This book is a clear, concise documentation of the argument that the Indian state, through law, actively shapes and transforms religion. Secularism, in this sense, is not disengagement from religion; nor does it mean equal respect for religion. The distinction between the religious and secular is not a self-evident distinction. Rather, it is produced by the application of state power and law.
Sen demonstrates this claim with accessible studies of a range of cases in which the Supreme Court has produced its own version of what counts as proper expression of religion: from education to conversion, from free speech to social reform. This book is an indispensable introduction to the way in which the court has shaped Hinduism in particular; substituting its own authority in place of traditional authority. Sen’s discussion of these cases and the relevant literature is fair-minded. In a book that covers a vast range of cases, it would be churlish to ask for more. But it would have been wonderful if the author had pursued his theoretical insights to their logical conclusion by pursuing two themes. Beyond a fear of religion, and the imperatives of operating with abstract identities, is there something else driving the court’s interventions? Can these be defended in terms of freedom and equality? And how does the law related to competitive group mobilisation work in a democracy? These would have further enriched a fascinating study of how the law has shaped Hinduism.