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What Lies Ahead?

Hiranmay Karlekar

Edited by Mushirul Hasan
Imprint One, New Delhi, India, 2004, pp. 309, Rs. 800.00


There have been several collections of papers and essays on secularism, communalism and communal riots in India ever since the demolition of the Babri Mosque on December 6, 1992—all of them, understandably, expressing concern over the fate of India’s tolerant, multicultural and plural society. The one under review, edited by an eminent scholar and with an impressive list of contributors, is no exception. The editor, Professor Mushirul Hasan, sets the tone for the discourse when he says in his perceptive and thought-provoking introduction, “The liberal consensus that saw postcolonial India emerge as the only secular and democratic State in the subcontinent is now under threat. Religious minorities feel vulnerable in the wake of the widespread—and allegedly state-backed—communal violence in Gujarat in 2002 and the continuing campaign against Christian missionaries. They fear that their constitutionally guaranteed rights will be gradually eroded, and they will be reduced to second-class citizens for all practical purposes. Are these fears genuine? What is the actual condition of the minorities under secular dispensations? In this book, some of India’s leading academics and commentators discuss the issues that are likely to determine the future of secular India” (p.17).   In her paper ‘On Equal Conditions: Constitutions as Protectors of the Vulnerable’, Martha C. Nussbaum writes, “The future of secularism in India hangs in the balance. The next national election may determine whether India will continue to understand itself as a pluralist nation, committed to equal respect and religious liberty for all religious communities, or whether it will take the turn that so many nations have taken before it, toward a hierarchy of groups, a definition of the state in terms of the majority religion, and consequent barriers to the civic equality of minorities” (p.23).   If books can create atmosphere, then this one creates a very sombre one as one contributor after another discusses particular aspects of India’s life and society that have shaped the country’s approach to secularism and tries to analyse the roots of the challenges that are now confronting the latter and ways of defending it. “Secularism”, says Neera Chandhoke, “has to be cast in a new mode; it has to be located theoretically and practically in the principle of democratic equality. It has to be seen as both, a logical outcome of the principle of democratic equality and as legitimized by the principle of democratic equality…..even if a government or ...

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