The drawback of this strategy, for secular-rationalist activists, is that it is at odds with their attempts to emphasise that their project is one deeply embedded in Indian history as a counter to the Hindu right and indeed scholarly charge that they are inheritors of the colonial mantle. This is what its literature has to say about rationalist naming practices:. Birth of a child, irrespective of gender, is a happy occasion for atheists and they share joy with others.
They name their children as per the events in history, current and international affairs, social and political changes or reflecting the beauty of nature. In order to break the barriers of caste and religion, atheists name their children in a secular manner, connoting a meaning relevant to the time or an event which has no religious connotation.
Many atheists are making the next generation secular and post religious. Atheists also stress on the need for birth registration, which is neglected in India. These, then, are attempts—partial but meaningful—at onomastic purification; secular innovations that nonetheless emerge from and reflect existing naming conventions. Moreover, onomastic purification can take many different forms and arise from quite different motivations. While some of this logic is no doubt exhibited in the case of Indian rationalists who in other contexts certainly make it their business to expunge religious symbolism, a critical difference is that in this case purification concerns less a move toward secular or rationalist piety or virtue than a move towards productive not-knowing and disidentification.
Which is to say that here purification and commitment to confusion go together, with purification not aimed at narrowing down to a singular association such as Tamil but at the removal of all associations.
It is difficult to gauge whether this intention is often, or even ever, fulfilled, but recognition of the intention is important in itself, and I can attest to the surprise they can generate. But there is a problem. The ad, aired in , was for the Indian mobile phone company Idea Cellular, and featured film actor Abhishek Bachchan, son of Bollywood icon Amitabh.
Set in an unspecified part of rural India it depicts caste-based strife between two fictitious village communities, the Thumihars and the Purmis. Then an idea strikes.
Everyone will be known by a number. The ad goes on to show every person being known by a nine-digit number that starts with 9 and it stops the fighting in the village as people forget their caste identities. Consider also the Aadhaar biometric identity card scheme in which every citizen in India is assigned a digit individual identification number to serve as proof of identity.
Cohen a notes that part of the promise of the number is precisely that it might produce de-territorialised identities free of biography: finger prints, eye photos and indeed numbers rather than names: freedom from identity.
India is a secular state, which means that there is no official religion in India. The great Indian leaders like Gandhi and Nehru did not accept this ideology of. With the [Xoma penal code ] of the Constitution of India enacted in , India does not . Secularism in India, thus, does not mean separation of religion from state. .. "Indian Controversies: Essays on Religion in Politics" by Arun Shourie, Publishers: Rupa & Co, South Asia Books, A S A Publications, Language: English.
But of course, and for good reason, reduction to a number is usually seen as being precisely that—an acutely negative reduction. In other words, it is precisely the connotative power of number its rendering equivalent that allows it to be mobilised as a fantasy of pure denotation. But as we shall see, the second strategy, like the first, raises several problems.
Of a saraswat Brahmin background, Narendra Dabholkar had already replaced his original caste title surname with one indicating his place of origin. Only then will it go away. I say to [my son], use both names—[Hindu] Kalanathan as well as [Islamic] Shameel. My sense, from travelling with activists from town to town in Bihar, Karnataka and Maharashtra on science education campaigns, is that boundary-crossing names have a higher capacity than purified names to surprise those who encounter them.
In this recombinatory onomastics surprise is produced through unexpected juxtaposition. In part this is because rationalists share the latter strategy with many non-rationalists who practice it for other most commonly caste-obviating reasons, whereas boundary-crossing names are more particular to rationalists. Similarly, though a significant minority of activists has adopted boundary-crossing names for either themselves or their children, such names are not as frequently used as purified ones.
In particular, purifiers may be disparaging about the boundary-crossing strategy of naming in such a way that retains religious connotations. The purifiers, as we know, seek out names without religious connotations, though boundary-crossers are quick to point out that they rarely achieve this. Sahasra, as we have seen, may not refer explicitly to a religious concept, but is categorised as a Hindu name in Indian baby name guides. The two strategies seem to reflect a tension between varieties of secularism: Purified names seem to reflect onomastically the separatist agenda of rationalist umbrella organization the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations FIRA which campaigns on a national level for a stricter separation between state and religion.
But for such a claim to be satisfactory it requires qualification. The transcategorialism of secular names is meant to transform the world dethrone the algorithm rather than simply reflect abstract rival doctrines of political thought. So again, secular names do not simply reflect an ideology but are designed to iteratively produce a particular kind of intersubjective sensibility.
Having themselves been profoundly affected by communal violence, the parents named their child in a way that served as a prophylactic against the lure of othering. The Hindu-background activists I know who have given Islamic or Christian names to their children, which perforce are subject to continual repetition, did so as a kind of secular technology of the self to avoid othering a community that their political opponents have no compunction about de-humanizing and as recognition of its temptation.
But what are the effects of such names? What kind of responses do such names engender? Given the Hindu provenance of most activists, one could make a case that boundary-crossing names operate ironically through a classical Hindu mode of laying claim to, and incorporating, otherness. We might ask: what makes the other available for incorporation in this way? What sorts of power relations inhere? Are Muslims in a position to object?
I do not mean to imply that they would object if only given the chance but it is nevertheless important to acknowledge the structure of possibilities here. Hindus may happily go to a church and light candles and this may be seen as a testament to the greatness and inclusiveness of Hinduism. But such inclusiveness also constructs religion as such in a certain way, one that may be just as dogmatic and imperial as more exclusive forms of worship.
Certainly, boundary-crossing names are markedly differentiated. Consider, for instance, the multiple associations of the name of contemporary north Indian guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insan—this, I suggest, is a name that enfolds; being suggestive both of the bhakti universalism his movement espouses and of the guru as embodied confluence Das a of different religious traditions.
Accusations of appropriation do form a response to the rationalist boundary-crossing name, as we shall see; however, their source is not the community that at first glance we might consider the subject of appropriation, but the Hindu right. The Muslim-background rationalists I know either shrug or applaud, which is unsurprising given their affiliation with the movement.
This is also witnessed in the names borne by the children of Bollywood icon Shahrukh and Gauri Khan see epigraph. The offers of assistance made by rationalist groups show their sympathy for inter-faith marriages, but of course the majority of such marriages do not arise from anything so grand as an ideological position on secularism taken up by the couple.
Though less widespread than it once was, some incoming brides in north India change or have changed for them their forename as well as surname to mark their new circumstances. Inter-faith or -caste marriages, too, may occasion the bride changing her name to efface the boundary crossing the relationship embodied in a kind of post-hoc imposition of propriety. Thus is non-Abrahamic Hinduism integrated into an imagined Abrahamic secularism. What is your caste? The boundary-crossing name is in part interventionist—intended to eventuate the disidentity it embodies—but also normative in depicting what transcategorialism ideally should be like and as such at odds with ordinary naming conventions.
In addition to the teasing of those who bear them, there is the even blunter instrument of simply refusing to use such names. A Kolkata-based, Hindu-background activist described to me how her non-rationalist family members 20 do exactly this in respect of her daughter: that is, they ignore the Islamic name given to her by her parents, having between them—and quite independently of her parents—decided on a Hindu name for her that they would use.
The activist is fearful that they may even have consulted a pandit for the purpose. But the problems they face are not discrete and may overlap, which is what we find in the next illustrative example which concerns the name of the aforementioned film actor Shriram Lagoo. Dabholkar and Lagoo then began a program they named Vivek Jagar Knowledge Awakening in which they staged debates across Maharashtra.
Lagoo wanted to go to Mumbai by night train. We, all the organizers, were at station to see him off.
The train was late. During that period we saw a group of young people rushing towards Dr.
At first we thought that the group may be fans of Doctor who also is a famous film actor… Within no time they surrounded us and started shouting slogans like Jai [ i. Lagoo should shout Jai Shri Ram. Lagoo was not afraid at all. All these angry young men were confused. At that moment the train entered the platform and Dr. Lagoo boarded the train.
Everyone has the right to practice his religion and speak his language. On this front, again, the situation varies from one Congress-ruled state to another, according to the capacity of state leaders to resist pressure from Hindu nationalists. But India has religious tolerance and as Swami Vivekananda said religious tolerance is the most admirable quality in a Hindu. All traditional states and societies in the medieval period have been theocracies. This has been described as inconsistency in the growth of secularism in India.
Thus further confrontation was avoided. No change, or renaming, has taken place to cause offence—it is his continued use of the name that seems to be the problem.
Some are Bhagwan or Paramatma Singh, even Ram—there are so many. But I have not chosen my name. My parents gave me my name. I became a rationalist later on in life. So how can I change it? From such an angle, his name may indeed be construed as boundary crossing: a rationalist, he nonetheless bears a notably Hindu name. Of course, as with brand names Mazzarella, this issue , accruing improper associations is a risk built into the very existence of personal names.
Many a ctivists take delight in staging their weddings on inauspicious days, feasting during eclipses, and consuming substances such as meat and alcohol that in many contexts are shunned as impure. The two onomastic strategies—of purification on the one hand and boundary crossing on the other—aim to achieve similar ends, but pursue different means.
The focus on their problems has not been because I view the strategies as flawed or the deeply held convictions informing them as not significant, but because it affords illumination of the differentiated nature and differently weighted priorities of Indian rationalist and secular campaigning, and the manner in which problem-solving can beget new kinds of problems. I conclude by pointing to a final way in which some secular names have been considered to be problematic.
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Advertisement Hide. This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access. Anderson, Benedict : Imagined Communitics. Reflectians on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso Apter, David ed. Asad, Talal ; Formations of the Secular. Bellah, Robert N. In: Daedalus 96 1 : Google Scholar. In: Cuder, Donald R.