As on a darkling plain: Searching out the critique of Hindu ethnicism in modern India
Reddy, Deepa Sankaran
Marcus, George E.
Doctor of Philosophy
Critics and analysts of religious politics in India have described Hindu nationalism variously over the years: as fascist, fundamentalist, right-wing, jingoist, extremist, and ethnicist. The already large corpus of writing on the ideology and activities of the Hindu nationalists continues still to describe the serious threat of communal thinking to the secular/liberal character of the modern Indian state. What is missing from this discourse, however, is an interrogation of the very concepts on which both critiques of communal politics and defenses of secular-liberalism are based. What does it mean to understand 'fundamentalism' as the cultural 'other' of such liberal virtues as secularism and tolerance? What are the implications of constituting ethnicist movements not merely as obstacles, but as threats to the project of modernity? This dissertation examines first the dominant phraseology of such Indian intellectual critiques, arguing that narratives of ethnicism and extremism are created not only from within, by ethno-nationalist ideologues, but also from without, paradoxically by the very liberal discourses that describe communal threats to secular modernity. Second, by tracing the evolution of feminist activism in Hyderabad, I trace also the processes by which liberal discourses of difference and diversity come to structure activist praxis, making ethnicity the dominant descriptor of social reality, and instituting a 'culture of ethnicism' that implicates both activist-intellectual and ethnicist. Working thus within the frameworks of secular liberalism, and bound by a pre-constituted opposition to political expressions of religiosity, the Indian activist/intellectual community does not have the tools by which to understand the phenomenon of Hindu ethnicism. Finally, this dissertation suggests that Hindu religious ethnicism needs to be seen essentially as a challenge to the prevailing secular order that separates religious belief from the modern, the rational, the scientific, regarding it (at worst) as a pre-modern affliction, or (at best) as an individual, private expression of identity. Hindu ethnicist belief represents a rationality unto itself, I argue: a (religious) critique of the liberal logic of secularism; a religious ideology of tolerance and governance; a rationality of and for modernity that we can afford to ignore only at our own ultimate peril.