Deepra Dandekar – Contested Religion

Indian Ocean Retrotopia on the Western Indian Littoral

Deepra Dandekar, PhD

The DFG-funded project Indian Ocean Retrotopia on the Western Indian Littoral explores the story of Muslim identity and intellectual history in Hindu-dominated, postcolonial Maharashtra (Western India). While politics in Maharashtra is long since characterized by strong Hindu-nationalist regionalism that cast Muslims as outsiders, this resulted in attempts to claim belonging to the state by Marathi-speaking Muslims. Excluded from the imagined Muslim mainstream in the post-Partition period, Marathi Muslims drew on a history of ambivalent alliances with local Hindus, Sufi healers from across the Arabian Sea (‘Arabastan’) who lie buried in Maharashtra at Dargahs, and Muslim migrants from elsewhere in South Asia, to negotiate their presence in a Hindu-dominated public sphere. This project analyzes such engagements through the concept of retrotopia, a term coined by Zygmunt Bauman. Within the context of a diminished Muslim future in Maharashtra, retrotopia explains Marathi Muslims contestation of religion, community realignments, and strife through a juxtaposition with an imagined, pristine imagery of a resplendent Muslim past within Indian Ocean cosmopolitanism.