«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 ...»
Lastly, the police allegedly engage in looting of cash, jewellery, and valuables and destroy properties of people, in particular Muslims (Engineer, 1992, p. 511; Raman, 2010, p. 149).
According to Brass, the media also plays a substantial role in riots. They have the power to worsen it through partiality, through publishing reports that are not based on research, and through spreading false rumours and inflammatory items. On the other hand, they have the ability to release the tension through objective reporting and suppressing rumours (Brass, 2003, pp. 344-349). Especially local, vernacular papers tend to lean to the first, like during the 1991 Varanasi riots (Engineer, 1992, p. 511). Interestingly, the French lady is very positive about the media: “When there is some problem... Then they bring… you know, they’re very careful, very cautious in the papers. They would never say ‘probably this one, or probably that one, or probably the Muslims, or probably the Hindus.”.256 However, it is likely that she read an English paper. English media is in general less biased than vernacular media (Brass, 2003, p. 345).
Lastly, Brass dedicates some words on Indian government. He contends that besides quick and adequate police action and unbiased media reporting the government has an important role in supressing communal violence, for example imposing a curfew.
Although there are differences between the effectiveness of the response of various states, Brass is in general very sceptical: “It is obvious that both the central and state governments in India share responsibility for failing to prevent and control riots.” (Brass, 2003, p. 374). The government of Uttar Pradesh as well as local administrations in Uttar Pradesh specifically are ineffective and negligent in the prevention and control of riots (Brass, 2003, pp. 362-374; Engineer, 1992, p. 511).
One of Brass’ informants indicates the same concern for ‘good administration’, which implies “prompt and effective action in anticipation of riots at times of political turmoil and agitation...” (Brass, 2003, p. 135). After explaining efforts to maintain communal harmony from his side, Mr. Anees Abdul Khan, the high leader of the
Gyanvapi mosque asserted:
It is the responsibility of the administration and government!... Public wants peace, and nobody from the public will ever want that the violence take place here! This all responsibility belongs to the administration and government!
Interview with Mrs. Ama, Shivala ghat, 10 February 2012 Maximum we can only request the administration and government that they understand their responsibilities properly!257 In contrast, Mr. Rafi Anzaari, the manager of an Islamic school, insists that efforts to preserve communal harmony are not the responsibility of the government, but of the people.
Another factor that influences the process of riots which is not mentioned by Brass is religious leadership. Mr. Rafi Anzaari and Mr. Anees Abdul Khan both see a role for religious leaders. Mr. Anees Abdul Khan argues that the religious leaders have a good position to teach people from their own community communal harmony (i.e., rather than teaching people from other communities), because religious leaders of the Muslims know the Qurān and Hadīths best whereas religious leaders of the Hindus know the Hindu scripture best; each can teach their community in symbolic language that is most familiar to them. Mr. Rafi Anzaari goes a step further, insisting that “Religious leaders are more powerful than political leaders in kind of social harmony.”.258 He maintains that they have a significant influence of the election results because India is very religious country. The power of religious leaders to alleviate communal disturbance became especially clear during the bomb blasts of 2006 (see section 3.3.2).
One of the questions in the questionnaire asked respondents whether they think there should be more activity in pursuing harmonious relationships between the Hindu community and Muslim community. 91% answered they thought that there was need for more activity; most people (55) indicated that people themselves should put more effort in pursuing communal harmony, followed by religious leaders (55). The work of politicians (9) and NGOs (6) is seen as much less important.
However, Mr. Ravindra Kumar maintains that during the elections in UP nowadays there is no violence and not even ‘simmering’. The idea that riots and tension have not occurred during the previous years is corroborated by other interviewees, although various reasons are mentioned. The school manager asserts that people nowadays understand that riots and communal tension only benefit politicians and have decided not to be involved in communal disturbances again. Mr. Rafi Anzaari and Mr. Anees Abdul Khan contend that a more positive atmosphere has emerged because of their efforts, for example “By meeting and interacting with each other”.259 Interview with Mr. Anees Abdul Khan, Peelee Kothee, 25 January 2012 Interview with Mr. Rafi Anzaari, Reori Talab, 24 January 2012 Interview with Mr. Anees Abdul Khan, Peelee Kothee, 25 January 2012 The security guard thinks education is responsible for a more harmonious environment. The sweeper lady argued that riots took place before she got married and moved to Banaras, 25 years ago.
In brief, it is probably impossible to give one sole reason for conflict between Hindus and Muslims, but most interviewees hold that politicians have a big role in creating, instigating, or catalysing them. Because it was electorally interesting for them, national and local politicians revived the local dispute and thereby drove a wedge between Hindus and Muslims and created a lot of havoc. Other factors that contribute to the escalation of communal violence are the inadequate response and partisan behaviour of the police, biased reports from sensation seeking media, and inadequate measures from the government. Another critical factor is the reaction from religious leaders; by explaining to people what their religions teach about communal harmony they can appease communal violence. Despite all these critical factors, most respondents insist that in the first place the people themselves should work towards living together peacefully.
7.3 Blame displacement & trivialization
Brass maintains that a master narrative exists in India. In this narrative, firstly, riots are seen as spontaneous outbursts of violence stemming from minor quarrels that turn into mass frenzies; and secondly, Hindu-Muslim riots specifically are perceived as arising from prejudices and hostilities existing between Hindus and Muslims. Brass argues that this master narrative functions to displace blame from “the authorities, politicians and political parties, the police, the general public, and the poor and disadvantaged” (Brass, 2003, p. 306), although not always from all these actors at the same time. In other words, instead of acknowledging the devastating role of these parties, other factors are held responsible to which blame is displaced, such as economic factors.
Brass argues that riots occur due to a wide range of people, groups, and forces involved. To displace blame is to look for an easy distinguishable convenient single cause which abolishes the need to look for other causes, or what is more, to look for blame in oneself. Everyone in India plays a role in and has a certain responsibility for (communal) riots. If not to the extent of active physical violence or provoking people to use violence then perhaps to the extent of passive involvement. For ordinary citizens this can lie in non-action and passive consent of the acts of others, the refusal to acknowledge the contribution of their party to the persistence of communal violence, and even if they do condemn the violence it can lie in believing in the assumptions and myths of mostly Hindu nationalists which have become common sense, even without being aware of it (Brass, 2003, p. 371; S. Sarkar, 1993, p. 164).
Brass mentions that blame is displaced by giving economic explanations, by perceiving riots as a kind of Muslim jihād or as originating from the Aligarh Muslim University in case of Aligarh. In my research I have also come across interviewees who explain away riots in terms of economic factors. Some interviewees displace blame to whole institutions, like the chāī walā, Mr. Kamal Rao, who relates that all Hindu-Muslim animosity and the accompanying violence is in fact a construction that originates from the British whom he refers to as ‘the mastermind’. The fact that the British have created a gap between Hindu and Muslim communities is often used as an argument for difficult relationships nowadays. In a sense the British can be considered responsible for the structure of relationships between Hindus and Muslims, but it seems it goes too far to blame them for concrete Hindu-Muslim violent outbursts nowadays. The businessman blames ‘Islam’ and to support this argument he refers to incidents which are completely unrelated to the events in
They have been destroying already! They have been... doing [destroying] in all world! They demolished 250 feet high statue of the Buddhists in Afghanistan! They have not been demolishing at which place? They have not even segregating their own people; people are being blown up in the mosques!
The person who has been attacking on his own culture, in a mosque, while they offer namāz!260 However, my interviewees also blamed more demarcated groups of people. They blamed parties that do carry responsibility according to Brass, such as politicians.
The retired mason states that the people who cause disturbances within Varanasi come from outside the city: “Now, those who live here together all the time, how can they fight each other?”.261 Mrs. Geeta Belwaris more specific, alleges that it is not the local Muslims but Muslims from outside who create havoc. Another group that gets the blame is the ‘anti-social people’. A male student maintains that neither Hindus nor Muslims are the problem as such as riots are caused by certain anti-social elements. The homeopathic doctor and the insurance agent also mention that disturbances are caused by anti-social people from outside: “We are peace loving people.”.262 Interview with Mr. Abishek Dutta, Dashashvamedh, 13 January 2012 Interview with Mr. Irfan Malik, Kashpura, 20 January 2012 Interview with Ms. Madhuri Banerjee, Dashashvamedh, 10 December 2011 If it is only the anti-social people who create disturbances, it is only a limited number of people. This makes it easy to discard them as exceptions. Sadly, the violence in India takes quite massive proportions from time to time and cannot be dismissed as only executed by a limited group of people. In a way this discarding as exceptions is an instance of trivialization, of playing down the importance of factors and making them look less significant. This might be a way interviewees cope with the constant tension. Interviewees came up with three kinds of trivializations.
Firstly, many interviewees told that where people come together, there is always a reason to quarrel, like Mr. Yoginder Anzaari who states that “There is always some noise or sound where several pots are kept together.”.263 Some interviewees made the comparison with families, for example PAC security guard Mr. Sudeep Pandey, who indicated that “If we see quarrelsome situations even in small families then it cannot be denied that any kind of tension would never occur in the city.”.264 Riots in which people are stabbed to death, in which houses and shops are burnt, and property is looted, are brought back to the everyday family arguments. Secondly, interviewees insisted that good and bad persons exist everywhere so Hindu and Muslim communities cannot be treated as inherently good or bad: “There are few good and bad elements in every community.”.265 Of course it is true that each community has good as well as bad people, but in the conversations with interviewees it seemed to be an excuse, discarding some ‘elements’ as aberrations.
Finally, interviewees held that the people who cause violence cannot be considered human beings or religious people. Mr. Vikram Desai, who was interviewed together with three other students, clarified “In my view terrorists are not Hindus or Muslims but they are not human being...”.266 Here it seems interviewees dehumanize the instigators of and participants in communal violence. All three mechanisms seem to function to make the violence and tension manageable and to dismiss the elements causing riots as deviations.
Clearly, Brass’ assertion that people in India engage in blame displacement is also verified by this research. Blame is displaced to factors that in some way contribute to the violence, such as economic factors, or factors that might only on the sideway contribute to the violence, such as the role of British or the role of Islam as a whole.
However, it seems that at the same time interviewees trivialize certain aspects of conflict by holding that squabbles always occur where people come together, by Interview with Mr. Yoginder Anzaari & Mrs. Noura Anzaari, Khalispura, 1 February 2012 Interview with Mr. Sudeep Pandey, Dashashvamedh, 11 December 2011 Interview with Mr. Irfan Malik, Kashpura, 20 January 2012 Interview with Mr. Abbas Anzaari, Ms. Asha Jaisawal, Mr. Vikram Desai, & Mr. Ganesh Kumar, BHU, 17 November 2011 arguing that there are always good and bad elements in groups, and by dehumanizing people who cause violence.
There have been around a dozen communal riots in Varanasi since Independence.
These riots have taken place in a vast power field with various forces, the main ones being politics, police, media, and government. Each of these actors assert an influence on the relationship between Hindus and Muslims and have the opportunity to create or worsen riots to their advantage, as well as the possibility to respond in a responsible way and thereby prevent riots or diminish their impact. Brass (2003) holds that the reaction of the state is essential in the riot making process; it is the foremost actor which has the power to prevent communal violence if it wishes to do so. Varshney (2002) opposes this view and, on the contrary, argues that a fundamental role is played by civic engagement.
As we saw in section 3.3.2, according to Varshney (2002, p. 11):