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Secular Sectarianism

Secular Sectarianism
Limits of Subaltern Politics

First Edition
Edited by:
  • Ajay Gudavarthy - Associate Professor, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.

December 2019 | 336 pages | SAGE India

Secularism is a tenet that is fundamental to Indian democracy and enshrined in the Constitution. However, its practice has been severely hampered in recent times largely due to the secular sectarianism pursued by secular, democratic and progressive political formations. This implies the tendency of specific secular political movements to act as if their agenda are exclusively important. Secular sectarianism has gradually polarized communities and advanced a woefully limited political imagination, leading to the proliferation of conflicts between various marginalized groups—Dalits, tribals, OBCs, Muslims, women and the Left. Secular Sectarianism: Limits of Subaltern Politics includes several accounts of such conflicts, opening up a new area of study for further conceptualization.

This book emphasizes that citizenship in practice is expressed through the right to speak for others and not just for oneself. Progress can be made only by opening up dialogues within and across political communities. This is essential for India’s survival as a secular and democratic nation. Progressive politics needs to move towards affinity and an idea of shared spaces.


Introduction: Prolegomenon to a Critical Theory of Secular Sectarianism
Part I - Casting Sectarianism, Engendering Secularism
Thirumal P. and Dickens Leonard
Incommensurable Sacral–Secular Sectarianism? Rohith-Movement and the Emergence of the Inappropriable
Suratha Kumar Malik
Intra-Subaltern Conflict: Dalit–Tribal Conflict in Odisha
Tarushikha Sarvesh
Interrelations of Gender, Caste, Religion and State: Women's Centrality as Counter to Secular Sectarianism
Part II - Limits of Minority-ism
Samir Gandesha
Ghar Wapsi or Reconversion?
Afroz Alam
Understanding the Analytics of Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and Pasmanda Frame
Mursed Alam and Seema Ahmed
Resisting Minoritization: Postcolonial Muslim Politics and Indian Democracy
Shadab Arab
Rethinking Minority Politics in India
Nathalene Reynolds
The Forgotten of the Conflict in Indian Jammu and Kashmir: On the Exile of the Pandit Minority
Part III - Left and Its Fragments
Anindya Sekhar Purakayastha, Manas Dutta and Tirthankar Ghosh
Governance as Practice and Politics as Intersectionality: Socializing Governance, Localizing Theories
Dhritiman Chakrabarty
What Is Left for Left in West Bengal? The New Left and the World of the Third
Ajay Gudavarthy and Nissim Mannathukaren
Afterword: Politics of Secular Sectarianism

Challenging political correctness, Secular Sectarianism shows that subalterns are partly responsible for their conditions because of their inner divisions and their sheer ignorance of the very principles they claim to promote, including equality and secularism. This powerful and very original argument is made on the basis of a series of well-chosen case studies ranging from caste groups to tribes and religious minorities.

Christophe Jaffrelot,
Senior Research Fellow, CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, Paris; Professor, Indian Politics and Sociology King’s India Institute, London; Non-resident Scholar, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

This is an original and compelling investigation into the fraught question of ‘intra-subaltern’ conflict. Moving beyond the theoretical and political complacencies of elite domination and subaltern resistance paradigms, the authors in this timely volume offer an impressive range of finely crafted, empirically rich studies of the sociology of conflict and the unpredictable dynamics of minority political agency. The volume engages audience across disciplines and reaches well beyond area studies to engage fundamental questions of political and social theory.

Srirupa Roy,
Professor and Chair, State and Democracy Centre for Modern Indian Studies, University of Göttingen, Germany; Director, International Centre of Advanced Studies ‘Metamorphoses of the Political’ (ICAS:MP)

Around the world, academics use the language of elites and the subaltern. In Secular Sectarianism: Limits of Subaltern Politics, Ajay Gudavarthy has assembled a group of scholars to show how this binary fails to capture the messy reality of Indian politics. There is not one solid class on top and one solid class below in India. Rather, Dalits, Muslims, women, OBCs and Left-Brahmins often fight with each other, while right-wing forces have gained the support of elites within subaltern social groups. The book is an essential read for those who wish to understand contemporary Indian politics and how the Right (Hindutva, the Bharatiya Janata Party, Prime Minister Modi) is triumphing over the Left (Congress Party, Communist Party). More than that, the book poses a challenge for Left activists and scholars around the world: How is it possible to form political coalitions that are internally diverse but still work together to fight economic and cultural oppression?

Nicholas Tampio
Professor, Political Science Fordham University, New York City, USA; Author of Kantian Courage (2012), Deleuze’s Political Vision (2015), Common Core (2018) and Learning versus the Common Core (2019)

“The book helps understand contemporary Indian politics... (and) lays emphasis on expressing citizenship through the right to speak for others and not just for oneself. Progress can be made only by opening up dialogues within and across political communities. This is essential for India’s survival as a secular and democratic nation.”

The Tribune, 7 June 2020

“The book touches upon a very important theme and offers crucial insights on secularism, sectarianism and identity politics in contemporary India… a valuable contribution to social sciences and related disciplines.”

Society and Culture in South Asia, Vol. 7 Issue 1

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