Secularism has been the subject of much debate. Scholars have argued that recent Hindu nationalism is the symptom of a crisis of Indian secularism and have blamed this on a resurgence of religion or communalism. Shabnum Tejani argues here for a more complex and historically informed understanding. Her book is a history of how the idea of secularism emerged in India.
She shows that the study of secularism in India has been circumscribed by the opposition in which it exists with communalism. Scholars have treated these categories as reified wholes. Consequently, analyses of secularism have obscured more than they have revealed. Indian Secularism approaches this question from a wholly new perspective. Beginning in the late nineteenth century and ending with the ratification of the constitution in 1950, it examines the social, political, and intellectual genealogies of secularism and communalism.
The book examines how secularism came to be bound up with what it meant to legitimately call oneself ‘Indian’ and shows why this concept’s genealogy is so imbued with the language of religion. It argues that the emergence of the category of secularism in India had less to do with creating an ethics of tolerance than with a formulation of nationalism that provided a counterpoint to challenges posed by Muslim and Untouchable communities.
Through a detailed reconstruction of six historical moments, which include the emergence of religious movements and key constitutional debates, Tejani shows that the ideology of secularism that emerged in 1950 had its conceptual preconditions in histories of nationalism, communalism, and British colonial discourses. She also argues that the distinction between religion and caste that has characterized debates on Indian secularism is false. Rather than being distinct from community and caste, nationalism and communalism, liberalism and democracy, Indian secularism was a relational category that emerged at the nexus of all these.
This book will interest students of Indian democracy, politics, and history, as well as of political philosophy and the sociology of caste.