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How do religiously discriminated communities in India and Pakistan become political actors in the 21st century? How does the role of the digital in everyday life change the establishment and sustainability of religious minorities’ social movements in transnational and local publics and, in fact, their attempts to emerge as ‘the people’? And what can case-studies of politically active religious minorities in South Asia contribute to recent discussions on the global rise of populism—whose analysis, so far, has been dominated by European and American examples? On the basis of these and other key questions, this project aims to extend studies on the current life-worlds of religious minorities in India and Pakistan, social media’s influence on today’s South Asian political landscapes, and, crucially, the nexus of populism and religion in its effort to produce concepts of ‘citizenship’ and ‘the people.’

Focusing on Christian, Hindu, and Sikh minorities in Pakistan and Muslim minorities in India, we will first analyze intersectional frames of discrimination (what we will call ‘precarity’). This approach will extend the binary scheme of ‘victim’ and ‘oppressor,’ which has frequently been attached to subaltern and minority studies. In a second step, we will investigate and compare the political practices and the practices of ‘becoming public’ emerging from religious minorities’ potentially precarious life-worlds in both countries. In a third step, we will localize global discourses on populism through the results of our research in South Asia. This will pose new and innovative questions about manifestations of populism on the ground.

To methodologically trace the implicit as well as the explicit discourses of discrimination and the various struggles for equality they generate we will take an interdisciplinary approach. We will analyze popular culture (print media such as pulp fiction or TV soaps), new media (Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc.), and the connected everyday practices of activists and organizations in Hindi, Urdu, and Sindhi. We deem this focus on vernacular languages crucial to champion non-English publics in South Asia. The nexus of text-based analysis (performing close readings of vernacular literature), new methods in the Digital Humanities (computational textual analysis of print and online sources), and anthropological fieldwork (following the actors involved) will reveal the ways in which new communication platforms influence populist forms of constructing ‘the people’ in the 21st century.

The following three questions guide our project’s main research objectives:

  1. How do various actors and discourses, for example, nation-states, the military, religious fundamentalism, and popular culture, produce and represent precariousness among religious minorities in India and Pakistan?
  2. Which political practices and forms of becoming public within South Asia’s multi-religious, multi-ethnic, and economically diverse societies emerge from communities that have experienced, and are experiencing, such precarious circumstances?
  3. What can a comparative analysis of social movements led by religious minorities in India and Pakistan in a digital age contribute to the current surge in populism studies?