This paper takes the women’s movement as the site for unpacking some of the strains and tensions involved in practical interpretations of secularism in present-day India. Several within and outside the movement point out that there has been a tendency to take the existence of secularism for granted; that the supposedly secular idioms and symbols used for mobilising women have been drawn from Hindu religio-cultural sources. Women from ex-untouchable and religious minority communities have felt alienated by this. Hindu nationalists have cleverly appropriated these idioms and symbols to mobilise women as foot soldiers to further religious nationalism.
Through the case study of a grassroots women’s NGO working in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, the paper seeks to explore how women’s organisations may be reshaping their agenda and activism to address this issue. Specifically, the paper examines how and why the 2002 Gujarat riots affected the NGO, the ways in which it has started working on the issue of communal harmony and engaging with Muslims since the riots, and the challenges that it has been confronted with as a result of its efforts. In doing so, the paper brings out how the complexities of NGO-based women’s activism get intertwined with the politics of secularism.
The paper has been accepted for publication in Modern Asian Studies.
Radhika Govinda is an Assistant Professor at Ambedkar University Delhi, India. She is concurrently associated with its School of Development Studies, School of Human Studies (Gender Studies Group), and Centre for Social Science Research Methods. She has a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Delhi, India, a Master’s Degree from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po), France and a PhD from the University of Cambridge, UK.
Her research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of political science, gender and development with an area specialisation in South Asia. Radhika Govinda is presently PI on the project ‘Gender and Identity Politics in Urban Renewal in Delhi’ (funded by the Indian Council of Social Science Research). Her research has been published in Gender and Development, Contemporary South Asia and Journal of South Asian Development. She is currently working on a book manuscript titled ‘In The Name of “Poor and Marginalised”: NGO Activism, Gender and Politics in Uttar Pradesh, India’.