Defining the postcolonial sacred: Contested places of worship in Delhi after Partition, 1947-1948

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    This paper discusses the conflicts around places of worship in Delhi during the months after the partition of British-India in August 1947. In the chaotic aftermath of the British departure from South Asia, the sacred and the secular became key concepts in the building of a postcolonial Indian nation, which ought to manifest itself primarily in its cities. Due to the religious principle of the divide between India and Pakistan, the constitution of the sacred and its place in (urban) society evolved into a key question of re-ordering state and society. Several hundreds of disputed mosques, Hindu temples, and Sufi shrines in Delhi needed to be officially authorised, renovated or demolished due to their ‘illegal’ status. The municipal as well as national authorities undertook these efforts not only to construct what they considered a modern, ‘religiously diverse’ India but also to define and implement their version of ‘secular’ statehood.
    The paper argues that these conflicts demonstrate various aspects of the contested boundaries between sacred and secular urban space in the context of decolonisation, forced migration, deprivation, and inter-religious violence: they were an opportunity for the state and its new elites to install their authority in the certification and authorisation of the sacred as well as the self-image as a secular instance located above the conflictive claims of religious communities; they provided an occasion to implement the state’s vision of a model (urban) society in the capital city as the torchbearer of the new postcolonial order, in which both the sacred and the secular were of central importance; and these conflicts were fuelled by conservative and extremist Hindu as well as Islamic organisations to counter these visions and use the contested ‘sacred’ as a means to propagate their own versions of the nation, religious-cultural hegemony, and social order.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages13
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2018
    EventEuropean Association of Urban History Conference: Urban renewal and resilience: cities in comparative perspective - Rome, Italy
    Duration: 29-Aug-20181-Sep-2018


    ConferenceEuropean Association of Urban History Conference

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