Communalism appears increasingly as a weapon of the advantaged classes and castes
in India to subvert democratic and subaltern assertion
BY KHALID ANIS ANSARI
The demolition of the Babri mosque on December 6, 1992 by right-wing Hindu organisations is instructive in many ways. While many tears have been shed over this decisive blow to the Nehruvian consensus on ‘secularism’ and the irreparable damage that it has inflicted on Indian polity, it has also set the stage for some wider and more far-reaching questions to be asked now. Was there something essentially amiss with the principle of ‘secularism’ as envisaged by the founding fathers of the Indian nation state, which led to its early demise? Should the demolition of the Babri mosque be treated as an unwelcome aberration in the otherwise tidy world of Indian secularism or as the logical culmination of the actual substantive forces at work all along behind its veneer? In the following sections I shall attempt a provisional discussion on these and other related questions.
Interrogating Indian secularism
Secularisation as a social process needs to be distinguished from secularism as an ideology and it can be usefully acknowledged that secularisation is not the product of that ideology alone but also an effect of various other concrete material forces in action. To what extent secularisation has occurred in Indian society and in what manner it has been assisted by the official ideology of secularism is an aspect that warrants investigation.
We are all aware that the accepted wisdom about secularism/secularisation emphasises the separation of state, or markets, from primordial identities and the relegation of the latter to the private sphere. If this is what constitutes genuine secularism then it can be argued that it was never put to the test in India. Whether it should have been tried or not, especially in the wake of the ‘anti-modernist’ and ‘communitarian’ critiques of secularism offered by some Indian academics (Ashis Nandy, TN Madan, Veena Das) or the experience with secularism in other jurisdictions (Talal Asad’s critique of French secularism, for instance), is another matter and beyond the scope of the present essay.
“In the case of India, the problem was not that the actions of a secular state hell-bent on purging religious values from public life led to a religious reaction. Quite the contrary, the state was never sufficiently secular and made frequent concessions to religious forces for electoral gains” (Baber, 2006: 60). Moreover, in the economic sphere it was expected that a process of rationalisation would take place and at least the “era of liberalisation once again provoked predictions that the rationalities of contract would replace custom and that acquired characteristics would replace ascribed ones as the basis of market transactions”. However, this did not happen and “…the larger part of the modern Indian economy is regulated in significant ways by social institutions derived from ‘primordial identity’ and that (although continually contested) they are resistant or immune to change by means of macroeconomic policy” (Harriss-White, 2007).
However, this privileging of primordial identities – whether in their mediation in the accumulation processes (economy) and the capture of power (state) or even as broad slogans for subaltern resistance – is not new to Indian society. Far too many instances can be recalled from the pre-colonial period, which underscore a tradition of subaltern discontent and assertion often surfacing in the guise of primordial identities in India. But, arguably, these identities were not overarching or fixed principles of social organisation and the modes of organisation or mobilisation often varied with the context and local power equations involved.
The colonial state on the other hand not only adopted these collectivities but also transformed them to broad and closed categories. The basic thrust of the colonial archive, enumerative technology (census) and ethnographic surveys was in reifying and systematising the primordial identities, especially caste and religion. This made the task of governance slightly convenient and was in conformity with the British orientalist tradition that viewed India as a communally compartmentalised society and often disparaged and questioned its ability to work out a modern representative secular democracy. No wonder this ‘politics of difference’ (Partha Chatterjee’s term) was contrived in order to contrast the colonial state with the mystical/spiritual/traditional/backward Indian society and to legitimise and rationalise the former’s benevolent presence (Dirks, 2002).
One may trace the charitable use of ‘Hindu’ icons and symbols in the nationalist movement since its inception. This was natural, as most of the elite classes that represented and led the nationalist movement came from upper caste Hindu locations. Besides, their cultural capital and superior articulation made them the natural choice as leaders of the movement. (Historically, lower castes were theologically barred from acquiring property and knowledge.) However, this dominant Hindu symbolism also alienated the suppressed castes and other religious minorities in no uncertain terms.
The extreme articulation of the ‘two-nation theory’ by MA Jinnah and the demand for a ‘separate electorate for untouchables’ voiced by Dr BR Ambedkar can also be seen as reactions to this dominant propensity in the movement. Despite much rhetoric about inclusiveness and representativeness utilised by the mainstream nationalist movement (represented by the Congress party), the apprehensions that power would ultimately be transferred from the British to the ‘Brahmin-Bourgeois’ (I borrow this term from Gail Omvedt, 2004: 422) sections of India were too real to be missed by the Dalit leaders. The Muslim League on the other hand, which saw India in ‘communal’ categories and shared this trait equally with the Congress (with the difference that while the Congress claimed to represent all religious communities the League only represented the Muslim interests), was also sceptical about the prospect of power being transferred to ‘Hindu’ hands.
Hence the notion of secularism, as it evolved during the nationalist movement, drew its vocabulary from its encounter with the colonial discourse – India as a communally compartmentalised society incapable of developing a working secular democracy – and also, a fact often underplayed, from the assertion of suppressed castes and other identities from below. Consequently, to have abandoned the notion of secularism would have vindicated negative British opinions and would have appeared a retrograde step in the eyes of the world. On the other hand, the adoption of the western notion of secularism in any substantive way would have unsettled the politics historically organised by the elite in non-secular terms (identities) that often obscured the notion of ‘class’ and thereby their own privileged position. Thus the term ‘secularism’ was retained but was imbued with convenient meanings (Upadhyay, 1992).
Secularism largely came to mean, especially after the treatment it received at the hands of MK Gandhi, a policy of religious accommodation which envisaged the independent Indian nation state as a ‘coalition of communities’. But rather than seeing the interests of these various communities as irreconcilable, a fundamentalist position, it stressed their unity and heralded the cooperation between them as the loftiest ideal. The phrase ‘sarva dharma sambhav (let all religions prosper)’ best embodies this principle. It is another matter however that in actual terms the notion translated into what could be called majoritarianism in which “while all communities… would be equal, one would be more equal than others – namely the majority ‘Hindu community'” (Upadhyay, 1992: 817).
Hence secularism, which became the central plank of the nationalist movement and later the free Indian nation state, has all along been a euphemism for majoritarian nationalism. Subsequently, we have had a representative politics which is organised predominantly along lines of ‘community’, defined in religious terms, in which the ‘majority community’ must always emerge victorious. This majoritarianism provides a semblance of democracy to a political system that claims to represent all identities whereas in substantive terms it only caters to the interests of a small ‘minority’ of dominant castes/classes. Interestingly, it becomes a cause of discomfiture to advantaged classes when the same language of community is used by lower castes to demand social and economic justice for themselves – the protests against the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations, for instance (Upadhyay, 1992).
It is interesting to note that while the views of Gandhi and Nehru differed widely on most other issues they were the joint architects of the Congress brand of majoritarian secularism. Can this be attributed to Nehru’s own brahmanic social location? Dr Ram Manohar Lohia mentions an event in one of his articles, in which “The president of the Indian republic [Dr Rajendra Prasad] publicly bathed the feet of two hundred Brahmins in the holy city of Benaras” (Lohia, 1956: 101). He further writes: “Pandit Nehru is on record for having extolled what he chose to call the ‘brahmanic spirit of service’. What Dr Rajendra Prasad seeks to do by commission, Pandit Nehru achieves by omission” (Lohia, 1956: 104).
Michael Edwardes also remarks: “His [Nehru’s] hatred of religious communalism had kept him from formal faith but had not prevented him from trying to create a personal syncretism that would satisfy both his desire for traditional roots in the Hindu world and his belief in progressive socialism. …From the late 1950s Nehru had talked often in private conversation about Hindu ideals and ideas though his uncompromising dislike of formal religious expressions tended to conceal his growing religiosity” (Edwardes, 1973: 324-25). On similar lines, Dileep M. Menon has tried to unravel the late Marxist leader of Kerala, EMS Namboodripad’s brahmanic readings of Marxism elsewhere (Menon, 2006). The point I am trying to drive home is that we are all constituted in complex ways by our identities and ‘social locations’. However, to say that we are completely determined by them would be as absurd as to say that they have no bearing on our politics at all.
However, the Congress brand of majoritarian secularism must be contrasted with the outright Hindu communalism advocated by the sangh parivar, especially the RSS. While the former uses secularism more as a pragmatic device for power and oscillates from a seemingly neutral position to toying occasionally with communal sentiments, for the latter the communal plank is its raison d’être. This breach was evident enough in the assassination of Gandhi by the votaries of outright Hindu communalism immediately after India gained independence. However, it is a moot point whether the brand of secularism practised by the Congress would be able to check decisively the growth of Hindu fundamentalism.
‘Majority’ and ‘minority’ communalism: Two sides of the same coin?
What went down with the dilapidated structure of the Babri mosque was perhaps the faith in this brand of majoritarian secularism. So what was the import of the demolition of the Babri mosque? Why did it happen? What was its impact and after-effects? What was the motivation of its main protagonists?
To begin with, the politics around the Babri mosque, whether promoted aggressively by the saffron brigade or defended as a reaction by the mainstream Muslim leadership, was not about faith but about identity. And given the compelling correspondence that identities have with the distribution of material benefits and power in our country, it was also about political economy. In short, it was a blatant politicisation of religion for secular and worldly ends.
The demolition of the mosque can be viewed as the defining point in a process unleashed by the Hindu Right in order to address some major transformations in Indian political economy from the mid-1980s onwards. The first was the gradual opening up of the economy in the 1980s due to unavoidable international economic pressures, a process finally culminating in the economic reforms of 1991. With the growth rate for the first time crossing the aptly named ‘Hindu rate of growth’ (3.5 per cent) in the middle of the 1980s, the static and well-ordered caste society of India was witnessing untold pressures (Omvedt, 1995: 69-70). India was propelled into a world of change in an unprecedented way and the cultural anxieties created by the danger of the advent of a modern (or postmodern) consumer society was there to be utilised to the hilt by communal and fundamentalist forces in every religious group.
The second and more immediate cause was the resurfacing of the much repressed histories of caste with the implementation of one recommendation of the Mandal Commission, quotas for OBCs in central government jobs, by VP Singh’s government in 1990. The onset of a fresh wave of caste assertion in North India (in the south the issue had arguably been settled long before) could perhaps only be managed by resorting to religious communalism. No wonder the 1980s witnessed increasing legitimacy for forces of both Hindutva and Islamism in the wake of mobilisations around the Ram Janmabhoomi and Shah Bano controversies.
These developments reflected that the dominant notion of secularism was increasingly outliving its utility and what began as a process in the 1980s was finally led to its logical conclusion with the demolition of the mosque on December 6, 1992. Many ideological blinkers were discarded – secularism as communal harmony (though seldom achieved in practice) was paving the way for more discrete and robust versions of ‘Hindu’ and ‘Islamic’ fundamentalism. It is only ironical that when the mosque was being razed to the ground the then Congress prime minister, PV Narasimha Rao, was busy taking his siesta. In the final analysis, the demolition ensured that Indian polity will continue to revolve around the axis of communalism for some time to come.
As we all know, religious communalism is sustained by the notion of a ‘Hindu’ or ‘Muslim’ (or even ‘Christian’ or ‘Sikh’) monolith. It may however be safely asserted that none of these communities is internally homogeneous or monolithic. Almost all the religious blocs are internally differentiated in terms of caste, class, gender or sect. In the case of Indian Islam, for instance, conflicts have been noted between various sects, such as Shia-Sunni or Deobandi-Barelvi, and castes, such as ashraf–ajlaf. While the dangers of Hindu communalism – in its capacity to take state power and turn it fascist – are evident enough, what is often underplayed in the ‘secular’ posturing against the Hindu Right is the role of ‘minority’ communalism in legitimising the former. It is the notion of Muslims, Christians or Sikhs as a monolithic and united community that is latched on to by Hindu fundamentalist forces and used to mobilise and consolidate their constituency.
The Pasmanda movement, a movement of backward caste/Dalit Muslims, has often stressed the role of the upper caste Muslim elite (ashraf or ‘honourable’) in sustaining this fiction of a monolithic Muslim community – though usually by default, as communal common sense or as a reaction to Hindutva politics, but also at times consciously to secure material benefits from the state by acting as self-appointed community spokespersons and falsely demonstrating the weight of the entire community behind them. (I must stress here that I am specifically underlining the role of only the elite amongst the upper caste Muslims and not upper caste Muslims as a whole, as a substantial number of them are poor and oppressed. However, there is a need to investigate how they are related to the elite Muslims through kinship ties or patron-client relationships whereby they are often unconscious carriers of the ashrafiya ideology and value-system. Moreover, this perhaps holds true to a greater or lesser extent for the poor and exploited upper caste Hindu sections as well.)
Increasingly, subaltern sections are beginning to see some merit in the argument that this game of competitive communalism between majority and minority communities has been carefully engineered and crafted by their elites, mostly male and upper caste, to hoodwink them with insincere communal/religious slogans and preserve and perpetuate their own class/caste interests. In a sense, both ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ fundamentalisms share a symbiotic relationship and both constantly feed and strengthen each other. This is what the information secretary of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba had to say on the eve of the 1999 elections: “The BJP suits us. Within a year they have made us into a nuclear and missile power. Lashkar-e-Tayyaba is getting a good response because of BJP’s statements. It is much better than before. We pray to god that they come to power again. Then we will emerge even stronger” (cited in Yechury, 2008).
Hence it is virtually impossible to contest majority fundamentalism without also challenging its minority version in any meaningful way. And for that the premium mainstream minority politics puts on the notion of ‘community’ as being predominantly religious and monolithic needs to be interrogated. In this context, various caste and gender movements among minorities have emerged of late which are contesting this fiction and striving for fresh solidarities that transcend and subvert their affiliations with religious identities.
Caste and communal violence
But if the predominant religious definitions of community are challenged and an alternative conception of community coloured by caste is invoked, it completely overturns the notion of ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ as utilised in Indian political discourse. It also radically transforms the notion of oppressor and oppressed as held in the popular imagination.
In a reworked formulation of community in caste terms it is not the majority Hindus who are the oppressors and the minority Muslims, Christians or Sikhs the oppressed. Rather, it is the microscopic minority of caste elite, irrespective of their religious affiliations, who become the oppressors and the remaining population (bahujan, moolnivasi, indigenous peoples) becomes the oppressed. Ali Anwar, the leader of the All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz, said during a speech in Patna: “Hum Shuddar hain Shuddar, Bharat ke moolnivasi hain. Baad mein Musalman hain (We are Sudras first; we are the indigenous peoples of India. We are Muslims later).” It may be readily conceded that this latter construction is not without its problems. It is too simplistic and needs to be nuanced. However, it perhaps approximates more closely to social reality than the religious definition of community that has been holding sway for far too long in both academic and popular discourse.
A microscopic minority of caste/class elite cannot rule by consensus and indoctrination alone although there will inevitably be much of that. There are bound to be rebellious voices and in order to ‘hegemonise’ the subject castes, periodic violence must also be resorted to. No wonder Amnesty International described India as the world’s most violent country (Rajshekar, 2007: 114). Even the Gandhian insistence on non-violence was in a sense an acknowledgement of the deep-rooted violence in Indian society. Whichever way you look at it, the story of caste and the use of organised violence to discipline/punish the suppressed castes are central to this phenomenon.
How could Hindu unity be achieved in the face of a thousand fragmentations on the basis of the caste system? While Islam, Sikhism or Christianity can claim to speak for equality of human beings (in their theological texts at least) what options does Hinduism have when ‘hierarchy’ and ‘purity-pollution’ saturate its main texts? How would a majoritarian nationalism survive, which does not even represent the majority of the ‘majority’ community? These are questions that have constantly nagged the Hindu caste elite and so far it has only been able to respond to them with customary violence.
To address these questions meaningfully, perhaps only two avenues were possible. One course would have been to reject the caste system entirely. But is not the caste system the soul of Hinduism, its indispensable principle? Would Hinduism have survived then? Would the privileges enjoyed by the upper caste Hindus have been preserved and perpetuated? What Ambedkar says in this context is relevant here: “[The] philosophy of Hinduism is not founded on individual justice or social utility… To the question what is right and what is good the answer that the philosophy of Hinduism gives is remarkable. It holds that to be right and good the act must serve the interest of a class of supermen, namely the Brahmins. Anything which serves the interest of this class is alone entitled to be called good” (cited in Thorat and Deshpande, 2001: 56).
The second course, the one which was actually resorted to, was to construct the religious minorities as the ‘other’ and deflect the intra-Hindu violence towards them. Dileep Menon expresses this view emphatically: “The inner violence within Hinduism explains to a considerable extent the violence directed outwards against Muslims once we concede that the former is historically prior. The question needs to be: how has the deployment of violence against an internal Other (defined primarily in terms of inherent inequality), the Dalit, come to be transformed at certain conjunctures into one of aggression against an external Other (defined primarily in terms of inherent difference), the Muslim? Is communalism a deflection of the central issue of violence and inegalitarianism within Hindu society?” (Menon, 2006: 2).
But one can go further and ask: Is it a deflection that is abetted, often by default, by the upper caste elite of all minority groups by providing a religious screen for what is essentially a class/caste conflict? How does this aggressive Hindu posturing against the religious minorities facilitate their own elite in rallying the masses behind them and in turn bargaining for material advantages from the state? (I must briefly mention that caste consciousness is present in varying degrees among all minority communities. There are reports that in Kerala, Syrian (upper caste) and Dalit Christians have separate churches. Similar caste cleavages between Mazhabi Sikhs and others have been documented as well.)
In a sense, communalism shares an intimate relation with the repressed histories of caste. The more caste assertion grows strong, the more religious communalism is resorted to in order to check it. Is it not true that between 1850 and 1947 communal violence has always followed periods of mobility and assertion on the part of Dalits and other subordinated castes (Menon, 2006: 8)? Is it not true of the pogrom in Gujarat in 2002 when it was preceded by the perceived threat of tribal conversion to Christianity and the ‘bleeding of Hinduism’ (see Shani, 2007)? Is it not true of the recent communal clashes and burning of churches in Orissa where violence has followed the demand for reservations raised by Dalit Christians?
Paul R. Brass, a scholar who has explored in depth the subject of so-called Hindu-Muslim riots in India, concludes that there is “a great deal wrong with the kind of attention given to what are called Hindu-Muslim riots and to the interpretations given to violence designated as such”. Besides, most such rioting “was neither spontaneous nor was it primarily conflict between Hindu and Muslim crowds […]”. “On the contrary, […] there existed in these towns what I called ‘institutionalised riot systems‘. […] Moreover, it was much more highly developed and elaborately organised within the network of militant Hindu organisations radiating out from the RSS than from any comparable network of Muslim organisations […].” “In short, what are called Hindu-Muslim riots in India are in fact more like pogroms and have recently, in Gujarat and elsewhere, taken the form of genocidal massacres and local ethnic cleansing as well.” Further, he is very critical of the academic efforts on the issue of communalism: “These discoveries led me in turn to adopt a critical stance concerning the social science literature on the subject which, it seemed to me, had got caught up in misguided efforts to categorise and classify the various forms of collective violence and to probe the mentalities of rioters and crowds without displaying much knowledge of how riots actually happen. Pseudoscience substituted for ethnographic research” (Brass, 2006, emphasis added).
One may wonder why there is a need to nurture ‘institutionalised riot systems’ in various towns in India. It is slightly puzzling why academic efforts are often ‘misguided’ and ‘pseudoscience’ often substitutes ‘for ethnographic research’ when it comes to studying communalism in India. I leave it to the readers themselves to visualise the implications of what Brass is saying here and how the caste critique of communalism informs these questions in turn.
Contesting communalism I: The instrumental role of caste
One may concede that caste as it prevails today was in large part a colonial construction; the same would also hold true for communalism (Pandey, 2005). However, Nicholas Dirks reminds us that “there is now no simple way of wishing it [caste] away, no easy way to imagine social forms that would transcend the languages of caste that have become so inscribed in ritual, familial, communal, socio-economic, political and public theatres of quotidian life” (Dirks, 2002: 5-6). Hence is there a case for retaining caste as an organising principle in politics?
This question could elicit a tentative affirmative response for three reasons. One, as already mentioned, we cannot wish caste away. Due to a complex historical process, we have all come to be more or less constituted by it. Rather than sweeping it under the carpet, we need to engage with it and discuss it in a frank and forthright manner.
Two, it offers a necessary corrective to the overemphasis on religious modes of organisation in our society. The instrumental role of caste in contesting communalism can scarcely be discounted. Girish Karnad states this clearly: “…the internal diversity resulting from the caste system may be our main defence against a Hindu fascist state controlled by the traditionally advantaged classes” (cited in Kalbag, 2007). (I shall mention two instances to buttress this point further. The first was the absence of any major pogrom in Bihar during the 15 years that Laloo Yadav, who championed backward caste politics, was in power. The second is the recent formation of an organisation named S-4 (Savarna Shoshan Sangharsh Samiti) in Bihar (Yadav, 2007). The organisation claims to stand for the oppressed upper caste sections and, curiously, includes upper caste Muslims (ashraf) in its fold as well. This is an interesting development, as upper caste sections have traditionally been conducting politics under the guise of religion and have often elided their caste locations. This is the first time that they have openly started organising on the basis of caste. These new solidarities on the basis of caste will hopefully provide a necessary check on the forces of communalism.)
And three, the category of caste has a strong correspondence with the actual distribution of power and material goods in Indian society. In a loose sense then, caste also overlaps with the notion of ‘marginalised’ in our country. If progressive politics is about the liberation of the marginalised, caste must indeed be taken on board.
“Our question is: ‘Can we not use the institution of caste and convert it into a democratic asset?’ Jati is a social capital and a rich powerful centuries old institution which can be used not only for development purposes… but also for political (electoral) purposes” (Rajshekar, 2007: viii). Yet the story of caste will not automatically promise to be a sweet fairy tale. It can and often does obscure substantial oppressions and repressions. I would therefore stress that it must only be taken as a starting point and needs to be complicated by other categories like class, gender, sexuality, nationality and so on to make it a real liberatory exercise.
Contesting communalism II: The authentic role of religion
Caste and religion are identities of a different order. Caste has variously been seen as a racial, ethnic or tribal identity. In other words, it is an ascribed identity. The hallmark of religion on the other hand has been its ability to inspire and provide moral vision(s) to human societies. At best, it should largely be seen as an achieved identity. “Religion is like a dress. Anybody can change it any time. Even if our enemy wants to wear our dress, we cannot stop him. Afro-Americans (blacks) are giving up their religious dress of Christianity because that is also the dress of their oppressors – white American Christians” (Rajshekar, 2007: 63).
Remarkably, quite often religious identity gets racialised as well. In the context of India, Sumit Sarkar says: “The Muslim [is considered] as ever proliferating, sexually prolific and lusting after Hindu women. Such assumptions have entered deep into middle-class Hindu common sense in many parts of the country… Communalism here veers close to everyday racism, with the Muslim – like the black or coloured immigrant – felt to be a biological danger, a threat simply by being born, giving birth – even dying. A highly respected gentleman told a group of us investigating the Nizamuddin riot of 1990 that every time a Muslim died a bit of Mother India’s soil was lost through his grave while the self-effacing Hindu is cremated and does not waste space” (cited in Baber, 2006: 63). On the same lines, many racial comments regarding Hindus can be ferreted out from respectable Muslims, Christians and Sikhs as well.
Obviously, there is a visible tension between religion as faith and religion as an identity marker. Moreover, in discussions around religion it is the latter that monopolises all the attention, for instance, in the debates around the Sachar Committee recommendations, thereby feeding into the legitimisation process of communalism. I would contend that this notion of religion as an overarching identity needs to be interrogated and abandoned in favour of liberatory versions of faith. In this context, various versions of liberation theology that are being experimented with in different religious traditions are a welcome trend. Garaudy says: “Faith is not a promise of power. It is the conviction that it is possible to create a qualitatively new future only if we identify ourselves with those who are the most naked and downtrodden, only if we tie our fate to theirs to the point that it is impossible to conceive any real victory but theirs” (Garaudy, 1976: 97-98).
Let religion do what it does best – as an ethic that informs human actions, as an intimate foundation that addresses the human condition, as a sign that liberation is possible in the here and now, as a promise and faith that things will be better one day. After all, “God exists wherever something new is coming to life, in artistic creation, scientific discovery, love or revolution” (Garaudy, 1976: 28). Let religion inform our human projects but let us be identified by multiple social categories if only, in the final analysis, to transcend and subvert them in favour of an integrated humanity founded on peace and justice.
I have often asked myself that if a majority of Muslims are so economically disadvantaged, what potential challenge could they pose to the ruling sections of India. Why is there this exaggerated sense of paranoia about Muslim identity in our country? By isolating Muslims as the whipping boy (or the weakest enemy) and witch-hunting their youth (see Tehelka issues of August 9 and 16, 2008) do the powerful sections in the country try to keep in check all the other contradictions and solidarities, caste and gender, for instance, whose retaliation could perhaps be unmanageable for them? Is the discourse around the monolithic construction of Muslim identity the great cementing force of this nation? This essay has partly been a provisional attempt to address some of these questions.
To conclude, the spectre of caste assertion is haunting India. Mandal II, the Ramadoss-Venugopal (AIIMS) row, the Orissa church burnings, Kherlanji, the Babri mosque and the recent bomb blasts are just a few of the forms it takes. At its heart lies a deep democratic discontent that signals a remarkable story of exclusion of the marginalised from the system. Communalism appears increasingly as a weapon of the advantaged classes and castes in India to subvert democratic and subaltern assertion. Though its main driving force and beneficiaries are the advantaged castes in the majority community, the story remains incomplete without acknowledging the role of the largely upper caste elite within the minority communities in abetting it. n
(Khalid Anis Ansari is a member of a research-activism group called The Patna Collective. However, the views expressed here are personal and may not necessarily be shared by the organisation. He can be contacted at email@example.com.)
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