public place – in the hands of a skilled oracle. What Lawrence is describing is a form of life lived ‘under the radar’ (as other observers in the east have described it, Gaasbeek 2013, Walker 2013); somewhere people can forget the skein of fear and surveillance that otherwise dominates the everyday. It is also a place which troubles the very idea of ‘the public’ or the ‘public sphere’ (cf. Kaviraj, Chapter 2 of this volume), a place where it is not safe to talk of one’s own family, of loss and grief, except in very specific spaces – like those temporarily marked out by Saktirani – enclaved off from the presumption of surveillance and suspicion that suffused the everyday. Turning to the second question, that of temples and ‘politics’, there are two types of Hindu temples in eastern Sri Lanka: small, village temples, many of them dedicated to the amman goddess, and much bigger, more hierarchical temples, which bind together villages and castes across a territory. These are known as tecam kovils, temples that serve (and constitute) a ‘minor polity’ or ‘principality’ (Theyvanayagam 2006: 300), and these are where we find our second compelling report on war and religion. Lawrence’s work concentrated on developments within the smaller amman temples. Mandur, a village on the land side of the Batticaloa lagoon, where the anthropologist Mark Whitaker lived in the early 1980s, is home to an altogether grander tecam kovil, the Sri Kantasvami Kovil. When Whitaker returned on a brief visit in 1993, he, too, was struck by the contrast between the ravaged landscape of war and the many signs of prosperity and rebuilding around the region’s temples. In particular, he was surprised to discover that the labyrinthine struggles between different actors in the politics of the village’s temple continued unabated in the shadow of war, just as they had continued in their own form despite the best efforts of the colonial state to domesticate and reform them (Whitaker 1999a). If the landscape of war is the product of what Whitaker calls a certain kind of ‘modernist’ politics, the politics of Sinhala nationalism and Tamil counter-nationalism with all the violence and suffering that this confrontation has brought about, then what is happening at the temple, where old arguments about status and position are still being fought out in the register of honour, represents for him an ‘alternative’ or ‘non-modern’ politics (Whitaker 1999b).2 2

Reporting on his first return to the region after a gap of fifteen years in 1993, in a piece parallel to Whitaker’s, Dennis McGilvray also commented on the contrast between the

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Just as the temples were able at times to stand outside the logic of colonial rule (Whitaker 1999a), so, too, they provided a place outside the logic of friend and enemy that fuelled the war. This seems to have been a view shared, at least most of the time, by the LTTE. Although the LTTE sought to establish as total a control as possible over Tamil society, when it came to the temples of the east, it held back: ‘Religion is not part of the consciousness of the struggle’ as one LTTE figure told Lawrence (1997: 40). Once again we see a process of enclaving, a bounding off of temples, and temple politics, from the unhappy world of war. There is a lot of history here. At the big Siva kovil in the village of Kokkaddichcholai near Batticaloa, Maunaguru and I asked a priest about how his temple had survived during the years of war. Kokkaddichcholai itself was for a long time a major LTTE base in the east, and had been the site of two particularly famous massacres by government forces in the early 1990s. ‘This temple’, he told us, ‘has survived many things. Before the war, there were the British, before the British, the Portuguese.’ And sure enough, the walls of the central shrine record a futile attempt by the Portuguese to challenge the temple’s authority. Murals show a European lampooning the temple’s nandi (sacred bull). The God brings the effigy of the bull to life, and when the Portuguese visitor sees the nandi deposit a pile of only too real shit at his feet, he jumps on his horse and flees (Fig. 8.2 a, b). To recapitulate these two stories about Hindu temples in the war, at the level of demotic religion, as documented by Lawrence, the war creates suffering and new forms of popular religiosity address that suffering. They do that, moreover, in ways that to some extent ignore the boundaries that divide different religious and ethnic communities. The bigger, more established kovils, like the Kokkaddichcholai and Mandur temples, share one aspect of this – the apparent capacity to isolate themselves from the toxic politics of the war itself. Old-style temple politics, jostling for positions and ‘honour’ within the temple structure, carry on through the years of war, but these stand in what Whitaker (1999: 188) describes as an ‘orthogonal’ relation to the divisions of the war itself. How is this positioning possible, what capacities follow from it, and what are its limits? war-ravaged landscape and the shining paintwork of renovated and rebuilt mosques and kovils. He described a Pillaiyar temple in Akkaraipattu, which had been in dire straits in the 1970s but was now the subject of expensive rebuilding. Alongside it is a new orphanage for Tamil boys, built by the Ramakrishna Mission under the aegis of the temple trustees, which ‘exemplifies an obvious connection between the unspeakable trauma of the war and the reinvigoration of Hindu religious institutions’ (McGilvray 1999: 218).

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(b)

Figures 8.2a and 8.2b (together) Murals, Siva temple, Kokkaddichcholai, Sri Lanka. Photo by author.

This is where my work with Maunaguru becomes relevant. In London, and elsewhere in the Tamil diaspora, the LTTE controlled the temples and used them as vehicles for fundraising and political work; back in eastern and northern Sri Lanka, the LTTE kept these central institutions of Tamil life as far as possible at arm’s length (Maunaguru 2016); (Maunaguru and Spencer 2012, 2018). This paradox framed our new project. The London temples function as centres for community mobilization and cultural reproduction, with weekly classes for children of recent migrants in Tamil and classical Tamil dance (bharatya natyam). They are also vehicles for men who aspire to leadership positions that extend well beyond temple affairs. ‘You can do anything with a temple’,

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as the chief trustee of one large South London temple told us, before explaining in some detail his close relations with local Labour Party politicians. Unlike their counterparts in Sri Lanka, there is no sense of the temple turning its back on politics (nationalist, modernist or otherwise). The porous boundary between religious institutions and formal party politics in the diaspora is most vividly evident at a well-known temple in Wembley in North London, which is housed in a building that belongs to the local Labour Party. The shrine to the deities is in a ground-floor hall, lined with old pictures of local worthies – councillors, mayors and MPs – while upstairs are the constituency offices of the sitting Labour MP. In stark contrast, a trustee of one of the biggest temples in Jaffna explained to us in some detail how his family had resisted attempts by ‘certain parties’ – presumably the LTTE – to tax the temple income at one point in the war. He also provided many examples of the trustees’ consistent refusal to be publicly associated with politicians of any persuasion after the war. One particularly vivid example was an attempt by the president’s son – a considerable force in the land those days – to use the temple as a location for a TV film he was producing. That, too, was effectively blocked by the trustees. The story, again, is a story of enclavement, of bounding the religious from other things – things we might call the secular – at a moment of danger. Public Religion in a Time of War The comparison between Tamil temples in London and Sri Lanka brings out an apparent paradox. Institutional structures, like those of the big temples, present certain possibilities for action in troubled circumstances, but that action can take off in very different directions. In the diaspora, temples can be the vehicle for leaders, who use them as a base to make strong connections both into local politics – MPs, the Labour Party – and into trans-local politics – the LTTE’s Tamil nationalism. In the midst of war in Sri Lanka itself, temples endure but do so in part by providing a space of retreat from all kinds of politics (except, of course, their own internal politics). Temple leaders are rarely visible in public action outside the temples. To substantiate this point and to take the argument further, another comparison is called for, this time between different religious institutions in the same corner of Sri Lanka itself. In December 2006, at the start of our fieldwork in Eastern Province, two members of our research team spent a few days in the small town of Samanthurai, a predominantly Muslim settlement positioned halfway between the Tamil-Muslim-dominated coast and the town of Ampara;

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centre of the Sinhala-dominated Gal Oya irrigation scheme and, coincidentally, home to several large bases for different wings of the state security forces. We stayed in Samanthurai because it is home to the official guest house of Southeastern University, a small, at that time almost entirely Muslim, institution with its main campus about ten miles away on the coast, where we were helping revise the sociology curriculum. The first sign that something was amiss came on the second day of our stay when we noticed that our dinner was being served later than usual, and what we eventually received was modest, to say the least. The guesthouse-keeper explained that it was hard to get fresh ingredients because the shops were closed. Why? Because a hartal had been declared in the town. This was in response to an incident that had occurred while we were on campus on our first day. A truck driven by a Sinhala man from Ampara had hit and killed a pedestrian in the town. The driver, realizing his predicament, tried to drive off to escape the angry crowd that had swiftly assembled. Two young men on a motorcycle chased him. When they overtook the truck, the bike was knocked over, killing one of the riders but also jamming itself under the truck. The driver climbed out of the now immobile vehicle and ran for it, but his companion, also Sinhala, was less lucky as he was trapped in the cab as the crowd torched the vehicle. Or this is the version of events we eventually pieced together, having entirely missed the original drama. By the time we learnt of the hartal, the air was thick with rumours. We were told that busloads of Sinhala thugs were on their way from Ampara; a major escalation of the violence seemed both inevitable and imminent. At this point, the first set of rumours started to play off against another, rather more reassuring story. The members of the local Mosque Federation, we heard, were trying to contain the situation. They had assembled in town and were attempting to broker a meeting with their counterparts – Buddhist monks and Christian priests, as well as senior police officers – from Ampara. And over the days that followed, that was what happened: meetings were indeed held, the situation was contained, peace of a sort returned to Samanthurai. Two days later, we learned some more about the Mosque Federations and their capacities. One of our colleagues at Southeastern told us the story of an incident that had happened a year earlier in a nearby town. On the day after the Presidential elections, someone had thrown a grenade into the Grand Mosque at Akkaraipattu, killing four and injuring many more during Friday prayers. Although it was unclear whether this was the work of the LTTE or of their rivals the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP; or Karuna group, as they were still known at this time), no one

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doubted that it was the work of Tamil paramilitaries of one sort or another – their presumed motive being the desire to provoke retaliation which, in turn, would enable them to present themselves as defenders of their own community. Our colleague explained how he and other senior members of the Akkaraipattu Mosque Federation had acted swiftly to forestall escalation: groups of men were deployed on roads leading to Tamil parts of town to block any attempt to administer immediate revenge, while appeals for calm and restraint were broadcast from the loudspeakers at the mosque. There was no retaliation. The situation gradually calmed. We were especially struck by the many stories like this we heard during our fieldwork, stories in which religious leaders had been able to act as mediators – between different communities or between local people and the paramilitaries and government forces – in flash-point situations. Two questions followed: what enabled these figures to take on this work in such dangerous circumstances, and what were the limits of their capacities? The answer to the first question seemed to be broadly institutional; the answer to the second, broadly political. But in all of this, we were also struck by the apparent absence of strong leaders associated with the big Hindu temples. Catholic priests, especially Jesuits, had often taken on the role of community spokesmen for Tamil Hindus and Christians alike. Some aligned themselves unreservedly with the LTTE, others managed to maintain a degree of distance. They were the dominant force in groups that attempted to keep lines of communication open between communities, like the Batticaloa Citizens’ Committee and the later InterReligious Organization for Peace (IROP). Among the Muslim community, new institutional structures emerged – Mosque Federations operating at the level of towns or districts – and new community leaders emerged from these. In the so-called border villages, Buddhist monks also increasingly took on the role of community leader, and they also acted as mediators at times, crossing boundaries to talk to religious leaders from other communities. Paradoxes abounded. When we visited the Mosque Federation in the overwhelmingly Muslim town of Kattankudy in 2008, one of the first things we were told was that when local politicians wanted to do anything, the first thing they would do is visit the Federation for advice, guidance and approval. A couple of hours further into the same conversation, we were told that one of the secrets of the Federation’s enduring success was simple: it kept the politicians completely out of its affairs (Spencer 2012). Of course, the situation is much more convoluted, and the way in which the space of the Federation was kept clean from the dirty world of politics, while not excluding politicians completely,

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continues to change. In most periods, politicians were ‘kept out’ as politicians but not as individuals or as representatives of NGOs. Thus, most influential local politicians took part in the meetings of the Mosque Federation but not in their official function as politicians. Similarly, Mosque Federation leaders campaigned for politicians or stood themselves as candidates (Hasbullah and Korf 2013). The boundary separating religious institutions and politics is clearly productive – it creates capacities in local society – but it is also subtle and fragile, context specific and time specific. The important work of religious leaders in mediating in situations of rapidly escalating conflict requires a bit more contextualization and a bit more qualification. First of all, a cynical observer might read this work as of limited effect in the overall pattern of conflict. The bigger dynamics were controlled by the security forces and the paramilitaries, and the limited interventions performed by religious leaders could be read as functional within a broader and more systemic regime of controlled violence. Secondly, not all religious leaders were equally involved in this work. Charismatic healers like Saktirami were rarely visible, but neither were the slightly more institutionalized charismatics of the new evangelical churches that were springing up in the region. Nor were priests or trustees from the big Hindu temples. The distinction is to some extent one of class: priests, along with head teachers and prominent public servants, were among those glossed as the ‘leading people’ who formed citizens’ committees in the early days of the war (Bavinck 2011: 114). And the ‘secular’ communication across communities at moments of danger is, in part, based on the kind of shared habitus Chatterji (Chapter 5 of this volume) finds at work among embattled diplomats in the immediate aftermath of Partition. But there are other, possibly more important, axes of differentiation: the religious leaders involved in mediation work owed their positions to strong, hierarchical institutions, most obviously the Roman Catholic Church, and those institutions and their leaders at other times devoted a great deal of energy to shoring up the boundaries that kept religious and ethnic communities apart. Charismatic healers were less dependent on strong institutions, and they attracted followers from all religious communities. A Digression on Secularism Unlike India, secularism as such has until recently attracted relatively little public debate in Sri Lanka. The 1972 Constitution, which

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established republican status and changed the country’s name from Ceylon to Sri Lanka, contained the following chapter: The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster Buddhism while assuring to all religions the rights granted by section 18 (1) (d).

Section 18 (1) (d) guarantees the fundamental right to ‘freedom of thought, conscience and religion’. Buddhist activists did not see this as quite the departure from historical precedent it might otherwise seem. When the British annexed the last independent kingdom in 1815, they signed a document promising to keep the ‘Religion of Boodhoo’ ‘inviolable’ and to maintain and protect its ‘Rites, Ministers and Places of Worship’ (De Silva 1965: 291). This effectively placed the colonial government in the place of the Buddhist king, with the responsibility to support the sangha, but also with the expectation that the government would oversee monastic appointments and (potentially) ensure the purity and discipline of the sangha (Tambiah 1976). Under pressure from evangelical interests back home, the colonial government steadily retreated from its appointed role through the course of the nineteenth century, leaving an enduring sense of injustice among some Buddhists (De Silva 1965). The Buddhism chapter is by no means unique. In South Asia, Nepal (until recently; see Shneiderman, Chapter 4 of this volume) and Bangladesh (Huq, Chapter 6 of this volume) have oscillated between secular and non-secular constitutions. Other Theravada Buddhist countries like Thailand and Cambodia have explicit constitutional provision for the protection or support of Buddhism, while Myanmar’s 2008 constitution carries over wording on the protection of Buddhism from earlier constitutions, themselves explicitly echoing the section of the 1937 constitution, which guarantees the ‘special position’ of the Catholic Church in Ireland (Schonthal 2016a: 149–151). Constitutional protection of Buddhism is of enduring symbolic importance in Sri Lanka’s wider conflict, indicating, if nothing else, the hegemonic claims of the majority Sinhala Buddhist community.3

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In an extended case study in our book, we look at a legal dispute between Muslims and Buddhists over the contested site of Dighavapi. While Buddhist petitioners presented their claim in part in terms of the constitutional guarantees in the Buddhism chapter, the Court’s favourable judgment was based on alleged procedural shortcomings by government officials working for Muslim interests. While it could be argued that the outcome was swayed by a general presumption in favour of Buddhists over other religious actors, the reasoning presented skirted this issue entirely (Spencer, et al. 2014: 68–89).

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In practical terms, though, it has been less obviously effective, as Ben Schonthal explains in a recent authoritative analysis: Rather than solidifying a ‘strong and united body’ of Buddhists as legal lobbyists hoped, the Buddhism Chapter has, in more than one case, aggravated and authorized splits among Buddhists. These splits have pitted one Buddhist organization against another, one monastic fraternity against another, and one Buddhist text against another. Splits have even occurred among trustees and incumbent monks within a single Buddhist temple. (Schonthal 2016b: 30–31)

One enduring issue is the absence of a strong, unambiguous organizational hierarchy within the Sri Lankan sangha, capable of disciplining, or even expelling, rogue monks. Since the late 1990s, this institutional weakness has been one factor in the emergence of new groups of violent, ultra-nationalist monks, like the zealots of the Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Front or BBS), each seeking to usurp the position of the traditional hierarchy in speaking for Buddhists as a whole to government in a process of increasingly extreme ethnic outbidding. In late 2015, the government responded by presenting a bill to parliament that would guarantee the disciplinary capacity of the chief monks (maha nayakas) of the different orders. In an entirely predictable paradox, opponents of the legislation pointed out that the proposed measures would only affect members of the Theravada sangha but not followers or officiants of other religions; as such, they contravened the constitutional freedoms of religion and freedom of association.4 The paradox lies in Buddhists’ expectations of a special relationship with the state, while also insisting on their own institutional autonomy from the same state. The secularism of evenhandedness to all religions was abandoned, but the secularism that differentiates state from religion remains unexpectedly axiomatic.5 Buddhism, and the question of the role of Buddhist monks (bhikkhus) in modern mass politics, dominate academic discussions of religion and politics in Sri Lanka. In 1956, sections of the sangha (order of monks) aligned themselves with S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike’s populist election campaign, which was built around the demand to make Sinhala the only national language. Bandaranaike won, but when he tried to negotiate a more moderate approach to the language issue with Tamil politicians, he found himself opposed by the same monks who had worked for his election victory. H. L. Seneviratne’s magisterial study of the changing 4 5

‘What are your views regarding Theravada Bhikku Kathikawath Bill?’ Adaderana, 29 January 2016, www.adaderana.lk/yourvoice/?p=350, accessed 6 January 2017. This is not the case in other Buddhist contexts (Myanmar and Thailand, for example), where the state has successfully imposed structural reforms on the sangha. For an earlier failure in Sri Lanka see Smith (1966).

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place of the sangha in post-Independence Sri Lanka, The Work of Kings (1999), locates these nationalistic tendencies within a bigger story; that story concerns the different attempts to mark out a legitimate role for the monkhood in a rapidly changing modern polity. It is, then, a story of an institution – the sangha - which, despite its extremely visible public presence in Sri Lanka, can be thought of as in deep, long-term crisis. Abeysekera’s Colors of the Robe (2002), which can be thought of as something of a supplement to Seneviratne’s book, traces in fascinating detail one particular manifestation of crisis: the unresolved arguments and controversies about the proper attitude of bhikkhus to modern mass politics. Other religious traditions have not attracted the same quality of discussion, with some notable exceptions, such as Stirrat’s documentation of the retreat of the Catholic Church in the face of assertive Sinhala Buddhist nationalism since the 1950s (Stirrat 1962) and Dennis McGilvray’s reports on the shifting position of Sri Lanka’s Muslims (McGilvray 1998, 2008, 2011; McGilvray and Raheem 2007). Secularization and Regimes of Toleration In this final section, I am going to suggest that there may yet be useful life in the concept of secularization and that a careful deployment of the term might shed more light on our dilemmas than the more blunt and more encompassing ‘secularism’. I am going to do this by way of Jose Casanova’s forensic analysis of the secularization debate in (predominantly European and American) sociology. I am also going to draw on Michael Walzer’s notion of ‘regimes of toleration’ (1997), rather than the more diffuse notion of ‘tolerance’. Secularism and tolerance are complex words, infused with normative expectation, yet also somehow supposed to be usable in simple descriptive terms: tolerance is something we should self-evidently recognize when we encounter it. A shift from ‘tolerance’ to ‘toleration’ as the focus of concern, Walzer points out, is a shift from ‘attitude’ to ‘practice’. So, too, just possibly, with a shift from ‘secularism’ to ‘secularization’, our attention moves from a putative condition, or a value, to a process, or possibly a further set of practices. Empirically, I will move between the specific circumstances of our fieldwork in eastern Sri Lanka, and the better-known issues raised by the role of Buddhist monks in national-level politics. Walzer, in what is essentially a very American reflection on toleration and difference, argues for the need for ‘a historical and contextual account of toleration and coexistence, one that examines the different forms that these have actually taken and the norms of everyday life appropriate to each’ (1997: 3). So, rather schematically, in our work in

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eastern Sri Lanka, we might minimally identify two regimes of toleration at work. Toleration 1 is best exemplified by the mediation work carried out by religious leaders to lower tensions, deflect confrontations and generally manage relations between predefined religious or ethnic communities during a period of extended crisis. Toleration 1 is predicated on strong institutions and privileges those leaders with the most developed hierarchical structures. It is not for nothing that the Jesuits took on such prominent public roles during the war. Toleration 2 is the zone of quotidian religiosity, a zone in which men and women may cross community boundaries in pursuit of some kind of solace to heal the personal wounds of war. For Toleration 2, leadership is self-evidently charismatic, and hierarchies are usually shallow. The promise of healing – of whatever sort – is central to the practices of Toleration 2. But healing brings with it the possibility of conversion, and Toleration 2 is also, for some at least, a space of potential proselytization. Toleration 1 is the toleration of formal initiatives for interfaith dialogue and is closely related to that kind of official multiculturalism that takes the existence of separate and clearly bounded cultures as axiomatic and necessary. In that same spirit, the toleration of proponents of Toleration 1 rarely extends to the practices of Toleration 2. Toleration 1 is characterized by a specific hostility to proselytization and a more general hostility to what are seen as the impure and unbounded practices of Toleration 2.6 Casanova’s attempt to shift the terms of argument around the concept of secularization was first laid out in his 1994 book Public Religion in the Modern World. I returned to these arguments midway through the analysis of our eastern Sri Lanka fieldwork. The return was itself a response to a sense of mounting frustration with the intellectual equipment at hand for dealing with the problematic relationship of religion and politics. Talal Asad’s (2003) critical genealogy of secularism dominates these recent arguments, at least in anthropology (Cannell 2010), and for all its stimulating properties, I found it oddly unilluminating when confronted with the actually-existing practices of religion-politics in Sri Lanka. Casanova seemed to offer a possible alternative.

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There is an important qualification to make at this point. Comparative attention to different regimes of toleration almost certainly requires an equivalent attention to different regimes of non-toleration, and this is not a task I have attempted in this chapter. Since the end of the war in 2009, new aggressive Buddhist movements like Bodu Bala Sena and Ravana Balaya have launched attacks on minorities, especially Muslims. As with earlier campaigns against evangelical Christians, there is a striking disconnect between the objects of Buddhist nationalist ire and the circumstances of the war and its aftermath.

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Casanova summarizes his key points at the start of an exchange with Asad in a 2006 festschrift edited by two of Asad’s former students: The main point of my reformulation of the thesis of secularization was to disaggregate what usually passes for a single theory of secularization into three separate propositions, which in my view need to be treated differently: 1) secularization as a differentiation of the secular spheres from religious institutions and norms, 2) secularization as a decline of religious beliefs and practices, and 3) secularization as a marginalization of religion to a privatized sphere. (Casanova 2006: 13)

Casanova’s central argument is that the second and third of these propositions are demonstrably untrue: religious decline, in so far as it exists at all, is a peculiarly European phenomenon (rendered universal by the myopia of European social theorists); and the ‘privatization’ of religious expression is much more empirically limited than theorists have claimed. This leaves us with the first proposition as the only ‘defensible’ component of the secularization thesis: the modern differentiation of the religious sphere from other spheres – politics, science, the economy. This differentiation, for Casanova, is a central requirement of modern social and political arrangements. Asad’s response is that Casanova’s attempted disaggregation of the different arguments about secularization is impossible – if religious conviction can continue to operate in public argument, despite apparent attempts to differentiate a separate sphere for religion, it will produce hybrids where there should ideally be boundaries: Casanova’s proposition 1 is so tightly bound to proposition 3 that it cannot survive without it (Asad 2003: 182–183). Casanova’s counter to this is that his idea of differentiation is ‘neither as fixed nor as rigid’ (2006: 14) as Asad implies; religious actors enter the public sphere not least to ‘participate in the very struggles to define and set the modern boundaries’ (Casanova 1994: 6). The exchange between Asad and Casanova, which has gone through two rounds over the decades, may seem oddly inconclusive. Both converge on the need to understand ‘the process by which boundaries are established’ (Asad 2006: 209). They differ, I think, in Asad’s determination to bind his history of secularism to a critique of liberalism, a move which becomes clearest in work by his students and admirers, in which the ‘secular’ and the ‘liberal’ are frequently treated as unproblematically synonymous, and what is described as ‘secular liberalism’ is treated as an encompassing ‘form of life’ (Mahmood 2005: 191).7 From here, it is a

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See, for example, Bangstad’s (2011) critique of Mahmood’s (2003, 2005) work on Egypt for an elaboration of this point. A recent, heavily Asadian PhD dissertation on Sri Lankan

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short step to treating other people’s politics, and especially the politics of religion, as always and everywhere, necessarily and essentially about the shortcomings of Western liberalism. It is not clear that this is the first question analysts need to answer when investigating the dynamics of the civil war in a peripheral part of Sri Lanka. This, for me, justifies the shift from ‘secularism’ to ‘secularization’: not the investigation of a condition or an ideal called ‘secularism’, but instead attention to that ongoing, often bumpy or contradictory process we might call ‘secularization’. In this version, secularization might denote the attempt to bound and contain religion as a sphere of life separate from the economic or the political, but it could also denote the push-back, the arguments to justify the presence of religious values in political discourse or the attempts to engender forms of economic practice – Islamic finance, ethical investment – that align with agreed upon religious values. If Casanova’s second and third aspects of secularization theory – religious decline or privatization – seem absurdly inapplicable in South Asian contexts, the first, construed as constant argument about the proper boundaries between religion and other areas of life, looks much more empirically familiar than that rather implausibly totalizing object we have come to call ‘secularism’. In contrast to India, where the possibilities and impossibilities of secularism have been warmly debated for the past three decades (Madan 1997; Nandy 1990; Needham and Sunder Rajan 2007), in Sri Lanka, ‘secularism’ as such has been oddly unexplored in public argument. The state is heavily involved in religious matters through a separate Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs. The title reflects the constitutional position since 1972, when Buddhism was granted the ‘foremost place’ among the island’s religions, and the state was enjoined to ‘protect and foster’ Buddhism while ensuring the religious rights of all communities (Schonthal 2012). To some extent, too, the state is heavily implicated in the reproduction of clear religious boundaries – for example, in the provision not merely of separate schools, but also in some parts of the east, separate health facilities for Muslims. Obviously, this aspect of state engagement is most conspicuous in those cases where religious boundaries align with the categories of official ethnicity. But, as in India, the state also has a deep history of entanglements with religious institutions through the courts and the law (Whitaker 1999a).

political history (Hewage 2013), uses ‘secular’ throughout to describe aspects of Sri Lanka’s politics, without any need for discussion of the place of religious actors in Sri Lanka’s postcolonial history. The concluding pages of Iqtidar’s monograph on Islamists in Pakistan (2011: 161–2) also question the necessary link between secularising processes and liberalism.

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The best-documented points of tension in modern Sri Lankan history do not concern the relationship of ‘religion in general’ to politics and the political. They concern the relationship of very specific religious actors – members of the Buddhist sangha - to modern political activity. The story of this difficult and constantly evolving relationship has been well documented, but there are two specific aspects I would draw attention to. One is the longevity of the tension: almost from the start of modern mass politics in the early 1930s, the question of participation by the sangha was an issue. So, in 1939, the young J. R. Jayewardene published an essay that started with what was presented as the authoritative position: ‘It is said that the Buddha advised members of the Buddhist Sangha not to take part in politics. No one can say that he exhorted politicians not to study or follow his teaching’ (Jayewardene 1957 [1939]: 41). And Jayewardene’s political opponents, the radical bhikkhus associated with Reverend Walpola Rahula, put the case for a necessary engagement with politics in the 1946 Vidyalankara Declaration: We believe that politics today embraces all fields of human activity directed towards the public weal. No one will dispute that the work for the promotion of the religion is the duty of the bhikkhu. It is clear that the welfare of the religion depends on the welfare of the people who profess that religion. We, therefore, declare that it is nothing but fitting for bhikkhus to identify themselves with activities conducive to the welfare of our people – whether these activities be labelled politics or not – as long as they do not constitute an impediment to the religious life of a bhikkhu. (Rahula 1974 [1946]: 132)

The second point, which has generally gone unremarked, is that the religion-politics ‘problem’ is not the classic liberal one – that religious certainties will corrupt the rational deliberation required in a liberal polity. It is the reverse – that the political will infect and corrupt the religious. Jayewardene welcomed an infusion of Buddhist values into political debate; it was Buddhist monks he wanted kept clear of it. The version of the ‘political’ that animates this is a more or less Schmittian one in which the political is defined by unseemly agonism (Spencer 2007). This particular problem is also presented in terms of the ‘duty’ of the monk. In 2008, we interviewed a charismatic forest monk who presented us with a strong critique of the ultra-nationalist monks who had recently been elected to parliament. When we asked why he did not take his criticisms public, he said that entering the sphere of politics in that way would involve a transgression of his ‘duty’ as a monk (Spencer, et al. 2014: 68–69). Observers of an earlier generation in South Asia had already noticed the easy affinity between modern expectations of

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differentiation, described, for example, in terms of ‘compartmentalization’ between religious commitments and economic considerations, and much older Indian ideas of differentiation – by caste, religion, region, language, and age, each of which has its own specific expectations in terms of dharma or duty (Singer 1972: 323). In this respect, the idea of a distinct, and vigorously delimited, ethic for Buddhist monks has deep historical roots. An historical sociology of Casanova’s secularization as differentiation, therefore, has to avoid the assumption that all efforts at ethical differentiation are necessarily the products of colonial or postcolonial modernity. If differentiation as such is not a novelty in the historical long run, what then is new? The easy answer is modern mass politics. Politics – or to be precise, the practices and rhetoric routinely identified as political – is the object of convergence between the different religious traditions in Sri Lanka, the final common dilemma. For some, like the Muslims, politics has directly followed the contours of religious community, attempting to mobilize Muslims as Muslims. But here, the recurring complaint is of division, and of the new ruptures in the community created within the corrosive world of the political. A similar complaint is heard on the Sinhala side. For Tamils, the story has been somewhat different: in claiming to be the sole voice of the Tamil people, the LTTE suppressed all alternatives, but the results were hardly harmonious or peaceful. With the demise of the LTTE during the period of our fieldwork, their successors, the TMVP, also split and further continued the cycle of purification by violent death. A folk sociology of non-toleration in Sri Lanka would start and end in one place: the political. Again and again we were told that ordinary people have no problem living alongside each other; it is only the politicians that create the divisions for their own purposes. And while this interpretation conveniently ignores the degree of enthusiastic buy-in politicians receive from their supporters, it is not entirely false either. The version of the political that animates this interpretation also provides the ground for what we might call tactical secularization: the selfconscious invocation of religious boundaries as a kind of protection against the corrosive effects of the political. This is what is happening when the Mosque Federation leaders assert that their organization works because it keeps politicians out, or when the Buddhist monk tells us it is not his duty to engage in public politics. In both these cases it is quite easy to show that the boundary being defended is rather more rhetorical than actual. Politicians queue up to patronize the monk’s temple; Mosque Federation leaders are also active in local politics. If the idea of a boundary can be productive, even at the level of rhetoric, in other

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cases, like the Hindu temples during the war, the boundary seems to have been rather more tangible. It allowed the middle-class men of Whitaker’s Mandur to pursue their interminable arguments about honour and precedence, ignoring the war raging around them, but it also provided a space for Saktirani and her followers to gather together and speak about the otherwise unspeakable. Chatterji (Chapter 5 of this volume) argues that ‘periods of crisis and emergency’ are especially fruitful moments for separation or differentiation to ‘crystallize’ in different areas of life. For her, elite diplomats, the crisis of Partition and its consequent sense of danger served as the condition of possibility for a shared imperative to differentiate between the state and the (religiously defined) community it was thought to serve. For some Catholic priests, Muslim leaders, and bhikkhus in wartime Sri Lanka, crisis created the possibility for necessary dialogue and mediation. For others, operating in less visible ways, it created shared suffering and the need for shared healing. For others still, like our priest with his vision of Pillayar’s divine intervention ending the war, it provided an opportunity for further experiments in the religio-political imagination. Lord Pillayar may yet prevail. Acknowledgements This chapter draws on two separate (but connected) collaborative projects in Sri Lanka. In particular, it draws upon and develops arguments from the concluding chapter of a collaborative ethnography of religion and war in Sri Lanka (Spencer et al. 2014). The opening section is based on fieldwork with Sidharthan Maunaguru (National University Singapore) in London and Sri Lanka in 2012, conducted while Sidharthan was a Newton Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. Maunaguru’s Fellowship was supported by the British Academy and the Royal Society. The discussion in the middle section is based on a project on the role of religious organizations in the last stages of the civil war in the country’s Eastern Province; that work was carried out with colleagues from SOAS, Zurich and Peradeniya as part of the ESRC’s Non-Governmental Public Action programme. This paper would not have been possible without the work of my colleagues Sidharthan Maunaguru, Jonathan Goodhand, Shahul Hasbullah, Bart Klem, Benedikt Korf and Kalinga Tudor Silva, and without the support of the British Academy and the Economic and Social Research Council. For analytic inspiration, I am especially grateful to the participants at the Kings workshop on Secularisation and Tolerance in South Asia in 2014, and especially to the convenors of that workshop, Humeira Iqtidar and Tanika Sarkar, for their saintly editorial patience.

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Index

Adivasi janajati, 79, 82, 93, 106 Ahmadiyya (Ahmadi), 11, 53, 58–65, 67–74 Akbar, 26, 42 Ali Khan, Liaqut, 59–65 Ambedkar, 9, 16, 28, 30, 156–190 anticolonial, 57, 70–71, 143, 149, 156, 158, 160, 164, 173 Arendt, Hannah, 143, 156, 169, 182, 189 Asad, Talal, 2, 18, 36, 50–52, 81, 134, 138, 154, 206 atheist, 44, 143, 153, 167, 170, 172, 178, 183, 185 Awami League, 137, 143, 147 Batticaloa, 195–197, 201 Bhargava, 2, 10, 20, 26, 28, 30, 32, 38, 44–45, 47–49, 51, 72, 78, 85, 104 Bhumethan, 80, 87, 90–96, 101 Bhutto, 67 BJP, 13, 36 British, 3, 20, 29, 54–56, 61, 64–65, 70, 72–73, 75, 108, 114, 116, 132, 143, 197, 203, 211 Brown, Wendy, 4, 138, 154 Buddha, 87, 145, 156, 164, 166, 168, 177–181, 185, 187, 208–209 Calcutta, 14, 27, 48, 113–116, 121–122, 125–126, 128–129, 131–132 Constituent Assembly, 62, 64–69, 72, 81, 96, 103–104, 157 Casanova, 5, 18, 20, 50–51, 72, 109, 131, 153, 205–207, 210 Colombo, 194 Colonialism, 2–3, 23, 29, 56, 72, 131 communal, 7, 9, 16, 40, 44, 54, 60, 108, 116–119, 121, 123–125, 136, 139, 163, 167, 170, 172, 178, 181, 185, 187 Community Forestry, 98 communist, 11, 144 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, 81

Congress Party (Indian National Congress), 8, 27–28, 32–33, 54, 57–61, 65, 71, 81, 116 Dalit, 9, 16, 166, 172, 175, 177, 180–182 Darjeeling, 86 Dasain, 86, 105 Delhi, 27–28, 32, 37, 39–40, 48–49, 72–73, 104–106, 111, 113, 117, 124, 131–132, 147, 154 Department for International Development, 89, 107 Derrida, Jacques, 167, 169, 183, 189 Dolakha, 1, 76, 78–80, 85–104 Earthquake, 82, 103–104 Eelam, 194 Empire, 3, 20, 54, 72–73, 132 Ethnicity, 12, 18, 75–104, 208 Federalism/federalisation, 83, 88, 100 Gandhi, 17, 28–29, 44–47, 60, 65, 158, 162, 165, 178, 190 General Zia, 12, 66–69 Golwalkar, 29, 31, 33, 48 Gramsci, 34 Hallaq, Wael, 146, 153 Hashim, Abul, 15, 135, 143, 145, 152 Hefazat, 140 Hindutva, 13, 16, 33, 36 Interim Constitution, 75–76, 81, 83, 92–93 Iqtidar, Humeira, 1, 4, 6, 8, 13, 18, 50–51, 53, 76, 79, 96, 108, 138, 208, 211 Islamic thought, 6, 9, 15 Islamists, 20, 73, 138, 152, 154, 208 Islamizing, 137 Jamaat-e-Islami, 15, 20, 136–137, 140, 142, 146, 148

215

216

Index

janajati, 75, 79, 82–89, 93–97, 100–103 Janajati Parishad, 93–97 Jatiya Party, 141 Jinnah, 21, 58–59, 61–62, 64–66, 69–70, 73–74, 165 Jirel, 93 Khan, Ayub, 15–16, 144–146 Kumaratunga, Chandrika, 191 Kutch, 14, 124–125 Labour Party, 199 Lahore, 52, 57, 59, 68, 73, 189 Liberal, 7, 9, 13, 18–19, 30, 33–38, 42, 52, 68, 85, 150, 158, 162, 165, 168, 171, 183–184, 207–209 liberalism, 34, 207–208 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, 191 Mahinda Rajapaksa, 191 Mahmood, Saba, 18, 134, 138, 154, 207 Maoist, 13, 81 Marx, Karl, 42, 156, 164, 169, 175, 178, 187 Marxist/ Marxian, 27, 35, 41, 47, 79 Maududi, 142 Modi, Narendra, 103 Mohammad, Ghulam, 114–118 Museum, 96–103 Muslim League, 21, 54, 57–62, 65, 67, 73, 116, 143–144 Nandy, Ashis, 10, 36, 39–40, 43, 49, 158, 190, 208 nation, 4, 28–29, 51–53, 56–57, 62–63, 66, 68, 70, 84, 110, 120, 124, 127, 135–138, 141, 144, 147–148, 156, 160, 181 nationalism, 3, 8, 11, 20, 24, 31–32, 34–35, 42, 53, 57, 63, 70–71, 138, 140, 144, 147–148, 150, 196, 199, 205 Nehru, 17, 24, 28–30, 32, 39–40, 44–47, 126, 129 Neogy, K. C., 114, 121 Nepali Congress, 81 Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN), 83 Newar, 93, 105 nonviolence, 183–186 Panchayat, 79, 81, 105 Pandit, 92–93 People’s War, 81 Periyar, 9

Portuguese, 197 Prabhakaran, 193 Premadasa, Ranasinghe, 191 Rahman, Fazlur, 144, 146 Rahman, Mujibur, 136, 147 Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal, 103 Rastriya Prajatantra Party, 103 refugees, 14, 111–115, 120, 129, 131 republican, 156–157, 203 Rikhipole Seti Devi, 75, 90, 94–95, 101 Rohingya, 139 Roy, Rammohan, 27 Sanatan dharma, 82, 158 Sardar Patel, 111 Sarkar, Tanika, 1, 4, 7–8, 50, 76, 96, 106, 108, 211 Savarkar, V.D., 29, 33 Shahbagh, 140 Sherpa, 93 Shulman, David, 159, 190 Sindhupalchok, 86 Sikkim, 86 Sofa, Ahmed, 135, 138, 143, 148–152, 154 State restructuring, 78 Sunari Aji, 94–99 Suspa, 75–104 Syncretic, 79, 158 Tagore, 27–28, 30, 47, 49, 147 Tamang, 75, 93, 98, 105, 107 Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal, 200 Taylor, Charles, 27, 30, 40, 49–50, 110, 119, 134 Territorial deity, 87 Thangmi, 12–13, 76, 79, 85–97, 99–104, 107 Thapa, Kamal, 85, 103 Thapar, Romila, 158, 190 Tilak Pokhari, 96–97, 99, 101 Tolerance, 90 Tourism, 97, 101, 139 Upper Tamakoshi Hydroelectric Project, 102 Village Development Committee, 75–77 Wickremesinghe, Ranil, 191 Yapati Chuku, 94, 96–100