Archive for Civil Society and Governance

Secular States, Religious Politics

Prof. Sumantra Bose’s new book, Secular States, Religious Politics (Cambridge University Press), was released recently by former Vice President, Hamid Ansari, and Prof. Rajeev Bhargava. According to Hamid Ansari, secularism as a policy to manage religious pluralism in India has declined over the years. This decline or undermining of Indian secularism is not because of the ordinary individuals/citizens of this country, but because of the compromises made by the elite secularists of this country for the fulfilment of their own interests.

 

Rajeev Bhargava provided a critical reading of the book and argued that (1) Indian secularism should not be reduced to or equated with “defence of minority rights only”. It should look into the interests of all communities equally. (2) He also pointed out that there is a conflating of communitarian with communal. While communitarian (developing a feeling of “we-ness” or identity on the basis of one’s community) is not bad, communal is (at the expense of other community). (3) Furthermore, Bhargava noted that it is therefore important that all communities understand and appreciate their own cultural heritage and principles/practices of their own religion. This will help appreciate not only their own but also other’s culture and religions.

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Pentecostalism and Politics of Conversion in India (Cambridge University Press)

Sahoo, Sarbeswar (2018) “Pentecostalism and Politics of Conversion in India,” New Delhi: Cambridge University Press.

This book studies the politics of Pentecostal conversion and anti-Christian violence in India. It asks: why has India been experiencing increasing incidents of anti-Christian violence since the 1990s? Why are the Bhil Adivasis increasingly converting to Pentecostalism? And, what are the implications of conversion for religion within indigenous communities on the one hand and broader issues of secularism, religious freedom and democratic rights on the other? Drawing on extended ethnographic fieldwork amongst the Bhils of Northern India since 2006, this book asserts that ideological incompatibility and antagonism between Christian missionaries and Hindu nationalists provide only a partial explanation for anti-Christian violence in India. It unravels the complex interactions between different actors/ agents in the production of anti-Christian violence and provides detailed ethnographic narratives on Pentecostal conversion, Hindu nationalist politics and anti-Christian violence in the largest state of India that has hitherto been dominated by upper caste Rajput Hindu(tva) ideology.

ENDORSEMENTS:

“The modern state struggles with social diversity, especially religious diversity. The problem is exacerbated by a religious majority that seeks to define citizenship in exclusively majoritarian terms. India is no exception and we are all too familiar with Hindu and Muslim conflict. Less familiar perhaps is the growth of Pentecostalism in India which is often violently rejected by Hindu nationalists, but also criticized by mainstream Christianity. This book is a remarkable study of the spread of Pentecostalism mainly among the poor among the Bhil tribes of Rajastan. This fascinating account of the complexity of conversion experiences shows how religious conversion leads to both hope and social mobility. A major contribution to both the study of modern India and to the sociology of religion” – Bryan S. Turner, Australian Catholic University.

“Few topics are as highly charged today in India as is Christian conversion. Few, at the same time, raise more complex ethical and policy questions. In this vividly written and analytically sophisticated work, Sarbeswar Sahoo provides us with a ethnographically rich account of the politics and experience of Christian conversion in contemporary northern India. The result is not only one of the finest accounts currently available on Christian conversion in India, but a major contribution to the comparative study of Christianity and conversion in our contemporary world” –  Robert W. Hefner, Boston University.

“Adopting a multifaceted approach to a complex issue, Sahoo deploys ethnographic, historical and sociological material to advance a nuanced analysis of the competing conversion projects of Hindutva activists and Christian missionaries in Rajasthan, both of whom seek to win the loyalty of economically and socially marginalised Bhil tribals through humanitarian service projects. A path-breaking contribution to the study of Indian Pentecostalism, religious conversion, and inter-religious violence, Sahoo’s even handed and deeply documented research deserves careful reading” – Eliza F. Kent, Skidmore College, New York.

“A valuable new entrant in the field of the anthropology of conversion and Christianity in India, Sarbeswar Sahoo’s study of the spread of Pentecostalism among the tribes of Rajasthan moves away from a tired material incentive approach to a multilayered exploration of the many motives and meanings of conversion among Bhils men and women. His analysis of the increasing violence converts face is finely traced through the complex relationships interlinking them with each other and their pastors, with Hindu tribals, mainstream churches, the state, and Hindu nationalist organisations engaged in their own project of Hinduization and tribal conversion” – Rowena Robinson, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay.

 

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/Pentecostalism-Politics-Conversion-India-Sarbeswar/dp/1108416128/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1533063128&sr=8-2&keywords=pentecostalism+in+India

CALL FOR ABSTRACTS: Religion and Socio-Political Violence in South Asia

25th European Conference on South Asian Studies, 24-27 July 2018, EHESS, Paris, France

Panel 41

Religion and Socio-Political Violence in South Asia

Convenors:

Frank Heidemann1, Arun Jones2, Sarbeswar Sahoo3

1University of Munich, Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology, Munich, Germany, 2Emory University, Candler School of Theology, Atlanta, Georgia, United States, 3Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, New Delhi, India

Short Panel Abstract: This panel seeks to go beyond simplistic assumptions regarding connections (or lack of connections) between religion & political violence in South Asia, and provide nuanced & sophisticated analyses of the nexus between religion, politics and social violence both in historical and contemporary cases.

Long Panel Abstract: This panel seeks to go beyond simplistic assumptions regarding connections (or lack of connections) between religion and political violence in South Asia, and provide nuanced analyses of the nexus between religion, politics and social violence both in historical and contemporary cases. Basic questions are: What is the relationship between religion, politics and violence in various times of conflict in South Asia? Is it helpful to categorize violence as either religious or political and social? Who are the different agents involved in violence, and what is their relationship with the state and with various religious institutions? How is religion used both to inspire and to counteract social and political violence? What are the subjective experiences of victimhood and how do survivors reconstruct their social world religiously, politically and socially?

Important Dates Open Close
Call for papers 01/09/2017 30/11/2017
Early registration 05/02/2018 04/05/2018
Standard registration 05/05/2018 30/06/2018

Submit Abstract: https://www.ecsas2018.org/call-for-papers/

 

 

 

Evangelising the Nation

John Thomas. 2016. Evangelising the Nation: Religion and the Formation of Naga Political Identity. New Delhi: Routledge. xvii + 223 pp. Notes, bibliography, index. `895 (hardback).

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Evangelising the Nation is an attempt to understand the role of the colonial/postcolonial state and the evangelical church in shaping the Naga nationalist political movement in northeast India. Thomas asks: How has the Naga nation come to be defined? What role has religion played in shaping the Naga nationalist imagination and political identity? And, how has the (colonial/postcolonial) state dealt/engaged with the Naga nationalist political movement? Thomas uses archival data and historical narratives to address these questions. His central argument is that the idea of the ‘Naga nation’—which began by the coming together of disparate Naga tribes to challenge increasing Christian missionary intervention—has, in fact, been hijacked by the missionaries. With support from the colonial and postcolonial state, the local church and the evangelical bodies have sidelined the indigenous Naga leaders and come to play a dominant role in defining nationhood and political identity for the Nagas.

Thomas begins the book by discussing the relationship between the Nagas and the colonial state. Like many other tribal groups in India, the Nagas also tried to stay away from valleys to evade the power of the state—in the form of taxes, kings, war and hierarchy. In the hills they were self-sufficient and politically autonomous. However, with the arrival of the colonial state, they lost their land and forests as well as their political freedom. The presence of the colonial state increasingly threatened the indigenous Naga culture and identity and as a response, they resisted British rule in the hills. It is in this context, argues Thomas, that two contradictory movements emerged—one by the British to pacify Naga resistance and incorporate them into the colonial state apparatus, and another by the Nagas to drive away the colonial authorities and reconstitute their indigenous cultural and political identity.

Though the colonial state initially undertook ‘military pacification campaigns’ (p. 19) to bring the Nagas under its direct control, it later followed the ‘civilizing mission’ project. Despite the existing official policy of ‘non-interference’ and ‘strict neutrality’ in matters of religion, at a more practical level, the colonial state supported the missionary project in the Naga hills (p. 21). With this support, the missionaries intervened in the mundane and everyday life of the local people and gradually altered their religious and cultural self by converting them to Christianity. The question is: What were the implications of conversion for the indigenous belief system? Thomas argues that the missionaries and the colonial state ridiculed the traditional cultural practices and ceremonies of the Nagas, and termed them irrational. Conversion to Christianity was carried out actively and the missionaries created a ‘city set on the hill’ (p. 4)—an exclusive spatial zone—that kept the (civilised) converts physically and socially separated from the (heathen) natives.

Following such exclusionary practices and humiliation experienced in their everyday lives, the ‘natives’ felt the need to reconstitute their cultural and political identity, which eventually took the form of a nationalist political movement to establish ‘Naga Raj’ (p. 68). However, in the postcolonial period, this movement was hijacked by the ‘Naga Club’ (p. 74)—an organisation of mission school-educated men who took a leading role in articulating the socio-political grievances of the native people. Following the prominence of the Naga Club, conversion to Christianity increased. In 1941, the percentage of Christians was 17.9 per cent; by 1961, it had increased to 51.9 per cent (p. 117). The question one may ask is: Why did the natives feel the need to convert to Christianity? According to Thomas, conversion began to be perceived as an opportunity to escape humiliation and access modernity. The local evangelists and church leaders played a major role in this effort. By the 1970s, members of the Naga Club and the local church and evangelical bodies had sidelined the indigenous Naga nationalist political movement and assumed the leadership of protecting and promoting Naga interests. In fact, the indigenous leaders were portrayed as insurgent communists with links to China, which rendered them as enemies of the state. As a consequence, the indigenous Naga movement became isolated and the local evangelists emerged to define the Naga nation and political identity. This shows how Christianity, ‘armed with universal truth claims, assumptions and agendas, invaded the existing religious and cultural landscape’ (p. 205) of the Nagas and successfully imposed on them a new notion of nationhood and identity.

Broadly, Evangelising the Nation is an excellent account of the dynamism and contradictions associated with the encounter between the indigenous Naga nationalist movement, and the colonial/postcolonial state and Christian missionaries. The book provides a revealing narrative of the politics of (Christian) conversion and its implications for the native religion and culture. The major strength of the book lies in its longue durée approach to understand church–state relations as well as the role of religion in articulating collective political identity. However, there are a few shortcomings. First, though the central argument of the book is related to religion, ethnicity, nation and nationalism, there is no theoretical section that explains how these concepts are defined and how they are situated in relation to the broader literature. Second, the book is missing a methodology section, which could have explained how the data sources were classified and used. This is particularly relevant in the context of the bibliography where similar kinds of published materials are put under both primary and secondary sources. Finally, the lack of sub-themes makes it difficult for the reader to imagine the structure of the chapters.

Notwithstanding these limitations, the book provides a comprehensive historical account of the relationship between indigenous Naga nationalism on the one hand, and the colonial/postcolonial state and evangelical Christianity on the other. Filled with historical narratives, the book is a fine piece of historical scholarship and contributes immensely to our understanding of the history of Christianity in northeast India. The book will be useful to scholars of history, anthropology and the sociology of religion.

SARBESWAR SAHOO

Indian Institute of Technology Delhi

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@ Sarbeswar Sahoo (2017) Contributions to Indian Sociology, Vol.51, No.2, pp.262-264

Civil Society in South Asia

With the “third-wave” of global democratization, many communist and authoritarian regimes were forced by civil society groups to make the transition to democratic forms of governance. Following this, civil society institutions came to be considered not only as indispensable instruments for the survival and sustenance of democracy, but also as the “hitherto missing key” to be acquired by developing countries in order to attain a Western form of political development. Aid agencies and governments of the industrialized West promoted nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other civil society organizations as the “magic bullet” that could positively address the various problems of the developing world. This view of civil society as a democratic force was further strengthened by the publication of Making Democracy Work (Putnam, et al. 1992, cited under Social Capital in South Asia). The authors argue that norms of reciprocity and the interrelated networks of trust, cooperation, and civic engagement or, in other words, the robustness of associational life (popularly referred to as social capital) influence the performance of development and democracy. Added to this, two other factors—the centralizing tendencies of the state and the failure of the state to fulfill the basic necessities of people—intensified civil society activism in South Asia. Civil society emerged as a powerful third sector outside the formal sphere of politics (state) and economy (market) and played an active role in promoting development and democracy. According to some estimates, India today has more than 2.5 million NGOs and is considered the unofficial “NGO capital of the world.” Given such dominance of NGOs, some scholars have argued that civil society in South Asia has been “NGOized”; while other scholars have argued that the NGOs have acted as agents of neoliberalism and have depoliticized the development discourse in South Asia. This is visible clearly in cases of microcredit and self-help groups. While such groups justify their activities through the language of empowerment, some scholars have shown that they use various manipulative strategies to recover loan installments from women. Several case studies also show the dark side of social capital and defy the arguments put forward by Putnam and his colleagues. In South Asia, it must be stressed that civil society is inherently pluralistic in nature; it includes both civil and uncivil elements within its domain, which may contribute either positively or negatively toward economic development, democracy, and political change.

CONTENTS:

Civil Society History, Theory, and Conceptualization

Civil Society Activism and Political Change

NGOs, Civil Society, and Development

Critique of the NGO Discourse

Marxist/Neo-Marxist Discourse

Civil Society and the Public Sphere

Social Capital in South Asia

Dark Side of Social Capital and Civil Society

Civil Society and Political Society

Gender and Civil Society

Civil Society and Development Aid

Microcredit and Self-Help Groups

Faith-Based Civil Society

Neoliberal Civil Society

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Sarbeswar Sahoo (2017) “Civil Society in South Asia,” Oxford Bibliographies Online, April 27; http://oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199756223/obo-9780199756223-0212.xml?rskey=qa3UUa&result=1&q=sahoo#firstMatch

NGOs: A New History of Transnational Civil Society

NGOs: A New History of Transnational Civil Society by Thomas Davies. London: C. Hurst, 2014. 268pp., £20.00, ISBN 978 1 8490 4310 6.

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Beginning in the late 1970s, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have helped to create what has been described as an ‘associational revolution’. They have played a significant role within civil society, facilitating not just the transition of many communist and authoritarian regimes to democracy, but also the process of participatory development and good governance. Most of the literature on NGOs has documented their role since the 1970s in particular, but very little has been written on the history of the NGO sector itself. Thomas Davies’ work in this context becomes an important contribution for it takes a longue durée approach and provides a history of the NGO sector over the past two-and-a-half centuries.

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The central question that drives Davies is how to construct a new history of the transnational civil society that has come to play a dominant role in international politics and development in the last few decades. Davies’ argument is that the history of the transnational civil society is not limited to the last two or three decades, but ‘[has] a far longer history than traditionally assumed’ (p. 1). By combining both quantitative and qualitative methods, and by following a comprehensive historical analysis, Davies looks at the evolution of transnational civil society beyond the Euro-American narratives and constructs a more heterogeneous and pluralistic history by giving greater consideration to the ‘Eastern’ origins.

The book has three major chapters, describing the three major waves of transnational civil society. Davies begins by introducing transnational civil society as the ‘non-governmental non-profit collective action that transcends national boundaries but which does not necessarily have a global reach’ (p. 2). In this sense, the ‘institutions of transnational civil society are numerous, and include advocacy networks and social movements as well as more formally organized INGOs’ (p. 2). Following this introduction, the first chapter discusses the various factors that made the development of transnational civil society possible in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and explains how ‘the development of transnational civil society occurred in parallel with the development of the nation-state’ (p. 16). Chapter 2 looks at ‘the most neglected periods of the history of transnational civil society’ – that between the two world wars – and discusses the emergence of new INGOs (international non-governmental organisations) in fields such as business, humanitarianism, health and education (p. 16). The final chapter examines the contradictory role of the Cold War in splitting, as well as integrating, transnational civil society.

The book thus makes a significant contribution to the literature by providing a uniquely comprehensive history of transnational civil society. Its coherent structure and style make it a pleasure to read, and it must be recommended to students of sociology and political science.

Sarbeswar Sahoo (Indian Institute of Technology Delhi)

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@ Political Studies Review, Vol.13, No.4, November, p.595

International Aid, Civil Society and Politics of Development

Development Aid Confronts Politics: The Almost Revolution by Thomas Carothers and Diane de Gramont. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2013; How to Manage an Aid Exit Strategy: The Future of Development Aid by Derek Fee. London: Zed Books, 2012.

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Debates on international development aid are not new; some have supported aid, some have opposed it. In his bestselling 2005 book, The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs urged rich nations to increase foreign aid to poor countries not just to end their ‘poverty trap’, but also to kick-start development. In contrast, William Easterly and Dambisa Moyo have strongly argued against aid and noted that it does more bad than good – ‘it prevents people from searching for their own solutions, while corrupting and undermining local institutions and creating a self-perpetuating lobby of aid agencies’ (Quoted in A. Banerjee and E. Duflo, Poor Economics, Public Affairs, 2011, pp. 3–4). The question here, however, is not about whether we should have aid or not; it is rather about what kind of aid we should have, how we should implement it and how aid can be made more effective in achieving its objectives. In Development Aid Confronts Politics, Thomas Carothers and Diane de Gramont heavily criticise the governance-oriented, technocratic and depoliticised approach to aid practised to date and insist instead on bringing politics to the centre of aid distribution and management.

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Exploring the history of politics in development aid, Carothers and de Gramont note that although aid was intimately related to Cold War politics, aid agencies in the formative years shied away from adopting explicitly political goals for they believed that socio-economic assistance would create domestic conditions conducive for political development and the spread of democracy. It was, however, observed that economic development, instead of bringing democratisation, ‘heightened political conflict, violence, and repression’, leading to authoritarianism (p. 29). The aid community did not have much choice: ‘[D]evelopmentalists on the ground stayed clear of “playing politics” in order to gain credibility with host governments and aid receiving societies’ (p. 50). Such apolitical and technocratic approaches to developmental planning, which often resulted in over-centralised power structures, were heavily criticised. As a result, aid organisations began to rethink their beliefs about the role of politics in the development process. Carothers and de Gramont seem happy that, today, most of the aid organisations have adopted and are actively pursuing political goals either directly with governments or indirectly with political parties and civil society organisations. Emphasising the indispensability of politics in understanding and crafting social change, the authors conclude that ‘aid programs should grow out of the local context and focus on feasible rather than best-practice solutions, that technical assistance should feed into indigenous processes of change, that projects should think about their place within the broader political systems, and that aid providers must focus closely on understanding how political and institutional change occurs’ (pp. 192–3).

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Although Derek Fee would agree with Carothers and de Gramont on how to make aid more effective, in How to Manage an Aid Exit Strategy he asks a different question: ‘why development aid is alive and kicking despite calls from both Africa (the continent demanding the highest level of aid) and donor country leaders to bring the business to a logical conclusion’ (p. xi). He further asks ‘why an activity that was supposed to be time-bound has expanded way beyond its initial remit’ (p. xi). Integrating academic knowledge and a practitioner’s experience, Fee addresses these questions quite innovatively. He argues that it is not just aid dependency that has had many negative effects, but that the aid business itself is now in crisis and cannot continue indefinitely. It is thus necessary for both donors and recipients to rethink the development aid model and devise clear exit strategies. Fee suggests several initiatives (e.g. domestic resource mobilisation, trade liberalisation, regional integration, microfinance, remittances and non-governmental organisations, and philanthropic institutions), which he believes could act as policy options for replacing development aid and making countries sustainable. He concludes that although an aid exit strategy is important, it ‘should not punish people’ who have suffered poverty and deprivation. It ‘must be applied with compassion or it will be ineffective. It must [also] be time-bound but the time given to each country should be related to their base line of aid dependency’ (p. 232).

While Carothers and de Gramont have successfully brought politics to the heart of the aid business, Fee has convincingly argued for a time-bound and compassionate aid exit strategy. Both books are filled with rich historical analysis and empirical examples and the authors exhibit immense awareness of and sensitivity to the political context. Though some may criticise these books for lacking theoretical rigour, they nonetheless represent excellent contributions to understanding the modern aid industry and the way it has evolved over time. Both books are lucidly written and well-argued and should be recommended not just to students of sociology and international relations, but also to aid practitioners, civil society activists and public policy officials.

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@ Reviewed by Sarbeswar Sahoo, Political Studies Review, Vol.12, No.3, Sept., 2014, pp.418-419.