AAS Annual Meeting

South Asia Session 652

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Session 652: Democracy and Nation Building in South Asia: Re-Discovering Cultural Continuity

Organizer: Mohanan B. Pillai, Pondicherry University, India

Discussant: Krishnamurthy Balasubramanian, Pondicherry University, India

The new century is charecterised by the unquestioned acceptance of the western liberal democratic values and its institutions across the world. Even though ‘democracy’ is vexed with a modern capitalist productive system and a liberal political structure, it is basically a culture which gives importance to the peaceful coexistence of different people and communities. In every cultural stratum, the basic thread is cooperation rather than confrontation. South Asia is the cradle of many religions and ethnic groups. Historically, the culture prevailed in the region is more cooperational and coexistential. The Sufi-Bhakti traditions in the region had a profound impact on developing and sustaining a composite culture. However, in the present socio-political scenario, South Asia is a ‘burning site’ of religious fanaticism and caste wars. The question how such a tragic situation emerged in the continent is required to be analyzed historically. The multi-ethnic, multi religious and multi-linguistic composition of South Asia and its contact with the western modernity brought out many complexities and interestingly, within this framework democracy is successfully adapted in certain countries and in certain other countries the struggles for democracy is still going on. In the post colonial era the ruling classes of the independent countries like India and Pakistan manipulated issues like the Kashmir. Needless to say Kashmir is one of the sites of a composite culture. Sufism had great influence in the valley. Indeed, the cultural roots of the region recalibrate the possibilities of democracy and nation building in South Asia.

Pakistan, Democracy and Myth of Sisyphus
Premashekhara Lingaiah, Pondicherry University, India

Pakistan has been moving back and forth on democratic path and it has been the fate of its people to roll the democratic boulder uphill and helplessly watch it rolls back just like the mythical Sisyphus and to repeat this at least thrice so far in their six decade long history as independent nation. The reasons for this Sisyphean futility are rooted in the history of the land. The repeated Mongol invasions into north-western India during medieval period resulted in these territories coming under effective control of successive Muslim rulers that facilitated large scale religious conversion under state patronage. North-western India’s socio-religious features changed permanently with it adopting Islam and most of the social values it stood for, and the rest of the country remaining predominantly Hindu and Buddhist both in religious and societal sense. The people of this land were caught between liberal South Asia and orthodox West Asia, swayed for centuries between Sufi liberalism and Sunni orthodoxy and continuously struggled in vain for evolving a modus Vivendi among these two uncompromising values. The schism which hitherto was limited to socio-religious arena spilt over into political arena too when this land was forced by a few myopic leaders to evolve a common set of political values in August 1947. This paper highlights the relevance of liberal Sufi tradition in leading Pakistan successfully on the path of democracy by drawing examples from India where liberal Hindu and Buddhist values proved to be decisive in the success of democratic experience.

A Cherished Past in an Uncertain Future: Studying Sufi and Bhakti Traditions in South Asia
Kashshaf Ghani, Calcutta University, India

South Asia’s Islamic traditions encompass an enormous range of thought, practice and performance. This variety of traditions become more discernable and dynamic when seen in the light of sects, linguistic communities and social classes with which the Islamic community of South Asia interacted for centuries now. They confronted, yet cohabited; shared their beliefs, yet upheld their individual traditions; and went on to establish a model that has shaped the rich cultural tapestry of the region. What is most surprising is the fact that such a feat was achieved not by the dominant social classes of Islam and Hinduism, but by two communities who were by all means a peripheral entity in their respective religions – the Sufis and Bhakti saints. In an age where the upper echelons of the society were out to impose their hidebound traditions, these two communities dared to look beyond the stereotypes of religion, breeding intolerance and hatred. And through their commonality of beliefs, amidst a seemingly diverse tradition, they build up, what we call in the parlance of modern nation states, an idea of the secular. The seeds of this tradition, which the subcontinent holds on to even after severe wounds of partition and communal strife, were laid through the interchange of ideas between these two communities of saints. They looked towards uniformity of beliefs and possibilities of peaceful cohabitation among two very diverse religious communities, thereby paving the way for a stable socio-political order. This paper does not engage in retelling a history of Sufi-Bhakti saints. Rather, it situates the ideological beliefs of Sufism and Bhakti in the broader context of India’s multiculturalism. In exploring the eclectic trends of the subcontinent the paper attempts at inverting the optic of standard hegemonic histories to explore the possibility of a constitutive from within the lesser heard voices of society.

The Terrorism and the Coup D’état in Bangladesh: The Case Study Approach of The Bangladesh Rifles Revolt in 2009
Naonori Kusakabe, Osaka University, Japan

On 25-26 February 2009, the regular BDR soldiers revolted against the senior officials, killing most of the high officials of BDR (about 57 Army officers who served in BDR), including the Dhaka BDR Sector Commander Colonel Mujib and the Director General of BDR, Major General Shakil Ahmed. This paper will be present the details of this incident, and intensively show the socio-anthropological analysis of it from the trend of recent terrorism in Bangladesh and the history of the coup d’état. This incident has restored mutiny and violent deaths to the centre of political discourse after many years. The role of institutions like the army and its auxiliaries like the BDR has returned in full force, making everyone anxious. On the other hand, some politicians of Awami league like Commerce Minister Faruk Khan and researchers have indicated that the Islamic armed groups had involved to this incident because of several facts which works in favor of them. It does not yet know whether this incident was the pure protest activities with the military power which was able to see in the history of the coup d’état, or it was one of the terrorism by the Islamic armed group using BDR. Anyway the revolt shows the political instability and flagging society in recent Bangladesh. The research work have done by my observation on the Bangladesh after the revolt, literature study as well as the interviews to the politician, military personnel, government officials and Intellectuals.

Democracy, Ethnic Conflict and Nation-Building in Sri Lanka
Siri Hettige, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has figured prominently in the world media in recent decades as one of the most violent countries in the region. This is in spite of the fact that it remained a vibrant democratic state for several decades after independence after independence in 1948. Today, its democratic credentials are in serous doubt, both nationally and internationally. This is due to the nature of political developments over the last three decades and these developments are closely connected with the long standing ethnic conflict in the country. As for the conflict, it is largely a reflection of the failure of the state to integrate its competing population groups within a plural democratic framework of government. This in turn is the result of serious public policy failures that prevented competing constituencies to have seemingly equal life chances in a rapidly changing society.