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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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Instead of arguing the bad intensions of the people causing the riots, they weaken their position by asserting that there are “good and bad elements in every society” or by insisting that they are not part of Indian Hindu-Muslim mixed society, but should not be considered people at all. Interviewees talk about them as if they were not powerful and thereby trivialize their power to cause chaos and violence. Viewing reality in this way makes it manageable: it diminishes the psychological impact of the violence and people can feel safe without the threat of people stirring up communal sensitivities and causing riots.

To recapitulate, Hindus and Muslims appraise the co-existence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque quite differently. Hindus are quite divided in their attitudes and experiences, some being very positive and others outspokenly negative. Hindus see it as a symbol of harmony, but also as a symbol of conflict. It is conceivable that the negative image of the co-existence of the temple and mosque is influenced by the political game the VHP played especially during the Ramjanmabhoomi liberation movement (see section 1.1) and polarized feelings were exacerbated for political gains. Despite the national movement VHP started to ‘liberate’ the three most important Hindu complexes from mosques, amongst which the Vishwanath temple, eventually most Banarasis, Hindus and Muslims alike, prefer not to change the co-existence of the temple and mosque. Reasons they give for this preference vary from intrinsic reasons to the well-founded fear that it would create a lot of violence in the city and beyond. The temple is very important for Hindus, but in contrary to popular belief, the mosque is as important to Muslims. In general, Muslims are much more positive about the co-existence of the temple and mosque.

We found out that their positive appraisal of the situation is a way to protect their identity, just like mythic reversals, alternative histories to the dominant history of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque. Having a positive attitude towards the temple serves for Muslims as a counterbalance for the fact that their own most holy structure is outside India as well as an alternative against which their ‘loyalty to India’ can be measured. I have discussed this searching for alternatives against which a certain trait can be assessed more positively in the light of social creativity.

This technique serves to protect the communal identity of Muslims by making positive statements about their character to counter negative statements from mainly Hindus. In this way they can maintain a positive self-image.

Varanasi is known to be ‘riot-sensitive’. Although Hindus seem to have mixed feelings about Muslims and, again, Muslims are much more positive about the relationship between Hindus and Muslims, both Hindus and Muslims assert that daily interactions between Hindus and Muslims are characterized by the Gangā-Yamunī tahzīb, a social culture characterized by relations based on good faith and the feeling of HinduMuslim brotherhood. I proposed, in line with Williams (2007), that Banarasis are part of an imagined community, a community that shares a certain idea of the relationships between Hindus and Muslims, whether these are real or desired. An important aspect in this imagined community is language, because it enables Banarasis to verbal affirmation being part of this community.

Lastly, people deal with the potential for tension and conflict by organizing practical ground-level initiatives to strengthen the bonds and create understanding between people from different religious backgrounds. Brass (2003) finds civic engagement very naïve, as he holds it will be overruled if powerful parties decide to instigate riots or not to intervene when riots take place, but according to Varshney (2002) it has the potential to counter violence and riots. Another way to deal with the potential for tension and conflict is by downplaying the people who instigate communal violence in order to diminish the psychological impact of living with the potential for violence and feel safer. I discussed this in the light of the psychological mechanism of trivialization, a means to reduce cognitive dissonance.

9.2 Discussion

In the methods chapter of this thesis I wrote of my intention to try to avoid the dichotomy of Hindus versus Muslims whereever possible. However, it is very difficult to avoid the dichotomy at all because firstly, obviously, one of the objectives of this research was to find out how Banarasis appraise the relationships between Hindus and Muslims and how both religious groups regard the co-existence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque. However, in personal contact with people I have tried to avoid labeling them and having all kinds of prejudices of either group.

Instead I have tried to be open all interviewees and see them as a persons in the first place. This is reflected in introducing interviewees throughout this thesis: instead of introducing people as such-and-such, Hindus or Muslim, I have introduced them by their name only. Names in India are very indicative for one’s religious affiliation. It is a more subtle way to add information on a person’s religon. Another reason why the dichotomy is difficult to avoid is that people use the dichotomy in daily speech.

Yet, it is very difficult for them to verbalize what makes someone a Hindu or a Muslim (e.g., the religion of one’s parents, or worshipping in temple or mosque).

One more issue about the dichotomy had to be discussed. Throughout this thesis graphs with statistics have been presented. These graphs are a bit misleading because respondents are often very much divided on the topics discussed. The mean of the groups therefore balances out opposing views, resulting in a much more neutral mean. The information concerning dividedness can be found in the standard deviations given in the text though: a high standard deviation means that respondents were much devided on the topic. To see the real distributions of questions in the questionnaire, the statistics are given in Appendix G.

It is also important to keep in mind that many of the Hindu interviewees are Brahmins, as people who live in the area around the sacred complex are usually Brahmins. I have, with moderate success, tried to compensate this by conscious efforts to diversify the sample of intervieweees. However, it needs to be kept in mind that a different sample of interviewees and respondents would lead to totally different answers. Nonetheless, this study has led to interesting insights.

Of course, this thesis depicts one side of the story. I have endeavoured to find instances of communal harmony in a place that seems to be communally divided and affected by communal riots. In this search I have deliberately looked for cases of positive relationships between Hindus and Muslims and for examples of ground-level initiatives to maintain the harmonious atmosphere. This perspective has unquestionably influenced the results of the study. A different focus would irrevocably lead to other results. That is not to say that the results of this thesis are untrue or a distortion of reality. In this thesis we have already seen more than one story, not only in the different stories of various interviewees, but also because of the discourse of Gangā-Yamunī tahzīb which runs parallel to the discourse of hostility between Hindus and Muslims and communal riots and the discourse of aggressive, untrustworthy, disloyal, and backward Muslims. Perhaps interviewees and respondents have focused on showing me one side of the story and kept others from me. Besides, as we have seen, the results of this research with regard to the positive relationships between Hindus and Muslim in Varanasi are corroborrated by other studies (e.g., Kumar, 1987, 1989; Raman, 2010; Williams, 2007). These researchers have likewise tried to show that there is more to the relationship between Hindus and Muslims in Varanasi than communal violence and riots. More research is needed in order to create a fairer and more diversified picture of the relationships between Banarasi Hindus and Muslims.

It will prove interesting to follow the developments of relationships between Hindus and Muslims the coming years. It will be especially interesting to see whether there are any generational differences in attitudes towards Hindu-Muslim relationships.

Although Varanasi is very traditional, we have seen in section 6.1.1 that students are particularly positive about Hindu-Muslim relationships and consider friendships, and sometimes even romantic relationships, between Hindus and Muslims very natural.

Not only, as one student pointed out, have the new generations not (consciously) experienced partition and the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya, but the socio-economic environment in India is also changing. Whereas earlier society was more segregated along communal and caste lines, there is more mixing in professional life, especially in the big cities. Whereas women traditionally stayed home to take care of the household, many women in the cities have good positions and well-paid jobs. Whereas marriages in India are still largely arranged, in the big cities there is an increasing trend of people having so-called love marriages (Kumari, 2004). While in arranged marriage families look for a partner who is similar in religious and socio-economic background, young people who find their own marriage partner may want to marry someone who deviates from them along various lines (e.g., religious and socio-economic). It remains to be seen how fast these socioeconomic factors develop and to what extent they have an influence on HinduMuslim relationships in Varanasi.


Appendix A: Description interviewees

–  –  –

The study aims to find out how ordinary Varanasi citizens think about the combination of the Vishwanath-temple and the Gyanvapi mosque and religious rituals practices being performed by the members of the Hindu and Muslim communities in the same area and how it affects socio-economic and political relationships between common Muslims and Hindus in Varanasi.

–  –  –

Appendix E: Questionnaire English Appendix F: Questionnaire Hindi Appendix G: Statistics questionnaire (Q1) Please write down what you know about the Vishvanath temple and the Gyanvapi mosque [No statistics, open answer question] (Q2) How important do you think the Vishvanath temple is [for you personally/the Hindu community/the Muslim community]?

–  –  –

(Q5) How do you think the personal relationships (e.g., trusting each other, celebrating together, sharing meals) are between the Hindu community and the Muslim community in Benares?

–  –  –

(Q7) Do you think there is the influence of the co-existence of the Vishvanath temple and the Gyanvapi mosque on the relationship between the Hindu community and the Muslim community in Benares?

–  –  –

(Q8) To what extent do you think the co-existence of the Vishvanath temple and the Gyanvapi mosque are a symbol of the harmony between the Hindu community and the Muslim community?

–  –  –

(Q9) To what extent do you think the co-existence of the Vishvanath temple and the Gyanvapi mosque are a symbol of communal tension and conflicts between the Hindu community and the Muslim community?

–  –  –

(Q10) To what extent do you think is the present situation of the co-existence of the Vishvanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque tolerated by [you personally/the Hindu community/the Muslim community]?

–  –  –

(Q11) To what extent do you think is the present situation of the co-existence of the Vishvanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque accepted by [you personally/the Hindu community/the Muslim community]?

–  –  –

(Q12) To what extent do you think the situation of the Vishvanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque should change of not change to [you personally/the Hindu community/the Muslim community]?

–  –  –

(14) Changing the situation of the Vishvanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque has societal consequences, what change do you think there should be given these consequences?

[No statistics, open answer question] (15) Assume for a moment there would be no societal consequences if the situation of the Vishvanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque was changed, then what change do you think there should be?

[No statistics, open answer question] (16) Do you think there should be more activity in pursuing harmonious relationships between the Hindu community and Muslim community and who do you think should be responsible for this?

–  –  –

Appendix H: Contract with Sushil Kumar Sushil Kumar and Esther Wapstra, each holding a copy of this signed contract, hereby agree that Sushil has done and will do work for the MA thesis research of Esther about the relationship between Hindu and Muslim communities about the Vishwanath temple

and Gyanvapi mosque. This work consists of:

- Translating and assisting during those interviews held in Hindi;

- Transcription of those interviews held in Hindi;

- Translation of interviews from Hindi to English;

- Transcription of those questionnaires held in Hindi;

- Translations of questionnaires from Hindi to English.

This work is rewarded with the amount of € 1500, equivalent in Rupees, with an exchange rate of 65.0709 (21 February 2012). Half of which is paid now and half of which is paid at the moment this work is finished.

After the work is finished, Sushil will delete all the research materials. In case he wants to use the materials for research later on he will contact Esther, this right remains for five years after today.

Varanasi, 21 February 2012 Sushil Kumar (Ph. D.) Esther Wapstra


Journal articles, books, and book sections Alam, A. (2008). The enemy within: madrasa and Muslim identity in North India.

Modern Asian Studies, 42(2-3), 605-627.

Anand, D. (2005). The violence of security: Hindu nationalism and the politics of representing ‘the Muslim’ as a danger. The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, 94, 203-215.

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