ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Secularism and Religious Violence in Hinduism and Islam

This article underlines the need to move beyond the exhausted notion of all religions preaching peace to studying the specific manner in which violence is legitimised in each religion. This is the first step liberal secularists need to take if they plan to mount a successful challenge to the dominance of the Hindu right.

The rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the increasing assertiveness of the various branches of the Hindu right (Sangh Parivar) over the past two years has left secularists in India and abroad deeply concerned about the trajectory of Indian society and its politics. The long hoped for “de-sectarianisation” of Indian politics and society now seems as distant as it has ever been. Secularists in India and indeed around the world have tended to dismiss religious politics and especially violence as being prime examples of unscrupulous politicians exploiting sectarian divisions for their own narrow selfish interests (and at the expense of the greater good).

Furthermore, in adhering to the “bad politician” thesis, secularists tend to portray the religious traditions of Hinduism and Islam as being fundamentally pacific and advancing similar if not identical ethical positions on appropriate social and political behaviour, and above all, on violence. This attitude towards religious politics (and violence) is widely seen in the popular media as well as in the hallowed halls of academia.

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