Alternative Indias: Writing, Nation and Communalism

Alternative Indias: Writing, Nation and Communalism

Alternative Indias: Writing, Nation and Communalism

Alternative Indias: Writing, Nation and Communalism

Synopsis

The debate over whether religious or secular identities provide the most viable model for a wider national identity has been a continuous feature of Indian politics from the late nineteenth century to the present day. Moreover, in the last thirty years the increasingly communal articulation of popular politics and the gradual rise of a constellation of Hindu nationalist parties headed by the BJP has increased the urgency of this debate. While Indian writing in English has fostered a long tradition of political dissent, and has repeatedly questioned ethnocentric, culturally exclusive forms of political identification, few critics have considered how this literature engages directly with communalism, or charted the literary-political response to key events such as the Babri Masjid / Ramjanmabhumi affair and the recent growth of popular forms of Hindu nationalism.

Excerpt

Whether or not there has ever been a single civilisation that could
call itself ‘Indian’, whether or not India was, is or ever will become a
cohesive cultural entity, depends on the differences and similarities
in the cultures of the people who have inhabited the sub-continent
for centuries […] So is India Indian? It’s a tough question. Let’s just
say we’re an ancient people learning to live in a recent nation.

In October 1992, the Vishva Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) announced that construction would start in December on a temple to the God Ram at what is considered his birthplace, Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, northern India. the only obstacle to this plan was the existence of a sixteenth-century mosque on the site, a building protected by an order of the Supreme Court of India. Nevertheless, on the 6th of December, scores of Hindu militants surged past a security cordon and began reducing the mosque to a pile of rubble. the demolition of the Babri Masjid caused protest demonstrations, a ‘victory’ parade by Hindu nationalists, and widespread communal violence that lasted well into the following January. Almost ten years later, in the spring of 2002, a train full of Hindu pilgrims was attacked at Godhra in Gujarat in circumstances that have never been fully ex-

Arundhati Roy, The Algebra of Infinite Justice (London, HarperCollins, 2002): 25–26.

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