Maya Padamsee

I have recently completed my MPhil in Modern South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge. I am broadly interested in the question of contemporary communal violence in South Asia and its ideological roots. Specifically, my research considers what remnants of Hindutva ideology surrounding the notion of an ‘unprecedented’ history may have been working through such increasingly frequent events of orchestrated violence, and how participants in violence view themselves as enactors of such history.

In future doctoral research I intend to explore the lived experiences to explore the lived experiences and subjectivities of people partaking in acts of violence in the name of religious nationalism. Potent forms of religious nationalist movements have begun to revolve around the self-conscious recycling and reworking of iconic moments of contemporary and historical violence – as they do so, further embedding and establishing legitimacy and method for seizing political and populist power in the public sphere.

In my MPhil research and thesis, I examine the ways in which Hindutva theory and individual action are interwoven in exceptional moments of violence in contemporary South Asia, and how this dynamic has in turn necessitated new forms of legal activism. I pursue key Hindutva concepts of historical rupture and agency, from their ideological beginnings through to the testimony of kar sevak participants in the Gujarat pogrom of 2002. I examine an archive of interviews conducted with participants in mass mob violence across Ahmedabad. I argue such testimonies suggest that, not only is violence being informed by a Hindutva narrative of ‘historical rupture, but that the act itself is already being positioned by participants within an accompanying mythic framework – pre-emptively envisioning what might occur again in the future, and what might be remembered. I also begin to draw on the work done by NGOs and activist groups in India to collect and preserve testimony on the violence in Gujarat and analyse how an evolving process of justice ‘beyond the law’ is being shaped to counter the concept of a transcendent historical ‘truth’, through which the Hindutva project has sought to violently found itself on the ground.


Twitter: @mayapadamsee