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7 - The twentieth century: socio-religious movements in a politicized world

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2008

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The twentieth century brought a number of crucial alterations to the context within which socio-religious movements functioned, succeeded, or failed. The most important of these changes was the rise to prominence of secular nationalism expressed by the Indian National Congress. Nationalist fervour peaked four times before 1947: first in the years 1905–7, then during the three Gandhian campaigns of 1919–22, 1930–4, and 1942. This wave-like pattern was contrasted by periods of severe religious conflict that emerged in a counter-design following the nationalist peaks. Both waves, nationalist and communalist, produced political action, but with conflicting goals and opposing organizations.

A third pattern of modifications arose from the constitutional reforms. The most significant came in 1909 when separate electorates were granted to the Muslims of British India. This method of reserving seats in the regional and central legislative bodies was basic to the concept of religion as a community, that is, a collection of individuals defined through their adherence to a particular set of doctrines. The concept of religion as a community grew from the introduction of a decennial census in 1871. The census defined religious communities, counted them, and examined their characteristics as social and economic units. The granting of separate electorates linked religion, the census reports, political power, and political patronage. The later constitutional reforms of 1919 and 1935 extended the number of religious and social groups who were given a share of political power. In turn, these ‘reforms’ stimulated and reinforced a new form of political institution.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1990

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