“Sacred Duty”

Walled Secularism in Independent India

  • Sheelalipi Sahana University of Edinburgh


Ismat Chughtai, an Indian writer in the 20th Century was influential in the Urdu literary scene for her role in furthering the women’s cause. This paper focuses on her translated short story “Sacred Duty” in which the sanctity of ‘secularism’ is questioned by addressing interfaith marriages in order to polarise religious orthodoxy of older generations with that of the flippancy of the youth. It unfurls the pseudo-fraternal form of coexistence of the middle and upper class ‘progressives’ that was practiced to appease their own sense of modernity. By contextualising this within the communal riots of post-partition India, a seeming anxiety is noticed within the newer generations in contending with their ‘duty’ to the nation and religion. Offsetting this against the postcolonial scholarship by Partha Chatterjee based on Benedict Anderson’s notion of an “imagined community,” this story remarks on the strength of that argument in view of the religious boundaries that consecrate such a nation. The married couple Samina and Tashar’s stance heralds a crucial question about the possibility of climbing over this wall drawn out by Hindus and Muslims and escaping this ‘community’ altogether. Through this analysis, the restricted nature of Indian secularism post-Independence is highlighted as propagating divisionist ideology.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.2218/forum.28.3050
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