«ESTHER WAPSTRA Thesis submitted for MA degree Supervisors: Dr. Laurens G. H. Bakker Prof. Paul J. C. L. van der Velde 30 August 2013 COMMUNAL HARMONY ...»
6.5 Conclusions As mentioned in section 5.4, Muslims in India constantly have to defend themselves against negative stereotypes. To soften their image as ‘disloyal’ to India for themselves, they subconsciously engage in strategy social creativity. They do not oppose the idea that their holiest structure is outside India, but they do assert that they also highly value Hindu religious structures and thus are loyal to India. Another social creativity technique is the use of mythic reversals. As explained (see section 5.1), compared to dominant histories mythical reversals, such as about the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque, make alternative statements about the character and behaviour of Muslims.
2 discusses some of the negative stereotypes about Muslims. Muslims are seen as inherently aggressive. The aggression of Muslims first became clear during their invasions and rule in North India during which time they established themselves as destroyers of temples and breakers of idols. Nowadays this image is affirmed by the fact that all terrorists are Muslims; they are a national danger. Moreover, during the hundreds of years they have lived in India they never fully adapted. They feel more connected to Pakistan and are ready any time to fight against India. Another aspect of suspicion is their strange customs, such as cousin marriage and musalmānī (circumcision), and their insistence to teach children in madrasas, where they are taught to be jihādīs (warriors fighting for Islam).
This emerging image of Muslims as aggressive and untrustworthy people can be traced back to an old discourse. This discourse has its roots in the colonial period, when British saw Hindus as the original people and Muslims as invaders. The ‘Indian Golden Age’ was brutally disrupted and declined steadily with the arrival of Muslim rulers. By portraying Muslims as oppressive outsiders destroying India’s Hindu
culture, the British could emphasize what they envisioned themselves to be:
enlightened en just. In the nineteenth century Hindu nationalists took over this discourse and started describing Muslims as national danger. The ‘otherness’ of Muslims is in Hindu nationalism contrasted with the tolerance of Hindus, which gradually became to be seen, by Hindus and outsides, as one of the core features of Hinduism for Hindus. Arguably, this view also originates from orientalist discourse.
However, in the light of traditions like the caste system, ritual pollution, and satī, as well as fascistic tendencies of Hindu nationalism its internal and external tolerance, respectively, are questionable (Brass, 1998, p. 491; Metcalf, 1995, pp. 953-954;
Raychaudhuri, 2000, p. 269; Veer, 1994, pp. 66-67).240 Even the “popular belief that the ‘Hindus’ never indulged in religious persecution” is shown to be incorrect (Thapar, 1989, p. 219; see also note XXX [Sri Lanka was invaded by Indians several times, most notably when the Chola dynasty of South India have invaded Sri Lanka and ruled there for at least a decade, oppressing the people).
Another aspect of the stereotyping of Muslims is the ‘backward Muslim-theory’. As discussed in section 184.108.40.206, before the colonial period, Muslims’ educational performance was very favourable in comparison to the education of Hindus. This changed when the British introduced modern education and changed the governmental language. Although since long Muslims have been less educated than Hindus, the gaps between Hindus and Muslims as well as between Muslim boys and girls are narrowing (Ashraf, 1998, p. 113; Deolalikar, 2010, pp. 87-91). An additional aspect of the ‘backward Muslim’ referred to in section 6.1.2 is the belief that Muslim women are more fertile and Muslim men are more sexually active than Hindu women and men. This attribute makes Muslim men a threat to naive Muslim and Hindu
females. The same line of reasoning is used in the phenomenon of ‘love jihād’:
Muslims are aggressive and women are vulnerable (Anand, 2005, 2007; Jeffery & Jeffery, 2002, p. 1808; S. Sarkar, 1993, p. 2875). Allegedly, Muslims also have more children in order to outnumber Hindus, which forms arguably a threat and should be countered with a population growth amongst Hindus. Here again the accusation that Muslims who do not use contraception are anti-national (Anand, 2007, pp. 295-260;
Baber, 2004, p. 707; Jeffery & Jeffery, 2002, pp. 1807-1808). An expression of this fear can be seen in the statement of the priest of the Vishwanath temple, who alludes to the fact that the Muslims Family Law in India allows Muslim men to marry up to four women. In fact, although from 1961 to 2001 the percentage of Muslims increased, fertility declined significantly and contraception is widely used. The claims that polygamous marriages are more common among Muslims and that they per definition lead to more children can be debated (Jeffery & Jeffery, 2002, p. 1808;
Kulkarni, 2010; Sen, 1993, p. 10).
Ritual pollution refers to the caste hierarchy in ritual purity based on “occupational, dietary and marriage customs” (Moller, 1960, pp. 293-294); during satī the widowed woman follows her deceased husband in death by (voluntarily) joining him on his cremation pyre (Klostermaier, 2007, p. 322);
Hindu nationalists claims that, if they want to become part of the Indian nation, Muslims should: 1) accept Hinduism’s centrality to Indian civilization; 2) acknowledge key Hindu figures such as Ram not merely as religious Hindu figures but as civilizational heroes; 3) accept that Muslim rulers destroyed aspects of Hindu civilization, especially Hindu temples; and 4) stop making claims to special privileges such as the maintenance of religious personal laws (Varshney, 1993, p. 231). If they do not adopt these norms, they should migrate according to leaders from the RSS and VHP (Raychaudhuri, 2000, p.
263) Although there are negative stereotypes and prejudices on both sides, the most pervasive stereotypes are directed against Muslims. A very important event that changed the relationship between Hindus and Muslims was the situation in Ayodhya in 1992. However, the way interviewees perceive the change differs. Some insist that relationships have deteriorated because earlier people did not feel insecure or because people used to pray together. Some argue that politics also used to have a very negative impact. Other interviewees hold that nowadays people are not fighting as they used to, people are less negative towards one another, and people visit each other more. According to them, these factors contribute to a better relationship between Hindus and Muslims, as compared to the situation before the Ayodhya affair.
The findings of this chapter concerning the attitude of Muslims towards Hindus are in line with the findings of the previous chapter: Muslims are in general more positive than Hindus about personal as well as business relationships with people from the other community. Nonetheless, both groups emphasize that the atmosphere in Varanasi is very good, that people visit each other, especially during important moments like marriages, and that they even share in the celebrations of each other’s religious festivals. Both groups stress the Gangā-Yamunī tahzīb. In fact people stress this so vigorously that it sometimes seems as if they want to reinforce this hybrid culture by way of speech. As if they can strengthen it if they talk about it in strong terms.
This has also been noticed by other scholars. In her discussion of the concept of tānā-bānā, Raman remarks how it refers both to the actual relationship as well as to the desired relationship (Raman, 2010, p. 167). Williams also came across the widespread and strongly articulated theme of brotherhood during her fieldwork.
According to her, there is an inconsistency between verbal expressions of this brotherhood and the actual experiences. She how she used to ask Hindu friends about their Muslim friends, but “The response was generally muted; after taking some time to think, only a couple of respondents could point me in the vague direction of a house which they believed to be occupied by a Muslim family.” (Williams, 2007, p. 166) She found that the brotherhood between Hindus and Muslims is attested by both Hindus and Muslims and is not necessarily based on personal experiences of friendships with people from the other communities. This has led her to believe that “Whether the Hindu–Muslim brotherhood or community is something actually participated in or just imagined does not make the idea of ‘the community’ any less real.” (Williams, 2007, p. 169).
Indeed, it seems like there is a constant reproduction of this culture through speech.
By repeatedly talking about the Gangā-Yamunī tahzīb and reinforcing its existence through language, it is kept alive. Because the experiences during her fieldwork suggested that this Gangā-Yamunī tahzīb is something which exists in speech but not necessarily in actual experiences, Williams implies that this harmonious community might exist in people’s imagination only. The interviewees I talked to have given me examples of the Gangā-Yamunī tahzīb in daily live. This leads me to agree with Raman that there is a certain degree of this harmonious culture, but at the same time the degree is often exaggerated and to some extent it is more a wish than the current state of affairs.
Apparently, there is an implicit agreement between Banarasis about the discourse on the relationship between Hindus and Muslims. They envision themselves to be part of a harmonious Gangā-Yamunī tahzīb. The people who believe in and are part of this culture can be said to be part of an ‘imagined community’. According to Anderson, imagined communities are “imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.” (Anderson, 1983, p.
6). Put differently, the community exists by virtue of the shared imaginings of its individuals; if they believe in the community, it exists. Secondly, imagined communities are “imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship.” (Anderson, 1983, p. 7). We have come across exactly this in the thoughts of the leader of the Gyanvapi mosque, who regrets the difficult circumstances of Muslims but tolerates them, and at the same time holds that the atmosphere in Banaras is much better than in cities because people share in their pains and pleasures. He is one of the people who actively tries to foster harmonious intercommunal relationships by organizing public meetings.
In Anderson’s view, language is a very important medium for generating and maintaining imagined communities because of their capacity to articulate the ideas that are commonly shared. The importance of language and its centrality in cultures are also expressed by Kramsch. She defines culture as “membership in a discourse community that shares a common social space and history, and common imaginings.” (Kramsch, 1998, p. 10). Kramsch describes how language is used to express experiences, but at the same time shapes experiences by the way people speak about it. In addition to expressing experiences and shaping experiences by means of speech, language can also be used to reflect the imaginings of the community: “Discourse communities are characterized not only by facts and artefacts, but by common dreams, fulfilled and unfulfilled imaginings. These imaginings are mediated through the language, that over the life of the community reflects, shapes, and is a metaphor for its cultural reality.” (Kramsch, 1998, p. 8). In short, as reviewed in section 6.1.2, Banarasis have daily friendships with people from the other religious community and share in the celebrations of each other’s religious events. This Gangā-Yamunī tahzīb will exist as long as there is an imagined community that beliefs in it and as long as they keep reproducing and reinforcing the culture through language.
7. Conflict: politics, blame displacement, and trivialization
After discussing knowledge about the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque and attitudes on its co-existence in chapter 1 and several aspects of the relationship between Hindus and Muslims in chapter 2, this chapter raises issues concerning conflict between Hindus and Muslims. First some aspects of as well as ideas on conflict are introduced. The second section is on power play; it gives an overview of the arena of forces that assert an influence on the relationship between Hindus and Muslims. The next section shows techniques Banarasis use to deal with these forces and with communal conflict. Lastly, conclusions of the chapter are discussed.
7.1 Tension and violence
Most people hold that tension comes and goes. The tension rises for example “[when] incidents take place.” or “[w]hen a riot takes place...”.241 However, it was particularly difficult for interviewees to define what tension is. Marriam-Webster defines tension as “a state of latent hostility or opposition between individuals or groups”. In his research on the about on how riots are produced in northern India, Brass indicates that “[e]veryone knows when tension is in the air... It is a kind of smouldering fire that can erupt into flames over any kind of incident, however trivial.
..” (Brass, 2003, p. 357).
Brass found out that institutionalized riot systems “in which known persons and groups occupy specific roles in the rehearsal for and production of communal riots” work in North Indian cities where riots persist (Brass, 2003, p. 32). He compares riots to “street theatre performances that are meant to appear spontaneously, but that involve many people in a variety of roles and actions...” (Brass, 2003, p. 358).