Community & Identities: Contemporary Discourses On Culture & Politics In India
he editor’s Introduction on the context of the book, in particular the factors that brought the question of communities and identities into the social science research agenda, is followed by eleven essays.
The remaining three essays in Part I deal with conceptual questions of community and identity by Carol Upadhya; Sasheej Hegde; and Ravinder Kaur. Upadhya’s essay takes the reader through communities in the Indian sociological tradition; construction of community; and culture and the politics of academic knowledge. As community has historically been the basis of Indian society it is commonsense, unless one extends it to community malignancies as in the case of Hindutva, which if extended would be bizarre. In contrast, new identities need discourse. Upadhya has done this well. The book is then not so much on the catchall communities, as on identities of their constituents. The dynamics and dialectics of Indian society and politics are deeply embedded in the emergence, formulation, and reformulation of these identities with or without communities.
Sasheej Hegde’s essay takes the reader through sections with weird titles such as Questions upon Questions, Nodal Coilings, Global Forays, A Place of Refuge, and Oscillations/ Departures. The essay is more of a rehash (or critique, if one may wish) of Partha Chatterjee’s works. Its basic flaw is excessive verbal jugglery, which only diminished the returns.
Kaur’s pursuit of the historical dimensions of the career of the concept of community takes the reader through: the loss and recovery of community; the nation-state, civil society and community; community as a symbolic construct; community and identity: ways of representing community; and rituals and community. The chapter rightly concludes with the arguments that the idea of community as representing characteristics of society that are perceived to be disappearing, hence signalling a `loss of community’, or equally, the opposite, perceiving ethnic resurgence as signalling the rejuvenation of community, may not be the salient issue; and for an understanding and analysis that focus on the complexity and its fluid character.
The four essays in Part II are by Javeed Alam; D. Parthasarathy; A.R. Vasavi; and Sujata Patel. Though the argument that the formation of middle classes among the Dalit and Backward Castes during the post-independence period only facilitated the process of consolidation of community is partly true, it is difficult to figure out the direct relevance of Alam’s essay. Alam’s understanding of the oppressed castes, which also include the oppressors of the oppressed, namely the OBCs, is also flawed.
Parthasarathy’s essay on the little known Kapunadu movement, covering the emergence of Kapu identity; and caste, community and identity choice among the Kapus conveys an important message that castes are no longer talked about in the framework of hierarchy but are being conceptualised and mobilised on communitarian terms. Though well documented, it is not without shortcomings, especially in the light of the difficulty the colonial administration faced in extricating one Kapu sect from the other for its patronage.
Vasavi’s reference to the crisis of ecology (and suicides by farmers in some pockets of the Green Revolution) is well made. But her case studies of Lingayats, Nadars, and the emergence of farmers as a community are flawed and lack substance.
Based on empirical data collected between 1988-89 on the Baliapal movement, Sujata Patel claims that modern political processes provide the playground (in a country where most schools have no playgrounds!) for the construction of community identities. Stating that she started the essay by surveying recent subaltern and post-structuralist literature on communities, she unwittingly admits that it can beargued that this case should not be used to debate with this perspective. And that is like Winston Churchill's 'riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma'.
The two essays in Part III are by Aparna Rayaprol, and by Satish Deshpande. Though Rayaprol’s essay is important in the context of Indian Diaspora, whether it is directly relevant to the book is a moot issue.
Deshpande’s essay is important, especially in the context of the impact of globalisation, which has altered the spatial conditions of possibility for all kinds of communities, including especially cultural communities.
The two essays in Part IV are by Rowena Robinson, and by Anupama Roy. In some sense, the crux of the whole book is in Robinson’s observations: When we talk of communal and community identity, we need to ask ourselves at what levels we are talking: are we speaking of internal understandings of community identity, the ways in which other communities look at a particular group, or the ways in which the state or political authorities define and label groups within a particular territory? Context, in other words, defines the way in which community boundaries get drawn.
Anupama Roy’s argument that Notions of multiculturalism and minority rights are frequently invoked for the empowerment of cultural communities whereby the latter can lay claims to inherent rights and negotiate better terms of reference to the national culture, is well made.
As this book is important, its editor and the authors need to be complimented. However, one could have certainly asked for more, say, what of the pre-1980 social movements, communal and social identities, why the book does not have much of the promised discourses on culture and politics in India , and so on. But one has to limit somewhere.