Saturday, May 9, 2009

Sudipta Kaviraj. “Religion, Politics and Modernity,”

Sudipta Kaviraj. “Religion, Politics and Modernity,” in Upendra Baxi and Bhikhu Parekh, eds., Crisis and Change in Contemporary India, 295-316. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1995

SUMMARY: Main thesis is that Indian communalism is the result of modernism and the state’s failure to reach all areas of India. He criticizes the fact that political scientists and historians haven’t looked at communalism in the right way (295). He describes the identities that modernity makes (296-297), traditional identity (297-298), how modern/Western education imposed English as the valued language (298), and notes that identity changed because of the implementation of the census (299-300). He examines if precolonial India was secular (300-304), the impact of majority/minority identity (304-306), and how this affected the creation of communalism (306-309). He explains the relation of the colonial and then nationalist state to other institutions (310-312), but that the state didn’t reach rural areas (313-314), and the subsequent political and religious reactions (314). He ends by pointing out that there are disagreements within the communalist groups.

295-looks at the relationship between religion and political processes in India through the form of historical sociology; criticizes how “the disciplines of politics and history…have actually gone about their analysis [of communalism]”: “Political scientists usually put the problem beyond any possibility of explanation by avoiding a historical perspective. Historians do usually bring in a longer term perspective, but fail often to disentangle this from anachronistic and present assumptions. The most common procedure is to speak of religious communities unworriedly in a language of majorities and minorities. This is misleading because, I shall argue, before the coming of modern cognitive processes, to speak of this language is inappropriate, and it does not respect the identity of the past to be different.”

296-“An essential part of this story is to find the logic of modernity’s reconstitution of identity. This logic consists of two distinct parts or processes. Modernity, as is well known, brings in a new logic of self-determination, which means in this context literally, determination of the self, choosing what one would be. But again there are two sides to this act of self-determination. First, there are wholly new types of belonging which modernity renders possible. Identities like modern national ones were not available in a world that existed before. But it also makes possible, often even obligatory, people’s ‘having’ their earlier identities in an altogether different way. Thus the meaning of ‘being a Muslim’ or a Hindu might change fundamentally, though the persistence of the phrase as a description of practical being produces a misleading impression of continuity…people were not Muslim …(297) the same way; or rather, the significance of their being Muslim was not the same, precisely because it was a social world which lacked this accent on being something.”, and Kaviraj questions whether the idea of (cognitive philosophical) reflexivity can even be applied at all to the non-modern world

297-“the introduction of Western rationalist education in India bifurcated the society’s commonsense and divided Indian culture in a radically different and unprecedented fashion. Indian culture had traditionally been marked by great internal inequality and distance: between the literate and the unlettered, between the practical users of literacy and its ritual users, between different castes because their ways of acquiring and using literacy were different. Despite the various inflections and articulations by divergent groups, it was identifiably a single common sense, held together within the confines of a common discourse or conceptual alphabet which groups used opportunistically for their particular aims.”, (298) groups understood the practice of others, though not the exact manners

298-“Introduction of Western education decisively shattered this integral single common sense of traditional culture by inducting a new kind of common sense based on rationalist premises common in nineteenth century Europe. It created two separate discourses about the social and political worlds. This was reinforced by the symbolic association of these two conceptual languages with the natural languages of English and Indian vernaculars, respectively. English was regarded by the first modernizers as the indispensable language of science, legality, administration, and generally of the historically unfamiliar ‘public life’ which British administration had brought with itself. Bengali babus, for instance, warmly welcomed its unfamiliar principles, and imposed them on a society going through rapid and unclear transformation to disallow access to women and lower classes. This created a strange dichotomy of inside and outside, of the home and the world, of the rationalist world of politics and the sentimental one of domesticity created essentially by generalising upon the experience of the middle class. English was regarded as the language of the outside, the public space, of control, of easy and effortless domination of the upper orders against the vernacular muteness of the women and the lowly. The first Bengali babus spoke Bengali at home, increasingly apologetically. In the public contexts of their office, or in public discussions they discoursed in English, which in any case was also necessary for career advancement in the colonial bureaucracy subsequently, in Bengali and other languages of India, there were distinguished and determined attempts to break down this barrier and to make the vernacular perform those exalted functions which modernists had reserved for English. Bankimchandra and Rabindranath both wrote about science in Bengali and gradually created a syntax more suited to modern discursive reasoning,” which showed that “’modern’ and ‘English speaking’ were not necessarily equivalents. Yet in institutional terms, this fatal connection between modernity and Westernism and English language remained.”

299-“colonial modernity brought along a more silent but no less fundamental process of change. I have called it one of enumeration: the transformation of a small, approximate, tentative conception of the social universe into the typical modern image of mapped and counted identities.”, identities of majority/minority created through censuses, giving the majority a sense of “permanent menace” and minorities “permanent helplessness” –what Bernard Cohn calls the “process of objectification of communities”, and it “had incalculably far reaching consequences for the making and remaking of political identity, including religious ones.”; peoples’ communities used to be “fuzzy and enumerated” with unclear boundaries of space and geographical distribution, and with unclear numbers of people (and so modern collective political action wasn’t possible (300) which is “an essential feature of modern politics”), and unclear boundaries for language dialects, and “Political conflicts are likely to bless intense, in any case, when the boundary between the self and the other is unclear.”

300-the criticisms of communalist ideas usually comes from “unexamined nationalist positions” which ties rise of communal politics to British colonial policy, though there are different versions of this: A. it can be seen as a British conspiracy to divide people, B. or “as an inevitable part of the modernist reconstitution of identity which colonial rulers used to their benefit”, and with this (301) they usually paint a “flattering picture of the precolonial past”, and “sometimes come close to asserting that precolonial India had developed strong traditions of secular political authority.” Under Amir Khusro and the Mughals which are said to have fostered a “composite culture” where religions’ boundaries blend and people were allowed to practice their religion without trouble, and that “this was disrupted by malicious colonial practice”; though Kaviraj says “there was no prior public space and secularism for colonialism to destroy” because in reality precolonial India’s social organization gave the state less centrality than European practice, and so (302) “secularism” was the result of Muslims entering the caste system, and (303) the need for Muslims and Hindus to have amenable relations for economic stability, but this was not a modern-style “secularism”, plus the religions didn’t really merge that much, (304) plus was helped by the fuzziness of groups

304-colonialsm brought rationalistic logic with the census and mapping; originally used to help administrators accurately gauge the place they were dealing with, (305) but the result is it gave the “statistical majority a vital principle of advantage”, something that wasn’t a factor when Muslims ruled; and it is “deeply misleading” to suggest that “there were majorities and minorities before the colonial enumeration process”, but after this process began it started to have an effect on peoples’ identities as people offer proposals “to restructure Hinduism into a more organised single religion”, “Initially the practical point of this proposal was to oppose Christianity and the pressures of cultural colonialism, but at the centre of such proposals lay a clear appreciation of the logic of modernist politics…Formerly, religious groups rarely spoke in the language of a collective interest; now they speak no other language except the collective advantage of the collective self.”, and this new kind of “social cognition” had a profound impact on the lower classes because, though it was not a homegrown change, “precisely because they were not equipped with the techniques by which dissenting individuals could critically reflect (306) on its political effects.” And they were subject to its consequences; friction between groups brought on various colonial policies and electorates—driving minorities to think they could only secure themselves “in a state of their own, that is, only if they have turned themselves into a majority.”

306-the religious changes in India are “often seen as a rise of fundamentalism” (the term is used interchangeably with communalism in Indian political debates), and is seen as a retreat from modernity into “more comprehensible doctrines of tradition”, “But this description does not fit communal politics in India, where it is clearly a strategy to get more secure advantages within the arrangements of modern electoral politics. Thus modern communal politics in India presupposes the existence of parliamentary electoral arrangements, or at least of the numerical biases of the modern state.”

-“traditional secularist theory worked on a simplistic, dualist picture of the historical process of depletion of religious beliefs often implying that rationalisation leads directly into a secular, atheistic view of the world. Clearly, this model does (307) not fit even Western secularisation and denies the complexities and interruptions of the rationalisation process…what happens is a historical process of slow depletion of values” and practices making local practices less distinct from one another; (308) eg in some ceremonies, while invocation of the sacred is still essential, its demands are diluted, rituals simplified, and metaphysical ideals are seen with detachment or as “wholly dispensable”, images of deities are mass-produced and/or put on modern mundane inventions (eg modern vehicles) and worship time is now centered around modern living and done in a “perfunctory” way (and not at “times of transition (sandhi)”), and (309) a re-imagining of gods’ personalities and attitudes (eg the BJP’s appropriation of Rama as a vengeful god which goes against the traditional idea, according to Kaviraj, that Rama is peaceful)

310-“During the national movement, the colonial state was the primary target of political attack; but after achieving freedom nationalist states have not proposed a return to the earlier, traditional equilibrium of a distant, limited, non-interfering state and a largely segmented, self-determining society. Indeed, the most significant feature of this transition to modernity is the relationship of the state to the other institutions of society, the struggling appearance of something resembling sovereignty through the expanding claims of the colonial state. In India, this idea of sovereignty of the state meant of course that other states could not interfere with its internal process of political decision-making. Sociologically, however, the more problematic element was the establishment of sovereignty over the ‘lower’ institutions in society…In the West, this process of crucial subordination of all other temporal authority to the rule of the modern state was accomplished by the struggles of absolutism against feudal authority. India experienced nothing comparable to that decisive historical process. Given the architecture of social institutions, the descriptions ‘high’ and ‘low’ became misleading in the Indian context. The state could not, by explicit legislation, reorder the structure of castes, the arrangement simultaneously of production and ritual status; thus its authority, though despotic in one sense, was not absolute. But after initial resistance during the colonial period, society resigned itself, in large measure, to the new relationship between the state and other social organisations, to its sovereignty, its right to legislate changes in the fundamental productive and distributive order…As a consequence, all types of social exchanges which happened earlier in the non0state realms, have now to be mediated through the apparatuses of the state.” And (311) so social groups have to deal with this state and they do so “by deploying their available repertoire of social actions and identifications”

311-“The constitutional system in India therefore was…inconsistent with the self-understanding of social groups. The national state simply assumed that citizens would act as liberal individuals, but failed to set in motion a cultural process which could provide the great masses of people the means of acquiring such self-understanding.” And new identities were formed, eg “intermediate castes” and modern “Hinduism” ((312) which was “proposed originally by nationalists” to counter Christian evangelism); and these groups enables these people “to propose the establishment of large coalitions” though, at least for Hinduism, some have to make concessions to get this unity

313-But the reason communalism didn’t appear until 40 years after Independence was because “ordinary people” had to grasp “the great significance of numbers in electoral politics.”, Lower level “politicians had no direct access to the knowledge of Western parliamentary styles of governance, they simply translated these unfamiliar, and in any case abstract, principles into terms more comprehensible to rural India. Since the sixties, Indian politics has seen a massive alteration in style, language, modes of behaviour, reflecting far more the actual cultural understandings of rural Indian society rather than the Westernist cultivation of the elite which inherited power in the Nehru years…[which] not merely failed to create conditions for a common sense in Indian politics,…its neglect of cultural (314) institutions like primary education contributed to a further division between a Westernist English-using social aristocracy and a disadvantaged vernacular culture condemned to backwardness and self-deprecation.”

314-“Ironically, the material benefits of modernity were gathered in so exclusively by the inhabitants of the English circles of discourse that it gave rise to two wholly understandable reactions in the rest of society. First, of course, it set off a great movement of emulation, through the enormous extension of English medium schools. But the number of those who couldn’t benefit from these changes was bound to be quite small, and that merely added to the intense resentment of others. Since the benefits of development were so unequally and unjustly distributed, it prepared ground for two types of political discontent—an economic critique of class and an indigenist critique of modernist cultural privilege. The second kind of resentment, naturally, has predominantly found cultural expression through regionalist and communal politics, through the politics of Hindi and Hinduism.”, The secular intelligentsia has abdicated “the vernacular discourse,…[it has shown] excessive reliance on the state and its increasingly less accountable bureaucracy, and their withdrawal from the dialogic stance of conversation into a more arrogant attitude of peremptory command has created a situation in which forces of Hindu majoritariansim can claim the dignity of cultural self-assertion against a dispensation in which individuals are penalised for speaking their mother tongue or evincing interest in their own culture.”, this has “only accentuated this association of modernity with exclusivism”

315-However, “Quite obviously, communal politics suffers from an acute indetermination of the ends and the means: Is capturing of government a means of building the Rama temple, or is the slogan of the temple the means to securing victories in elections?” and there are frictions within the groups over this, because, as some see it, once a new temple is constructed the movement will lose its vigor/purpose and so urged to have more of an influence on the government, and some therefore sought alliances with the government and modernity

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