Hurt Sentiments: Secularism and Belonging in South Asia (Hardback)
  • Hurt Sentiments: Secularism and Belonging in South Asia (Hardback)

Hurt Sentiments: Secularism and Belonging in South Asia (Hardback)

Hardback 352 Pages
Published: 07/03/2023
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An insightful history of censorship, hate speech, and majoritarianism in post-partition South Asia.

At the time of the India-Pakistan partition in 1947, it was widely expected that India would be secular, home to members of different religious traditions and communities, whereas Pakistan would be a homeland for Muslims and an Islamic state. Seventy-five years later, India is on the precipice of declaring itself a Hindu state, and Pakistan has drawn ever narrower interpretations of what it means to be an Islamic republic. Bangladesh, the former eastern wing of Pakistan, has swung between professing secularism and Islam.

Neeti Nair assesses landmark debates since partition—debates over the constitutional status of religious minorities and the meanings of secularism and Islam that have evolved to meet the demands of populist electoral majorities. She crosses political and territorial boundaries to bring together cases of censorship in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, each involving claims of “hurt sentiments” on the part of individuals and religious communities. Such cases, while debated in the subcontinent’s courts and parliaments, are increasingly decided on its streets in acts of vigilantism.

Hurt Sentiments offers historical context to illuminate how claims of hurt religious sentiments have been weaponized by majorities. Disputes over hate speech and censorship, Nair argues, have materially influenced questions of minority representation and belonging that partition was supposed to have resolved. Meanwhile, growing legal recognition and political solicitation of religious sentiments have fueled a secular resistance.

Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 9780674238275
Number of pages: 352
Weight: 703 g
Dimensions: 235 x 156 x 30 mm


A sweeping, vital account of secularism, belonging, and minority religious politics…brave and visionary. - Benjamin Siegel, Journal of Church and State

Neeti Nair’s seminal work is bookended by one of the most significant issues of our times: the contentious and divisive Citizenship Amendments Bill…Its vast sweep of history, dating back to pre-Independence, straddles the space that sits between erudition and expatiation as well as reflection and retelling without descending into pedagogy and pamphleteering. - Radhika Ramaseshan, The Tribune

Nairʼs careful and comparative approach prompts us to be discerning about the narratives we encounter and to pay close attention to whose sentiments are being protected and whose silenced. - Prathiksha Srinivasa, Reading Religion

This is an important book for all looking at the past to seek answers to what is going on in South Asia at present. - Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, The Telegraph

Explores how secularism impacted state ideology in the decades after Partition in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh…Brilliant. - Mani Shankar Aiyar, Frontline

Probably the most important and notable book on South Asian constitutional and political history this year. - Yasser Latif Hamdani, Friday Times

A timely reminder that ascendant expressions of intolerance in South Asia are not aberrations…By exploring the connected historical causes of its current embattled state in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Hurt Sentiments stands out as an original work of research that has much to offer to scholars of South Asian history and politics. - Shreya Das, South Asian Review

Represents a notable addition to the scholarly discourse on the evolving dimensions of secularism. This intellectual history work delves into the foundational and early years of the South Asian states, providing valuable insights into the complex interplay between secularism, identity and belonging. …This is an essential read. - Ammad Ali, The News

This insightful and extensively researched book is as timely as it is relevant to the current political moment…By taking stock of the life and fate of this indigenously inflected secularism over aseventy-five-year period, Nair highlights the intellectual debates, individual political players, and the different historical moments that shaped the status of minority rights in the subcontinent. - Shahin Kachwala, South Asia Multidisciplinary Journal

[Nair is] able to simultaneously address those uninitiated in the politics of Hindu majoritarianism and minority communalism with a thought-through and riveting text, as well as provide food for contemplation for those who track the rise of divisive politics in India and its neighbours. - Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, Business Standard

A wide-ranging exploration of the many ways in which ‘hurt sentiments’ have been weaponised to disenfranchise and ghettoise religious minorities not just in India but across the subcontinent…Compelling. - Paromita Chakrabarti, Indian Express

Richly layered and draw[s] upon a wealth of details…The real story—and this is indeed the novelty and strength of Nair’s book—is how Gandhi’s death, and Godse’s defence in court shaped post colonial secularism, and the way in which minority rights were framed. - Manisha Sethi, Biblio

Provides helpful detail about parliamentary and constitutional debates in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan to show how majoritarian parties and interests mobilized and expanded the scope of ‘hurt sentiments’ to marginalize minorities…A valuable resource for students and scholars of South Asia. - Humeira Iqtidar, Asian Affairs

An important contribution…Give[s] critical insights into the ideology and practices of South Asian secularists and their role in the weakening of secularism as a political force in the region. - Sunny Kumar, Indian Economic and Social History Review

If defining concepts is an attempt to make our societies livable, it is a task worth to be taken. Nair does a remarkable job of showing how South Asian lawmakers navigated it. The book provides insights into what happened at the founding moments that influence the trajectory of the political life in the nation and its constituent elements, notably the marginalized. - Iymon Majid, Doing Sociology

The strength of the book is its historical detail and its comparative work. Nair maps out in great detail how each of these three nations — India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, begin with secularism as an ideology of the state. - Shefali Jha, Book Review

An engaging, insightful, and deeply researched account of the trajectory of secularism in South Asia. Nair brilliantly juxtaposes debates in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh to reveal how ‘hurt sentiments’ have imperiled secularism in different ways. Her focus on the late 1960s and 1970s as a pivotal moment in the transformation of secularism is entirely original, and powerfully illuminates its contemporary politics. - Pratap Bhanu Mehta, author of The Burden of Democracy

Breaking important new ground, Nair tracks the convoluted history of secularist practices in the subcontinent, in contrast to the more conventional preoccupation with their conceptual content. In the process, she enriches and complicates theories of Indian secularism. Historians and political sociologists of South Asia, as well as political theorists in general, will find much to appreciate. A truly significant work. - Tanika Sarkar, author of Hindu Nationalism in India

Opening with a brilliant chapter on the political aftermath of Gandhi’s assassination, Nair offers a new, compelling interpretation of the place of religion in the public life of postcolonial India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Hurt Sentiments deftly reconnects the history of ideas with the history of governmental practice. Making extensive and skillful use of constituent assembly and parliamentary debates, Nair provides a rare depth of historical understanding of censorship, civil liberties, blasphemy laws, and the fraught quest for secularism in the subcontinent. - Sugata Bose, author of His Majesty’s Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and India’s Struggle against Empire

In a wide-ranging intellectual history, Nair deftly explores the interrelated trajectories of freedom of expression to religion and public life in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Hurt Sentiments offers a thoughtful history that is urgently relevant to questions of the present day. - Alyssa Ayres, author of Our Time Has Come: How India Is Making Its Place in the World

This timely book speaks to the embattled state of secularism and minorities in South Asia over the last few years, keeping in view the legacies of colonialism and partition. Crossing national boundaries, it offers an insightful history of how majoritarian politics has mobilized the idea of ‘hurt sentiments’ to marginalize minority communities and redefine state ideologies in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Nair makes clear that the fate of secularism is not about an abstract ideology but concerns the polities where minorities enjoy equality. - Gyan Prakash, author of Emergency Chronicles: Indira Gandhi and Democracy’s Turning Point

A sensitive, historically textured, and wide-ranging assessment of the way in which hate speech and the weaponizing of ‘hurt sentiments’ efface the political agency of religious minorities across India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Nair assesses key conjunctures in colonial and postcolonial South Asia that led to either creative debate about constitutional guarantees for minorities or violent populist sentiment winning the day. Essential reading for our troubled times. - Radhika Singha, author of The Coolie's Great War: Indian Labour in a Global Conflict, 1914–1921

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