Social Scientist. v 27, no. 312-313 (May-June 1999) p. 17.

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Gender Lines: Personal Laws, Uniform Laws, Conversion

The diatribes and outrageous violence against christians by the hindu right are structurally and discursively similar to those against muslims, and have willy nilly succeeded in turning conversion into a 'national' issue. They have also brought several latent ideological kinships and dilemas to the surface. I want to draw attention to some of these to provoke a rethinking of the personal law debate and a reformulation of religious plurality for egalitarian projects. The hindu right's attack on conversion and their propagation of a uniform civil code function as devices for mobilisation, minority baiting, and representing hindus as victims of historical 'wrongs.' Both display a remarkable capacity to alter the very terms of the discourse, and rest, unsurprisingly, on similar ideological presuppositions. What is surprising, and unsettling, are the parallels between some features in the crystallisation of personal laws and the debate on uniform laws, and the hindu right's positions on conversion and 'reconversion'. The production, hierarchization arid enforcement of primordiality obtain in both these fields, and, there is a complementarity between the logics of particularist legal homogenisation and the ideological premises of current anti-conversion and 'reconversion' agendas. A classificatory schema restricted to five 'major' religions (Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism), was the product of a number of processes among which legal definition of personal laws was one. A similar schema enters the current anti-conversion campaign in more convoluted ways, undermines religious plurality, exorbitates Hinduism, actively facilitates the 'othering' and 'denationalisation' of minority religions. Personal laws and anti-conversion/reconversiori have discrete as well as intersecting legal and political histories with

* Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, New Delhi

Social Scientist, Vol. 27, Nos. 5- 6, May - June 1999

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