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The Hindu nationalist reinterpretation of pilgrimage in India: the limits of Yatra politics

Abstract : Victor Turner's anthropological reading of pilgrimages in terms of communitas is of utmost relevance in the case of Hinduism: indeed, Hindu pilgrimages produce a relative and temporal obliteration of social cleavages – particularly caste divisions – allowing the emergence of a sense of group belonging. Moreover, the geography of pilgrimage sites maps out the sacred land, marking the area of extension of Hindu civilisation in space. Hindu nationalists have tried to exploit this particular alchemy to offer an ethnic definition of the nation (and its territory) and thereby gather a following by lending some of their demonstrations the appearance of a pilgrimage. This approach asserted itself in the early 1980s thanks to the Ekatmata Yatra (Unity March) in 1983, and was confirmed in 1990 during the Rath Yatra (Chariot festival). Nevertheless, the instrumentalist interpretation of such movements comes up against an issue that is already at the core of subaltern studies' historiography, i.e. that masses do not always mobilise for the reasons put forth by political leaders. More specifically, if women march massively in the streets during these Yatra pilgrimages, it is both because they feel concerned by the reason for demonstrations and because these demonstrations have legitimised their entry into the public space, which still remains relatively closed to them.
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Submitted on : Friday, November 5, 2021 - 2:55:25 AM
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Christophe Jaffrelot. The Hindu nationalist reinterpretation of pilgrimage in India: the limits of Yatra politics. Nations and Nationalism, 2009, 15 (1), pp.1 - 19. ⟨hal-03415737⟩

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