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Minority Stakes in Secularism

Sohail Hashmi

By Raphael Susewind
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 169, Rs. 550.00


Reviewing the writing of someone who is known to you, someone with whom you have had long meetings and discussions and in whom you have found a kindred spirit is not always an easy task. In situations like this a reviewer, no matter how honest s/he tries to be to her/himself and to the task at hand, the possibility of a certain level of subjectivity creeping in cannot be ruled out. I was therefore not very keen to take up Raphael’s book for review. However, I succumbed to the temptation of having my say regardless of its worth because the title of the book was tantalizingly challenging.   Years ago when I used to work as a whole-time worker of the CPI (M) in Shah-jahanabad, we worked from a small place in Matia Mahal that belonged to a Professor of Political Science in Delhi University. He had given it free to the Party and we could be there as long as he had no need for the place. Rizwan Qureshi, the Professor’s young nephew became a regular visitor to the office— these were the days of the build-up to the Anti Babri Masjid Agitation and issues of mobilization and how to fight it were constantly discussed in the office as also in our street corner meetings. One day the Professor’s young nephew said to me, ‘Bhai Sohail, Muslims have no options, they have to be secular, if they want to survive.’ I do not know if he understood fully the import of what he had said, I do not know if I understand the full import of this statement even today, but it has stayed with me through the last 22 years and it suddenly popped up the moment I received Raphael’s book and has stayed with me as I have read through the, at times simple and easy to grasp and at times rather involved, text. The text becomes dense when the author begins to explain his methodology or the rigorous mathematical and sociological models he has used to analyse the responses gleaned from his interactions with the ‘peace workers’ and the information thrown up through his questionnaires.   The statement made by Rizwan Qureshi underlined something very basic; the minority’s stake in secularism is existential. And this is true whether in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar or anywhere else. A theocratic, non-secular, non-liberal, ...

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