Contesting the Nation: Religion, Community, and the Politics of Democracy in India

Contesting the Nation: Religion, Community, and the Politics of Democracy in India

Contesting the Nation: Religion, Community, and the Politics of Democracy in India

Contesting the Nation: Religion, Community, and the Politics of Democracy in India

Synopsis

Today, powerful political forces seek to make the Indian state Hindu. Their rising influence since 1980 has occurred during a period of radical change in Indian society and politics, and has been accomplished by electoral means as well as by organized violence. The 1996 elections will be a major test of their power and of the influence of Hindu majoritarianism among the Indian electorate.

Animated by a sense of urgency that was heightened by the massive violence following the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, Contesting the Nation explores Hindu majoritarian politics over the last century and its dramatic reformulation during the decline of the Congress Party in the 1980s. Twelve prominent scholars from India, Europe, and the United States provide perspectives from the fields of political science, religious studies, ethnomusicology, history, art history, and anthropology, comparing trends in India with ethnic, religious, and cultural movements in other parts of the world.

Excerpt

Holy men declared Sunday, December 6, 1992, auspicious, and more than 300,000 people gathered that day in Ayodhya, a pilgrimage town north of Varanasi (Benares), in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). Most wore the saffron color of Hindu nationalism. At midday, a vanguard among them broke down police barricades around a mosque called the Babri Masjid, built in 1528 by Mir Baqi, under the authority of Babar, the first Mughal emperor of India. Cheering men swarmed the domes of the old mosque and in five hours they hammered and axed it to the ground. Video cameras hummed. Eyewitnesses took notes for news reports around the world. Hindu leaders, who had mobilized for this event since 1984, watched with satisfaction, for they and their followers believe that god Rama (or Ram) was born here and that the temple marking Rama's birthplace was destroyed to build this mosque (masjid). The construction of a new Rama temple (mandir) was begun that evening, amid the rubble of the Babri Masjid. Government officials looked on ineffectually. Violence triggered by the demolition killed 1,700 people and injured 5,500 across the subcontinent over the next four months.

Supporters justify the action at Ayodhya as the liberation of a Hindu sacred space to unify the Indian nation. Critics call it violence against Muslims; they decry such communalism -- the antagonistic mobilization of one religious community against another -- as an attack on Indian civil society. In this volume, we explore the mobilizations, genealogies, and interpretations of communal conflict that locate this one very emotional and symbolic day in the struggles that are underway to redefine India politically. We see Ayodhya as a window on a world of conflict that developed in-

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