Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationColumbia U.
Grant numberGr. 10094
Approve DateApril 8, 2021
Project TitleBail, Shishir (Columbia U.) "Gods in Court: the legal lives of deities in India"
In contemporary India, gods appear in court. This statement is not figurative, but instead invokes the peculiar device on the basis of which Hindu sites of worship are made intelligible under Indian law: Hindu deities are legal persons under postcolonial Indian law. They are thus frequently parties in ordinary litigation, and can sue and be sued. How do divine personages transcend the sacred realm and participate in the profanities of litigation? What does it mean for a god to fight a case in court? These questions strike at the heart of law and its apprehension of Indian social reality, and the juridical bases of secular governance in the country. Simultaneously, the legal personality of Hindu deities is an unremarked feature of contemporary Hindu nationalist movements, insofar as they partake of the structures of postcolonial Indian law, as apparent in the legal battle over the Ram temple in Ayodhya. By examining the material and discursive practices through which Hindu deities are represented in law, this dissertation research investigates the impasses and contradictions enfolded in the legal recognition of a polytheistic tradition, while moving the anthropological debate on secularism beyond the study of Christianity and Islam, so far, its primary referents.