ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Atheism, Injury and Hindutva in Contemporary India


Copeman Jacob - university of santiago de compostela, santiago, Spagna


04- Pathways from Injury: Legal Narratives of Prejudice and the Politics of Hate in South Asia


 Indian atheist criticism of religion provokes less a religio-legal discourse of blasphemy than one of ‘hurt religious sentiments’ as legitimating the violence levied in retaliation, which has come to form a hitherto unstudied aspect of what has come to be called ‘saffron terror’. While previously it was common to find atheists debating whether or not they were, or could still be, Hindus, with even Hindu nationalist leaders such as Savarkar judging Hinduism to be compatible with their own atheism, the internationally reported murder of rationalist leader Dr Dabholkar in Pune in 2013 and subsequent assassinations and harassment of Indian atheists apparently signal a newer tendency on the part of Hindutva groups to treat atheists in far more hostile terms as radically other. This paper documents a longer history of legalistic and other forms of antagonism (and collaboration) between the protagonists that complicates narratives of a sudden eruption of anti-atheist violence by Hindu nationalist activists. At the same time, the regimes of legality that foster Hindu right unaccountability have undoubtedly emboldened its activists. While Hindutva acts of intimidation provoke fear as a ‘political emotion’, publicly known atheists, who are forced to weigh up their strategies of publicity with newfound watchfulness, atheists are not simply silenced. Rather, in now gathering in less visible spaces (e.g. private online groups), new kinds of atheist community can form and gain purchase.