Forging Identities: Gender, Communities, and the State

Forging Identities: Gender, Communities, and the State

Forging Identities: Gender, Communities, and the State

Forging Identities: Gender, Communities, and the State

Synopsis

This volume challenges the assumption that Muslims in India constitute a homogeneous community, with specific characteristics deriving from Islam. Instead, it locates the community within the social, economic, and political developments that have taken place in the subcontinent, pre- and post-Independence, in order to examine how exactly the delineation of minority identity takes place. The implications of this process for women are quite clear: social reality is gendered, yet women's attempts to assert their rights have been constrained by the pressures of communal politics. The domain of cultural politics, moreover, has generated ideologies that have subordinated gender equality to minority identity. Despite a surge in feminist literature, there are only a few studies that explore the link between gender and religious community or analyze the integration of women into communitarian processes. Through an examination of history, law, politics, work, and culture, this collection looks at how the construction of community identity has affected Muslim women in India, the processes by which such identities are constructed, and how the question of gender and community identity intersects with the state's discourse on equality and secularism. The contributors offer readers subtle understanding of the complex interaction of women's multiple identities with the dynamics of state policy, cultural nationalism, and identity politics.

Excerpt

Zoya Hasan

Recent writings on India have focussed on the interplay of politics and religion, largely because the country's current experience has been punctuated by inter-community conflicts, the escalation of religio-revivalism, and a heightening of communal consciousness. The demolition of the Babri masjid at Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 as well as the widespread communal violence that followed highlighted the potential of using religious symbols to forge communal solidarities. At the same time, it brought to light the connection between Hinduism and the Indian nation, on the one hand, and between the minorities and the State, on the other. The intensification of communalism culminating in the happenings at Ayodhya, raises further questions about the role of the State and government in coping with contentious religious issues, the future of secular values and institutions, and the place of minorities within the parameters laid down by India's Constitution.

The close interaction of politics and religion in India today is not unique, it parallels similar trends in many different parts of the world. The past decade has witnessed a far reaching decline in the commitment to secularism, to equal opportunities for all, and to social welfare benefits for the underprivileged and disadvantaged. These values formed part of a broad package—secularism, democracy, social justice—that facilitated modernisation in the second half of the twentieth century in India and many other parts of the world. These values and concerns, embodied in the post-colonial agenda of social transformation, have almost everywhere suffered a reversal. Contemporary politics is characterised by a preoccupation with community identities, religious traditions, cultural practices and chauvinist ideologies and move-

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