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Anchored in the Present


Nikhil Govind

SETTLERS, SAINTS AND SOVEREIGNS: AN ETHNOGRAPHY OF STATE FORMATION IN WESTERN INDIA
By Farhana Ibrahim
Routledge, New Delhi, 2009, pp.215, Rs.650.00

VOLUME XXXVI NUMBER 3 March 2012

The book under review discusses the important western border region of Kachchh, a region that, in a contested fashion is contiguous with all manner of local, state as well as national boundaries. Relatively little scholarship has explored this border in the present. This might be contrasted to the Punjab border, and the distended (in historical as well as scholarly terms) moment of Partition in that region. The latter's spatio-temporal frame (Punjab, 1947, violence) has dominated the thinking of state and community-formation, movement and minoritization.  Ibrahim's work thus helps move the debate beyond singular events like Partition, and locations like the Punjab, into a more persistent study of border-constitution. One of the  chief merits of the work is that though it shifts frame, location and time beyond the merely historically dramatic moments,  yet it remains sensitive to politico-historical layerings all the while maintaining anchor in the present and the recent. For example, in the chapter titled 'Pastoralists, Islam and the State', Ibrahim parses nostalgia. The past as plenty is a worn trope, but the chapter tiers the nostalgia. Loss is understood as not only a reaction to the increased scrutiny of Muslims in the present, but as the loss of a specific older, intense form of loyalty and worship at dargah circuits embedded within widely-known and shared  rich, local narrative contexts. There is a multi-generational relationship of supplicant families to pir families that keep alive the affective community of the dargah. Further, in addition to contemporary government surveillance and stereotyping, there is the surveillance and pedagogy of a more universalist, abstracted, distant, puritanical and textualist Islamization. Still further, historical research reveals that the dargahs of old were hardly the other-worldly, mystical spaces of popular culture and of an older historiography looking for uncomplicatedly validable 'good' Muslim spaces. Instead these dargahs were often resolutely political, martial and economically re-distributive, thus  collaborating and competing in various ways with the overt political order of the King/Maharao-the dargah practices too were often conservative. So the nostalgia is not accurate, and yet serves as a means to critique certain kinds of both governmental-scientific and religious institutionality in the present.  But the present relationship of state and religious order is more hazardous than the older one, because now the abstractness of a rootless, bureaucratic, Hindu-security state confronts the abstractness of a rootless, non-pastoralist, universalist Islam. Hence both systems generate a positive feedback loop of anxiety regarding loyalty. ...


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