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«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 ...»

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On average, Hindus are fairly neutral about changing the co-existence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque. Muslims are more opposed to a change in the situation, and both groups do not seem to expect huge benefits from a change in the situation. Respondents and interviewees are very much aware of the destructive consequences a change will cause and many mention this as a reason to rather leave the situation unchanged.287 Some do favour a change, but on the condition that both groups approve of it. One lady asserts that 90% of all Hindus agree that the mosque should be displaced, preferably sooner than later. Interestingly, this figure is much higher than in my sample, which might on the one side be due to exaggeration from her side or to a certain discourse that makes people overestimate the number of Hindus who think the mosque should be removed. On the other side, it is well possible that the figure in my sample is too low, for example because people responded in a more socially desirable way. Indeed, although I spoke to many Hindus who say it is better to leave the situation as it is or to find a harmonious solution together, some others are very strong in their opinion that the mosque should be moved to another location. It raises the question whether the neutral position of Hindus which is shown in the quantitative data reflects an intrinsic neutral position, or the conflict between wanting to change the situation intrinsically, but not wanting to change it given the social chaos and violent disruption it would cause.

Although respondents and interviewees are very hesitant about a change in the coexistence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque, they have some suggestions to improve the situation by minor adjustments. As for the physical location, changes are suggested in facilities, security and safety, and concerning ‘beautification’ of the site. Another suggestion is that Hindus and Muslims need to Interview with Mr. Rafi Anzaari, Reori Talab, 24 January 2012 In fact it is almost inevitable that if there would be a change in the situation of the co-existence, this would not only lead to riots in Varanasi, but throughout India. This is exactly what happened after the Babri mosque was demolished in Ayodhya change their thinking and create a more harmonious environment themselves, for example through mutual dialogues and learning about one another’s religions. In short, respondents and interviewees suggest changes in either the co-existence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque or in the area of the sacred complex without changing its co-existence, but almost without an exception their first concern is that the situation remains peaceful.


9. Conclusions and discussion

9.1 Conclusions In this thesis, we set off to examine to find out what the attitudes of Banarasis with regard to the (co-existence of the) Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque. We also aimed to research the relationships between Hindus and Muslims in non-riotous circumstances as well as mechanisms people have developed to psychologically and practically cope with (the threat of) communal violence. In the past chapters we have reviewed several aspects of the co-existence of the mosque and temple and of the relationship between Hindus and Muslims, as well as some aspects of the conflict. Lastly, the ideas of interviewees and respondents on the future of the sacred complex and possible changes in the situation were examined.

The topics discussed enable us to answer the questions asked in the introduction.

Three theories were chosen to answer these questions. The most interesting finding about the attitude and experience of Hindus and Muslims about the issue of the temple-mosque are the consistently more positive answers of Muslims. An attempt was made to explain this tendency using the psychological mechanism of social creativity: looking for alternative aspects against which one can be evaluated, as a strategy to protect the self-esteem of people from the minority group when certain aspects are evaluated negatively by the majority group. The question of HinduMuslim relationships in everyday life is answered by means of the framework of imagined communities. Imagined communities are communities that exist not because of physical closeness, but because of the shared imaginings of its individuals, for example shared beliefs. Like Anderson (1983), Kramsch (1998) believes that a key factor in these imagined communities is language; through language the shared beliefs that form the community can be expressed. Lastly, the subject of dealing with tension I discussed in the light of trivialization. People use this strategy to lessen cognitive dissonance, the psychological discomfort arising from an inconsistency between his beliefs and his behaviour. This chapter reviews the three topics and concludes with some final critical remarks on the findings of this research.

Hindus and Muslims value the co-existence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque differently. Hindus seem to be much divided in their attitudes and experiences, some being very positive and others plainly negative. Hindus see it was a symbol of harmony, but also as a symbol of conflict. The temple is very important to them. Muslims indicate that the Gyanvapi mosque is very important for them; as important as the Vishwanath temple is for Hindus. Besides, Muslims interviewees indicate they value the temple as much as they value the mosque. The answers of Muslims are consistently more positive than the answers of Hindus: they regard the co-existence of the temple and mosque much more in terms of harmony and much less in terms of conflict; their tolerance for as well as acceptance of the situation is higher; and the temple is only slightly less important for them than the mosque.

They are also more positive about intercommunal relationships than Hindus, about personal as well as about business relationships between Hindus and Muslims.

These views are perhaps more peculiar in the light of the fact that there is a lot of negative stereotyping of Muslims, especially from Hindus. These negative stereotypes threaten the identity of Muslims. However, the very positive attitudes towards of Muslims towards the co-existence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque and towards Hindus might be the reaction to this identity threat. One of the negative stereotypes of Muslims is the idea that they are disloyal to India, for example because their most holy religious structure is not in India. Muslims cannot deny the fact that the most holy mosque is located in Mecca, but they can assert that they also highly value India’s temples, the Vishwanath temple in particular. By doing so, they can mitigate the image of being disloyal by telling themselves: how can we be disloyal if this temple is so important to us?

What we see here is social creativity, which is the collective strategy “to enhance the status of the in-group as a whole” by changing “the elements of the comparative situation so as to result in more favourable comparisons...” and resulting in more positive “social identities of individual group members.” (Jackson, Sullivan, Harnish, & Hodge, 1996, p. 142). In short, when their Muslims identity is threatened by a negative comparison, they will look for alternatives that can put the comparison in a positive light. Another strategy to protect their identity can be traced in the concept of mythic reversals of Searle-Chatterjee (1990). One version of the history of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque makes negative statements about Aurangzeb: he is an aggressive ruler who tries to subdue Hindus. This image reflects on Muslims and makes a statement about their identity: they are as aggressive as Aurangzeb. The alternative history, told by Muslims, denies this image of Aurangzeb and in turn emphasizes his justness and willingness towards Hindus. This history also reflects on Muslims, but makes an inverse, positive, statement about their Muslim identity.

Although there is much more negative stereotyping of Muslims, it happens both ways. Stereotypes are based on negative images of one another, as well as on wrong or missing knowledge about one another’s religious and cultural practices. Despite the negative discourse about the negative images people have about the other and despite the violent riots that has occurred, interviewees argue that harmonious relationships between Hindus and Muslims are a very important aspect of daily life.

This assertion takes on the form of an imagined community. The community is imagined because although people are not personally connected to everyone else in this community, they do share ideas that make them part of the community.

Until people speak out their imaginings, the community does not exist; it only comes into being when people talking about it. Most interviewees also very strongly articulate the existence of the Gangā-Yamunī tahzīb. This is a social culture which is characterized by fluidity between social categories, relations based on good faith, and the feeling of Hindu-Muslim brotherhood which is valued highly by Hindus and Muslims. Although this is not true for all interviewees, most indicated that they have friendly relationships with people from the other religious community and celebrate their religious festivals with neighbours and friends, irrespective of their religious affiliation. People strongly indicate the existence of the Gangā-Yamunī tahzīb in Banaras, but this is partly reality and partly the desire for its existence. As if Banarasis can strengthen this culture by way of speech. Indeed, the Gangā-Yamunī tahzīb exists as long as there is an imagined community that believes in it and as long as it keeps reproducing and reinforcing. Even if day-to-day reality is not always as harmonious as people say, it exists as a shared imagining.

Parallel to the discourse of the Gangā-Yamunī tahzīb is the discourse of hostility between Hindus and Muslims and communal riots that have taken place in Varanasi.

Indeed, two interviewees deny that riots have taken place in Varanasi; at least as a consequence of the co-existence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque.

Most interviewees acknowledge the violence that has occurred, although most hold that the citizens actually do not want violence and it that it is instigated by people who could gain from the chaos, such as politicians. This is interesting, because Brass (2003) found in his research that people tend to blame other factors than the people responsible, such as economic factors. The people I have interviewed have also come up with economic factors as explanation for riots, but most blame politicians in the first place.

According to Brass, the authorities are the most important factor to stop violence from happening. Whereas he believes that if authorities decide not to stop violence from happening, citizens are powerless to do anything, Varshney (2002) holds that civic engagement is more important in stopping communal violence from happening.

Indeed, there are ground-level initiatives to maintain the harmonious atmosphere, such as religious leaders who are organizing symposia open to everybody.

Respondents also stress the importance of the people themselves; according to them, they are the first to protect the good atmosphere. According to Brass, this stance is very naïve. Riots persist because of the “functional utility” for various actors in institutionalized riot systems (e.g., criminals, businessmen, and politicians; Brass, 2003, p. 370). Brass holds that the actors who instigate (events leading to) riots are not only unwilling to give up communal conflict as a method to secure or improve their position, but also that their position is so powerful that it annihilates efforts of civic engagement between Hindus and Muslims: “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).

Brass implies that every form of civic engagement would be in vain if an IRS is active. Moreover, he seems to insist that a riots breaking out proves the IRS was active and a riot being quelled proves the IRS was inactive. By arguing this way, he always wins the argument. This enables him to hold that in all cases where riots do not break out despite a tense atmosphere the IRS was inactive instead of recognizing that perhaps the IRS was active, but suppressed by counterforces such as civic engagement or perhaps an institutionalized peace system. In doing so, he fails to appreciate or give due credit to any counterforce. The reaction of Varanasi after the bomb blasts in 2006, however, shows that adequate reactions from religious leaders and commitment from the citizens definitely has the potential to suppress communal violence. It is too soon to state that Varanasi is riot-free, because as we have seen in section 3.3.1, sometimes there were long periods of communal stability in between two riots. Yet, his might be seen as preliminary proof that ground-level initiatives and adequate counter reactions from people not involved the IRS do have an influence on communal relationships in Varanasi.

Besides concrete, practical steps to maintain the peace in the city, interviewees also developed individual psychological mechanisms to deal with the (threat of) violence and tension in the city. Whereas the first really changes the atmosphere and has an impact on the social environment, the latter is a personal strategy to that only moderates the influence of the atmosphere on one’s feeling of security. Trivialization is a psychological strategy to lessen cognitive dissonance, the psychological discomfort arising from an inconsistency between a person’s beliefs and behaviour, by reducing the importance of the belief or behaviour. In Varanasi, many interviewees have a conflict between the desire for a trouble-free city on the one hand, and the impossibility to do anything about the tension and conflict that happen now and then. Instead of admitting that the situation is very bad at times and the presence of certain people who consciously try to stir up sensitivities in order to evoke communal violence, interviewees rather try to minimize the importance.

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