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Contesting Identities in Bangladesh


5 May 2010, 11:00am-12:30pm, S421, St Clements, LSE

Speaker: Dr Sanjay K Bhardwaj, Sir Ratan Tata Fellow, Asia Research Centre, LSE
Chair: Prof Athar Hussain, Director, Asia Research Centre, LSE
Discussant: Prof David Lewis, Professor of Social Policy and Development, LSE


Identity is an 'essentially contested concept' in political theory. Yet, no matter how huge and wide the disagreements are regarding national identity, its vigour cannot be under estimated. It is the fulcrum around which modern civilization has grown. Millions have been mobilized in its name and millions more continue to cherish it. What lies beneath identity is a moot point: language, religion, culture, shared history, ethnicity or citizenship have been variously upheld to be the foundation that gives rise to the feeling of nationhood. What constitutes the 'imagination' of a nation is therefore debatable. The problem gets even more acute when we deal with the developing world with a heterogeneous population. With the disappearance of the  colonial master previously, a nation started giving way to numerous fissiparous tendencies. Nations plunged into the vortex of either military dictatorships, or religious resurgence due to the erosion of the anti-colonial nationalistic hegemony and the crisis of legitimacy.

The study of Identity in Bangladesh is particularly challenging. Bangladesh has the distinction of having undergone two national movements—one in 1947 which created Pakistan and the other in 1971 which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh—in a short span of 25 years. Having been put to mutilation twice has impacted upon the fashioning of identities in a peculiar way—perhaps; it is the confusing situation of the old being dead and the new not yet being born, and, in the interregnum the national space has been occupied by muffled constructions of secularism, socialism and democracy initially only later to be replaced by military dictatorships coupled with a strident Islamic hegemony. In this milieu, it becomes absolutely essential to understand the identities in Bangladesh.

Dr Sanjay K Bhardwaj is Sir Ratan Tata Fellow at the Asia Research Centre, LSE. He is Assistant Professor for Bangladesh Studies at South Asian Studies Division, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, INDIA. His areas of interest are Society, Identity, Culture, Domestic Politics and Foreign Policy of Bangladesh in particular and South Asian states in General. He has authored a book  entitled "Bangladesh-United States Relations" and over two dozen research papers on contemporary Socio-political Issues of South Asian states in national and international peer reviewed journals

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