«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 line with Malinowski’s statement that “[n]othing is so misleading in ethnographic accounts as the description of facts of native civilisations in terms of our own.” (Malinowski, 1922, p. 176), I have given many direct quotes of interviewees. I tried to analyse their statements, put them in context and provide additional information.
Even when not directly quoting them, I tried mainly to use the same words as interviewees. After all, they are the best to describe how they feel about certain issues. As Dr. Sushil Kumar mentioned, people use different language to convey meanings, for example dialects and expressions used in their family. Therefore, he suggested writing interviewee’s quotations out in Hindi (in Roman script) with the English translation behind it in brackets. Eventually I decided not to do so, because it would increase the density of information to a level I thought might not be easily readable anymore. In direct quotes of interviewees I have directly taken over Dr.
Sushil Kumar’s translations, including possible grammatical errors.
Throughout this thesis quotes of interviewees and respondents as well as quotes from books, journal articles, and newspaper articles are given between double quotes, whereas single quotes are used to emphasize certain words. As opposed to other quotes, quotes from interviewees or respondents are printed in grey. Also, whereas references to interviews and questionnaires are given in footnotes, references to other sources are given between brackets and included in the list of references. The ellipsis is used to indicate unfinished thoughts by interviewees (…) or words or sentences intentionally omitted from interviews or other sources (...).
The analysis of the collected data, mainly based on interviews form the body and main focus of this thesis. In addition, the questionnaire was used to generate some preliminary statistical data based on a slightly larger sample than the pool of interviewees. It might give a preliminary idea of the direction of the views of Banarasi citizens. Finally, casual conversations are used to complement the arguments made and observations are mainly used to describe the physical situation (see section 4.3).
For statistical information of the questionnaire, see appendix G.
2.4 Ethical reflections There was no deception or harm involved in this study. Both interviewees and respondents were told before participating what the study was about as well as who the researchers were. Interviewees were given contact details of Dr. Sushil Kumar, me, and my Dutch supervisors, which gave them the opportunity to approach any of these people for additional information. Harm could lie in the retrieval of unpleasant memories (e.g., concerning communal violence) or in sharing personal thoughts. It was not anticipated that either would be very intense. Interviewees had the opportunity to refuse to answer questions and to withdraw from the study at any time. None made used of this opportunity.
To give background information on the research and to make sure they understand what will happen with the information they have given, interviewees were asked to sign an informed consent form. They were given a copy to keep themselves. Dr.
Sushil Kumar was afraid it might raise suspicion, as if we need to prove the legitimacy of the study. I held that by giving some information about the project, who we are, and how we can be contacted again, we might take away suspicion.
Interviewees were also guaranteed that their privacy would be protected by changing their names in this thesis. At the same time, the informed consent serves to justify myself to the scholarly community about the willingness of interviewees to participate (see appendices C and D for the informed consent forms in English and Hindi).
The data for the study is kept only by me. The contract with Dr. Sushil Kumar specified that he will delete all the data after the study is finished as very personal information is involved. However, if he decides to continue this research, he can request me to give him all the data within reasonable time. In line with the openness of information within the scholarly world, data is available for other scientists upon request. In this case names of interviewees will be changed.
Interviews were given voluntarily, without compensation. Yet, after the research was finished we distributed small presents to thank interviewees for their participation They were also, as the informed consent states, “the unique opportunity to express their opinions and thoughts” about the relation between Hindus and Muslims and the co-existence of the temple and mosque and were listened to seriously. A summary of this thesis will be translated into Hindi, I will ask Dr. Sushil Kumar to the interviewees whom he can reach. They can contact me if they wish to receive the whole thesis.
2.5 Personal reflections
In the interviews I have tried to have an open and supportive attitude and to create a comfortable and trusting atmosphere in which the interviewee felt confident to speak about their thoughts and feelings. I tried to create a trusting atmosphere by letting interviewees talk freely after asking a question and gently leading them back to the question if they departed too much from the research subject; by being open and accepting towards what they said even if it sounded implausible; and by listening attentively and trying to get back later to what interviewees said earlier in the interview. I did not know much about the subject when I started the interviews, which sometimes made it difficult to respond adequately to whatever interviewees told, but often Dr. Sushil Kumar told me what was meant by certain things (e.g., what its history is, what its relation with Indian culture is) and gradually I became more familiar with the subject. The naivety and inquisitiveness had the advantage that I did not have too many already established ideas of the situation, making me open to whatever was said.
Many scientists and non-scientists have argued that that the dichotomy between Hindus vs. Muslims is largely artificial because of the huge differences within the groups. Dr. Sushil Kumar told me that in some cases the similarities between Hindu and Muslim groups are greater than the similarities within the respective groups. Yet it seems inevitable, especially since interviewees also keep mentioning the opposition and for many people the opposition is quite real. I have tried to avoid stressing the dichotomy between Hindus and Muslims and approach my interviewees as ‘humans’ instead of as ‘Hindus’ or ‘Muslims’ for example by not explicitly mentioning the religion of interviewees while quoting them. Because their religious background is interesting and relevant though, their fictive names are in line with their real names and reflect their religious background. However, the dichotomy is very difficult to avoid, not in the least because people constantly think in Hindus-Muslims.
My background as a woman, academically educated, Western, not having an Indian background, not speaking Hindi, Christian, being neither Hindu nor Muslim, may have had its influence on interviewees. Especially the last five points set me apart from most of my interviewees. It made that I was always an outsider at some point and this might have made it easier or more difficult for interviewees to share their ideas.
However, the presence of Dr. Sushil Kumar might have neutralized this influence somewhat. My being a woman might also have influenced interviewees, although I assume that it might be easier as a woman to establish trust within men and women than it might in some situations be for a man to establish trust, especially with women.
Lastly, it is important to give some information on my own religious background. I was raised a Christian, but for me there is only one god who can be found in any religion, perhaps even without religion. In that sense for me all religions are one, searching after this one god. I find it difficult to understand how people can feel so much hatred towards each other because of their or the other’s religion and it fascinates me how people from different religions interact with each other. This is what has motivated me in this research.
2.6 Validity, reliability & relevance
It is impossible to gather objective information through interviews as all the information is coloured by the background, social environment, experiences, and personal thoughts of interviewees. To enhance the objectivity of the data I tried not to take sides and to approach Hindus and Muslims with the same open attitude, both during the interviews as well as in writing this thesis. For example, while writing this thesis sometimes I felt as if Hinduism was too much in the foreground and too much the ‘standard’ against which Islam was compared. I felt I had to balance this by giving an account of the Muslim view. I also intended to accept whatever interviewees said no matter how strange it sounded, taking it as their view on the situation. Of course, at the same time I tried to be critical in the analysis, putting information in context, questioning whether interviewees gave me information because they believed it or because they wanted me to believe it, and comparing it to other interviewees as well as other sources (e.g., journals or books).
I have been able to occasionally check the translations of the interviews by Dr. Sushil Kumar during data analysis and found no systematic misinformation.
I think the trustworthiness of the data (the credibility of interviewees) in this research is limited in so far that I will not claim to have found the truth, but at the same time I do not believe my interviewees have systematically lied. In the history of anthropology there have been cases where the researcher took information that later turned out to be totally made up for truth. The findings of this study seem to counter the idea that there is a lot of implicit tension and unexpressed hatred. This is remarkable and might make someone think my interviewees have also made up their stories. I will not deny that they have, consciously or unconsciously, manipulated their stories to make it more positive and underemphasize the negative parts. The interviews seem too positive in the light of other scholarly writings as well as in the light of the history of violence in Varanasi. However, the agreement between the interviews is too striking to discharge as coincidence. For example the fact that people visit each other’s festivals is mentioned by many interviewees, not only in an
‘people do that’, but drawing from their personal experiences. The agreement of the role of business and politics might well be influenced by the discourse used by for example officials and newspapers, but nonetheless is internalized by interviewees and through that process became truth. The way young people relate to each other and have mixed groups of friends correspond to what young interviewees told me and cannot be just a show. In short, this thesis only represents a part of the story, but the part that is given should be treated as truth.
The generalizability (validity) of the findings in this study is limited in as much as the interviewees are different from each other in terms of religion, caste, and socioeconomic background. Yet, there is also a consensus between interviewees indicating that there is a higher structure. The questionnaire increases the generalizability because the closed answer format decreases the answer alternatives, the sample of respondents is bigger than the sample of interviewees and it also reveals a tendency. The replicability (reliability) is also limited as it is impossible to receive the same information when redoing the interviews. Besides, as just explained, the data shows one side of the story; if the interviews would be conducted again by someone else, he or she might find the other side of the story.
The scientific relevance of this study lies in the fact that researchers who have studied the relationship between Hindus and Muslims have focused on periods of time when the relation was more tense or outright violent. As far as I am aware, no scientific study has been done on the views of common Banarasi people on the coexistence between the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque. The societal relevance lies in the finding that many interviewees have misconceptions about people from other religious communities. The findings concerning the co-existence of the temple and mosque, the relationship between Hindus and Muslims, and the attitude of Hindus towards Muslims and the other way around are also interesting.
PART II: BACKGROUND
3. Varanasi Varanasi is mostly known by the names Varanasi, Banaras, and Kashi. Varanasi (also spelled Vārānasī) is the name used in Jataka tales (Buddhist scriptures) and the Mahabharata. Many people explain the name as meaning ‘lying between the Varana and the Asi’, the first being the river on the north side of the area that is demarcated by the Panchkroshi road and the latter being a brook on its south side. However, this etymological explanation is not very likely as ancient times the city was probably located more to the north, on both banks of the Varana River. Eck suggests the name might come from the dried up river Varanasi in the north. Banaras (also spelled Banāras) is a corruption of the Sanskrit name Varanasi. However, Sherring mentions some locals maintain the name comes from a former king of Benares, Raja Banar. Interestingly, according to Greaves and Eck some people make the same claim for the name Kashi (Kāshī), which is supposedly named after a former ruler called Kasha. However, most people hold that the name Kashi derives from the Sanskrit root meaning ‘to shine, to be brilliant’. The name is also mentioned in the Jataka tales. Sherring believes that during the Buddhist era the city was called Banaras and the surrounding area the kingdom of Kashi; eventually people started using the names interchangeably. Eck points out that besides these Varanasi has many other names, each referring to a certain quality. For example Avimukta, the never-forsaken (because Shiva never lets her go even during the time of destruction); Ānandavana, the forest of bliss; Rudravāsa, Shiva’s (Rudra) permanent residence; and Mahāshmashāna, the great cremation ground (Eck, 1983, pp. 25-33;
Greaves, 1909, pp. 2-3; Nevill, 1909, v. 7, p. 189; Sherring, 1868, pp. 34-36, 93-95).