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The Crisis of Secularism in India

Tuesday 1 October 2019, by siawi3


The Crisis of Secularism in India

[(The Crisis of Secularism in India
Book Pages: 432 Illustrations: Published: January 2007
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3846-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3831-4)]

Editor(s): Anuradha Dingwaney Needham, Rajeswari Sunder Rajan

Contributor(s): Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, Shabnum Tejani, Paula Richman, Sunil Khilnani, Ashis Nandy, Nivedita Menon, Partha Chatterjee, Gyanendra Pandey, Gyan Prakash, Romila Thapar, Arvind Rajagopal, Shyam Benegal, Ravi S. Vasudevan, Upendra Baxi, Flavia Agnes, Akeel Bilgrami, Gauri Viswanathan, Sumit Sarkar, Dwaipayan Sen, Anuradha Dingwaney Dingwaney Needham, V. Geetha

While secularism has been integral to India’s democracy for more than fifty years, its uses and limits are now being debated anew. Signs of a crisis in the relations between state, society, and religion include the violence directed against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 and the precarious situation of India’s minority religious groups more generally; the existence of personal laws that vary by religious community; the affiliation of political parties with fundamentalist religious organizations; and the rallying of a significant proportion of the diasporic Hindu community behind a resurgent nationalist Hinduism. There is a broad consensus that a crisis of secularism exists, but whether the state can resolve conflicts and ease tensions or is itself part of the problem is a matter of vigorous political and intellectual debate. In this timely, nuanced collection, twenty leading Indian cultural theorists assess the contradictory ideals, policies, and practices of secularism in India.

Scholars of history, anthropology, religion, politics, law, philosophy, and media studies take on a broad range of concerns. Some consider the history of secularism in India; others explore theoretical issues such as the relationship between secularism and democracy or the shortcomings of the categories “majority” and “minority.” Contributors examine how the debates about secularism play out in schools, the media, and the popular cinema. And they address two of the most politically charged sites of crisis: personal law and the right to practice and encourage religious conversion. Together the essays inject insightful analysis into the fraught controversy about the shortcomings and uncertain future of secularism in the world today.

Contributors. Flavia Agnes, Upendra Baxi, Shyam Benegal, Akeel Bilgrami, Partha Chatterjee, V. Geetha, Sunil Khilnani, Nivedita Menon, Ashis Nandy, Anuradha Dingwaney Needham, Gyanendra Pandey, Gyan Prakash, Arvind Rajagopal, Paula Richman, Sumit Sarkar, Dwaipayan Sen, Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, Shabnum Tejani, Romila Thapar, Ravi S. Vasudevan, Gauri Viswanathan



“The Crisis of Secularism in India is a lively engagement by leading scholars on the causes, forms and solutions to the erosion of tolerance in India. . . . This volume is important because it updates existing scholarship on secularism in three interesting ways: a) it provides a rich empirical (contemporary and historical) basis for the debates on the crisis of secularism; b) it highlights other sites of secularism such as education, cinema, media, and non-mainstream ways of thinking about secularism; and c) it provides us with alternative solutions that focus on the actions of non-state actors generated in the grey zone between the state and citizen.” — Shylashri Shankar, Journal of Law and Religion

“It seems to me today that any worthy investigation of Hindu-Christian relations in India must place those relations in the larger context of long-standing debates about secularism and democracy in the religiously diverse Indian state. This volume, therefore, is indispensable to those working on the topic, both for the articles of more indirect relevance, and for these excellent concluding essays.” — Chad Bauman, Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies

“This illuminating anthology not only speaks volumes about its distinguished editors but also demands close reading of the scholarly articles by a group of humanists, social scientists, and legal practitioners of India and the U. S.. . . The aim of this timely and scholarly anthology is to provide a forum with a view to brainstorming a model for a viable, reasonable, and rational secular society in post-Gujarat India.”
— Narasingha P. Sil, Religious Studies Review

“This insightful and informative volume benefits from contributors who are leaders in their fields and is to be recommended to anyone with an interest in religion in India for its sometimes provocative, but always thoughtful engagement with a vitally important contemporary issue which has much broader ramifications in India and elsewhere.” — Catherine Robinson, Journal of Contemporary Religion

“Indian public debates on the question of secularism have been among the most thought-provoking in the contemporary world. This rich collection of essays by Indian intellectuals (including historians, political scientists, and philosophers) reflects the sophisticated character of many of the arguments being deployed. I strongly recommend it to anyone who has been seriously thinking about this problem.” — Talal Asad, author of Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity

“This very rich collection of essays from a stellar line of contributors is remarkable not only because it updates Indian debates on secularism. It also evinces a spirit of scrupulous engagement with the present by deliberately situating itself in the shadow of the anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002. Philosophical, historical, and contemporary at the same time, these essays add a new dimension to global discussions of liberalism and the politics of the religious right.” — Dipesh Chakrabarty, author of Habitations of Modernity: Essays in the Wake of Subaltern Studies


Author/Editor Bios

Anuradha Dingwaney Needham is Donald R. Longman Professor of English at Oberlin College. She is the author of Using the Master’s Tools: Resistance and the Literature of the African and South Asian Diasporas. Rajeswari Sunder Rajan is Distinguished Visiting Global Professor in the Department of English at New York University. Her books include The Scandal of the State: Women, Law and Citizenship in India, also published by Duke University Press.

Rajeswari Sunder Rajan is Distinguished Visiting Global Professor in the Department of English at New York University. Her books include The Scandal of the State: Women, Law and Citizenship in India, also published by Duke University Press.


Table of Contents

Preface vii

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction / Rajeswari Sunder Rajan and Anuradha Dingwaney Needham 1

I. Secularism’s Historical Background

Reflections on the Category of Secularism in India: Gandhi, Ambedkar, and the Ethics of Communal Representation, c. 1931 / Shabnum Tejani 45

A View from the South: Ramasami’s Public Critique of Religion / Paula Richman and V. Geetha 66

Nehru’s Faith / Sunil Khilnani 89

II. Secularism and Democracy

Closing the Debate on Secularism: A Personal Statement / Ashis Nandy 107

Living with Secularism / Nivedita Menon 118

The Contradictions of Secularism / Partha Chatterjee 141

Secular Nationalism, Hindutva, and the Minority / Gyan Prakash 177

III. Sites of Secularism: Education, Media, and Cinema

Secularism, History, and the Contemporary Politics in India / Romila Thapar 191

The Gujarat Experiment and Hindu National Realism: Lessons from Secularism / Arvind Rajagopal 208

Secularism and Popular Indian Cinema / Shyam Benegal 225

Neither State nor Faith: The Transcendental Significance of the Cinema / Ravi S. Vasudevan 239

IV. Secularism and Personal Law

Siting Secularism in the Uniform Civil Code: A “Riddle Wrapped Inside an Enigma”? / Upendra Baxi 267

The Supreme Court, the Media, and the Uniform Civil Code Debate in India / Flavia Agnes 294

Secularism and the Very Concept of Law / Akeel Bilgrami 316

V. Conversion

Literacy and Conversion in the Discourse of Hindu Nationalism / Gauri Viswanathan 333

Christian Conversions, Hindutva, and Secularism / Sumit Sarkar 356

Appendix: Chronology of the Career of Secularism in India / Dwaipayan Sen 369

Works Cited 373

Contributors 397

Index 401