«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 ...»
“In peaceful cities... an institutionalized peace system exists. When organizations such as trade unions, associations of businessmen, traders, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and at least some cadre-based political parties (different from the one that have an interest in communal polarizations) are communally integrated, countervailing forces are created. Associations that would suffer losses from a communal split fire for their turf, making not only their members aware of the dangers of communal violence but also the public at large. Local administrations are far more effective in such circumstances. Civic organizations, for all practical purposes, become the eyes and ears of the administration... In the end, polarizing politicians either don’t succeed or eventually stop trying to divide communities by provoking and fomenting communal violence.” This viewpoint astonishes Brass, who sharply replies that this leads “... to a doubtful conclusion that civic engagement between Hindus and Muslims can prevent violence, when it is more likely that the creation of institutionalized riot systems (IRS) overrides and displaces whatever forms of civic engagement and interethnic cooperation exist at specific sites.” (Brass, 2003, p. 27). This is quite a dismal view,
because it effectively means that Banarasis are a play ball of the whims of politicians:
if the latter decide that it is time for communal violence, Banarasis are powerless and at the mercy of politicians. Every form of civic engagement would be in vain and all the carefully built up relationships would be meaningless. Moreover, he seems to insist that when riots break out the IRS was active and when a riot is quelled the IRS was not active. This is also a very easy argument, because he is looking at riots as confirmation for his theory while rejecting situation in which riots do not break out despite a tense atmosphere as counter argument. By arguing this way, he always wins the argument. At the same time he fails to appreciate or give due credit to systems that suppress the riot, such as civic engagement or perhaps an institutionalized peace system. A very negative outlook.
Therefore, Brass would explain the fact that riots did not break out in 2006 solely in terms of adequate measures taken by the police, media, and government. Unlike Williams, he would not hold the response of Banarasis or religious leaders responsible. The reaction of religious leaders was considered very important to my interviewees and we have indeed encountered the impact of their actions in section 3.3.2. However, most respondents insist that in the first place the people themselves are the key to living together peacefully. This is exactly Varshney’s idea too. As pointed out earlier, Williams (2007) found that everyone in Banaras believes in the Gangā-Yamunī tahzīb even if they do not have direct contact with people from the other community. Interestingly, based on the concept of the imagined community, the community that exists in people’s imaginings, she concludes that it is not necessary that all members have real intercommunal contact for harmony in the city.
Although there seems to be some merit in this, I think the potential for harmonious intercommunal living is higher when people do engage in positive intercommunal interaction, rather than just have positive thoughts about intercommunal contact.
Although many interviewees mention the Gangā-Yamunī tahzīb in Banaras, they also stress the importance of their personal positive experiences with intercommunal interaction.
Banarasi appraise the situation differently than outsiders (e.g., scholars and authorities). This could be due to two processes. At first, it might be that citizens of Banaras know the place better and are perhaps better capable of assessing at which times and in what places things become sensitive (i.e., they will not say “Varanasi is sensitive” like the authorities because this sensitivity is not sensed in the whole of Varanasi, nor is it there all the time). However, this is not very likely in the case of the interviewees who deny that there have been any riots in the city, contrary to what most interviewees argue and contrary to the documentation of various scholars. Secondly, it might be that Banarasis misjudge the situation; they might for example deny the sensitivity for themselves for the sake of living normally. This might make that people accept a certain violent discourse, even though it does not mean that they intrinsically accept what happens.
Brass claims that people in India protect “the authorities, politicians and political parties, the police, the general public, and the poor and disadvantaged” by not blaming them for the violent discourse and communal violence, but instead holding other factors, such as economic factors, responsible (Brass, 2003, p. 306). He calls this a ‘master narrative’. Brass’ assertion that people in India engage in blame displacement is also verified by this research.
However in my view, the term ‘blame displacement’ is a bit of a misnomer. Indeed, interviewees shift responsibility or displace blame from parties like politicians and government by explaining the violence in terms of other factors. Yet, the factors to which people explain away communal violence (or so to say, rationalize it away), Brass stresses economic explanations in particular, might be factors that in fact do contribute to the violence. They are just not enough explanation by themselves. Yet, only in cases of scapegoating (i.e., explaining away to factors that have no connection to the violence), like holding Hindu nationalist myths responsible, one could speak of true blame displacement.
Through blame displacement people try to make sense of the violence by searching for its causes. They wrongly, and perhaps consciously, blame non-personal factors such as economic factors in the first place, rather than pointing their finger to personal actors or organizations like politicians, the police, and the media. In my opinion, they also make use of another psychological mechanism to try to diminish the impact of tension or conflict. Not necessarily by blaming other factors, but by trying to lessen the impact of the factors causing the violence. This mechanism is trivialization.
Trivialization is a psychological strategy to lessen cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the psychological discomfort arising from an inconsistency between what a person believes and what he does (Festinger, 1957, pp. 1-2). As people strive for consistency, they will try to diminish this discomfort, for example by trivialization.
Unlike other strategies to reduce the dissonance, in trivialization the belief or behaviour are not changed, but the belief or attitude is deemed less important (Festinger, 1957, p. 264; Fointiat, Somat, & Grosbras, 2011; Martinie & Fointiat, 2006; Simon, Greenberg, & Brehm, 1995).
In the case of the violence in Varanasi, it might be that people feel a dissonance between believing that violence in a society is not good and the desire to live in a harmonious society, and the impotence to change the situation. In this case it is not so much a dissonance between a belief and behaviour, but more between a belief and non-action. As we have reviewed, the violence is trivialized by interviewees.
Instead of admitting the intensity of the violence and the threat of people who cause riots, interviewees say that it is not so bad. It is not possible that the environment is always harmonious; just like families have their quarrels there are also some quarrels within the city. By viewing the situation in a light that makes diminishes the impact of the violence, people can feel safe without the threat of people stirring up communal sensitivities and causing riots.
8. Future perspectives
This chapter explores the opinions of interviewees towards a change in the coexistence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque. People seem to be very much divided in their answers. Another question is whether there are changes needed in the situation. Both people who do and who do not approve of changing the co-existence have suggestions to improve the situation.
8.1 Changing vs. not changing the co-existence
Respondents were asked to indicate the extent to which they think the co-existence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque should change as well as to speculate about the extent to which Hindus in general and Muslims in general want the situation to change. Figure 20 shows that Hindus are neutral about change (M=6.6, SD=4.3) while Muslims quite strongly oppose any change (M=3.1, SD=3.4).
Both groups correctly think Muslims oppose changes, but both misjudge the extent to which they oppose changes (Hindus M=4.4, SD=4.2 and Muslims M=4.2, SD=4.4). Hindus very accurately judge the neutral position of their own community (M=6.2, SD=4.4) which is slightly underestimated by Muslims (M=4.8, SD=4.5).
However, it is importance to note that respondents seem to be much divided over this question. Interestingly, both groups hold that for Muslims a change in the situation would not be very beneficial (Hindus M=5.4, SD=4.3 and Muslims M=5.2, SD=4.6; see Figure 21). Hindus lean towards holding that change would benefit their community, but it is striking that they are very conservative in this (M=6.7, SD=4.4).
Even more remarkable is that Muslims estimate the benefit s of change for Hindus Muslims 1 Hindus Muslims Personally Hindus Hindus Muslims Muslims
Hindus not only lower than Hindus, but even lower than their estimate of benefits of change for their own community (M=4.6, SD=4.0). In other words, they hold that not changing the situation would benefit Hindus even more than Muslims! (See appendix G, Q12-13) Another question asked respondents what kind of changes they suggest in the situation of the co-existence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque, given the societal consequences it might have. About 17.24% of the respondents do not give any suggestions as to changes. Of those who do, 46.15% says there should not be any changes. 7.69% says that the mosque should be replaced, but only with the consent of both communities; and 15.38% responds that the mosque should be replaced without mentioning conditions. Other suggested changes are discussed in section 8.2. The data confirms the idea that respondents are well aware that a change in the situation would have societal consequences. Two housewives, the one Hindu and the other Sikh, state that “Hindus and Muslims both would suffer then [i.e., when “unnecessary issues” are raised].” and “Both Muslim and Hindu will be hurt.”.267 Therefore, another question asked whether there should be any changes in the situation if there would not be any societal consequences. The lower responses in all categories is not in line with my expectation that people would respond more freely when they are presented the theoretical situation in which there would be no societal consequences of a change in the situation of the co-existence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque. This seems to indicate that the difference between the two questions is perhaps not well understood.
Most respondents hold that there should be no change. Many responded very straightforwardly that “(there should be) no change” or “no changes [are] required”.
As stated above, some respondents added that changes are undesirable because of the negative effects they would have. They fear that changing the situation will increase the tension between Hindu and Muslim communities, that it will lead to riots, and that it will lead to the loss of lives of many innocent people. Another housewife mentions that besides negative effects on the social situation that makes changing the current situation impossible, the local administration is also a restraining factor in adjusting the situation as they will never approve of changes.