Predicaments of secularism: Muslim identities and politics in Mumbai

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Abstract

Most of the debate about secularism and the secular state in India has remained at a general level, leaving a great many gaps in our knowledge of the actual meanings and practices associated with secularism in India. This article argues that secularism in India is premised on an unstable separation of a realm of politics from a supposedly unpolitical realm of culture, where communities have been represented in rather static and undifferentiated terms. Discussing ethnographic material from Muslim neighbourhoods in Mumbai the author shows how the separation between ‘pure’ culture and ‘dirty’ politics is breaking down in the face of a new political assertiveness among ordinary, low-status Muslims. This challenges the position of religious leaders and it also questions widely held assumptions of the relative coherence of the Muslim community.

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