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Interdictions: Language, Religion & the (dis)Orders of Indian Identity

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Although religion and language have long been accepted as crucial to the formation of nationalisms, they continue to be analysed as separate components. Derrida's theorizing of the nexus religion-language-subjectivity, however, shows that language and religion, far from being separate, are inextricably connected. Indeed it could be claimed that the two processes (monotheism vs monolingualism) should be considered as part of a single formation that I prefer to call mono-theo-lingualism. In order to examine this claim this paper will juxtapose Derrida's key text on religion (Faith and Knowledge Within the Limits of Reason Alone) with his text that looks at the formation of the mother tongue (Monolingualism of the Other: or, the Prosthesis of Origin), and refract these texts through the South Asian experiences of colonization and decolonization. More specifically, I explore the above claim by attempting to forge a psychological and existential connection that links the work of a colonialist technology in a past historical moment with its legacy in the present. This link between past and present will be crystallized by weaving together personal memories and experiences of the disorders of my own identity as Sikh/Indian and British and relating them to a mode of monotheolingual address which was established between colonizer and colonized in the Anglo-Vernacular schools of nineteenth century North India. The multiple effects of this mode of address include: (i) the production of an economic (fluent) exchange between English as the First Idiom of the Raj, and the regional vernaculars represented by the imaginary figure of the mother tongue; that is to say, the invention of the mother tongue (Punjabi, Hindi) as the monolingual other of English; (ii) closely related to this, the colonizer's paternalistic demand for 'true religion' fostered through a belief in the unhindered translatability of religio, and the reciprocation of this demand by neo-colonial elites who invent the monotheistic formations we know today as Sikhism and Hinduism in order to inscribe themselves within the political and ideological space of Christianity; (iii) the ghostly yet machine-like returns of this regime in a post-colonial era through religio-linguistic retrievals of identity that are central to the working of contemporary multiculturalism. Together, the politics of language-making and the politics of religion-making continue to haunt not only the access that Indians have to their past, but, more importantly, the possibilities for engaging the political present as seen in the demand posed by the ideology of multiculturalism for understanding South Asians in the West in terms of identity.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2007

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