Architectures of Fear and Spaces of Hope in Banaras

A City beyond Monolithic Identity

in Asian Journal of Social Science
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Identity of Banaras was once again back in the limelight with the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) Prime Ministerial candidate Mr. Narendra Modi choosing to represent the city. Known also as Kashi and Varanasi, Banaras indeed played a strategic role in representing the politics the incumbent party believed in. With the overwhelming majority to Modi, the city of Banaras is further idealized as an archetypal city of the Brahminical Hinduism with the spectacular images of temples and ghats that remain teeming with Pandas and devotees. This particular Hindu identity of the city has been constructed through the selective images over time from the colonial period onwards in the 19th century. Identity formation, whether of a community or a city, social or symbolic is spatially situated process and spatial centrality is important in understanding the identity of a city in general and Banaras in particular. We in this paper argue that how in case of Banaras some spaces were mobilized and centralized to create this hindutva identity. In this representational mobilization of identity, the city of Banaras represents a spectacular space removed from its own spatiality. Proclaimed space of Banaras seems not to be a product of social practices rather it is symbolic spaces generated through the trajectories of ideologies of certain groups. This process of formation of identity is not a radical departure, rather it as a culmination of re-emerging Hindu nationalist movement during 19th and 20th century. In this paper, we bring forth the celebration of Ravidas Jyanti as the performance of possibilities and we try to identity the spaces of hope amidst the overarching outcry. Thinking through the categories of space and performance and their interpolations in Banaras, this article attempts to reconfigure the identity of this city beyond the Hindu right-wing rhetoric and pretension.

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