This is a preprint of a review whose final and definite form has been published in The Book Review; see entry in my publication list. The book itself is here

Accumulation by Segregation: Muslim localities in Delhi. By Ghazala Jamil. Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2017, pp. 244, Rs 750

This is a preprint of a review whose final and definite form has been published in Commonwealth & Comparative Politics © Taylor & Francis; see publisher's version and entry in my publication list. The book itself is here

India’s Muslim spring: why is nobody talking about it?, by Hasan Suroor, New Delhi, Rupa, 2014, xv + 200 pp., £13.99 (hardback), ISBN 9788129130983

Since the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992, increasing Hindu-Muslim polarisation and subsequent Muslim marginalisation seemed inevitable in India - until the UPA government elected in 2004 made the fate of the country’s largest religious minority a political priority again. The presentation of the Sachar Committee Report on Muslims’ social, economic and educational status to India’s parliament in late 2006 engendered a powerful re-imagination of Muslim Indians as citizens who are primarily poor and only secondarily a religious minority (the usual dialectic reifications and homogenisations notwithstanding). With its almost Foucauldian politics of enumeration, the report countered pervasive doubts and suspicions about an allegedly unruly and alien segment of India’s population with a solid statistical grasp of ‘hard’ economic facts. While the report was widely acclaimed for opening up new avenues of academic inquiry and political intervention, India’s Muslim spring by Hasan Suroor now demonstrates that this ‘rationalisation’ indeed succeeded in redefining elite perception as well.

Can one infer the religious community to which an Indian belongs from his or her name? Intuitively, the answer would be yes: Indians and those familiar with the country certainly develop a pretty good sense for such inferences. And even though names remain only one among several clues (including dress, language, etc), names alone are sadly often reason enough to discriminate against people (for instance to deny Muslims housing). But most Indians also know the flurry of probing questions along the lines of "What's your name?" - "X" - "No, your full name?" - "X Y" - "Where are you from?" - "Z" - "No, I mean: Hindu?". Clearly, names are not always good indicators to gauge an individual's community.

Today's post sheds a probabilistic light on this problem. First, I discuss why it could be useful to infer communities from names. Next, I introduce a name matching algorithm which I developed to achieve this task (building on others' earlier efforts, and available for download below under the GNU Affero GPL license). Finally, I give a first indication of how good my algorithm works: what's in a name? Your comments are of course highly appreciated - and I apologize in advance for a rather technical post (which is in fact as much a writeup for my own memory as it is meant for you to read). Once I develop empirical applications of this software, I promise more lively prose...

Recently, a friend in Delhi asked me a seemingly simple question: why are you in India? I found it a surprisingly hard question to answer - for once because it goes both deep and shallow, strangely enough. Today, I will try to answer it. Why do I want to devote my professional (and by extension a large bit of my private) life to India? This story has to start, I think, in Pakistan.

It has to start in Pakistan for two quite simple reasons. First of all, anthropologically, South Asia is one. This is beautifully displayed in a famous map by Himal South Asia, which turns the globe upside down (pictured to the right) and gives a compelling visual impression of this unity - rather than singling India out, as usual projections tend to do. This map therefore features in most of my teaching on South Asia to say that the subcontinent rests on solid shared foundations. Obviously the statement that "anthropologically, South Asia is one" can only also mean that "anthropologically, South Asia are many" - but what separates the many from each other is not necessarily a national boundary (though different political systems make a difference, I am not denying this). The diversity within India, within Pakistan, within Bangladesh, and even within the tiny Nepal is arguably wider than the differences between them. Thus reflecting on India from Pakistan is perfectly appropriate...

This is a preprint of a review whose final and definite form has been published in Contemporary South Asia © Taylor & Francis; see publisher's version and entry in my publication list. The book itself is here.

Articles of faith: Religion, secularism, and the Indian Supreme Court, by Ronojoy Sen, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2010, xli + 237 pp., ISBN 0-19-806380-6

After independence, India established a ‘principled distance’ between religion and the state as part and parcel of becoming a ‘modern nation’. At the same time, India also saw the rise of Hindu nationalist forces which question this very distance. Both seemingly opposed trends share common roots, argues Ronojoy Sen in his detailed exegesis of Supreme Court judgments on religion: the court ‘significantly narrowed the space for religious freedom’ by ‘homogenizing and rationalizing religion and religious practices’ – which in turn ‘strengthened the hand of Hindu nationalists, whose ideology is based on a monolithic conception of Hinduism and intolerance of minorities’ (xxix, xxx). While identifying the link between exclusivist Hindutva and wider trends towards a more homogeneous and standardized Hinduism ‘as a religion’ is not that new, Sen manages to shift this debate from colonial to post-colonial times, and is the first to highlight the key role of the judiciary. This makes his book an important contribution to the study of religion, law and politics in contemporary India.