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

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A ‘Democratic’ Test

Tolerance, Secularization and Democratic Politics in South Asia edited by Humeira Iqtidar and Tanika Sarkar, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018; pp ix + 216, £75 (hardcover).


This volume of essays edited by Humeira Iqtidar and Tanika Sarkar is compiled with the perspective of looking at tolerance, secularisation and democratic politics in South Asia as a whole. There has been an impressive outpouring of writing on secularism in India, which tends to remain confined within the borders of the country and the most immediate stimulus for which has been the rise of right-wing Hindutva nationalism. This volume helps us appreciate how secular and democratic politics has wider ramifications and spillover effects across the various countries of South Asia. In the larger regional architecture of South Asia, India with its sheer size plays a pivotal and perhaps to the chagrin of smaller neighbours, a dominant role. India’s combination of a Hindu majority, with a constitutional and political commitment to secularism that is in turn combined with a larger civilisational appeal to tolerance, seems to act like a centripetal force to the smaller and slightly more outlying states that represent in varying combinations some of the elements that may not predominate in India, but which certainly constitute the civilisational ethos claimed by it.

Thus, there is the question of Islam on the basis of which Pakistan split from India in 1947, with its eastern and western wings splitting again, to create a new nation, Bangladesh in 1971. There is the question of Sri Lanka with the predominance of its Buddhist–Sinhalese population that again marks it off from India. Then there is the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal to the north, with its Hindu majority, yet with a politics that is again so markedly different from India. Four separate chapters in this volume capture this aspect of South Asia with Jonathan Spencer writing on Sri Lanka, Samia Huq on Bangladesh, Sara Shneiderman on Nepal and Sadia Saeed on Pakistan.

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Updated On : 12th Jul, 2019
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