Of Blurred Religious Identities

Of Blurred Religious Identities

Rohini Mokashi Punekar

By Yoginder Sikand
Penguin India, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 270, Rs. 250.00


In the face of state instituted religious violence, the language of hate spewing across the country and the casual acceptance of this in ordinary lives, it is difficult not to stress the significance of this book, its sanity and its timeliness. While there is hardly any aspect of the political, economic, social or cultural life in India that is not stained by considerations of religion and sect, or the violence generating thereof, this is a fact that is known, sincerely bemoaned and endlessly circulated in academic circles of a certain colour; how much sympathy it receives amongst persuasions of other kinds is anybody’s guess.

Between Romanticism and Reality

The author argues that two significant aspects Elwin’s advocacy of protectionism for tribal people have contributed to the construction of an anti-modern tribal identity. First it was based on an ecological romanticism that glorified the past and held that “tribal people had been living in harmony with nature since ancient times (p xv)…. That tribal practices were ecologically friendly (p xiv) and they were of the view that “the past had been better than the present, that there had truly been a Golden age when their kings lived (p. xv).

Traversing New Terrains, Unveiling Tradition

Tribal studies in India have been dominated by the romanticization of tradition visualizing the egalitarian community institutions as a pivot that propelled grassroot democracy and regulated the relationship of the tribals with their environment. Anthropologists like Haimendorf and Verrier Elwin have also suggested that the women in these societies enjoyed true freedom and equal status in tribal societies as compared with non-tribal caste societies.

Textualization of Folklore

This book is a study of the history of printing in South India focussed on the role of folklore in printed books. The author approaches the matter from a folklorist’s perspective and finds the proverbial saying “that print did not produce new books, only more old books” holds true. The history of modern folklore research tells us that textualization of Indian folklore – the orally transmitted tales, songs and other verbal expressions – was started by British collectors in India in the middle of the nineteenth century.

The City as Melting-Pot

Calcutta defies all stereotypes. It is commonly believed that the civic chaos and economic stagnation that would have killed any other city have not been able to subdue the spirit of this strange urban agglomeration. Lina Fruzzetti and Akos Ostor, the editors of this book, have been smitten like many others by this irrepressible vitality and have been coming to the city since the mid-1960s, observing and parjticipating in the moveable feast.

The Point is not to Pocket the Truth, But to Chase the Truth…

This is a big, heavy book weighing about 5 lbs., but it is not heavy reading. On the contrary, it seems designed for scatter-brained, distracted reading—rather like watching a TV Talk Show, punctuated by commercial breaks and ‘recaps’ for those ‘who have just joined us’. The breaks here consist of numerous film and shooting stills from Mrinal Sen’s films, which interrupt rather than illustrate the text. Like those commercials, however, some of the stills are independently interesting.

Agrarian Scholarship: Actors, Processes and Policies

Published as the aproceedings of an international conference, organized by the Development and Planning Department of the Government of West Bengal, this is an exciting book. The book features stalwarts in the literature on the political economy of agriculture. The 20 essays and presentations are divided into 5 sections–(1) theoretical perspectives, (2) agrarian relations, human development and neoliberal land reform, (3) Latin America-country experiences, (4) South Asia-country experiences, (5) some socialist experiences.