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Going Beyond Easy Answers: Essentialisms May Exist But Need Not Kill?


Vasanthi Srinivasan

LIVING TOGETHER SEPARATELY: CULTURAL INDIA IN HISTORY AND POLITICS
Edited by Mushirul Hasan and Asim Roy
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 427, Rs. 750.00

BLENDED BOUNDARIES: CASTE, CLASS AND SHIFTING FACES OF HINDUNESS IN A NORTH INDIAN CITY
By Kathinka Froystad
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 304, Rs. 595.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 7 July 2005

Living Together Separately is a collection of articles largely dealing with syncretistic and hybrid Muslim identities constructed in a diverse range of popular sites and sources. Following an introduction that lays out the importance of recovering Indic civilizational tolerance in battling communal forces, Asim Roy proceeds to deal with the inner divergences of Indian Islam between a high textual tradition and little popular traditions. He complains that historians like Francis Robinson have been prone to subsume, if not dismiss popular Islam as incomplete, deviant, anomalous with the result that the historicity of popular traditions is left unexplained. Urging a revisionist perspective grounded in social anthropology, he points out that elements of little traditions have often been incorporated rather than rejected by the Muslim literati as evident in the works of Saiyad Sultan’s Nabi-bamsha (p. 49). Syncretistic Islam, with its intrinsic flexibility and dynamism has been influential among large sections of Indian Muslims and must be given due recognition.   Peter van der Veer cautions against easy views that romanticize one phase of history over another or one strand of tradition over another and recalls the tangled roots of syncretism as evident in the Ghazi Miyan shrine in Bahraich which deals with violence and conversion. Reiterating the modern roots of ‘invented traditions’ (of Ram Rajya or Islamic state), he argues that they imply a rejection of current political formations rather than a political or civil theology. At the same time, these invented traditions must be studied in terms of their interaction and conflict with a number of living traditions which deal with state and violence (p. 69). Situating the conversion issue, he traces the coexistence of hegemony and coercion in Muslim, Christian as well as Hindu expansion over time.   Arguing that historical examples and evidence cannot themselves lead to living together as equals, Gurpreet Mahajan clarifies the difference between civilizational pluralisms embodied in the Ottoman Empire or Mughal India and the multiculturalisms forged in contemporary liberal democracies. While the former addressed communities and affirmed hierarchical ordering, the latter address individuals and stress equality. Contrary to Veer who is skeptical of modern liberalism, she affirms that the liberal principle of non-discrimination must be the basis of accommodating cultural diversity and group rights.   Annie Montaut examines grassroot multilingualism and the “extraordinary resilience of language maintenance in diasporic situations all over India.” One reason for this is the pattern of language use which allows a multilingual ...


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