«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 ...»
Two other points concern the background of the translator and his more permanent closeness to interviewees. It is important to be aware that Dr. Sushil Kumar has a Hindu background, which might affect responses from interviewees. Also, because he is a man, especially women might respond differently than they would have done if the translator was a woman. Apparently, for some women or being in the presence of an unknown man was uncomfortable; either for themselves or for their husband.
In that case a man from her side would join the interview (e.g., interviews 18 and 27). She or her husband might have been anxious about unexpected (i.e., sensitive or personal) questions which she might have found difficult to answer properly. In addition, Dr. Sushil Kumar is staying in Varanasi permanently which might hold interviewees back in saying certain things, especially those people he already knew.
On the other hand, knowing interviewees might also give them the confidence and trust to speak openly (see also section 2.5 for personal reflections).
A last remark is the difference in status between Dr. Sushil Kumar and me. Whereas I am a graduate student, he has finished a PhD and has considerable experience in social research, yet I am in a sense his employer. It might have been difficult for me to give him instructions. I think this has not been a real issue as we had a fairly equal relationship in which I neither approached Dr. Sushil Kumar as someone working under me, nor avoided to ask him to do or not do things (e.g., make photos during conducting a questionnaire). From his side, he always consulted me when selecting new interviewees, gave me advice about what or what not to say, and he was flexible and adjusting (e.g., in spontaneously designing and distributing questionnaires).
It would have been good to ask Dr. Sushil Kumar in advance how he feels about the relationship between Hindus and Muslims in Varanasi, about the co-existence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque, and about the influence of the coexistence of temple and mosque on the relationship between Hindus and Muslims, as well as his attitude towards specifically Muslims and Islam (being a Hindu). That would have given a background against which the point just mentioned could be weighed in the interpretation of research results. In conversations with him I could get an idea of his views though. Dr. Sushil Kumar seems to be very open towards Muslims; he mentioned for example that he grew up without distinguishing between Hindus and Muslims and only realized their differences when he moved to the city.
Although he was generally very positive about the relationship between Hindus and Muslims he also seemed to acknowledge the ambiguous situation in Banaras. He would often agree with interviewees, whether they were positive or negative. I think this was partially because he would encourage interviewees to tell their views, but perhaps also in part because he felt both sides were there. Despite his positive attitude towards Muslims he did not seem completely clear of prejudices. For example, it was him who told me about the idea of ‘love jihād’ (Muslim boys luring Hindu girls into marriage in order to convert them) which caused a lot of commotion in India. According to him love jihād was a bit of a social problem, but it appears that it was in fact hyped up (see the discussion in section 2.1.2).
When I met Dr. Sushil Kumar I stayed in the same guesthouse as he, but decided to move to another place to keep some distance after work, in order to keep the relationship professional and have a place for myself. The guesthouse where he stayed practically became our workspace where we met several times a week.
Usually we would have lunch separately as I ordered lunch in the restaurant downstairs and he was given home cooked food of the guesthouse’s family. A few times we had a cup of chai at a chai shop outside the guesthouse. I told Dr. Sushil Kumar about my sleeping disorder (narcolepsy) and whenever I felt tired or Dr.
Sushil Kumar notices my sleepiness, I would have a quick nap on his bed during which he would continue to work outside the room. We met interviewees either in the guesthouse or in their own home or office in which cases we would go there by foot, by cycle rickshaw, or on his scooter. Apart from the research, he offered me help with practical things (e.g., extending my visa at the Foreign Registration Office) and gave a lot of background information about Indian culture. The professional relationship grew out to be friendship I would say. Both being unmarried the relationship with Dr. Sushil Kumar sometimes felt awkward. In situations of emotional closeness (e.g., sharing personal views on life and life ideologies) or physical closeness (e.g., when sharing a cycle rickshaw) I felt at guard to keep a bit distance. I do not think this has had a significant influence on the research.
2.2 Data collection
Three types of data collection are discussed in the next section. Data was collected by means of anthropological fieldwork in the period from October 2011 until the end of February 2012. Anthropological fieldwork is an umbrella term which includes many research methods. Amongst these are observation, interviews, and surveys and each of these comes in various varieties from structured research which is very directive because what is going to be researched is determined in advance (e.g., kinds of behaviours to be observed or specific questions to be asked) to unstructured research which is very flexible because what is going to be researched is only loosely determined and is subject to changes.
Most of the data in this research was collected through interviews. These interviews were semi-structured; a list of questions was prepared in advance, but there was ample room to ask other questions, depart from these questions, and follow topics that seemed important to the interviewee interviewed or that spontaneously came up and appeared relevant. Besides these I also had some casual conversations. These differed from the interviews in that they were not planned, were not guided by any list of questions, and no informed consent was signed for them. These conversations could take place in a café, on the street, on the ghāt, or anywhere else and any topic could be discussed. I was advised by Professor Van de Velde to talk to people at local tea houses. Tea houses are usually a table with cups, a stove on which a kettle tea brews, and two or three wooden benches. Banarasis love taking time for leisure and enjoyment which is a key feature of Banārsipan (see section 3.3.2). Drinking chāī is one aspect of this lifestyle and there are always people having tea and a discussion on social or politics issues, on life philosophies, or anything in between. It would have been very interesting to have casual conversations here, but unfortunately I was restricted because of my limited knowledge of Hindi.
Besides interviews and casual conversations, I have distributed questionnaires with open as well as closed questions. I have also done limited observations in the area around the sacred complex in which I tried to disguise the fact that I was observing because I was unsure how people, especially security guards, would respond to their behaviour being recorded.
2.2.1 Interviews 18.104.22.168 Selecting interviewees To develop a comprehensive image of what Banarasi people think about the relationship between Hindus and Muslims and the co-existence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque I set out to interview people with a wide diversity in backgrounds: people from various castes & social statuses; man and women; Hindus and Muslims (maybe also Christians, Buddhists). I focused mainly on groups who are much involved in the issue of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque: 1.
people living in the Chowk-Godowlia and Dashashvamedh areas; 2. people who have their work in the aforementioned areas (e.g., a guesthouse, shop); 3. security guards; 4. communal harmony workers / social activists; 5. religious leaders (e.g., priest, imam); 6. scholars; 7. students. Halfway through the research I realized it would have been interesting also to interview Indian pilgrims visiting the Vishwanath temple or Gyanvapi mosque and foreigners familiar with India and Varanasi. It might well be that the co-existence between the temple and mosque has a totally different value for people living close to the area or people who come from outside the city to visit the temple or mosque as pilgrim. It would also have been interesting to interview politicians as many interviewees indicated that politics is a big factor in maintaining or breaking communal harmony. Unfortunately it proved difficult to arrange these interviews later on.
Mr. Rakesh Singh from Harmony bookshop brought me into contact with Dr. Dipak Malik and Dr. Muniza Khan. Both are scholars who, amongst other things, work in the field of communal harmony. Dr. Muniza Khan has many contacts in the field of communal harmony and generously shared contact information of the principal of a Muslim girls school, a journalist, and an advocate. She also recommended me to approach Sri Wir Whdra Misra, the head priest of the Sankat Mochan temple; Ali Ashgar Engineer, a scholar involved in communal harmony research and practice;
and Father Francis, a Dutch priest who runs a school and has been living in India for decades.
However, I decided I wanted to talk with non-scholars first, to get an idea of how ‘ordinary citizens’ think about the relationship between Hindus and Muslims and the co-existence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque before asking scholarly people what they think based on their expertise or their experiences as professionals.
Although scholars might have a very interesting and different view on the matter, are perhaps more knowledgeable, perhaps have more sophisticated knowledge, and might add ‘authority’ to this thesis, I’m also much interested in the ‘common people’s’ opinion. Most interviewees were selected by Dr. Sushil Kumar, who has been living in Varanasi for years and has a varied network of acquaintances. After about five interviews I started to ask him to select specific types of people, for example people from lower socio-economic status, Muslims, and specifically Muslim ladies who are especially difficult to reach because they are protected against strangers.
Interviewees selected by myself were students, two foreign ladies, and the pandit of an important temple in Varanasi. I met across the French lady and the South African lady in more Western oriented restaurants in Varanasi, and I visited pandit in his home after others recommended talking to him for his role in communal harmony and his respected status in both Hindu and Muslim communities.
I am aware that using this method has many limitations. My main concern in selecting interviewees was to cover a diverse group of people. In the choice of interviewees I was dependent on Dr. Sushil Kumar. However, for me it would have been very difficult to select interviewees, as I did not know anyone, did not speak the language sufficiently to converse with people, and, hence, would have had difficulties to convince them to participate in my research and establish a trusting atmosphere. I am also much aware that due to the lack of randomness and the limited amount of interviews, the research has limited representability. It is impossible to say anything definite about what Banarasi residents as a whole think.
However, as a preliminary study it has led to interesting insights. Comparisons can be made within the group interviewees and it can be examined whether a line can be traced and to what extent of variety exists between interviewees of Hindu and Muslim backgrounds. Because of the limited amount of interviews it might be better to regard them as cases instead of representatives for certain groups (e.g., security guards, students). This restricts comparisons beyond people from Hindu and Muslim background.
For short profiles of interviewees, see appendix A.
22.214.171.124 Conducting interviews I met most people in their own home or in their office, this had the advantage that the interviewees were in familiar surroundings and might have felt comfortable.
Some people I met outside Dr. Sushil Kumar’s room in the guesthouse where he stayed. In case of the guesthouse owner and the homeopathic doctor these places coincided. The students I interviewed on the BHU Vishwanath temple area. One interviewee I met in a park and one interview was conducted in a restaurant. An important requirement about the location was that it was quiet enough to record the interview.
Most interviews lasted for about an hour, few slightly less and one or two much longer. During some interviews a husband or wife (interviews 9 and 12), father (interview 18), colleague (interviews 4 and 17), or visitors (interviews 5, 15, and 28) were present during the interview, usually passive and without participating in the interview, but some making a small contribution (interviews 4, 5, 9, 12, and 18).
During one interview the son arrived during the interview and wanted to answer questions because according to him his mother knew too little about the situation to answer; he found it peculiar that I was interested in her and did not want to hear his more objective view (interview 21). Another interview was conducted in the presence of several family members, mostly grandchildren (interview 27).
The interviews were directly recorded to my mini laptop using an external microphone. The microphone was put in front of the interviewee and the laptop was open so that I could have a look at the question list once in a while. After introducing Dr. Sushil Kumar, myself, and the research topic the first question I usually asked was what the interviewee knew about the situation and history of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque. I tried to have an inquisitive attitude; naively asking to explain everything as if I heard it the first time and taking everything he or she told me as truth no matter whether it sounded remarkable or incredible. I was especially interested in reasons, examples, and personal experiences, and tried to ask for further information and clarification instead of accepting any answer without asking further. I also tried to ask interviewees about certain concepts (e.g., what is a ‘Hindu’ or ‘Muslim’, what is ‘tension’), but this proved very difficult as interviewees often could not make it concrete.