ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Politics of Secular Sectarianism

The rise of right-wing politics in India is built on the fragmented nature of the struggles waged by the oppressed who constitute the vast majority of the population: "lower" castes, adivasis, working classes and peasants, women, religious minorities, etc. Countering right-wing political imagination would mean a dismantling of caste-, class-, gender- and religion-based oppressions. This cannot happen without forging a commonality among the oppressed which is at once non-patronising as well as self-critical.

A shorter version of this article appeared in The Hindu.

Political imagination in India has come to a standstill, aiding and abetting the construction of a homogenised cultural and political sphere. The roots of this exist not merely in the right-wing political imagination of a Hindu rashtra but also in the secular sectarianism pursued by secular, democratic and progressive political formations. Secular sectarianism of the feminists, dalits, the Left and religious minorities has, over a period, ghettoised communities and advanced a sectarian political imagination, leading to a political dead-end that they now find difficult to negotiate with. Cumulatively, they all seem to have contributed to a shrinking political imagination that has in turn handsomely contributed to the rise of right-wing politics.

Feminist politics in India was silenced after the Shah Bano Case with right-wing forces demanding a uniform civil code. As a result, it was unable to negotiate the competing demands between women’s rights and that of religious minorities. It is puzzling why it did not proceed along the lines of equating gendered practices in all religions. For instance, whether the Hadith or the Manusmriti or the Bible, all consider women to be impure during the menstrual cycle, along with many other similar sanctioned practices that place women as less than equal to men. In fact, it was Ambedkar who argued that it is only dalits and women who face untouchability due to religious sanctions.

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