In the midst of increasing terror strikes, there are distinct signs of growing interest in Islam, religious identities and conflict in India, among the common readers, policy-makers and academics. While books on Islam are in demand in the Capital, new centres addressing issues like social exclusion of minorities are coming up at various institutions.
Books on Islam and Muslim countries are giving John Grisham and Sydney Sheldon a run for their money in the Capital. Authors like Ahmed Rashid, Shuja Nawaz and Fareed Zakaria sell like hotcakes — Rashid’s latest, Descent Into Chaos, has sold about 100 copies within its first month at a prominent Delhi book stall, which is equivalent to many bestsellers. New courses, too, are coming up in universities to study conflict resolution, pluralism and social exclusion of minorities.
The UGC has approved 35 courses in different universities on ‘Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy’ during the last two years. Institutions like JNU, Jamia Millia Islamia and Tata Institute of Social Sciences have set the ball rolling for opening these centres.
Jamia has recently opened the Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution and the Centre for the Study of Comparitive Religions and Civilisations. The latter aims at promoting respect for religions other than one’s own, and also at showing that each religion has multiple traditions, thus proving the futility of dogmatism, says Manisha Sethi, who teaches at the centre.
Prof. M. Mujtaba Khan, director of the Dalit and Minority Studies Centre, says the new centres will question negative stereotypes about Muslims, highlight discrimination and promote pluralism.
Once a bastion of Marxist class analysis, Centre for Historical Studies at JNU has witnessed an increase in research on identities. In a recent report to UGC on research done between 2002 and 2007, the centre identified “Identity, Culture and Power” as one of the three areas of major research interest among students.
Academic Imtiaz Ahmad, however, strikes a note of caution. “Though there is interest in these issues, there is no concerted movement as yet. Serious researchers from our best institutions go abroad and the fruits of their efforts are lost.”
In most universities, syllabi are outdated and prejudices abound both among teachers and researchers. Thus, educational quality control across colleges is required for positive results,” said Imtiyaz.