The Law of Force: The Violent Heart of Indian Politics

Book cover Thomas Blom Hansen

The Law of Force: The Violent Heart of Indian Politics

Friday, 26 November 2021 - 4:00pm
Online - Zoom
Thomas Blom Hansen (Stanford)
Faisal Devji

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The Law of Force is a searing critique of the illiberal and violent forces that continue to dominate our everyday life and politics. These forces began to make themselves felt in the 1980s and 1990s—regional movements, the empowerment of lower-caste communities but also Hindu nationalism—and reflected, among many other things, a deeply illiberal underside of Indian politics. Theirs was a language of deprivations and anger, and a politics of passion claiming to represent hitherto voiceless majorities. This language of strength was not based on a commitment to the values of the Constitution but, rather, a belief in popular sovereignty, the moral right of electoral majorities, and violence as a legitimate expression of political will.

Hansen discusses the discrepancy between the liberal language of rights in the Constitution and the largely illiberal and often violent ways in which the ‘force of law’ is visited upon non-elite Indians by the country’s police powers. He argues that a new and intensified sense of intimacy and hurt have facilitated the rise of a popular politics of passion and action that in turn has made public violence and the mobilization of public anger into some of the most effective means of political expression in the country. These sentiments and techniques of what Hansen calls ‘the law of force’ have been honed and perfected by the Hindu nationalist movement over the past decades..

Hansen is an anthropologist of political life, ethno-religious identities, violence and urban life in South Asia and Southern Africa. He has multiple theoretical and disciplinary interests from political theory and continental philosophy to psychoanalysis, comparative religion and contemporary urbanism. Much of professor Hansen’s early fieldwork was done during the tumultuous and tense years in the beginning of the 1990s when conflicts between Hindu militants and Muslims defined national agendas and produced frequent violent clashes in the streets. Out of this work came two books: The Saffron Wave. Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India (Princeton 1999) which explores the larger phenomenon of Hindu nationalism in the light of the dynamics of India’s democratic experience, and Wages of Violence: Naming and Identity in Postcolonial Bombay (Princeton 2001) which explores the historical processes and identity formations that gave rise of violent socioreligious conflict and the renaming of the city in 1995.

Hansen is currently finishing a book on the global spread of notions of popular sovereignty and the rise of illiberal democracy. He is also engaged in a long term historical and ethnographic investigation of ‘vernacular urbanism’, that is, the dynamics of social segregation and community-based capitalism in the fast-growing provincial cities across South Asia.