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Kosmopolis Institute Publications Day 17: ‘The Most Hardworking Group’

Day 17: ‘The Most Hardworking Group’

It seems like it was only yesterday that I first arrived in Bangalore to attend Monsoon School. In fact, two weeks have passed and I have been through half of the course. There is no class today and all of the participants are working with their group project. All of the three groups had an appointment to meet with their respective supervisor at 4 pm.


I joined in “pluralism effect” group under Ram’s supervision. Our meeting went well and we got a lot of feedback from him. Among the three groups, we are the last group to finish the meeting (the sky was already dark when we dismissed). Since then we are called ‘the most hardworking group’ and somehow we feel that we have to defend the title with keep (look) struggling with our paper.


“Pluralism effect” group is expected to reimagine theories and practices of pluralism in ways that make them relevant with today’s context. We works on various themes ranging from gender equality, freedom of expression, religious freedom, to secularism. I cannot tell all the details here but I have another puzzle to share that resembles the one that we are trying to solve.


In my previous blog, I left one question that is how do we deal with pluralism given the inadequacy of ‘the universal’? Ram invited us to engage with the question through three issues: (1) the tension between religion and freedom of expression; (2) the controversy over public manifestation of faith, and; (3) state intervention in religious minority rights.


In the first issue, Ram highlights Rushdie’s Satanic Verse case that is accused for offending Muslims. In this case, we discussed several questions such as: (1) what is considered as offence or insult and who decide that?; (2) why people react differently to the so-called defamation of religion? and; (3) is there any limit or restriction to freedom of expression?


Our discussion arrived at the following points: (1) insult or offence is related to individual (not community) and thus it is very subjective; (2) the reaction to blasphemy became fierce and widespread when it politicized and considered to offending community. (3) if there is any restriction to freedom of expression, it should be the principle of no harm between individual. Finally, we admit that there is problem in both sides (religion and freedom of expression) and we should find a responsible and civilized ways to engage with that.


The second issue related to public manifestation of faith. In this case, Ram illustrated the use of burqa in three scenarios: (1) in marketplace (the case of Leyla Sahin in Turkey and burqa ban in France); (2) in workplace (the case of Eweida in UK), and; (3) in vote booth (that require face identification due to technical reason).


We arrived at some interesting points but I will only highlight the three of them: (1) deciding whether the public manifestation of faith is allowed or not is a tricky matter; (2) there is an assumption behind every laws and it does not always brought the intended consequences. In France case, for instance, the burqa ban aimed to protect the freedom of women but ironically it turned out to cause social hostility and further domesticate women and; (3) when it comes to voluntary act as in vote booth scenario, one can choose to vote or not and state does not exactly ban burqa.


The last issue that we discussed is state intervention in religious minority rights. Ram provides us the debates around hajj subsidy and its appropriateness given the nature of Indian secularism. We arrived at a point that secularism, whether as ‘the wall of separation’ or as ‘principled distance,’ are getting problematic in this particular context. Our discussion continued to the relation between recognition and redistribution. Not all Muslim benefited by the hajj subsidy because the one that going for hajj is usually from the privileged upper caste Muslim. The recent recommendation thus is to reduce subsidy gradually and use the same amount for broader public services.

Irsyad Rafsadi is a researcher in Paramadina Foundation. He can be found at the backbench of the monsoon bus or classroom.