Eleventh National Workshop

The Minority Question: Constructions and Contestation”: A Report

Question(s) on/of the minority continue to occupy a position of significance and notable concern in contemporary theoretical discourse as well as in our ongoing social political practice. Who is a minority? Or, more exactly, what is a minority? Correspondingly, what is a majority? What are the legitimate and authentic claims of a minority? To what extent is the mainstream modern discourse responsible for the othering of the minority?  Is the minority a homogeneous closed category? Are there forms of double disadvantage or advantage within the category of the minority?  To what extent can/should the minority be accommodated in the dominant discourse? What are the valid techniques and tools of such accommodation? These and many more such questions at once cast doubts on, challenge and seek to redefine the dominant moral political thought and practice.


As it would seem, much has been said about the valid claims to justice and recognition of different minorities and the imperative to accommodate such claims within our history, narratives and practices. Social and political theorists like Charles Taylor, Seyla Benhabib, Will Kymlicka and Amy Gutmann among others have offered thoughtful and critical comments on the exclusions from dominant discourses the claims of the minorities. Such arguments have convincingly questioned widely held assumptions about the inclusiveness of the canon, the neutrality of the state, the professed adequacy of the nation and the representative possibilities of the universal individual self. Literary theorists underscore the need for a broader context of historical transaction of knowledge in which high theory and its psychological “double” engage in a complex process of mutual contestation for acquiring legitimacy for articulation. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari argue for the formation of minor literature within the cleavages of major literature rather than making a separate case for it.


Even as the validity and legitimacy of such arguments is keenly contested and at times disowned, the debate on minorities continues to evolve in its moral and political importance. Newer concerns, such as the constructions and representations of the margin, the politics of alternative theories of just inclusion, the relationship between the sovereign insider and the minority outsider, and definition and defense of the authenticity of the ethical and political claims of the minor compel a restructuring of, or in the least, a response from our political and discursive terrain.


In an attempt to mark an intervention in the discourse on minorities by understanding the question(s) on/of the minority in its theoretical nuance, as well as work out possible and desirable responses to this question, the Forum on Contemporary Theory organized the eleventh national workshop on the theme “The Minority Question: Constructions and Contestation” between the 14th and 17th of October 2006 at the Centre for Contemporary Theory, Vadodara. The workshop was attended by participants with different knowledge interests such as literature, political studies, sociology, linguistics, history, art history and activism from across the country. The workshop was conducted by Rajeev Bhargava, Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi; Prafulla C Kar, Director, Centre for Contemporary Theory, Vadodara and Zoya Hasan, Member, National Commission for Minorities and Professor of Political Science at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.


The workshop was structured around lectures, discussions and participants’ presentations and interactive sessions on some seminal texts of Michel de Certeau, Akeel Bilgrami, Etienne Balibar, Suzanne Gearhart, Giorgio Agamben, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Charles Taylor, Amy Gutmann, Nancy Fraser and Seyla Benhabib. The workshop intended to at once trace the history and politics of the minority question as it developed as well as relate it to the movement of the minority question in India.


The workshop incorporated public lectures by Zoya Hasan and Rajeev Bhargava. In her lecture on “The Political Discourse on Minorities” Zoya Hasan offered a critical and provocative comment on the relationship between the promises of the Indian Constitution and the prospects and practices of minority politics. Comparing the concerns and needs of the different minorities in India, she argued for a comprehensive and multi-layered response to the question of the minority. In a stimulating and eloquent lecture entitled “Multiple Secularisms,” Rajeev Bhargava analyzed the relationship between the projects of secularism and the majority-minority dilemma. Advancing the thesis of multiple modernities, Bhargava made plain the inevitable logic and need for different and multiple secularisms, wherein Indian secularism with its guarantee of community and cultural rights, a positively intervening state and a pledge to democratic justice, could serve as a conceptual model for multicultural and multireligious societies.


The majority-minority dilemma has never been restricted within or by the boundaries of the nation-state; in fact one of the continuing tensions of present times is the spilling over of the minority question across national borders. For South Asia, the formation of and processes of legitimizing modern nation states, may have fuelled rather than settled the majority-minority dilemma. And then regardless of their otherwise different and at times conflicting interests, the concern with the minority appears to unite as well as dominate our understanding, experiences and analysis of South Asia. In an attempt to comprehend the South Asian perspective on the minority question, the workshop included two panel discussions, namely “The Minority Question: The Indian Perspective” and the “The Minority Question: The South Asian Perspective.” The panelists included Thomas Pantham, E V Ramakrishnan, Dilip H Mohite, Y Ranjith Amarasinghe, Gamini Keerawella and Sudhindra Sharma. These panels served to illuminate and trace the potential as well as imperative for a South Asian convergence on the discourse on the minority.


The contribution and triumph of an academic exchange is often considered by its openness and its ability to mark new possibilities. By discussing and debating this question in its nuance we at the Centre hoped to evolve a theoretical or conceptual basis from which to adequately explain and possibly address this question. To that extent, the workshop and the Forum on Contemporary Theory succeeded in opening up some new ways of understanding, critiquing and addressing the minority question.


Lajwanti Chatani

Convener of the Workshop

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