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Diaspora 4:1 1995 India On-line: Electronic Bulletin Boards and the Construction of a Diasporic Hindu Identity Amit S. Rai New School for Social Research The Hindu diaspora is being written through the lines—the techno-informational lines of electronic bulletin boards. These "nets" provide a space for South Asian Hindus to construct and contest identities that are doubly marked by the nightmare of all the dead generations—what we diasporics remember as India—and by the always deferred promises ofthis new land ofopportunity—what is imagined as America. To be able to annotate this double movement , one must see these subaltern counterspheres (Fraser) as crosshatched by contradictions, by the heterogeneous strands of Third World secularisms and centuries-old yet constantly changing religions, all of which coexist and intermingle "in an apparently eclectic fashion with the original elements of common sense" (Chatterjee , "Caste" 172). This essay interrogates the dynamics of this diasporic public sphere in the context of the events in Ayodhya, India , on 6 December 1992. That date signaled the beginnings of India's most recent social crisis. On that date, Hindu nationalists stormed and razed a mosque in North India, instigating a wave of violence that left nearly 3,000 dead, led to the dismissal of three state governments, and sent the Indian central government reeling in the aftershock. These events have resonated through India's diaspora, helping to suture odd alliances and severing others. Conceptualizing these diasporic identities requires a theoretical framework that is both attuned to constitutive contradictions and sensitive to the histories of struggle that have helped produce those very subjectivities. It is to these two issues, then, that I must turn first, and at some length. 1. Diasporic Counterpublics and the Critique of Identity In Nancy Fraser's critical rearticulation ofthe Habermasian public sphere, a postmodern topology of opposition is mapped out. She writes, [The public sphere] designates a theater in modern societies in which political participation is enacted through the medium of 31 Diaspora 4:1 1995 talk. It is the space in which citizens deliberate about their common affairs, hence, an institutionalized arena ofdiscursive interaction. This arena is conceptually distinct from the state; it [is] a site for the production and circulation of discourses that can in principle be critical of the state. . . . [T]he public sphere connoted an ideal of unrestricted rational discussion of public matters. The discussion was to be open and accessible to all; merely private interests were to be inadmissible; inequalities of status were to be bracketed; and discussants were to deliberate as peers. The result of such discussion would be "public opinion" in the strong sense of a consensus about the common good. (57-59) Speaking from within a Habermasian nostalgia for "unfinished projects ," Fraser laments this deviation from a principle, the loss of"an ideal." Yet a sensitivity to the histories ofexclusion that such nostalgia often masks leads her to assert "that public life in egalitarian, multi-cultural societies cannot consist exclusively in a single, comprehensive public sphere. That would be tantamount to filtering diverse rhetorical stylistic norms though a single, overarching lens" (69). Importantly, Fraser fractures the paradigm, moving from the public sphere to numerous counterspheres, many discrete places of "talk" embedded within circuits of power. But who is to say where this fracturing stops? Central to Fraser's idea of an oppositional counterpublic is a particular notion of the Subject. This is precisely the site where the eschatology and teleology of western metaphysics return as an unproblematized leftist liberation.1 The positivist, progressive narrative of agency2 presumes an intentional subject, silently invoking, first, the sovereign self and, second, a functionalist relationship between material context and consciousness; the line of reasoning is that, in order to enable action, the subject's intentions must be constituted through an absolute knowledge ofobjective contexts—or the "real"—thus maintaining a rigorous distinction between object and subject.3 However, intentionality makes sense only by bracketing other intentions and other desires, whether conscious or unconscious. The narrative logic ofintentionality makes itselfcohere only by these anxious gestures ofbracketing and by assuming the sutured selfthrough an "alreadygiven " relationship between context and consciousness. By ignoring issues of libidinal dynamics and the "metaphysics...


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pp. 31-57
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