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Dilemmas of Public Reason

Secularism and Religious Violence in Contemporary India
The opposition between the secular and the religious is a construct for, in reality, both often co-produce notions of culture that are intimately connected with violence. To recognise this intimacy could be the beginning of imagining a new political language which transcends the secular and religious through a process of creative contamination. The search for a new political language begins in this paper with two sets of descriptions of animal sacrifice from the past one by the Tamil Saivites, who were at the forefront of campaigning against animal sacrifices in temples during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the other by the Madras legislative assembly in 1950, when it debated a bill to abolish animal and bird sacrifices in temple precincts.
The concept of the secular cannot do without the concept of the religious. Talal Asad 2003

I Introduction
n August 27, 2003, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, J Jayalalithaa, a well known proponent of the Hindu right ideology, instructed state officials to prevent the sacrifice of animals and birds in temples in the name of propitiating gods. She also sought stringent action against the violators of the ban. The immediate reason that provoked the chief minister to enforce the ban was the sacrifice of 500 buffaloes in a village temple near the town of Tiruchi.1 Though the ban applied to Hindu temples, her statement had hardly anything on religion. Instead she invoked the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Cruelties to Animals Act, 1950, and its subsequent amendments. Her reason was thus overtly non-religious. In fact, reporting the move of the chief minister, the English newspaper The Hindu read it as an act of enforcing animal rights. It wrote, In another initiative pleasing to animal rights activists, the Tamil Nadu government today banned animal and bird sacrifice in temples throughout the state. It continued further, This is the second time in three days the chief ministerhas intervened in the interest of animals put to suffering in temples.2 But it was a section of secularists3 who brought the issue of religion most forcefully into the debate. They had enough reasons to suspect Jayalalithaas move. They understood her intervention as a step towards homogenising existing Hinduisms in the image of Brahminism, an agenda which is central to the Hindu rights politics. S Venkatesan, a left activist, succinctly captures this understanding in the title to his essay on the ban on animal sacrifice: Punithamana Kadavulkalum Theetuppatta Theivangalum (The gods that are pure and the deities that are

polluted.)4 For the secularists, Jayalalithaas earlier support to kar seva, the Common Civil Code and ban on cow slaughter indexes her real intentions in banning animal sacrifice in temples.5 G Ramakrishnan, the state committee member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), claimed, [these] forms of worship are practised by the people for a very long time. None has the right to interfere in them.6 Adding a class dimension, he noted that the deities of popular Hinduism are those common people who were deified for fighting against injustice in society. R Nallakannu, the state secretary of the Communist Party of India, too opposed the ban on similar grounds. Interestingly, just a year earlier, in August 2002, he took a different stance on a local ritual in which children wrapped in yellow cloth were lowered in shallow mud and retrieved in about 30 seconds. Nallakannu called it a barbaric incident in a society which banned cruelty to animals.7 Perhaps he never realised then that cruelty to animals would return in yet another context soon. The response of the members of the Peoples Art and Literary Association and the Revolutionary Students and Youth Front both belonging to a faction of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) was dramatic. Protesting the ban, they slaughtered a goat in front of the Sappani Swami temple in Tiruchi.8 A letter in The Hindu commented, It is quite amusing to find the so-called rationalist parties such as the DMK and the CPI(M), not categorically opposing the practice of animal sacrifice in temples, saying it is an age-old custom.9 Another letter summoned up the past of the Left to critique its present: The Lefts opposition to the ban is intriguing. I recall how a veteran communist leader used to be at the spot with his comrades before the traditional ritual began in our temples and stridently register his objection10 The incongruity of the situation where a Hindu right chief minister espouses secular reason and the secularists defend religiosity, was compounded by the view of a section of the Hindu right which defended animal sacrifice. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) indeed supported the ban. In fact, Kottakkudi Saravanan,

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the farmers wing secretary of the Tamil Nadu unit of the BJP, lost his party post for sacrificing two goats at Pandi Muneeswarar temple near Madurai to enable Atal Bihari Vajpayee to stage a comeback in the Lok Sabha elections of 2004.11 There were however others in the Sangh parivar who opposed the ban. The most detailed defence of animal sacrifice came from S Gurumurthy, the all-India co-convenor of Swadeshi Jagaran Munch. He claimed that it was wrong to debate whether worshipping gods by sacrificing animals is right or wrong. In defence of his argument, he detailed the Kali temple festival in his native village in which the vegetarians including the brahmins worshipped Kali before sunset, by breaking coconuts, burning camphor, and offering pongal. Others would go to the temple in the night and offer worship by sacrificing animals. He wrote, During the day, that Kali was vegetarian; during night, [she was] non-vegetarian. That is worship based on the lifestyle of the worshipper12 Such a shared view between the secularists and a section of the Hindu right is no doubt based on different reasoning. For S Gurumurthy, the defence of diverse forms of being Hindus is a way to mark out other religions as fanatical: It is not the culture of Bharat to assert that this is the [only] way god has to be worshipped; or these are gods and others are satans. This is the tradition of Christianity and Islam.13 He too invoked the varna-based dharma for different caste groups. For the Left, it was a way of contesting the Hindu rights notion of a homogenised Hinduism. Despite these critical differences, the untidiness of the ideological positions seems to me to offer an opportunity to rethink the opposition between the secular and the religious in the context of communal violence. It is my argument that this opposition is a construct; and in reality, both the secular and the religious often co-produce notions of culture, which are intimately connected with violence. And to recognise this intimacy between the secular and the religious could, in my view, be the beginning of imagining a new political language which transcends the secular and the religious through a process of creative contamination. And this could be a language which might be more productive in addressing the question of and engaging with religious violence. I would begin this search for a new political language with two sets of descriptions of animal sacrifice from the past one by the Tamil Saivites who were in the forefront of campaigning against animal sacrifices in temples during the late 19th and earlier 20th centuries, and the other by the Madras legislative assembly in 1950, when it debated a bill to abolish animal and bird sacrifices in temple precincts. In bringing to light these two instances from the past, my intention is to show how the notion of culture in different contexts and in different times plays out an inevitable politics of power; and how both the secular and religious reasoning are complicit in it.

II A Hierarchy of Beings
First to the Saivites and animal sacrifice. Following the formation of the South Indian Jeevarakshina Sabha, a Jain organisation, in Madras in 1926, there were active campaigns to stop animal sacrifices in temples in the Tamil-speaking areas. The Jains were actively supported by the Saivites. For instance, Thiru Vi Kalyanasundara Mudaliar, a Saivite and an ardent nationalist, used his journal Navasakthi to oppose animal

sacrifice. There were joint meetings organised by the Jains, Saivites and the rationalists to campaign against animal sacrifice [Kalyanasundaranar 1982]. These joint campaigns by rationalists and religionists produced a vast corpus of literature on why animal sacrifice had to be stopped. In order to understand how animal sacrifice was represented in the Saivite public discourse, I would turn to the writings of Maraimalai Adigal (1876-1950), a versatile scholar of Tamil and Saivism and an important public figure in colonial Tamil Nadu. Here I shall primarily focus on one of his key texts, Vellalar Nagarigam (Vellalar civilisation), which was first published in 1923. Before I proceed with this text, we need to bear in mind that Maraimalai Adigal, deeply influenced by western scholarship, believed in history as progress and tried to claim the status of science for Saivism. Working within a historicist framework, Maraimalai Adigal developed a particular sequencing of history which linearly moved from the state of barbarity to civilisation. Here, he typologised distinct occupations as markers of progress or otherwise.14 Characterising hunting and nomadic material cultures, he noted, Before knowing [the techniques of] cultivation and the ways of using them, people lived in great difficulty without enough food and proper clothing... One can directly observe even today the difficult state in which the hill people and the forest dwellers lead an uncivilised life of hunting.15 However, such an uncivilised regime full of scarcity, economic hardships and other debilitating qualities of life, drew to a close as the Vellalars (upper caste, non-brahmin Saivites) discovered modes of settled agriculture: Only after the Vellalars had discovered cultivation, the hardship for food, clothing and housing came to an end; the murderous act of killing animals for food ceased; compassion and munificence, based on sharing the surplus harvest of paddy, pulses and other crops with the starving ones, thrived; kings... townships, wealth, education, happy life, and the worship of god, prospered...16 What is significant in Maraimalai Adigals construction of history is his claim that settled agriculture pursued by the Vellalars not merely unfettered human beings from material hardships, but it also cultivated their minds and gave rise to a world of superior cultural values. In explaining how the cultivation of land and cultivation of the mind were intimately connected, Adigal argued, Cultivation is an exacting job... To perform it well, one needs probing intelligence. That is why, those who do it have high intelligence and know the ways of using it. Only because of this, it has been said that compassion, intelligence and munificence are the age-old traits of the Vellalars.17 This was indeed a critically important move for Maraimalai Adigal. The recently schematised Saiva Siddhanta (philosophy of Saivism), which to him was the highest achievement of the Tamil mind,18 had as one of its central tenets non-killing (read vegetarianism),19 and hence the claim to compassion and munificence. Thus, Adigals sequencing of Tamil history developed an identity between the Vellalars, their traditional occupation of settled agriculture and Saivism as the civilisational apotheosis of history. From here, Maraimalai Adigal proceeded now through a set of comparative studies of castes to assess the civilisational location of the non-Vellalars/Saivites within his teleological scheme of history. His conclusion was foregone the nonVellalars were way behind the superior civilisational moment of the Vellalars. Let us first take up the case of Aryan brahmins who were unquestionably the most important target of Adigals


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historicism. Within his sequencing of history, the Aryan brahmins had remained in a state of barbarism in the past while the Vellalars were building a civilisation based on settled agriculture: In the olden days, when the Vellalas were practising agriculture and expanding civilisation, Aryans were merely leading a hunting and pastoral life. That is why, cultivation had been condemned in the books authored by them and their followers. Moreover, the imposition that cultivation should not be performed by anyone belonging to their community could also be found in these books.20 In keeping with their uncivilised status, the religio-moral universe of the Aryan brahmins had also remained unrefined. They worshipped minor deities such as Varuna and Indira, offered them inebriating drinks, and persisted in the performance of bloody sacrifices so much so that as time went on, their conduct became more and more revolting to the delicate feelings of the humanitarian Vellalars.21 Even the constant efforts of the Vellalars to initiate the Aryan brahmins into civilisation ended in failure. When the Vellalars disrupted the rituals of blood sacrifices that were periodically carried out by the Aryan brahmins, it enraged them and as a result, they characterised the Vellalars as rakshashas and asuras.22 Blood sacrifice is thus a sign of the Aryans civilisational inadequacy. As in the case of early Aryan brahmins, Adigal argued, the proof of the uncivilised status of the non-Vellalar non-brahmin castes was their lack of love and compassion, as evident from their dietary practice of meat-eating and religious practice of animal sacrifices. Referring to their deities, he, for instance, noted in contempt: What are Pidari, Kurankunni, Isaki, Madurai Veeran and the like? These are the spirits of those who indulged in evil deeds during their lifetime, shunned by kings and others, and died prematurely.23 The Tamil Jains who campaigned for the ban on animal sacrifices in temples, also shared such an understanding about the deities of popular Hinduism.24 Given this reasoning, which is very much part of the teleological scheme that Maraimalai Adigal had developed, he did not have any problem in claiming: it is the Vellalars who divided the other Tamils, who did not avoid killing [animals] and went low in morals, into 18 [occupational] groups to assist them in cultivation and to do other occupations useful to them.25 He proceeded further to affirm the Vellalar magnanimity. He claimed, the lowly was not eternally condemned to be so: avoiding killing and non-vegetarian food and by grounding themselves firmly in [high] morals one can become as elevated as the Vellalar.26 He, however, insisted, It is essential that those who follow the Saivite moral of non-meat-eating should mix only with others who also follow the same moral. If they have to mix with meat-eatersthey should do so only after converting them to Saivism27 Adigals claim connotes two things: First, history as a process fulfilled itself at the presence of the Saivite Vellalar and its only task from now on is to convert others in his image. Second, the lower occupational/caste groups could liberate themselves not on their own terms, but only by casting themselves in the mould of the Saivite Vellalar. Maraimalai Adigals cultural project was thus one of attuning others to a putatively higher moral order of non-killing.28 Projects of attunement, in enforcing the ground for consensus (either through enunciation or violence), cannot escape the network of power. As William Connolly notes, what appears from one side as the means by which attunement is fostered often appears from another as the terms through which painful artifices of normalisation are enhanced and legitimated [Connolly 1995:14].

Here is thus a story of culture grounded in teleological historicist imagination. Before I move on to the second set of representations of animal sacrifice during the Madras legislative assembly debates, let me flag a couple of points about Maraimalai Adigals historical narrative and the cultural prescriptions which follow from that, to be taken up at the end of the paper. First, despite the fact that Maraimali Adigals narrative was meant to constitute Saivism as the apotheosis of civilisation, it is structured by modes of secular reasoning. Its imagination of time as linear, history as stages of culture moving from the lower to higher, the possibility of human agency in transforming ones condition are all hallmarks of such reasoning. The only place where his spirituality asserts itself is when he equates non-killing, civilisation and Saivism. Then this unity is achieved through a secular mode of reasoning. Second, his mode of representing identities is to treat them as singular and bounded, which again is to a great degree a product of modern governmentality. Brahmin, Vellalar, non-Vellalar, non-brahmins are discreet and marked by their own distinct cultural signs of inferiority and superiority. Thirdly, culture emerges in his narrative as the most important and defining trope.

III What Is To Be a Hindu

Now to another set of descriptions about animal sacrifice. These descriptions emerged in an entirely different institutional location a modern legislature. In September 1950, the Madras legislative assembly debated a bill to abolish the sacrifice of animals and birds in Hindu temples. The bill was a result of a long-standing and sustained campaign against animal sacrifice in temples by the Tamil Jains led by T S Sripal and had the open support of the then chief minister of the Madras state O P Ramaswami Reddiyar, a follower of Vadalur Ramalinga Adigal who preached non-killing as part of his Saivism.29 The debate in the assembly finally led to the passing of the Madras Animals and Birds Sacrifices Abolition Act, 1950. One of the most striking features of the debate is the overwhelming consensus that animal and bird sacrifices should be banned. However, a careful look at the debate tells as that this consensus was produced on the basis of two overlapping grounds often employed by the same person. First of these grounds on which consensus was sought was religious. It was based on the question what constitutes true or authentic Hinduism. The answers often carried traces of various mediations including that of Christianity. For example, D V Ramaswami singularised the Hindu gods, and using a Christian vocabulary, claimed, this kind of sacrifice made in any part of the building dedicated for the worship of the common Father, God, is wrong (p 122).30 Similarly L N Gopalaswami brought to life during the debate the figure of the heathen: A man has somehow or other this instinct in him that before he eats anything, he should offer it to god. Even the worst man a Heathen, however savage a life he may lead believes in offering the best to God (p 640). Whatever be the sources of their definitions of Hinduism, a section of the legislators was categorical that animal and bird sacrifices could not have been or be part of true Hinduism. For example, V I Muniswami Pillay claimed, I do not think that according to the Hindu religion there can exist such kinds of offerings for the worship which involves cruelty to animals and birds I think it is high time that these small blemishes that

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are a blot on Hindu religion should be removed It will go a long way to show to the world how sacred our religion is and how pure its worship (p 113). V Lakshmi Ammal went a step ahead in defining what was authentic Hinduism. For her, the deities of popular Hinduism such as Kali, Karuppan, Madan, Maariyayi, and Kaateri were not or inadequately Hindu. She referred to them as bootha kanangal, i e, inferior beings often physically deformed like the attendants of the Hindu god Shiva. She wanted a ban on the consecration of new temples for bootha kanangal and argued, if we remove deities such as Madan and Kaateri and enforce that all should worship only in big temples, we can stop this sacrifice in a little time (p 637). The play of culture and power is too evident here to expand upon. The second ground on which arguments for the ban of animal sacrifice was advanced, was secular. K Brahmanandam Reddy, for example, claimed, this usage or custom in the country is a remnant of barbarism and it is a heinous sin too, but this country is ignorant and superstitious, and as such perhaps be not a religious thing but a superstitious matter (pp 124-25). Thus, for him, usage and custom, conceptualised as frozen in time, was not in tune with progress; and superstition was of course the opposite of rationality. There were other ways in which the secular ground was brought into play. Civic sensibilities were one of them. N S Varadachari defended the ban because not that sacrifice itself is wrong, but that it will avoid all the unseemly, ghastly, and revolting sights that we see in front of temples sometimes (p 126). He wanted the government to tell the people that the ban was a mark of progress in our state Pleading against penal action, he offered a linear notion of human progress: Human history shows that after thousands of years, we are not able to give up a certain type of food. Progress is not measured by the progress we have made within the short span of lifeThat is not the way progress is looked at. It is looked at by making advance in stages (pp 126-27). The most interesting secular argument for the ban of animal sacrifice came from D S Ramachandra Rao. He began with an account of the primal condition of human beings: Cruelty is human prerogative. There is something in human nature that we are born in cruelty with tendencies of cruelty. Children are very cruel it may be unconsciously and animal life is a species of cruelty Then such human nature is amenable to improvement. According to him, To go against the propensity of human nature is not an easy thing. But man is different from animal It is this that encourages the hope that all men and women, when they reach manhood and womanhood in its perfection, in its highest ideals, will be able to exercise control over their lower nature and begin to see even in mute creatures like animals something of divinity, some expression of the higher and loftier principle (p 135). Several of the legislators, independent of the ground on which they justified the ban, assumed a pastoral role towards those lesser beings who sacrificed animals and birds. Assuming a civilising role, they discounted penal action but sought education and propaganda as the means to make the law effective. For instance, D S Ramachandra Rao argued, We have to teach our people the higher ethics of divinity. We must educate them at home, educate them at school and later on we must take up the education of the masses, and unless we are endowed with much higher qualities than mere vindictiveness, we shall never be able to get the cooperation of people at large (p 136). Yet again, as in the

case of Maraimalai Adigal, what we get to see here is a project of attunement in the name of culture. Let me flag here once again a couple of brief points to be taken up for discussion later. First, though the ban on animal sacrifice was meant to reform religion, arguments advanced in its defence were often grounded in secular rationality. Second, the mode of representation of the animal sacrifice both by those who spoke the language of religion and reason is founded on a linear conceptualisation of time which is central to secular imagination. Finally, the idea of culture which is central to the project of attunement, was substantially invoked in the debates in the Madras legislative assembly.

IV The World of the Religious

I would leave behind the reformers for a while and turn to the world of those who are sought to be reformed. The Madras Animals and Birds Sacrifice Prohibition Act 1950, despite its penal provisions and the euphoric response from the legislators, failed to stop the practice of sacrifice in temples of popular Hinduism. Interestingly, hearing a recent petition challenging the legality of the act, the chief justice of Madras High Court asked the advocate general who represented the state, What is the urgency in enforcing the impunged Act when it was not enforced during the past 53 years. Practically, the act is a dead letter. As a journalist commented, if Jayalalithaa had not suddenly raised the issue, people would not even have known that such a law existed in [the] Tamil Nadu statute book.31 Let me give two instances to illustrate the extent to which animal sacrifice is part of popular Hinduism on Tamil Nadu today. At Pandi Muneeswarar temple, located on the outskirts of Madurai town and where Pandi Muneeswarar, Samaya Karuppasamy and Andisamy are worshipped, on an average 200 goats are sacrificed on Fridays and Sundays and around 100 on Tuesdays. There are about 100 stalls selling puja material. During the ear-piercing ceremony or the christening of a child, community feasts prepared with the meat of the sacrificed goats and fowls, are organised. Three hundred butchers skin and debone the meat for a small fee.32At Otthaipanai Sudalaiaandavar temple in Sirumalanji, near Nanguneri in south Tamil Nadu, over a lakh devotees, mainly drawn from the caste of nadars, congregate during the bi-annual festival and offer sacrifices of thousands of goats and pigs. These are two established temples. But usually the dwellings of these deities, to whom animals are offered, are mostly modest, found in inconspicuous locations such as tank bunds and outside the village boundaries. And regular worship is not usually offered to these deities. The sacrifice of animals and fowls is carried out primarily as nerthi kadan or the fulfilment of vows made to local deities. Often the vow is made seeking divine intervention in situations of ill health, childlessness, elusive marriage, etc. Animal sacrifice is also offered during ceremonies like ear-piercing and naming children. The animals dedicated to the deities cannot be used for any other purpose and the vow has to be fulfilled. This is perhaps why a lawyer from Madurai Karupaaurani, K V R Illango sought an interim stay on the ban (so that his wife could fulfil her vow). He noted in his petition, When I fell ill, my wife vowed to sacrifice two goats at the Pandi Muneeswarar temple if I recover fully. When I recovered, we went to the temple on August 30 to fulfil the vow. Revenue officials and police stopped us.33


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The meat of the sacrificed animals and fowls are cooked in the vicinity of the temple and consumed there itself. The priests in these temples are drawn from the local community, often doing regular work for their livelihood, and on occasions, donning the role of ritual specialist. All these point to a certain degree of unmediated intimacy with the divine. It is important to remember that those who defended animal sacrifice on religious grounds always alluded to this intimacy. A letter written wrote in a Tamil daily stated, People choose their method of worship from their lived environments. In the Golden Temple, the Sikhs offer wheat halwa. In Kashmir, it is the practice to offer apples. This reveal the fact that people offer to god what they eat.34 Significantly, animal sacrifice has an important role in forging community links. Though dalits are not allowed to enter a number of caste Hindu-controlled temples in southern Tamil Nadu, they are allowed to offer sacrifices. The Sudalai temple at Seevalaperi belongs to the yadhava community but the dalits are allowed to make sacrifices during temple festivals. The head of every goat sacrificed goes to the thevar community. This practice is also prevalent in Sudalai Maadasamy temple at Arumugamangalam, Saastha Malai temple at Marukaalthalai, Oththappanai Sudalai Andavar temples at Vijayanarayanam and Sirumalanji, Kallaththiyaan and Saasta temples at Naduvakurichi. Though the Sirumalanji Oththappanai Sudalai Andavar temple is controlled by the nadars, the first sacrificial goat is to be offered by a dalit and all animals are later sacrificed by a barber. And before the trance dancer leaves for the cremation ground in traditional robes of Sudalai Andavar, members of all communities, including the nadars, the dalits, the yadavas and the thevars, would go to his house to invite him to start the yatra.35 In offering these instances, I am not claiming that these rituals which brought together different castes are not mediated by notions of hierarchy and caste power. They indeed are. As S V Rajadurai rightly reminds us, The village where I was born, there is a famous Kali temple. Evey year, during the Amman festival, caste Hindu men sacrificed goats; women sacrificed fowls and offered pongal. The next day, the parayars offered buffaloes; and on the last day, kedambars who used to carry night soil, sacrificed pigs. For each caste, a different animal; and a convention of who would sacrifice first and who would last.36 My point, however, is that animal sacrifice as a mode of worship is saturated with a network of significations ranging from remedying worldly afflictions, to mark life-cycle transitions, to reproducing community links and hierarchies. And the language of reform anchored in notions of culture, is, for most part, so reductive that it is incapable of comprehending and engaging with these web of sacral significations which are important for communities, families and individuals. The narrative of culture as progress cannot but be impatient with such significations. Let me give a brief account of the way in which the government of Tamil Nadu tried to stop the sacrifice of animals, following the ban reintroduced by J Jayalalithaa. The instance that I would take up here is the bi-annual festival at Sirumalanchi conducted in September 2003. A police force of 500 was deployed to prevent sacrifices during the temple festival. Three check-points were established on the roads leading to the village so as to filter out animals and birds. The house of the sammiyadi (the trance dancer) M Muthuraj, a retired village administrative officer, was surrounded by the police and he was prevented from visiting the cremation ground, a ritual to be carried out before the commencement of animal sacrifice. Finally when he donned the traditional

robes and began his journey to the cremation ground, officials and police intercepted him and asked him to appeal to the devotees not to perform the sacrifice. The samiyadi asked the devotees not to offer sacrifices in the temple precinct, but in their own places facing the temple. The devotees did carry out the sacrifices but in the nearby fields.37 On the concluding day of the festival, the samiyadi was taken to the temple, under heavy police escort, so that he could distribute prasadams to the devotees. Thus, the states singular language was one of enforcing law a law that reduced the multiple sacral connotations surrounding animal sacrifice to a singular representation of violation of animal rights. The samiyadis final declaration at the end of the festival spoke a different language. He said to his devotees, Though abstaining from the crematorium visit was painful for me, I did not go there for the welfare of the devotees. I will go to Kailash to solve this problem and once this issue is settled, Sudalai Andavar will go to the cremation ground and occupy the paran [alter] to accept the animals offered by the devotees.38 Thus he was the devotees protector, their welfare was his concern, and he promised to solve the problem. His was a language of community and its reproduction. And the very imprecision which marks his statement offers a range of meanings to be accommodated. The devotees become interpreters. In other words, there is a deep incommensurability between the languages of the reforming state and religion. With the impending parliament elections, the chief minister Jayalalithaa did scrap the ban on animal sacrifice by an ordinance in February 2004. It was claimed by her that the ordinance was promulgated in deference to their [rural people] religious belief and in order to remove their fears of attracting divine retribution for not following the centuries-old custom. Invocation of religious belief, the fear and centuries-old custom, set the devotees in a time past. Traces of secular imagination haunt the statement. The teleological time marks it with its unmistakable presence. It is exactly these secular traces which were referred to when

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one of the devotees of Pandi Muneeswaran temple told the press, There is every reason to attribute a political motive to the government decision39

V To Make a Claim on the Religious

Using the preceding accounts of the controversies surrounding animal sacrifice in temples of popular Hinduism in Tamil Nadu, I wish to begin this concluding section with a plea for a more complex understanding and engagement with the languages of the secular and the religious. First and foremost, the language of the secular is footloose. It comfortably inhabits competing ideological camps. A Saivite hagiography which inferiorises non-Vellala castes as well as nonvegetarianism, a legislation which tries to contain diversities within what we know today as Hinduism and to recast it in the image of brahminism, and the very opposition to the Hindu right from the secular scholars and activists all can be grounded in notions of progress, imagination of time as linear, civic sensibility and other markers of secular disposition. Similarly, the language of the religion too can serve competing ideological projects. As much as it could help to mobilise the Hindus against other religions (as is being done by the Hindu right in India), it could also shape ethical dispositions of tolerance and dialogue with others [Asad 2003]. And as we have seen, it was the partial abandonment of the language of the secular and acceptance of the language of the religious by the Left in Tamil Nadu, that gave them the space to critique the Hindutva agenda of Jayalalithaas ban on animal sacrifices. The contingent nature of these languages in terms of producing political outcomes makes it necessary to have an ambivalent stance towards them. What seems to matter is which language would produce what results in what contexts. Let me here quote from an article on cow slaughter by Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar: I have long opposed a ban on cow slaughter as a secular liberal. But in the light of Bhavabhutis narrative, I also oppose the ban as a beef-eating Hindu. I am following in the footsteps of Vasista, no less.40 The narrative in question is Uttara Rama Charitra authored in the 8th century A D, where it is claimed that the brahmin guest in the hermitage had to be fed with meat along with curds and honey, and so every host had to offer a heifer, a big bull or a goat to him. As in the world of Aiyar, both the language of religion and the language of the secular can co-habit to produce a discourse of toleration. I think, it is critically important, especially in the current context of Hindu rights aggressive politics in India, to recognise and acknowledge that the language of the secular alone cannot always be the foundation for a politics of toleration and dialogue. If this is so, the secularists, as they practise their politics today, are in a position of disadvantage. As we have seen, the Hindu communalists are truly comfortable in using the language of the secular to advance their politics of majoritarianism. But the secularists are rather reluctant to embrace the language of religion. When opposing the ban on animal sacrifice in Tamil Nadu, the Left, for instance, awkwardly distanced itself from the language of the religion even while employing it. While R Nallakannu of the CPI, prefaced his opposition to the ban by noting that Communists do not have superstitions; do not even have faith in god, G Ramakrishnan of CPI(M) noted, Scientifically we

cannot accept both offering milk, curd and ghee in agamic temples and offering of goats and fowls [in non-agamic temples].41 (While this is a sign of reluctance among the secularists to adopt the language of the religion, I do not want to miss out on its positive attribute: that is, it is as well a statement that I do not believe in what you believe; still I would defend your case.) Such reluctance is not only a result of non-belief in religion, but also of the secular agenda of treating religion as properly belonging to the private domain. The language of religion cannot, thus, legitimately be part of the public discourse. The secularists are also faced with an additional disadvantage. The very language of the secular, being grounded in notions of rationality and progress, cannot but privilege itself over other forms of languages such as that of religion. Given this, the secular always talks of educating rather than dialoguing. To give an example from the controversy on animal sacrifice in Tamil Nadu, N Varadarajan, the state secretary of the CPI(M), claimed, People can be freed from such practices only by providing basic necessities of life, education and science and rationalist propaganda.42 In other words, the secular looks for a unified speech or a discursive consensus that endorses its position. This is a deeply problematic attitude grounded in a sense of moral and intellectual superiority. In the context of this self-arrogating superiority of the secular, we need to keep in mind the perceptive comment of Talal Asad that the ruthlessness of secular practice yields nothing to the ferocity of religious [Asad 1993:236]. Such an attitude blocks the possibility of even recognising the language of religion as worthy of serious consideration. This is perhaps why, for sections of the believing public, the Hindu rights claim that it alone could speak for the Hindus sounds legitimate. Given these, I would suggest that unless the secular discourse reinvents itself by creatively engaging with religion rather than keeping away from it, it cannot rise up to the task of confronting religious violence and speak a truly democratic language of dialoguing with the religious and questioning its own normalised beliefs. Here I would speculatively and with a measure of uncertainty, offer three possible moves that may reconstitute the language of the secular in a politically enabling direction. In other words, it is more a script for reflection rather than a statement of certitude. First of all, the presence of religion in the public domain of the present and the future India cannot be wished away. This is not merely because of the politics of the religious right, as has been normally understood by the secularists. The Constitution of India itself conceptualises a place for debates around questions of religion in the public domain. As Marc Galanter, in a refreshingly insightful essay published four decades back, puts it, The freedom that is a principle of [a] secular state is not freedom for religion as it is (in India) but freedom for religion as it ought to be The ultimate argument for the secular state then is not to maximise the presently desired freedoms but to substitute a new and more appropriate or valuable kind of freedom [Galanter 1998:258]. While Galanter points out that it would be the educated middle classes which would have the power to define what religion ought to be, we may have to also remember that it is a more complex affair of contestations involving larger sections of the people who are marginalised within religions in the name of, among other things, caste, gender and language. The contemporary dalit critique of Hinduism is a case in point. Equally important is Galanters other point: the notion of religion as


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May 28-June 4, 2005

essentially private and separate from public life is an indefensible dogma to those who hold religion to encompass more than doctrine, worship, and private conduct, but to provide obligatory principles for the ordering of public life. Secularism cannot be entirely neutral among religions when it undertakes to confine them to their proper sphere [Galanter 1998:259]. Ambedkars Buddhism is as much an effort to order public life as the Hinduism of the proponents of Hindutva. In the name of confining religion to the private domain, we would be stifling the enabling possibilities which Ambedkars Buddhism holds for the dalits and be left with an impoverished political language to confront the Hinduism of the Hindu right. Importantly, to recognise the language of religion in the public domain is to subdue secularisms desire to impose public reason as the only possible language of politics and to open up spaces for dialogue with other kinds of political languages. Second, such validation of the language of religion as legitimate in the public domain would expand the notion of the public and could produce a stage to initiate a new and necessary dialogue with hitherto marginalised domain of community where questions of religion and religious reform are most often discussed. Here I wish to turn to Partha Chatterjees much discussed paper on secularism and toleration [Chatterjee 1998]. Refering to the assertion of religious minorities that We have our own reason for doing things the way we do, he comments, This implies the existence of a field of reason, of processes through which reasons can be exchanged and validated, even if such processes are open only to those who share the viewpoint of the group [p 376]. It is only by recognising the language of religion as legitimate that one can validate such field of reason and exchange as important sites of politics. In other words, the secular project could, by acknowledging these alternative domains of politics as legitimate, move from the conception of power as power over to power to, i e, power to those who are not part of the authorised public domain and who do not speak the authorised language of politics. Here, I think, one needs to take into account an argument made by Talal Asad about cultural minorities. He writes, Perhaps the crucial point about a politically established cultural minority is that constitutionally it cannot authorise new cultural arrangements but only request them[ Asad 1993:259]. The validation of minority self-representations in autonomous community domains could be the first step towards redressing such constraints.

VI Spaces for Self-representation

Though Partha Chatterjee endorses such autonomous community domains of exchange and debate as a way of ensuring a site of politics to religious minorities in India, I would suggest that it would be equally valid for various marginalised groups which constitute what we know today as Hinduism. If social reform during the late 19th and the early 20th centuries was basically an acrimonious dialogue and consequent change among brahmins often through the language of religion, the proliferation of newer Hindu religious cults, with newly innovated religious conceptions indicate the expansive presence of such autonomous community domains among various sections of Hindus as well. This is perhaps inevitable given the structure of power, based on caste, gender, region and language, which mediates the relationship between different groups of

Hindus. Only a recognition of the language of religion would validate such community domains as legitimate domains of politics against the singularised conception of religion proposed by communalists. The preceding point is one of creating spaces for selfrepresentation (which are usually not recognised by the secular in its desire to impose its own public reason) and engaging with such self-representations. Space for self-representations alone cannot be a resource against religious violence. We also need newer strategies of representation. The language of religion could also open up the possibility of hitherto unavailable strategies of representation which could capture the sense of multiple belongings that people entertain in their actual lives. This possibility is not available to the secular in its present form as it shuts out identities from the public domain in the name of reason. Simultaneously, religious communalism too does not allow space for multiple belongings as its agenda is one of singular religious identity. It is only by recognising the multiplicity and interlocked nature of identities and changes in them that one can make any move towards strategies of representations which are inclusive and contingent. This means, in a regime wherein the language of religion is accepted as legitimate, one needs to think of more inclusive and complex modes of representations. Let me give, as an illustration, two competing approaches of the Indian law courts while dealing with peoples multiple affiliations to groups. As Marc Galanter shows us, the pragmatic or empirical approach deals with the problem in terms of whether a group accepts one as a member despite her belonging to other groups. This often results in the recognition of multiple affiliations. On the weight of case laws, he writes, It was possible to be simultaneously a Mahar and a member of the Mahnubhava panth; a Samgar and an Arya Samajist, a Christian and an Oraon, an Anglo-Indian and a Khasi [Galanter 1997:114]. The second approach, which he calls as formal or fictional, tries to decide cases of multiple affiliations with formal categories such as fourfold varna. This approach never endorses multiple affiliations but affirms singular identities. To me, the story of these competing approaches of the Indian judiciary is rather instructive. It shows that there exists a possible language of dealing with identities which belong to the lived environment of communities. In saying so I do not discount for a moment, the aggressive enforcement of identities by communities as exemplified in violence against religious minorities, dalits and women. Still communities can also be a site to locate enabling ways of engaging with identities. In other words, the secular has to contaminate its categories by searching out other languages, including the language of religion, which recognise the life beyond bounded identities such as those of the deracinated individual of secularism and the singular Hindu or Muslim identity of communalism. All the three moves recognising the language of religion as valid, the community as a legitimate site of politics and looking for new strategies of representations cannot but be contextual and shifting. As much as all three can be important resources to confront religious violence, they themselves can also, depending on situations, be sources of such violence. It may not be out of place here to emphasise the caution which Yoginder Sikand seeks in the context of religious syncretism: When assessing the possible potential of shared religious traditions in countering the politics of communal strife it is important to bear in mind that a religious tradition that borrows freely from various sources

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need not necessarily make those who claim to follow it tolerant of other religions and their followers [Sikand 2003:17]. Thus, what one needs is a practice of politics which does not dwell in a world of consistency or certainty (as secularism and communalism does), but in one of contextual and creative inconsistency with a willingness to partake in different political languages. EPW Email:

[An earlier version of this paper was presented at a conference on Violence and State in South Asia organised by the Department of Politics, Amherst College, in April-May 2004, at Amherst. I benefited a lot from the comments of the organisers of the conference and the participants. Anandhi S, Vijay Baskar, and Rajan Krishnan provided me with useful comments on an earlier version. I also benefited from my conversations on the theme with Itty Abraham, Nivedita Menon, Aditya Nigam and Prabhu Mahabatra. I am grateful to all of them.] 1 The Hindu, August 29, 2003. 2 The Hindu, August 28, 2003. 3 The exceptions are the rationalist political groups in Tamil Nadu such as the Dravidar Kazhagam and the Periyar Dravida Kazhagam. 4 Vallinam, August 2003, January 2004, p 124. 5 Detailing, J Jayalalithaas previous term in power, C J Fuller notes, In practiceJayalalithas regime has been actively promoting Sanskritic, brahminical Hinduism, almost as if it were the official religion. Dravidian ideology has been effectively reversed in favour of something close to Tamil-style Hindutva. C J Fuller, Brahmin Temple Priests and Hindu Revivalism in Contemporary Tamil Nadu, South Indian Studies, No 1, January-June 1996, p 22. 6 Vallinam, August 2003-January 2004, p 115. 7 The Hindu, August 26, 2002. 8 The Hindu, September 9, 2003. 9 The Hindu, September 5, 2003. 10 The Hindu, September 15, 2003. 11 The Hindu, March 18, 2004. 12 S Gurumurthy, Mirugankal Pali Ithu Vazhkai Murai Vazhipaadu, Thuglak, October 22, 2003. 13 Ibid, p 39. 14 Arguments developed in this section on how time was used as a distancing device through the denial of coevalness owe a great deal to Johannes Fabian, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object (Columbia University Press, New York, 1983). Walter Mignola characterised the denial of coevalness as the replacement of other in space by the other in time and the articulation of cultural differences in chronological hierarchies. Walter D Mignola, The Darker Side of Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality and Colonization (The University of Michigan Press Ann Arbor, 1995), p xi. 15 Maraimalai Adigal, Vellalar Nagarigam, South India Saiva Siddhanta Works Publishing Society, 1975, Thirunelveli, p 4. 16 Ibid, p 5. 17 Ibid, p 2. 18 During the Pallava period, the landed Vellala elite developed an overlap between Saivism and Tamil. This was achieved through the bakthi literature of the Nayanmars and was meant to constitute a broad-based historic bloc of different castes with the Vellalas at the helm of leadership, so as to contest the well entrenched authority of the hegemonic trading classes. The trading classes were mainly of Jains who promoted Sanskrit and Prakrit. Saivism acquired the trappings of a philosophical system, i e, Saiva Siddhantam, during the Chola period when the Vellalas were already a hegemonic landed caste/class. For a lucid analysis, see K Kailasapathy, Pandai Tamizhar Vazhvum Vazhipaadum, New Century Book House, Madras, 1991. 19 Maraimali Adigals defence of vegetarianism was not merely based on the ethics of non-killing. He also invoked science to buttress his argument. Based on evidence from the west, he claimed that non-vegetarian food contained uric acid which was supposed to be bad for human health. Maraimalai Adigal, Tamilar Matham, Manivasagar Pathippagam,

Chennai, 1999, p 65. 20 Maraimalai Adigal, Vellalar Nagarigam, p 5. 21 Ibid, p 44; see also Maraimalai Adigal, Preface to the Second Edition, Vellalar Nagarigam, p 13. 22 Maraimalai Adigal, Vellalar Nagarigam, p 72. 23 Maraimalai Adigal, Arivurai Kothu. Paari Nilayam, Chennai, 1979, p 36. 24 T S Sripal, Shattam Pesukirathu, Theninthiya Geevarakshaka Prachara Sabha, Chennai, 1956, pp 6-10. 25 Maraimalai Adigal, Vellalar Naagarigam, p 11. 26 Ibid, p 22. 27 Maraimalai Adigal, Tamilar Matham, p 285. 28 On the notion of attunement, see Connolly (1995). For an excellent discussion of the relationship between culture, attunement and violence, see Daniel (1996). 29 For a history of the campaign by the Tamil Jains, see T S Sripal, Chattam Pesukirathu, Theninthiya Geevarakshaka Prachara Sabha, Chennai, 1956. 30 All references in this section, unless stated otherwise, are from Madras Legislative Assembly Debates, Vol IV, Nos 1-8, September 1950. 31 M V Kamath, Reforming Hinduism, News Today, September 29, 2003. 32 The Hindu, February 22, 2004. 33 Dinamani, September 13, 2003. 34 Dinamani, October 10, 2003. 35 The Hindu, September 15, 2003. 36 S V Rajadurai, Kida Vettu: Villanku Paathukappum Manitha Urimaikalum, Vallinam, August 2003-January 2004, p 106. 37 The Hindu, September 7, 2003. 38 The Hindu, September 14, 2003. 39 The Hindu, February 22, 2004. 40 Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar, Serving Beef in Ayodhya and Cow Slaughter Politics, The Economic Times, August 24, 2003. 41 Vallinam, August 2003-January 2004, pp 103, 115. 42 Dinamani, September 3, 2003.

Asad, Talal (1993): Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reason of Power in Christianity and Islam, John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, p 236. (2003): Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity, Stanford University Press, Stanford, p 200. Connolly, William E (1995): The Ethos of Pluralisation, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. Chatterjee, Partha (1998): Secularism and Toleration in Rajeev Bhargava (ed), Secularism and Its Critics. Daniel, Valentine E (1996): Charred Lullabies: Chapters in An Anthropology of Violence, Princeton University Press, Princeton, chapter 7. Galanter, Marc (1997): Group Membership and Group Preferences in Indian in Marc Galanter, Law and Society in Modern India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, (1989), p 114. (1998): Secularism East and West, Rajeev Bhargava (ed), Secularism and Its Critics, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, (2004), p 258. Kalyanasundaranar, Thiru Vi (1982): Thiru Vika Vazhkkaik Kurippukkal, South India Saiva Siddhanta Works Publishing Society, (1944), Tirunelveli, p 647. Sikand, Yoginder (2003): Sacred Spaces: Exploring Traditions of Shared Faith in India, Penguin Books, New Delhi, p 17.

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May 28-June 4, 2005