Diane P Mines (6)
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Part Four Practicing Religion

Diane P Mines Indiana University Press ePub

The “world religions” of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Jainism, and Sikhism, as well as Christianity and Judaism, have long found a home in South Asia.1 Perhaps it is this flowering of so many religious traditions that has led many Westerners to imagine that South Asia is a very “spiritual” place. For many middle-class Americans and Europeans, as well as Asians, the practice of yoga, meditation, Ayurvedic medicine, and other “Eastern” traditions has been promoted as a healthy, spiritual alternative to our harried, anxiety-filled and materially overwhelming lives. That is, South Asian religions have, since the nineteenth century, been structured by Westerners in opposition to capitalist values and economic culture. However, looking at the practical religious experiences of residents of the region, it turns out that material well-being, politics, power relations, and the violence these sometimes entail are also aspects of South Asian religious life. The intertwining of religion with politics and economics can be discerned in even the briefest outline of the histories of these religions in South Asia.

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Part Five Nation-Making

Diane P Mines Indiana University Press ePub

Colonialism had a profound effect on the structure of all South Asian societies, and for these as for many other “post-colonies” in the world today, the move from being a colony to being independent nation-states has been accompanied by struggles to define anew national identities and boundaries. Both violence and peace-making processes have played a role in this process of nation-making.

By about 1800, the British had effectively colonized most of South Asia. British presence in mainland South Asia started in the 1600s with the British East India Company. The British colonized Sri Lanka a little later, in 1796, when they took over territories held there by the Dutch, who had colonized the island from 1658 to 1796. (The Dutch themselves had taken over from the Portuguese, who controlled the island from 1505 to 1658.) In India (which included what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh), to protect company interests in the face of an attempted mutiny by Indian soldiers in 1857, the British established direct colonial rule, and they let go of it only in the middle of the twentieth century. India and Pakistan (including what is now Bangladesh) achieved independence in 1947. Sri Lanka (previously Ceylon) followed shortly thereafter in 1948. Nepal, while never directly colonized, nonetheless was politically structured in part by British policy, having entered into enduring treaties with the British in the nineteenth century. The struggles of many colonized peoples to redefine territories and national languages, histories, and ideologies began, in most places, well before independence and continue today in these post-colonies. The chapters in this part all address some of these ongoing struggles.

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Part Two Genders

Diane P Mines Indiana University Press ePub

Gender is, for all of us, a part of our identity and how we are socialized. It is implicated in the ways we approach action in the world and make judgments about those actions. It is part of how we organize ourselves into social groups. Experiences and attitudes about gender and what it is to be male, female, or transgendered are an aspect of almost anything we do—a central dimension of everyday life.

Important diversity, of course, exists in experiences of gender across South Asia. New social and economic realities impacting gender have emerged especially among India’s urban middle classes, in part spurred by the economic liberalization policies of the early 1990s: there has been a sizable increase of women in the professional workforce, a perceived decline in joint family living, and a widespread sense that younger women—especially if highly educated, older at marriage, and working—do not wish to move in with their in-laws. As we saw in the previous section, “love” marriages are also becoming more common. Many young South Asian women will marry someone of their own choosing, or never move in with their parents-in-law, or move abroad for professional work. Nonetheless, in rural and even urban South Asia, it is still very common and normal for a woman to progress over her life from being a daughter in her natal home, to a wife and daughter-inlaw in her husband’s and in-laws’ home, to a mother of young children, to a mother-in-law, and finally to an older woman and, frequently, a widow.

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Part Six Globalization, Public Culture, and the South Asian Diaspora

Diane P Mines Indiana University Press ePub

South Asian social-cultural life is not bound within the specific locales or regions that constitute geographically what we know as South Asia. Rather, it is in essential respects flowing, mobile, and public. People, ideas, values, commodities, media images, and popular cultural forms flow into, out of, and around South Asia to create what can be considered a “public culture.” This public culture is very much a part of South Asians’ everyday lives, both for those in the diaspora and for those who live in the villages and cities of South Asia while partaking in localized public or global cultural forms.

Arjun Appadurai and Carol Breckenridge coined the term “public culture” in their 1988 article “Why Public Culture?” in Public Culture. They use it to refer to a “zone of cultural debate” (6) within which persons engaging in many areas of study (including history, literature, anthropology, media studies, the arts, and folklore) discuss the relationship between a local culture (Indian culture or Tamil culture, for example) and the apparently uniform, global, or transnational culture that seems increasingly to define a homogeneous cosmopolitan elite culture—the world’s urban middle and upper classes who share many of the same tastes and values.1 Before Appadurai and Breckenridge, Milton Singer called attention to the kinds of public cultural performances so important to understanding South Asia in When a Great Tradition Modernizes (1972). Singer defined cultural performances as the particular instances of cultural organization—such as plays, musical concerts, public lectures, dance performances, weddings, temple festivals—through which Indians, and perhaps all people, think of their culture (70–72). Through the study of such performances, Singer argued, scholars can piece together understandings about the culture and values of the society in which these performances are produced and consumed.

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Part One The Family and the Life Course

Diane P Mines Indiana University Press ePub

The family is a central site of everyday life in South Asia. It is an arena through which persons move through the life-course passages of birth, youth, marriage, parenthood, aging, and dying; it can be a place of love and conflict, material sustenance and want, companionship and painful separations. One term for family in several Indian languages is samsara, which means literally “that which flows together,” and also more broadly connotes worldly life in general. In its sense as family, samsara refers to the assembly of kin and household things that “flow with” persons as they move through their lives.

One common assumption held by many both within and outside South Asia is that South Asians live ideally in “joint families,” consisting of a married couple, their sons, sons’ wives and children, any unmarried daughters, and perhaps even grandsons’ wives and children. We see in the following selections that this assumption is both true and not true, and that family relationships and structures are richly complex and varied. In general, urbanites tend to live in smaller, more nuclear households than those in rural areas, and poorer people (with less land and smaller homes to their names) tend to live in smaller households than the wealthier. National and transnational migration also affects household structures, as many across South Asia are moving to cities or abroad for work, only sometimes bringing the rest of their families with them.

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