«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 ...»
I would continue the interview with questions concerning interviewees’ appraisal of the co-existence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque (what are their thoughts about it, do they appreciate it or not, do they consider it an ‘issue’, do they consider it a relevant ‘issue’), the relationship between Hindus and Muslims in Varanasi (how do they see the relationship, is it ‘problematic’ or is it smooth, when do problems arise, in what situation is everything okay, what are indicators of the warmth or coldness of the relationship), and lastly whether the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque have an influence on people in Banaras and in particular on the relationship between Hindus and Muslims. I used a list of questions as guideline, but also tried to be flexible and ask further about things mentioned by interviewees.
Because of this I might ask questions earlier or later in the interview, or sometimes skip the question. This made every interview unique. Eventually I had to skip some questions in the list of questions made initially, because they referred to tension and conflict, whereas most interviewees indicated there was not such a thing. In the course of the research I started to ask more specific questions about the relationship of interviewees with people from the other community. A Canadian guy who has been going to India for many years and speaks Hindi very well recommended me not to ask whether of how many friends interviewees had, but rather ‘Have you ever eaten at his/her house or he/she at yours?’ and ‘Would you invite them to your daughter’s wedding’ (i.e., would you want society to see them on your party) because such questions are more indicative of informal, personal relationships.
Together with Dr. Sushil Kumar I tried to create a trusting atmosphere in which the interviewees felt comfortable enough to talk about their views and feelings. One way by doing this was by being encouraging and making them feel they were listened to and taken serious. Another method was to be flexible in my preference to speak with them alone and allow others (e.g., family, clients) to be present during the interview.
A third point was to guarantee interviewees to handle the information they gave with confidentiality and to conceal their identity. This atmosphere made it possible to ask somewhat bolder questions about sensitive topics (e.g., the slaughtering of cows).
Because I was especially interested in instances and situations where the relationship between Hindus and Muslims was positive, the emphasis in interviews was on this.
This determined the course of the interviews to a great extent. Although my intention was to approach interviewees neutrally concerning the topic, I noticed Dr.
Sushil Kumar used the word ‘tehzīb’ when introducing the topic to interviewees. The Urdu word tehzīb means ‘culture’. But it denotes more than culture; it is used to denote the unique Banarasi syncretic culture that developed as a result of Muslim influences on Hindi culture and per definition describes the harmonious aspect of Hindu-Muslim integration. This introduction might have prompted interviewees to think in a certain direction. Although it does not mean that what interviewees told is untrue, it is important to keep this in mind while analysing and interpreting data.
Even so, I noticed that Dr. Sushil Kumar sometimes fills in words for interviewees, who then take over the words. When I asked him about it, he explained he did so “not to stop the stream of thoughts” of interviewees. I was a bit worried about this, but analysis of interviews shows that is indeed only words and not thoughts that he ‘put into interviewees’ mouths’.8 After the interview I asked interviewees some personal background information (e.g., age, education, occupation, religion) and asked them to sign two consent forms, one of which they could keep and one of which I brought with me. Interviewees were not given a reward for their participation.
2.2.2 Questionnaire As the interviews were conducted amongst a relatively small group of people with very diverse backgrounds, they can be considered as rather specific cases. To support the qualitative data and give a preliminary idea of the direction of the views of Banarasi citizens as a whole a short structured survey was designed to collect more quantitative data.
E.g., “Every, every year, it was very, very sensitive... [Sushil: issue], sensitive issue.” (interview 16), “And here, the, the, the sārī industry, [Sushil: Benarasi sārī industry]...”, “The political philosophers and analysers were taken abaf [Sushil: they were surprised] They were surprised.” (both interview 17) Most of the questions were in a closed answer format with an eleven-point scale running from totally agree to totally disagree; there were three open questions. The questionnaire tapped people’s knowledge on the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque, their opinions on the relationship between Hindus and Muslims and on the influence the co-existence of temple and mosque has on the relationship, and their ideas on change in the situation. It also asked some questions about the respondent’s personal background. Because I had forgotten to ask for the respondent’s gender, we added this information after conducting each questionnaire.
Eventually I also wondered whether the difference between tolerating (extrinsic motivation: accepting the situation is as it is but not really appreciating it) and accepting (intrinsic motivation: not wanting to change the situation even if possible, appreciating it) was clear to respondents as it was not explained.
The selection was a mix of probability sampling and purposive sampling.
Respondents were the people who were available and willing to fill in the questionnaire, but to include Muslim respondents in the sample we had to purposively go to areas where Muslims reside or go and ask them to participate. We usually approached people who were having a break (e.g., drinking tea at a chāī shop, sitting on the ghāt), mostly they were a company of two. Most questionnaires were distributed in BHU, on several ghāts (e.g., Assi ghat, Shivala ghat), and Dashashvamedh and Chowk-Godowlia. Some were distributed in other neighbourhoods (e.g., Rama Pura, Jait Pura). A shop holder referred us to a Muslim household with a woman teacher who was willing to fill in the questionnaire and invited us to her school where we distributed more questionnaires. To keep the interviews and questionnaires independent from each other interviewees did not fill in the questionnaire.
The questionnaires were distributed by Dr. Sushil Kumar and me, apart from the ones who were distributed in BHU by a female friend who is studying at BHU.
Respondents were addressed in the language of their preference (i.e., Hindi or English) and requested to give honest answers, stressing that the questionnaire was anonymous. After the questionnaire was conducted, the gender or the respondent and the place where it was conducted were indicated.
One of the first things that became clear during distributing questionnaires is that most respondents are not very familiar with filling out questionnaires. Some have a different way of filling out the scales and they take much time to fill out the questionnaire. Often people would discuss the questions and answers with their company and here again, women are often accompanied by a man to whom they turn for each answer or for the confirmation that their answer is correct. To avoid the issue of people discussing their questionnaire instead of filling it out alone, I would hand people who are a company of two both a questionnaire to keep both busy and preferred to approach women on their own or groups of women rather than women in the company of men. Also, I would sit with people to fill in the questionnaire with them. Filling in the questionnaire together costs more time, but besides the opportunity to ask about things that are unclear, respondents often gave additional information. Another advantage of filling in the questionnaire together is that people who cannot read or write can be included in the sample.
During the conducting of questionnaires I noticed that many respondents only indicated the extreme values or middle, middles of either sides were used sometimes, but the other boxes were hardly used. It might be that they had difficulties with the gradual character of the scale and perhaps it would be better to use words instead of boxes, use less options (e.g., very negative, negative, neutral, positive, very positive), and add the option ‘not at all’ to some questions (e.g., ‘How is your contact with Hindus/Muslims’). Also, I noticed that it would have been better had I indicated that I mean ‘currently’ in question 9 (‘Is the co-existence of temple and mosque a symbol of communal tension and conflicts between Hindus and Muslims?’) as for most people the situation changed throughout the years (e.g., after the Ayodhya situation).
I aimed at 200 respondents but ended up with 87. I bought pens to use for filling in the questionnaires; these were afterwards given to respondents in return for their help. Dr. Sushil Kumar thought it better not to tell respondents they could keep the pen in advance, because it might motivate people to fill in the questionnaire for the wrong reasons. Therefore we kept pens in a non-transparent bag.
The questionnaires in English and Hindi can be found in appendices E and F. Basic info about respondents are included in appendix B. Appendix G gives statistical data of the questionnaires.
2.2.3 Observations During my stay in Varanasi I have experienced what impressions the city gave me and how people behave and talk, but I have not done many formal observations.
This is mostly due to the fact that I did not exactly know how to do these observations (e.g., what to pay attention to and what to start with) and therefore focused more on research methods like interviews and questionnaire. Partially it is also because the busy streets around the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque and the security arrangements frightened me and discouraged me to go there.
Lastly, my personal situation restricted my mobility (my foot was broken and plastered; I walked with crutched) which made it more difficult for me for go out for observations. For this thesis, I have not analyzed the observations, but the few observations I did make might give a more vivid image of what the situation and atmosphere around the temple and mosque look like (see section 4.1).
After a while I decided to move from Assi ghat, which is located in between Godowlia and the BHU campus and which is more international, to a guesthouse in ChowkGodowlia in order to live in the vicinity of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque and so be more immersed in the field. As discussed above, after I started working together with Dr. Sushil Kumar I moved back to Assi ghat to maintain a professional distance and have some space for myself; later I moved to a girls hostel in Tulsi Nagar (near the Durga temple).
During my stay in Varanasi I went to the Vishwanath temple twice. The first time it was incredibly crowded. I was questioned for my reasons at a platform in front of the temple, where security guards reminded me of the fact that only Hindus were allowed to enter. Eventually I was escorted by a man who rushed me through the temple, jumping the queue at the sanctum sanctorum where I hardly had any time to see or touch the linga. I felt very awkward to the people waiting in line and had not the courage to ask my escort to slow down. The second time everything was much quieter and I took the time to look around. It was very surprising to me that I was allowed to enter the temple even though I did not have the required passport with me to identify myself. I wondered whether I should go to the Vishwanath temple more often, but the difficulties scared me away. Besides, I could not take pencil and paper with me and it was almost impossible to talk to priests as they only spoke the colloquial language and hardly any English.
I asked the interviewee who is responsible for the mosque whether I could perhaps visit the Gyanvapi mosque, but unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to see the interior of the mosque. Most mosques do not have any facilities for women;
women pray at home. Given the strictly security around the mosque, it would have been impossible for me to visit the mosque.
Eventually I focused more on the surroundings of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque. Most of the observations I did were in Chowk-Godowlia, in the tight streets surrounding the temple and mosque. I tried to pay attention to the physical situation (e.g., what is on sale, what do the alleys look like) as well as the behaviour of people. I started with a notebook and pencil, but later found out that it was more convenient to use a voice recorder as it would be faster to talk than to write things down. In that way I could more immediately respond to people coming by and describe the way they look and the way they communicate. Whereas I would write in my notebook en public, when I used the voice recorder I would keep it close to my ear as though talking to someone in a mobile phone to attract less attention to my monitoring the situation.
2.3 Data analysis I have not analysed any interviews during the research because I transcribed the English interviews after I left India; the interviews conducted in Hindi were also transcribed and translated after all the interviews had taken place. I did now and then monitor whether the questions from the research proposal / question list were covered in the interviews, whether questions should be added or changed, and whether any information was missing.
In order to carry out my analysis I read through the written out interviews and noted in each interviews concepts as I came across them. After some interviews it became clear that certain concepts continued to appear, some of which were introduced by myself (e.g., the history of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque) and some of which were introduced by interviewees (e.g., the importance of politics). Then I made separate documents for each concept, sorting out parts of each interview related to this concept. I divided these into broad topics which formed the basis for the sections of each data chapter. Within these sections I divided the text from interviews in smaller topics and tried to write structured and coherent texts from this.
I also tried to find relevant literature to embed the data in an existing scientific framework.