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Beyond Binaries

Ankita Pandey

By V. Geetha & Nalini Rajan
Routledge, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 199, Rs 695.00

VOLUME XXXVII NUMBER 2-3 February/March 2013

The practice of conceptualizing the political world in binaries is fairly common. While these binaries have been useful for conceptual clarity scholars who are committed to binary conceptualizations such as modernity/tradition, religious belief/secularism, state neutrality/intervention and individual/community sometimes risk ignoring specificities of actual texts or events; they assume that patterns are produced over time fitting into mutually opposed set of ideas. V. Geetha and Nalini Rajan claim to demonstrate that these binary structures are in fact, not fundamentally opposite to one another; rather than being polar opposites these structures in fact constitute each other. The authors of the book record situated histories of the social and political world and find that the very idea of binary opposites loses its clashing character. They write, We believe that a “view from below” as far as secularism is concerned does not fit into neat categories, like the separation of religion and politics or the public and the private. Social and collective change that revolves around faith, whether critically or affirmatively, sets up traffic between the realms of conscience, public action and common good (p. 10). Within a large theme of secularism, the authors look at three specific sets of binaries that their ‘view from below’ unpacks. Section I of the book assesses the role of public action in what is considered as the separation between the policies of state neutrality and state intervention. Section II looks at the interface between equal citizenship based on individualism and differential citizenship based on the idea of fraternity. Section III of the book examines the tensed relationship of Islam with feminism. V. Geetha in her first essay titled ‘Reconstructing Social Reform as Secularism’ examines the claims, practices and activities of the Tamil Self Respect Movement to demonstrate that even though it is often understood as social reform it could well be understood as an exercise in secularism. She suggests that this may not be the western variant of secularism or republicanism but its form is not very different either. She gives an account of their practices as well as the ideas of leaders like Iyothee Thass that makes a persuasive case regarding the ideational as well as material ways in which social reform was reconstructed into secularism. It is also clear that the Self Respecters arrived at their version of the secular not via separation of powers route but a history of collective actions ...

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