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Nuances Of Citizenship-in-Practice

Asma Rasheed

By Taylor C. Sherman
2015, Cambridge University Press, Delhi, 2015. pp. 200, Rs. 440

VOLUME XL NUMBER 10 October 2016

Taylor Sherman’s book marks an important intervention in con-temporary debates over citizenship, belonging, democracy and nationalism. Today, it would be difficult to deny the differential access/exercise of citizenship rights, based on the social, cultural, communitarian, economic or political capital groups or individuals are able to leverage. It is also acknowledged that the formal regime of universal citizenship deftly masks systemic inequalities. Sherman teases out these nuances of citizenship-in-practice in Hyderabad, immediately after the invasion of 1948, to examine the different interpretations of belonging that shaped contemporary understandings of being Muslim and being Indian. Sherman argues in her ‘Introduction’ that it is the affective practices of belonging and the performative aspects of identity, rather than patriotic sentiments generated by terms such as nationalism that allow for a range of relationships between the people and the government of a territory. Citizenship, more than a legal status, is also a set of practices informed by the idea of belonging to a space. In the context of post-1948 Hyderabad, such an understanding opened out ‘zones’ of values, norms and practices as ‘lived experiences’ (p. 15) wherein secularism and democracy acquired specific contextual meanings, dependent on competing understandings of democratic governance. It allowed, in other words, for a negotiation of belonging. The paradox of early ‘postcolonial Muslim politics,’ as the author lays it out, was that on the one hand Muslims experienced discrimination in various fields of official policy as Muslims. On the other hand, they could not—within the norms of a secular democratic India—organize politically as Muslims to counter this discrimination. It led to what Sherman terms a ‘collective sense of vulnerability’; demands made upon the State were framed with a diffidence—an ‘abject citizenship’—which was a product of this ‘anxious’ state of belonging. The book meticulously tracks the different ways in which Muslims from erstwhile Hyderabad State staked these claims to belonging in ‘secular India,’ and the negotiations over such claims, over the next five chapters. Chapter two explores the construction of Hyderabad’s Muslim minority in governmental thinking which allowed administrators to turn a blind eye to large-scale violence against Muslims as well as block rehabilitation measures. Wealthy landlords and poorer agricultural workers, middle-class government servants and struggling businessmen, struggling artisans as well as people who identified as Arab, Afghan or Pashtun were all brought under an undifferentiated term, ‘Muslim minority’. At the same time, anti-Muslim aggression was posited ...

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