Penn Calendar Penn A-Z School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania

Contested Cartography and Sovereignty

in partnership with South Asia Center and the Penn History Department

Shail Mayaram
Honorary Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi
Thursday, March 25, 2021 - 10:00
A Virtual CASI Book Talk via Zoom — 10:00am EDT | 7:30pm IST

(English captions & Hindi subtitles available)

About the Lecture:

Professor Mayaram draws upon her forthcoming book, The Secret Life of Another Indian Nationalism: Transitions from the Pax Britannica to the Pax Americana (Cambridge University Press, 2021) to demonstrate how Punyabhumi has defined for a over a century the contours of exclusivist Indian nationalism seeking to exclude persons who adhere to the Abrahamic and some other faiths that have their sacred sites outside the subcontinent. As Jews, Christians, and Muslims, they are regarded as “strangers” legislating thereby an un-belonging to the nation. It is then a short step to the Constitution Amendment Act (CAA) legislation that disenfranchises Muslims as citizens of India. Needless to say, the concept of Punyabhumi also has an Inclusivist dimension leveling all castes as Hindus who belong to the Indian nation, even offering the “right to return” to Hindus in the three Muslim majority nations of South Asia. In contrast, Madatbhumi, as a civilizational concept, implicitly views both Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic saints, spirits, and heroes as belonging to the subcontinent. Underlying it is a metaphysics of care, a conception of shared sovereignty between political and cosmic authority in which the divine crafts a loving, caring universe, enabling life and the alleviation of social suffering.

About the Author:

Shail Mayaram is an Honorary Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, where she has formerly been a Professor, and Co-Director of the International Center for Advanced Study (ICAS-MP), 2019-20. Her prior publications include Against History, Against State: Counterperspectives from the Margins (2003); Resisting Regimes: Myth, Memory and the Shaping of a Muslim Identity (2016, 2nd edition); Israel as the Gift of the Arabs: Letters from Tel Aviv (2015); coauthored, Creating a Nationality: The Ramjanmabhumi Movement and the Fear of Self (1995). Edited books include The Other Global City (2009), Philosophy as Saṃvāda and Svarāj: Dialogical Meditations on Daya Krishna and Ramchandra Gandhi (2013), Modernity, its Pathologies and Reenchantments (2020) and Subaltern Studies: Muslims, Dalits and the Fabrications of History (coedited, 2007). She has worked on subaltern pasts and moral imaginations of peasant, pastoral, and forest-based communities, cosmopolitanism and the city, and is interested in Indic and Islamic knowledge traditions. Her current research is on Non/Political Islam and Heresy, Martyrdom, and the Sacred City.


Tariq Thachil:

Here at the University of Pennsylvania, I am Tariq Thachil the Director of CASI and I'm delighted to be able to welcome Professor Shail Mayaram in partnership with the South Asia Center and the Penn History Department to give today's talk.

And Professor Mayaram as many of you know, is an honorary fellow at the Center for the Study of Developing Societies, CSDS in Delhi and has been formerly a professor at CSDS, a fellow at the Institute of Development Studies in Jaipur and Co-Director of the International Center for Advanced Studies. Broadly, she has worked on subaltern pasts and moral imaginations of peasant, pastoral and forest-based communities, cosmopolitanism and the city and is interested in Indic and Islamic knowledge traditions. Her wonderful 2003 book: Against History, Against State: Counter Perspectives from the Margins, sought to reassess conventional South Asian historiography from the male community in North West India. Drawing on a decade of intensive research, exploring the community through their oral tradition which wields sophisticated molds of collective memory and self-governance that it withstood the succession of brutally oppressive regimes. She's written prolifically other titles including: Resisting Regimes: Myth, Memory and the Shaping of a Muslim Identity and a co-authored book: Creating a Nationality: The Ramjanmabhumi Movement and Fear of the Self.

She's also co-edited a number of volumes including Muslims, Dalits, and the Fabrications of History, which examines how the dominant histories of the Indian subcontinent have been constructed and how they deal with the subjects of muslims and Dalits. Today in her talk professor Mayaram will draw upon a forthcoming book: The Secret Life of Another Indian Nationalism: Transitions from the Pax Britannica to the Pax Americana which is going to be published I believe this year by Cambridge University press. As the title indicates it's going to build on long sanding themes in her work but also offers a timely analysis of the roots of Indian nationalisms.

And so professor mayaram we are delighted to have at CASI and thank you for joining us. We look forward to your talk and for everyone who is joining us who doesn't come regularly, prof maraym will speak for about 30 minutes and then we'll open it up for Q&A. Please put your question to me, Tarq Thachil in the chat box and I will call on you to ask your question directly. Thank you very much and prof mayaram please take us away.

Shail Mayaram:

Okay. Well. It's good evening here I guess its good morning for many of you folks. All my books seem to be decadal projects, so Against History, Against State. It took many years and this particular its taken me about 20 years. Some of the maps, biographies I won't talk about them in this talk because this is generally to give you a bird's-eye view of the book and its argument as a whole. So the talk as you know is titled Punyabhumi and Madatbhumi: Mapping the Conceptual Cartography of Indian Nationalisms. Now I'm going to come to the conceptual cartography at the very end, but I'll lay the groundwork first.

Now let me say I'm truly happy to give this talk and I wish this could have been one of eye contact with all of you as it really is a wonderful encounter with an audience that spurs spontaneous thought. And in many cases, especially the days with audio and video off, it actually becomes a time for many in the audience to catch up with other things and thee mood or flavor gets lost.

So nonetheless, I'm delighted to present some vignettes from the book. This is the first book in the CUP series on the Metamorphosis of the Political and I'm currently trying to finish the truths and so it should be out fairly soon. All spirits and saints, pirs and jinns willing. Yeah, not God willing spirits and saint, pirs and jinns and I'll spell out why that invocation.

So let me present 10 propositions regarding the metamorphosis of the political in the long 20th century. Now this long 20th century, for me at least, this volume begins somewhere in the mid 90s and continues with the millennial transition. The first proposition I present is that the metamorphosis of the political in the long 20th century is defined by the twin forces of nationalism and democracy. They are sometimes mutually supportive. As in some anti-colonial nationalisms but at other times they can be quite antithetical and as we know from post colonial democracies, that are turning majoritarian and authoritarian, populist and plutocratic. Hence, the contemporary crisis of many liberal democracies whose future, which once looked like a shining beacon for many in the third world now appears to be one which is somewhat dark and despondent both in terms of their present and their future.

The second proposition is that Indian nationalism, as one reviews the last century or so, can be seen in terms of an antagonistic dance as it were, between exclusivist nationalism and inclusivist nationalism. And then I'm making your analytical distinctions speaking off ideal types as it were. And making an argument that there are two lineages of Indian nationalism also two conceptual languages, historical trajectories, two political cultures and strategies of translation and also two different ideas of India. Now much of this has been current in a lot of the discussion but I'll tell you the ways in which I formulate this genealogy.

to make the situation more complex, we need to remember exclusivist nationalism is also inclusivist. Typically, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh founded by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar in 1925, was inspired by Savarkar, as we know and embodies exclusivist nationalism and was once identified as urban, upper caste and upper class, was also re-shaped institutionally and ideologically by Madhukar Dattatraya Deoras or Balasaheb Deoras as he's called and also his successors. This was done to incorporate also the rural lower castes and classes and Dalits, and also many nationalist, at least some nationalist, Muslims and Christians.

Now both strands also co-existed within the Indian National Congress. That as we know incubated the Hindu Mahasabha led by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and Balakrishna Shivram Moonje who took over from the Mahasabha's early leaders Madan Mohan Malaviya and Lala Lajpat Rai. Now typically Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi we know about [inaudible 00:08:21], Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Frontier Gandhi as also [inaudible 00:08:26], Jawaharlal Nehru and [inaudible 00:08:31] fashioned an inclusivist nationalism and in many, many shades. Of course the commitment to inclusion varied greatly. Nehru and Patel became [inaudible 00:08:46] of partitions as we know. Eventually Mahatma Gandhi who had said "partition over my dead" conceded to partition to the deep disappointment of both Azad and Frontier Gandhi.

My third proposition is now about the rise and fall of nationalisms. The [inaudible 00:09:07] signals a turning point as inclusivist nationalism becomes recessive in the Indian polity and exclusivist nationalism becomes dominant to the extent that it is the most important social movement as we see with the Ramjanmabhumi Movement the Shila Pujan and so on.

Now let me flag two recent discussions regarding transitions and raptures in terms of Hindutva. The first is by my colleague, Abhay Dubey, who has a wonderful book on Hindutva, on the RSS and also edits a journal, which is one of the best journals in the social sciences in Hindi, and its not just because I'm on its advisory board, but has also bought out the issue the of pratima of the journal titled Badalta Hua Sangh Parivaar. And Abhay is making argument that there have been many, many transitions within the RSS and actually it is not the same organization. Hindutva undergoes a series of transformations. Now the second argument is about new Hindutva and this is going to be another book in the CUP series on the Metamorphoses of the Political its edited by Srirupa Roy and Tom Hansen, and this book argues that there's whole new Hindutva as you know after the title and Moditva, or this new Hindutva is a completely new brand its completely different from the old Hindutva and so on.

Now it is true that in terms of the ruling ideology as we see it's shaped since 2014 and the 2019 elections. There is a phenomenal acceptance of authoritarianism and [inaudible 00:11:41] of communalism as never been before compared preceding regimes and this is an argument that [inaudible 00:11:48] has most recently made in a couple of terms. Now granted that there are transitions such as from Savarkar to Golwalkar. Savarkar is quite the atheist whilst Golwalkar is most certainly a believer. Again up to [inaudible 00:12:12] and again if you look at [inaudible 00:12:16] Regime with its primacy given to [inaudible 00:12:22], [inaudible 00:12:20] the whole anti-conversion legislation, the push towards a certain ideological bent in education textbooks and so on and so forth.

But let me go back to mapping what I see are epic encounters. Now there's certainly an epic encounter between Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Nathuram Godse on 31 January 1948 which represent the epitome of this clash of ideologies of two nationalisms. But there's an earlier encounter which is actually incredibly epic in its proportions which is in 1909, the first meeting of Gandhi with Savarkar when Savarkar's students had invited Gandhi for a discussion of the Ramayana on the occasion of Dussehra, the festival of [inaudible 00:13:31] commemorating Ram's victory over Ravana and each of them interprets the figure of Ram very differently. For Gandhi Ram represents ethical sacrifice for Savarkar, Ram is the epitome of the warrior epic who will violently eliminate evil for the cause of the future nation.

In making this argument of the context of an argument made by [inaudible 00:14:04] who referenced to the holocaust as a modern epic and with reference also to [inaudible 00:14:11] who refers to partition as its South Asian counterpart. And then presenting the case that as epic is this encounter between Gandhi and Savarkar because we're still living with the fallout of that particular encounter. So there's this Gandhi-Savarkar dialogue in London, or the absence of it, you could say Savarkar castigates Gandhi on four counts.

The first is of course vegetarianism, how can vegetarians ever win the battle against to the English? You have to be non-vegetarian to win against them. He's against of course non-violence, that he sees as weakening rather than empowering India and destroying any vision of an Indian future. Savarkar also sees in Gandhi a complete lack of political thought. The fact that he has no understanding of thinkers such as Mazzini which have helped from the Italian nation State. And fourthly, he castigates him for his lack of appreciation for history, take for example the way Savarkar reads the Gita (the Bhagavad Gita) as history, whereas for Gandhi it is a treatise on ethical thought. Of course Savarkar himself changes.

In that whole chapter on Savarkar in my book, the early Savarkar who sees the revolt of 1857 which is made possible really by Hindus and Muslims fighting together side by side and you list the number of muslims heroes and heroins who fight against the British. And then the later Savarkar who after his return from this incarceration in the cellular jail in the Andamans and after his apology to empire and his Essentials of Hindutva a book in which the Muslims become the enemy rather than the English so it's a complete turn over.

My fourth proposition is that exclusivist nationalism is defined by two major fields: that of history and that of religion. And these in turn shape also the terrain of exclusivity nationalism. And in terms of history and I'm referring to popular history rather than professional history. And religion really comes, in a sense what you have articulated is the modern idea of religion and the modern idea of religion has several components. There is the idea of singular belonging you can belong only to one religion, [inaudible 00:17:38]. Conversion is the phenomemon of exit and entry so you exit a religion and you turn to conversion and of course this signifies boundary making and there is the role of clash conflict violence and war such as the war on terror, the whole phobia and media hype, typically Islamophobia.

Now let me come to my fifth proposition which is that exclusivist nationalism dates not the early 20th century as is often taught to Savarkar's Essentials of Hindutva. If you look at [inaudible 00:18:22] on these arguments on nationalism, he makes an argument about dating it to Savarkar's Essentials of Hindutva, he also makes an argument dating it to [inaudible 00:18:38] his novel [inaudible 00:18:41]. My argument is that it dates not to the early 20th century but to the early 19th century and one needs to seek its genealogy in language and literature. History and language are there but language and literature are terrifically important.

Savarkar's Essentials of Hindutvar is part of the story particularly since history becomes hugely important but [inaudible 00:19:11] go back to James Tod's Annals and Antiquities of Rajast'han, which is published a virtual century earlier. Now this was a text that was published in 1829 and 1830 and absolutely galvanized Indian nationalism beginning with Bengal. There's a Bengal version of Annals and Antiquities published somewhere around 1850 and it sets aflame Bengal poets, play wrights, novelists and historians. And there is another chapter discussing [inaudible 00:19:46] Then there's the plays of [inaudible 00:20:03],[inaudible 00:20:04] famous collection of children's stories called [inaudible 00:20:09]. I don't know if as children you read this collection of stories, it's also available in English. But there's also a scene from his story on [inaudible 00:20:23], in which at the very beginning of the story there's this thirsty goddess who appears [inaudible 00:20:35], the clan goddess of Chittoor and she is not satisfied by the blood of 8000 [inaudible 00:20:42] kin of the [inaudible 00:20:43] and she demands the sacrifice of the blood of 12 princes. So this is the kind of literature and there's of course also the historian writer, adminsitrator [inaudible 00:20:59].

Now there are three figures that James Tod's work makes iconic and three historical encounters. One is that of [inaudible 00:21:16] with [inaudible 00:21:17] talking about 12th century, of [inaudible 00:21:23] with [inaudible 00:21:27] then her sacrificial death made popular most recently by the whole debate and the controversy around the [inaudible 00:21:37] that's in the 14th century and then 16th century you have [inaudible 00:21:43] and his encounter with the [00:21:46] Army and of course [inaudible 00:21:49] and the bloody Battle of Haldighati. So these are three figures that really set aflame literary works and in my book I look at not only [inaudible 00:22:10] but also Hindi and Rajasthani, three languages but one could do this for other languages as well Odia and so on and so forth.

So let me come to my sixth point which is that Indian modernity witnesses not a clash of civilizations but of categories. And Punyabhumi and Savarkar of course, uses Indian language categories [inaudible 00:22:41] and one could seemingly taken by these vernacular concepts. But Punyabhumi is really signifies the modern idea of religion which has come to us as you know from Europe so [inaudible 00:22:59] is defined not by [inaudible 00:23:02] conception of Hinduism but by the idea that there are pilgrimage sites and people make pilgrimages. So that Muslims and Jews and Christians whose sites of pilgrimage are in Jerusalem or Rome or Mecca, Medina and so on. They are really rendered strangers and indeed non-citizens, if one goes by the most recent debate on the Constitution Amendment Bill that gives the right to return to Hindus from Pakistan and Bangladesh and disenfranchises those who might have inhabited the land called India for centuries but do not have adequate documents. So any number this has happened in Assam and elsewhere and the fears especially around the CEAR that huge numbers would become disenfranchised.

Now let me turn to another area, that I introduce you to what I see are [inaudible 00:24:45] of modernity. So this is the larger landscape of colonial modernity, post-colonial and so on. And let me introduce this community because my book is a culmination of, I used the methods of both history and ethnography. The specific community are a people called the Mer that's M-E-R, who once inhabited a forest in the central [inaudible 00:25:14] in central Rajasthan. This was around the area of [inaudible 00:25:23] which had been directly ruled by the Mongols and it was also directly kept by the British under them, and was colonized by James Tod and the David Ochterlony with the East India company effectively acting as a sovereign power.

So the entire forest that this community inhabited was cut down and they became both victims of conquest but also of orientalized histories and categories. So of course the whole colonial discourse is to suggest they are a 'criminal tribe' and so should be 'domesticated' [inaudible 00:26:09] and agriculture should be introduced and there should be a colonial militia. Now this is typical, you have to [inaudible 00:26:20] so this is parallel. In addition, they are considered by James Tod as the descendants of the last Hindu Emperor.this is James Todd term, Prithviraj is the last Hindu Emperor and we know [inaudible 00:26:37] wonderful book on Prithviraj. We also know about the way in which Narendra Modi's electoral victory has been described as the reversal of 800 years Hindu slavery.

Now this particular community of the Mer, is today consists of three sections. There's a group that is called [inaudible 00:27:10] which colonial ethnographers referred to as "hardly Hindu". In addition, there are the [inaudible 00:27:16] and the [inaudible 00:27:17] Muslims who actually for a century also, over a century actually, were Muslim in only three respects: in that their practices included Khatna, [inaudible 00:27:37], or halal. Khatna- circumcision, [inaudible 00:27:42] and eating of halal meat. Other than that, they worshiped the same gods and goddesses. Other rites and so on are shared. Figures like Ramdev. Ramdev is a major deity for them so on.

Now [inaudible 00:28:03] from the 1870s becomes a terrain of phenomenal amount of inter religious violence, of wars even. You have the Roman Catholic missionaries, you had the Church of North India, the Methodists come then the Arya Samaj comes, then there's subsequently of course, the cutting down of the forest. There's a major livelihood crisis and increasing recurrence of famines. Famines, such as the famine of 1899, becomes a major battle between catholic missionaries and the Arya Samaj. Who's going to own the orphans of the famine? So this in a sense what I termed in the book as "a historical ethnography of marginalization and impoverishment".

Now what you have in the present, in the 1980s, the [inaudible 00:29:04] launched its largest reconversion [inaudible 00:29:10] campaign. In India the biggest campaign was in this area as it sought to convert the [inaudible 00:29:20] and the [inaudible 00:29:20] and Hinduize them. Effectively, a conversion ritual involved, they were shown the Prithviraj film, they were told the Prithviraj comic. Amar Chitra Katha comic was in circulation. They were told [inaudible 00:29:39], " you are the descendants of Prithviraj" and look at how Ghori treated Prithviraj, he gored his eyes, as violent as that, and that essentially you are Hindu. And social reform for them has meant they should give up their Muslim practices and return to the fold. So give up circumcision and give up [inaudible 00:30:15] and of course then you have the pork test. So you prove that you have become Hindu by eating non-halal or [inaudible 00:30:28] meat. So let me come to two propositions which remain. Yeah, another five minutes, Tariq is that okay?

Tariq Thachil:

Yes, that's fine.

Shail Mayaram:

[crosstalk 00:30:42] So let me now make the point about contested categories, and Madatbhumi. I want to make the argument, and this is my proposition, is the civilizational concept which implicitly views Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic saints, spirits and heroes as belonging to the subcontinent. They belong because they help alleviate pain and suffering for huge numbers of Indians. And underlying this is a metaphysics of care, a conception of shared sovereignty in which political authority derives its legitimacy from cosmic authority and in which the divine crafts of a loving caring universe which enables life, living together and the alleviation of suffering and even happiness.

So let me spell out how Madatbhumi works and this is through really medical pluralism, healing practices, suggesting how the human world and spirit world are intertwined and Jeffrey Kripal refers to this as the "paranormal". And I really became conscious of this when I worked on three healers. There was the case of Jameela, she was a Mera Muslim woman and she was the [inaudible 00:32:20], the shaman if you will, of a goddess called [inaudible 00:32:26]. She was unfortunately killed by her in-laws and after that some kind of dowry debt and after that her brother took over her practice.

Now I have one major chapter on another healer called Sushila. Now Sushila is interesting, Jameela was a Muslim woman and shaman of a goddess. Sushila is a Hindu woman and she gets possessed by [inaudible 00:32:58] who is a [inaudible 00:33:00] every [inaudible 00:33:02], every Thursday and she's become a major healer in the area and she works and the shrine attracts a large number of people, Hindus and Muslims et cetera who come to her to get their spirit exorcized and for other kinds of suffering. And there's also [inaudible 00:33:22] who works with her who is Muslim, and her own husband they have a whole business of being [inaudible 00:33:30]. Now, there's another healer in the area [inaudible 00:33:37] who is a Muslim and to my surprise I met him in pre-mobile times and he got a mobile and I called him. When I called him he didn't pick up then he called me back. And he greeted me [inaudible 00:33:57] You know I was really taken aback because this is a kind of something [inaudible 00:34:04] very Hindu shrine here's [inaudible 00:34:07] who's a Mera Muslim and he's the [inaudible 00:34:16] shaman of this goddess shrine.

So spirits here in the area are ranged from benevolent to malevolent jinns but there also cigarette smoking pirs and then Pir Baba who protects Sushila. She was initially beaten up by her alcoholic husband and now cures affliction range of affliction at the Pir Baba shrine.

So let me just conclude by just making two or three statements. One is the importance of considering the relationship between colonialism, vernacular Orientalism and nationalism. I am making a distinction between the Orientalism of the classical languages and the Orientalism in the vernacular. And these to my mind continue to be major sources of the self. So all transitions and raptures and shifts not withstanding their large continuities and in particular the distinction between Hindutva and Hinduism and so on. It is true that in [inaudible 00:35:36] times with Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi who had cynical views of secularism. They did fault on the protection of individual rights but with this new regime now, liberal and secular have become words of abuse and nationalism becomes a certificate from sovereign power rather than an inscription of the self. So thank you and I look forward to questions.

Tariq Thachil:

Thanks very much, we already have a couple of questions in the queue, so let me ask Ramiya to ask the first question because I know she has to leave to teach. So Ramiya do you want to ask your question?


Thanks Tariq. Hi Professor Mayaram, it's a pleasure to meet you in person. If only-

Shail Mayaram:

Yes I read your book!


Thank you. I want to go back to one of your earlier propositions on history and religion as defined as providing the ground on which to define this exclusivist nationalism and you said by history you meant not academic history, but popular history and then you also went on to think about ideational definitions of religion and the question I originally had, was to ask you to say a little more about why you're thinking about popular history as history rather than as memory and what are the stakes involved there? And why you're thinking about religion in the ideational terms that the Hindu right would like us to think about it rather than in terms of the much more heterogeneous, less easily assimilated traditions of practice that you've been working on the [inaudible 00:37:46] for so long and its precisely those predictions of practice that don't fit. So just inviting you to say a little more about both of those.

Shail Mayaram:

Yeah. Thanks Ramiya and let me say I learnt a lot from your book-


Thank you.

Shail Mayaram:

And [inaudible 00:38:08] I continue to work, I have another piece which is in the pipeline on [inaudible 00:38:15]. So now let me say first in response to why do I use popular history, I think that we need to make several distinctions between professional history, popular history, public history. That's a third one. And this is part of the larger discussion. At ICAS I'm coordinator for module on History as a Political Category.

And the question is what happens when history becomes politicized? So it's clearly, and you can see very clearly, and as [inaudible 00:38:56] once reminded me, in Europe professional history was the big domain, in India also. Last century we've had the shaping of the professional history but there's a huge, huge, huge domain outside professional history and many people who have written about it, [inaudible 00:39:23] has also begun to. And I think it's, you see I don't want to use the term 'memory' for this. Memory is intertwined. Professional history is also working with memory right? So memory takes many shapes and forms and so on. But I would say, but memory is something I associate more with community self-representation.

For me, individual memory, family and memory, community and memory, clan memory! This is very significant. What communities think and they're all modes of representation, oral traditions, genealogies, there's a whole range. Now the particular popular history that this book is really quite clearly shaped by Hindutva. So for instance [inaudible 00:40:37] look at the play between the [inaudible 00:40:39] and the Hindutva history. If you look at just the comics the [inaudible 00:40:49] comics.

I went recently, this is my third or fourth visit to [inaudible 00:40:58] to the Fort area. I don't know if you've seen it but [inaudible 00:41:03] also makes a reference to that whole theme park where what you have is really the using the Prithviraj Raso as history and this is a project which was approved by the UIT, the Urban Improvement Trust, it was actually approved by [inaudible 00:41:26] senior who's considered to be part of the old regime of Hindutva not part of the new Hindutva but she's been associated with [inaudible 00:41:38] and so on [inaudible 00:41:42]. But even she was in for this whole packaging of this project where the Prithviraj Raso which is a literary text, an imaginative text and a wonderful poetry text if you look at now how things work.

This is represented as a historical representation of a 12th century encounter. Which is not, we know it's not the case, the Raso is completely different, I mean there's Farsi in the Prithviraj Raso.

Okay, so popular history has really become, I mean look at the theme park being developed [inaudible 00:42:27] from this historical [inaudible 00:42:32]. Now, my ideation definitions of religion I absolutely am. I think its the modern idea of religion which is actually ideational. I am actually coming from a different direction and for me practice is what is very important. Therefore, I push for the idea of multiple belonging and the importance of recognizing, ethnographically, multiple belonging but also pushing for its recognition at a policy level. Our census ought to allow multiple belonging. I could be Hindu and Sufi, why not? Or you could be something else? Okay, so yeah.


Thank you.

Tariq Thachil:

Thank you. Okay, the next question Suvir. Suvir, do you want to ask your question?


I'll be glad to. Thank you for the talk Shail. I'm going to ask a question that actually riffs off Ramiya's but using a slightly different vocabulary.For literary critics like myself, and I know this is the case for your work also, folktales in particular and we can categorize that in a variety of ways, we can think about the operations of popular memory the way stories are retold. We also recognize that those kinds of stories often include multiple points of view, often contradictory which represents the kind historical and cultural milieu of which [inaudible 00:44:16]. Your example of the Farsi in the Prithviraj Raso is a particularly good one and we expect that to be the case with almost all popular narratives except for the kinds of political reasons you have identified.

Institutions either render particular versions of them in print so they circulate and redefine the complexity and [inaudible 00:44:44] of the original story into a more singular point of view. So it seems to me, part of what you're describing to us, at least I understand my job as a literary critic, to keep reminding people about the inherent complexity of those kinds of narratives till they are narrowed down by State sponsored interventions. And that I think to be your project too.

So if that is the case, I'm wondering why you want to keep alive, what Ramiya pointed to, this distinction between something called popular history and official history? Official history, for better or for worse, is a taming of popular histories both from the Professor's point of view, which is the kind of thing that you do and I hope I do, but also from the partisan institutional point of view.

Shail Mayaram:

Yeah, thanks for that because it gives me a chance to clarify. Suvir, two of my books that Tariq mentioned: Resisting Regimes and Against State, Against History, for the purpose of material is what you call "folk"-



Shail Mayaram:

Is oral tradition of the Mers, okay [crosstalk 00:46:03]. Now the Mer did not have this kind of oral tradition so they are really a forest-based community and we do not have the kind of, the story tellers to the extent that the Mers are one grand warrior community right?. Their vision is of themselves as competitors of [inaudible 00:46:32] and the Mongol Empire. The Mer are much more marginalized in terms of numbers and so on. So they are far greater victims of colonialism, okay? So as a result, what is happening that there's folktales. Stories, even their genealogies, are permitted far more width for instance the James Tod kind of memory, Okay? That Prithviraj was our ancestor and so on. Of course they forget the other part of the story which is that Prithviraj is supposed to have turned out one meaner wife. That whole memory is also sanitized, okay?

I have worked with them now for 20 years. There's a lot of folk memory which is saturated actually by orientalist and nationalist memory and increasingly as the [inaudible 00:47:53] became particularly active more and more on their pamphlets, their publication would be designed. And I showed that to the individual biographies I tracked really over and the shift in people's sense of self.

Now let me say that in terms of history, I would make a distinction between popular and official. I would like to hold on to that distinction. Popular history of course, popular religion is also one major area that I look at. So popular history you have ideological history, right? There's also people's narratives which are, as you've pointed out extremely complex. There's also the official kind of story which is coming from the State, whether it's the State of Rajasthan, the City of Ajmer, the nation State of India and so on and so forth. So there's a whole complexity and I want to therefore hold onto this distinction because it's become hugely, hugely important in terms of the politics of the last 20 years, but its also been there much earlier. You look at [inaudible 00:49:36] and look at his work on [inaudible 00:49:40] and look into his work on [inaudible 00:49:44] and then you realize how important this fashioning of popular history is.

There's an argument that is made about Savarkar, that for Savarkar geography is more important than history, but no that's not my reading of The Essentials of Hindutva. I think history is hugely important and you have the fashioning of popular history in Savarkar's Essentials of Hindutva. And if we let go of this attempt to understand hermeneutically texts such as these we will really not understand what is happening in India today.

Tariq Thachil:

Okay. We have just a few minutes left. We have a couple of questions that I think actually might be helpful if we take both questions and then you respond to whatever you'd like. So the first question is from Debjani, Debjani go ahead.


Thanks Tariq. Thanks for this really, really rich and analytical and concise talk, I really enjoyed it. My question is about geography in some ways, it's not about history and I'm thinking so okay, in some ways Punyabhumi gets territorialized at a certain point and becomes a side for boundary making and you can see that's happening and at what point is that happening and why is Madatbhumi, or is Madatbhumi not territorialized? What is the geographical imagination of Madatbhumi? Is it completely different and what is the space then of geography? This is really rich, thank you so much.

Shail Mayaram:

Thank you so much [crosstalk 00:51:18]. That's a nice fine question.[crosstalk 00:51:21].

Tariq Thachil:

Sorry Shail, I'll just add to that one more analytical question and then you can respond to one, both or either. Which is a question I had, which is that you referenced or hinted at the idea that Punyabhumi also has an inclusivist dimension, right? To the degree that it's trying to think about leveling a caste or at least uniting across caste boundaries and this has been a part of the larger [inaudible 00:51:49] project that Hindu nationalism has had to contend with and I think that part to me was a little bit less clear in the talk which is where is that, I can think of [inaudible 00:52:01] even if you think of it as mobilizational tool as having a very inclusivist aspect to it. But I wasn't quite clear of where in your in your understanding the conceptualization of Punyabhumi, and what it has to offer to our understanding to this long standing and long articulated tension between excluvisist boundary making project and an inclusionary kind of cross-caste leveling project. So yeah, just that as well.

Shail Mayaram:

Okay. So Tariq let me begin with your question. A whole question for Hindutva is who belongs to India? The nation that is India. The argument I'm making about exclusive nationalism is a different argument, I'm making from the argument regarding Punyabhumi. Though they're related. So exclusive nationalism get defined by the idea of Punyabhumi because people of the Abrahamic faiths do not have their major sites, right? And with Madatbhumi you can identify major signs of helpfulness, yeah? Territorialized helpfulness, that is how you will translate Madatbhumi, right?

So you have Imam Hussain comes to you from very often Iraq. He travels thousands of miles to come to a place such as Ratlam. He comes to this village near Ajmer. Ratlam is the major shrine of Pir Baba and [inaudible 00:53:56] has a wonderful [inaudible 00:53:59]on Imam Hussain and his shrine in Ratlam. So this is subsidiary shrine to the Ratlam shrine, right? but obviously this is also a place of pilgrimage. The [inaudible 00:54:18] of [inaudible 00:54:22] this is considered to be the most important pilgrimage for Muslims of the subcontinent. He's called [inaudible 00:54:34] the benefactor of the poor. He's actually also called in Persian text [inaudible 00:54:43]. The Prophet in India or the Prophet of India. So just think of that wonderful [inaudible 00:54:55], the idea that prophets can emerge in different times and different places. And so you had one such prophet who came from Afghanistan to India and based in India and if you go to the [inaudible 00:55:16] even in Covid times, I was there for this year's oaths. They were not 800 000 people but 400 000 were nonetheless there.

The poor Muslims really who come to seek redress for their suffering, and apart from the oaths, most times the dominant number are actually non-Muslims. So you can see how Madatbhumi then and, you have The Madonna and the various churches. There's a church in my vicinity in Khan Market. Where people go [inaudible 00:55:53] and they offer all kinds of [inaudible 00:55:56] and all kinds of heretic rituals to the Madonna who is in the form of a goddess.

Now, exclusivist nationalism also being inclusivis, Savarkar was against caste and that's how a lot argument for Savarkar being secular is about that. [inaudible 00:56:24] also said that and he of course got into a whole lot of trouble but I'm [inaudible 00:56:30] was also an upholder of Savarkar. So Savarkar has this side, and he attended a lot of marriages which were between people of different castes, supported inter-caste marriage and so on. So I don't think he would have stood for any of this nonsense about [inaudible 00:56:56]. So long as you proclaimed your Hindu nationalism I think Savarkar would have been quite okay with it, Muslims and Christians same but we are primarily worshipers of the nation.

Okay, Debjani, to your very interesting question about geography. Now you can look at geography also in different ways. There's a geography which is positivist and so on and you can think of all other kinds of geographies. So metaphysical geographies and in a sense Punyabhumi is also about that, the imaginative. The idea that for instance the oath commemorates the saint's marriage to God. Death is his marriage with God and so the oaths commemorates that particular marriage and that's why the celebration. And that's why in Ajmer a lot of the ritual which is associated with marriage. A lot of the songs were our wedding song also. So death is not an occasion to mourn, but death is an occasion to celebrate and to sing songs about union, [inaudible 00:58:33].

The merger with the divine and Madatbhumiis really about this, my language is limited and I can only think of this as a larger cosmic landscape and others have written about it. [inaudible 00:58:55] work where she talks about although I'm also critical of [inaudible 00:59:03] work, I don't agree with the idea of agonistic intimacy. I think the agonistic intimacy is very much there but there's also, this is where living together gets fashioned.

For instance in Sushila's healing place, there was on one occasion a guy called Raju, the balloon seller [inaudible 00:59:29]. And Raju's wife was afflicted by spirits and there was this Muslim guy who helped Raju around and explained to him all the ritual and so on what had to be done and took him home in the evening because he had nowhere to go. And that's where he lived and also to promote his livelihood of ballon selling, he took them to local fares and so on. So the ways in which the shrine also fosters friendship, fosters care, the saint and the healer as a healing presence and they felt that they belong, you see? A deeper argument about belonging than Punyabhumi which renders people alien and strangers and is about unbelonging. Yeah?

Tariq Thachil:

Okay. We're a few minutes over time and we got started a little late but we do have a few questions left but I'm afraid we're going to have to leave it there as we're at time. So just join me in thanking Professor Mayaram for giving us such a wide ranging and stimulating talk. We look forward to seeing the book out in print and thank you again for joining us and thanks everyone.

Please note our next talk will be in two weeks, two Thursdays from now. So hope to see you at that time and the talk will be Decolonizing Caste and Rethinking Social Inequality in South Asia with Professor [inaudible 01:01:04] so thank you and see you in a couple of weeks.

Shail Mayaram:

I am happy to respond to questions on email, yeah? Okay thanks everybody.[crosstalk 01:01:14]

Tariq Thachil:

Thank you.

Shail Mayaram:

Thank you, Tariq.

Tariq Thachil:

Thank you.