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Language, Religion, and Politics in North India

This book, published in 1974, is concerned with the ways in which two powerful symbols of group identity, i.e. language and religion, have been manipulated by political elites to promote communal and national movements and with the consequences of such movements for the political cohesion of India. It focuses specifically on the great issues of religious cleavage and language change in north India during the 19th and 20th centuries, which witnessed the simultaneous development of political conflict among Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs and between the Hindi movement and movements on behalf of other languages and dialects in the north.

In analyzing language and religious movements in north India, Indian census data have been used in creative and pioneering ways. Although the illustrative cases and data are drawn from morth India, the arguments are of broad theoretical relevance. Three general themes are stressed. The first is that the so-called "givens" of group identity do not predetermine the outcomes of communal movements, but may themselves be altered by them. The second is that, in the formation of group identities, political elites tend to emphasize one symbol or line of cleavage above others and then strive to bring other symbols into congruence with the primary symbol. Third, political parties do not merely reflect or transmit communal demands but they shape group consciousness by manipulating symbols of group identity to achieve power for their group.