February 22, 2017

India: The Shape of the Beast (Amit Sengupta)


February 22, 2017, 8:44 pm
The Shape of the Beast

The Shape of the Beast

The ghastly, violent and vicious attacks on a seminar on ‘Cultures of Protest’ with eminent academics, filmmakers, students and researchers at Ramjas College in Delhi University since the last two days (21 and 22 February 2016), as an open show of bully power, in full view of the administration and police which seemed to play footsie with the ABVP goons let loose and unleashed, is as inevitable as the contemporary culture of the dominant diabolical discourse set by the ruling leadership of the ruling regime in India. This is the nature and shape of the beast. They understand no other language, or theory and praxis. This is their only window of enlightenment. And they flourish, especially so, like carnivorous creatures, under State patronage.
Professors and students, girls and boys, members of the audience, have been physically attacked. Several journalists have also been attacked and beaten up. People have been hospitalised. Stones have been pelted inside the seminar room while teachers and students were inside. A peace march was disrupted in the most violent and brutish manner. Even while the seminar was a legitimate academic exercise, held with much preparation and high expectations, and with due permission of the college authorities and all concerned.
It seems that the ABVP was given a free run by the police in Delhi University on Wednesday. They beat up several journalists, and allegedly broke up their cameras and mobile phones. A female student from St Stephen's called up this reporter saying that they are being chased by ABVP "goons" and the police is too with the ABVP. Another girl student called up just now that some of them have taken shelter in a flat, but they have been threatened of a "raid" by the ABVP. She said that while the ABVP "goons" were abusing her and threatening to "rape them", the cops stood by, without taking any action. Section 144 has been imposed in Delhi University.
Students who were attacked, and who were holding peaceful protests, have been picked up and taken in buses, according to sources. students are alleging that the police is taking them to all kinds of distant places in buses. students have reportedly been brought from the north campus to South Delhi at the Hauz Khas police station too.
What is it about the young followers of the Sangh Parivar that they are almost always so pathetically Hobbesean: short, nasty and brutish? Why is it that they refuse to argue and debate, and instead always choose to flex their muscles and use violent mob power? What compels them to be so illiterate and boorish, when all they could do is enter the seminar peacefully and express their dissent – with refinement and finesse? If you disagree, prove your point. Use the power of argument. Who is stopping them?
Why do all of them xo compulsively choose to behave like the eternal cow vigilantes of Una and elsewhere, or the lynch mobs of Dadri, or the ‘Hindutva warriors’ who destroyed the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, if not those who ravaged human beings and communities in Gujarat, 2002? Why are they so damned predictable?
If they are in power, and if they are enjoying the trappings of power, then why are they so perpetually angry, so unhappy, frustrated and insecure, about alternative opinions, differing views, parallel streams of consciousness? Surely, they have the entire State and RSS machinery to propagate their ideology – with their favourites appointed in cushy positions across the academic kaleidoscope – from FTII to JNU, HCU to IIMC? So what is this phobia with a simple seminar, a medium of academic dialogue, being quietly held in a hall at a college, on cultures of protest? Why are they so driven by this mad, fanatic frenzy of schizophrenic violence?
Why not hold their own seminar?
If their leaders are their role models, and if kabristan, shamshan and slaughterhouses are the dominant symbols dished out from the pulpit, if not hanging criminals upside down, then there is a vicious method to their repetitive madness, unleashed with the backing and patronage of the state machinery. The current regime has only set yet another ‘achche din’ agenda for its followers in the campuses. Crush all forms of intelligent and democratic dialogue, kill all dissent and debate, eliminate the legitimate and time-tested norms of civilized and academic decency, and brand all and sundry who peacefully protest against your full-scale and large-scale criminalization -- as anti-national and anti-Hindu. Period.
If you question the surgical strikes -- you are anti-national. If you question demonetisation — you are anti-national. If you question the fanatic and narrow notion of nationalism – you are anti-national. If you question cow vigilantism – you are anti-nationalism. Earlier, they would ask all and sundry who don’t agree with them to go to Pakistan. Now, they are not even allowing a seminar to be held in Delhi University.
In Jodhpur, they suspended an assistant professor for holding a seminar, and a filed an FIR against a JNU professor, who participated in it. In JNU, they are banning open spaces of free speech and discussion. Pray, is this a democracy, or a Nazi State?
They tried it in JNU, HCU, FTII, Jadavpur University last year – they failed miserably. They even tried it inside the court premises – using mob violence as the first and last resort of vigilant justice, brutally attacking students, teachers, journalists etc – they failed. They have tried it in the past – again and again – and they have so terribly failed.
Parasites of State power, bereft of an iota of intellectual or academic content, aggressively sexist, racist and xenophobic, unable to write or ask a simple question in a clear sentence without abuses, trolling or perversities, sick to the core of their soul – they can only flourish under state patronage. Give them the backing of the cops and the government, and their chests fly out of their shirts into 56 inches plus. Give them a level-playing field – in terms of ideas, resistance or politics, peacefully – they will end up playing in full volume some stupid Hindutva song, of mythical cows and milk and honey in mythical times, as ‘besura’ as it can get.
When Narendra Modi first came to SRCC, peaceful students protesting at the north campus of Delhi University were attacked by ABVP goons in full view of the police. This reporter was on the spot, and, when asked, the cops feigned ignorance, ended up backing the ABVP, and charging two professors from St Stephen’s and Hindu College who were protesting in solidarity with the students.
This was much before the May 2014 Lok Sabha elections. When a delegation met a top Congress leader, he did sound out the then home minister under the UPA regime, but, added, with a caveat: “Sections of the police have also become communalized. The fight is not against a man. It is against an ideology.”
This is not a fight anymore; this seems to be becoming a war. From Jodhpur to JNU, a relentless, endless, infinite, breathless war – against intellectual sanity, normative structures of university life and collective discourse, rule of law and conduct of the academia, and basic adherence to basic decency and freedom of the mind. Everything seems to be getting buried and blurred by the ‘instant mob justice’ of self-righteous Hindutva mobs going berserk, and Sangh protagonists in top official positions, let loose on all and sundry, with the backing of the police and the state machinery. The campuses are facing the brunt of it, despite the valiant and infinite resistance of teachers and students. If this is the kind of hate politics in the dominant discourse being witnessed in the polls in UP, it has now found full play with total impunity on the university campuses, as in Delhi University today and yesterday.
Indeed, if the rulers are cocksure of their victory in UP, why are they so desperately using the communal card and so openly? Why pitch community against community in the greatest battleground of peaceful and constitutional democracy – the right to vote? Have the wounds of those raped, murdered and the thousands displaced in Western UP in 2014, healed? So why rake up fresh wounds, injustice and mass insomnia?
Politicians, opposition leaders, students, teachers, women’s groups, trade unions, farmers and workers, the middle and educated classes, the media, the civil society and people’s movements – they will all have to answer these terrible and diabolical questions which are at full play for all to see. We can’t run away from them anymore. In a mobocracy, there is no safe space for anybody.
India cannot become a Nazi Germany. India, with all its fragmentations and inequality, is a pluralist, secular, democratic country. It is our constitutional right to vote peacefully and reject a party or leader – however great a messiah he can be. It is also a constitutional right to debate and discuss, and break the walls of prejudice and dogmatism, and celebrate the free movement of ideas and ideologies, with refinement, restrain and respect to all concerned. It is a right to hold a seminar on ‘Cultures of Protest’, as it is on nationalism at Freedom Square in JNU, or parallel cinema in FTII, or Jai Bhim Comrade in IIMC.
Surely, those who behave like uncivilized violent mobs, they will be defeated finally in the kaleidoscope of free minds and with the currents of civilized pluralism. Surely, those who spread hate politics, they will also be defeated by the steadfast rainbows of secularism. Everything is ephemeral – even very, very dark times. Democracy in India is under strain. Democracy in India has to be reclaimed, like women and youngsters reclaimed the nights in Delhi after the ghastly rape of a paramedic in a bus; like JNU, HCU, FTII and Jadavpur University reclaimed their spaces of intellectual and political resistance and freedom last year, when under siege by the fascists.
Surely, India will not succumb. The students and teachers of this country will not succumb. The Ramjas campus will not succumb. The seminar will continue, so will the resistance. We shall overcome.

India: Goons of the Hindu Right Have A Free Run on Delhi University North Campus - Violence and Assault on 22 Feb 2017

Question from Ramjas to JNU - Is ABVP a students’ organisation or a bunch of hooligans? - Editorial, Hindustan Times (23 Feb 2017)

Dear Amit Shah, rein in ABVP and act on your promise to set ‘gundas’ right
by Harinder Baweja (22 Feb 2017)

ABVP goes on rampage at Ramjas, pelts stones at seminar featuring Umar Khalid

Clashes Outside Delhi's Ramjas College After ABVP Forced It To Cancel Invite To Umar Khalid

India: Voting choices are based on needs, greed and security | Irfan Engineer

The next assembly elections in UP will begin from 11th February 2017 in
several phases. The Samajwadi Party in alliance with Congress is hopeful of
second term under the leadership of the incumbent Chief Minister Akhilesh
Yadav. Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav recently emerged victorious in the
family feud sidelining his uncle Shivpal Yadav and leaving no option for
his father but to hand over predominant role in running the Party to him.
The SP-Congress alliance is campaigning on the programme of development.
The SP traditionally relied on the Muslim-Yadav social alliance with some
other OBC also being mobilized. Akhilesh seemed to have won over the bulk
of support of the Yadavs as well as Muslims along with a section of youth,
campaigning on the issue of development, implementation of welfare schemes
like distribution of laptops, service of ambulances for the sick etc.

The BJP, which had won in 71 out of the 80 Lok Sabha Constituencies in the
year 2014 in 16th General Elections and two more for its alliance partner –
Apna Dal, is fighting a tough challenge to win majority or near majority in
this election, let alone repeating its performance in the General
Elections. The BJP is trying every trick in the book – rubbishing the
claims of development done by the SP Govt. and asserting that it alone is
capable of developing UP.

There seems to be a neat division of labour within the BJP. Prime Minister
Modi talks of development agenda in order to win over the youth. The Prime
Minister also arouses aspirations of the people through *jumlas* to make a
point that those benchmarks were not achieved by the incumbent Govt. and
that his Party would fulfil them. For example, number of jobs, investments,
infrastructure like roads, electricity etc. Other BJP leaders and RSS –
ideological parent of the BJP – indoctrinated leaders have been kicking up
every possible issue to communally polarize the electorate since a while in
run upto the Assembly elections. BJP MP Hukum Singh claimed that Hindus
were forced to migrate out of Kairana, a Muslim majority town in Shamli, by
Muslim gangsters and their extortion racquet. Sakshi Maharaj has been
problematizing higher population growth rate of Muslims which, according to
them would demographically marginalize Hindus. Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana,
BJP MLAs from western UP stigmatized Muslims as cow slaughterers and
supported the lynch mob of Dadri killing Mohammed Akhlaq and seriously
injuring his son. They have been stigmatizing Muslim youth as eve-teasers,
entrapping Hindu women into marital alliances for sexual exploitation and
demographic advantage. BJP leaders have been exploiting the issue of triple
talaq and promising Uniform Civil Code as a measure to “Hinduize” the
Muslims. BJP has raised the issue of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya in order to
assert the political hegemony of “Hindus” undermining the Constitutional
pledge of equal citizenship.

Demonizing the Muslim community has led to high occurrence of communal
violence in UP. The state of UP has the dubious reputation of highest
number of communal violence every year and particularly as election
approaches. There were several instances of communal violence, particularly
in the western region of UP since 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots which resulted
in 64 deaths and displacement of about 150,000 Muslims. In the year 2016,
of the 8 deaths were reported in media monitored by CSSS in communal riots
all over India. As many as 6 took place in UP alone. UP also returned
highest number of incidents of communal violence reported in the media in
the year 2016 – 18 out of 62. Most of these riots were in Western UP.
Communal violence had led to rupture in the social fabric in Western UP,
particularly between the jats and the Muslims. BJP leaders have been
accused of abeting, instigating and/or leading the riots, e.g Sangeet Som
in Muzaffarnagar and Ismaria Choudhary in Bijnor riots.

Projecting Muslim community as an existential threat to Hindus, the BJP
intends to position itself as the defender of “Hindu interests” and
mobilize votes of all castes without jeoperdizing caste based hierarchy and
hegemonic interests of elite of upper castes. In fact, by posing Muslims as
existential threat to Hindus, the BJP undermines the struggle of the dalits
and the oppressed sections of OBCs for equality and blunts their
consciousness despite having equal political rights guaranteed by the
Constitution. The BSP is trying to achieve social alliance of Dalits and
Muslims by distributing large number of tickets to Muslim leaders – over 98
out of 403 seats (more than 24% of seats) even though Muslims constitute
19% of the population.

*Visit to Western UP*

Our visit to Western UP on 4th and 5th February 2017 was undertaken to
understand the electoral process, mobilization of communities and its
impact on inter-relations between various communities. The exercise was
neither to survey nor to predict electoral outcomes. We visited and talked
to members of various castes and communities in groups to understand their
perspectives and issues they thought were important influencing their
voting choices.

The notion that Muslims constituted one community or the community behaved
as a vote bank melted away in no time. The community neither voted as a
vote bank in last elections nor did it appear it would do so in this
election. The Muslim community is as diverse as any other community is –
along caste lines as well as class lines and their electoral choices are
influenced by their social location and not only on their religion. In the
last Assembly elections, Suresh Rana, BJP won the Assembly elections from
Thana Bhavana Constituency in Shamli District even though Muslims
constitute about 55% of the electorate with a narrow margin of 265 votes!
Muslim votes were divided between Rashtriya Lok Dal’s Abdul Waris Khan and
Samajwadi Party’s Kiran Pal. The Muslim community is divided along caste
lines as well. Muslims are from Rajputs, Jats, Gujjars, and other backward
biradaries among Muslims.

Talking to various Muslim and Jat members of the community, it appeared
that they have put the communal riots in 2013 behind them. The Jats said
they were misled by the BJP leaders and recalled long history of fraternal
bonds between the two communities. They remembered participation in each
other’s marriages, last rites and festivals and had shared cultural ethos.
The shared cultural ethos includes keeping women in veil (the nature of
veil may change), no marriages within the village, restricted liberties to
women, etc. Both the communities were mobilized together on issues faced by
the farmers.

The members of Jat community were perturbed by the demonetization in
particular and marginalization of the peasantry in general. The fundamental
issue for them was un-remunerative minimum support prices for farm produce
or lack of it. Waiver of loans did not attract the Jats we talked to, on
account of their inability to pay back loans as the incomes of the farmers
had taken a big hit in the last 2-3 years. The Jats were certainly not
inclined to support the BJP. They seemed to be divided on whom they would
vote for – Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) seemed to the choice of majority but
some were also supporting Sudhir Panwar, SP-Congress alliance candidate and
a Jat himself.

The Muslims we talked to too seemed to have at least for now, and for the
purpose of this elections, put the communal conflict and violence
associated with it behind them. They too, like the Jats did not buy the
propaganda that demonetization would ultimately lead to benefits of any
significance to the nation or the economy and underlined the hardships
caused by the measure. We talked to two groups of Muslims – one were group
of Rajput Muslims and some dalit Muslims. The Rajputs were staunchly
supporting the Rashtriya Lok Dal party and desired Jat-Muslim unity to
revive the RLD’s fortunes as in the past.

However, there was equally strong voice in favour of SP-Congress alliance
supporting the developmental work done by Akhilesh’s Govt. When asked what
development the Govt. had done, they pointed out towards distribution of
laptops, ambulance service, electric supply and better roads. Abdul Waris
Khan’s supporters were equally confident that Muslims would vote for them.
Waris Khan is a Rajput Muslim contesting from the BSP. In the last
elections in 2012, Waris Khan lost to BJP’s Suresh Kumar Rana but polled
50001 votes whereas Suresh Kumar polled 53,719 votes and Ashraf Ali Khan of
RLD had polled 53454 votes. Waris Khan won in 2007 contesting on RLD
ticket. In 2012, Suresh Kumar of BJP won only by a thin margin of 265 votes
as Muslim votes were divided between Waris Khan and Ashraf Ali Khan – both
being Rajput Muslims.

The poorer and labouring class Muslims seemed to be supporting the BSP –
seen as a dalit party. The upper caste Rajput Muslims nurture a separate
community feeling and solidarity with the land owning Jats and Rajputs when
there is absence of communal polarisation whereas they seek solidarity of
the backward caste Muslims when communal polarization is heightened.

When we visited SP-Congress alliance candidate – Sudhir Panwar’s (a Jat)
election tent in Thana Bhawan, we saw Jats, Muslims, Sainis in the tent
planning for election campaign. The Muslims in the tent were sure
overwhelming majority of them will be voting for the Alliance. The Jats in
the tent too were confident of the Jats voting Sudhir Panwar who was
contesting on the plank of communal harmony and peace as one amongst many

When we visited the upper caste Hindus – Sainis and Rajputs, their issues
in the elections were different than the Muslims or Jats we met. They were
problematizing regional issues. Western UP was kept backwards by the ruling
dispensation as they were largely from the Eastern UP. They felt left out
of the development agenda of the state. All the jobs went to the youth from
Eastern UP and particularly to the Yadavs and Muslims. All the state
contracts, educational institutions, and other institutions were cornered
by the other regions being represented by the politicians of the ruling
clan in general and Yadav-Muslims in particular. They felt alienated and
marginalized from the state power (though they appeared much better off in
reality). The youth problematized reservations in jobs, education and other
affirmative action. To them it was unfair discrimination against the upper
caste youth and reservations should only be based on economic criteria.
They supported BJP and trusted that BJP’s victory would lead to development
of Western UP on priority basis as political leaders from the west would
dominate. There was no talk of justice or equality – only perceived
injustice *and* aspiration of reversing the equations – belief that BJP’s
victory would lead to reverse discrimination. Now *they* needed to benefit
from political nepotism with *their* leaders being in power. According to
them, demonetization was a good action though it temporarily led to
problems. In the long run, demonetization would check corruption, black
money and counter terrorism.

The above discourse shows that no community or caste is a vote bank. There
is diversity and voting choices are dependent on variety of factors,
including religious, socio-cultural and economic factors. Social location
of the individual influences voting choices and not religion alone. There
are three factors that can influence voting choices – need, greed and
security. Those whose basic human needs are not met, they are dependent on
welfare. State provides only a tiny fraction of social welfare needed by
large sections of poor in the country. Through whom social welfare can be
accessed may determine the choice of the needy voters – dalits, adivasis,
landless, etc. Those whose needs are fulfilled, need social networks to
access their aspiration for upward mobility and more riches and privileges.
Which social network helps this objective may determine electoral choices
for some. Victims of communal and caste violence and high handedness of
security forces vote for the party or leader that promises security to
them. These factors were playing the voting choices of the people we met
and interacted with.

[Irfan Engineer is Director, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai]

Book Review: Looking Back at the Colonial Origins of Communal and Caste Conflict in India | Steve Wilkinson

The Wire 21 - February 2017

Ajay Verghese’s The Colonial Origins of Ethnic Violence looks at the colonial past to understand why some parts of India suffer from communal conflict while others suffer from caste conflict.
Policies followed by the British were diverse over the country, and the repercussions of these policies can be felt still in politics today. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Policies followed by the British were diverse over the country, and the repercussions of these policies can still be felt in the communal violence or caste violence that an area experiences today. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In the past two decades, economists and political scientists have increasingly turned to India’s colonial past to understand the present. Scholars such as Abhijit Banerjee, Lakshmi Iyer, Nathan Nunn and Shivaji Mukherjee have shown how colonial indirect rule and land administration policies, often implemented with little consideration of local conditions, explain how levels of conflict and economic development vary so much across South Asia today. The very randomness of these colonial policies makes them ideal ‘natural experiments,’ it appears, for estimating the true effects of different kinds of government interventions.
The latest work in this area, Ajay Verghese’s The Colonial Origins of Ethnic Violence in India, looks to the colonial past to understand why some parts of India seem to suffer from communal conflicts while others suffer from high levels of caste conflicts. Generations of historians have pointed to religious divide-and-rule policies as perhaps the most distinctive and damaging aspect of British colonial rule. But Verghese’s revisionist thesis emphasises the role of the colonial administration, after 1857, in highlighting caste identities in its provincial governments and policies, most importantly in its land settlement and land administration policies. These provincial policies, he says, led to an increase in caste polarisation and conflict in British India. The cross-cutting nature of these caste cleavages also had at least one unforeseen benefit, however, by helping to defuse larger religious conflicts in the provinces between Hindus and Muslims. In princely India, by contrast, Verghese argues that rulers sought religious legitimacy and also practiced religious discrimination in their administrations, therefore increasing long-term religious grievances and conflicts but in doing so, also helping to reduce caste conflicts. Independence did not represent a sharp break with these patterns, but rather helped to entrench them. Areas that that had been part of British India continued to have higher levels of caste conflict, while former princely states had higher levels of communal conflict.
Ajay VergheseThe Colonial Origins of Ethnic Violence in IndiaStanford University Press, 2016
Ajay Verghese
The Colonial Origins of Ethnic Violence in India
Stanford University Press, 2016

The most important evidence for Verghese’s thesis comes from his careful historical analysis of two pairs of cases, the former princely state of Jaipur and the British territory of Ajmer in present-day Rajasthan, and the former princely state of Travancore and British district of Malabar in Kerala. He argues that Jaipur had high levels of Hindu-Muslim tension and conflict before independence, but low levels of caste conflict, and that these levels continue today. Ajmer on the other hand had very low levels of communal conflict before 1947 but higher degrees of caste conflict, and these patterns too have continued after independence. The story in Kerala is much the same. He argues that the British in the Malabar region de-emphasised religion and highlighted caste inequalities and identities, which continue to dominate politics today, while the princely state of Travancore highlighted religious identities and discrimination, which continues to dominate politics in that area. Such differences explain, for instance, why the RSS and BJP have done better in Travancore, and why Naxals are more prevalent in Malabar.
There is a lot to like in this book. Verghese is surely right to highlight the fact that different identities were important at different levels of the colonial Indian state, and that, through the prism of the 1930s and partition, we tend to assume that religion was much more central to colonial policy than it might have been, and that we are too ready to discount the importance of caste and other identities. One other very appealing aspects of the book is the way in which Verghese integrates so many different kinds of evidence – fourteen months of archival research and fieldwork, careful historical and case studies, as well as large-n analysis. Verghese also anticipates some of the possible counter-arguments to his analysis, for instance by conducting a fascinating historical study of the former princely state of Bastar, to explore the reasons why that state has such high levels of tribal and Naxal conflict despite seemingly possessing the (princely state) factors that elsewhere in the book associates with religious conflict.
But, as is often the case with revisionist arguments, Verghese sometimes pushes the evidence a bit too far in support of his thesis. First, outside the province of Madras, where the post-1910 backward caste revolution and Justice Party rule in the 1920s and 1930s make a clear case for the importance of caste identities, it is hard to sustain his overall thesis that caste was more important than religion at the provincial level throughout British India. We can in fact point to a very large number of British provincial policies, from separate electorates in provincial governments, to religious reservations in state police and civil service employment, to language policies declaring the use of Urdu versus Hindi, which did focus on religion rather than caste, and which therefore help to explain the large amount of conflict along religious lines in British India. The UP administration, as Francis Robinson, Paul Brass and others have explored, recruited many staff on the basis of religious preferences before independence – Muslims, with 14% of the population, were guaranteed a third or more of the positions in the police and civil service – but had far fewer preferences on the basis of caste. The same was true in most other provinces. The legislative debates from provinces like Bengal, Punjab, Bihar, and CP before independence also have a lot more questions about religious proportions in government service, and religious conflicts, than they do about caste cleavages, which again suggests that these identities were more important than caste identities to politicians and their constituents. Hindu-dominated elected governments in Congress provinces after 1937 were accused of favouring their co-religionists in a very similar way to the rulers in princely states, as publications such as A.K. Fazlul Huq’s, Muslim Sufferings under Congress Rule (Calcutta, December 1939) make clear.
A second issue is that teasing apart caste from communal motivations in order to prove that princely India equals religious conflict and British India equals caste conflict, is harder than it seems. Verghese’s argument that the Malabar was an area of relative communal peace before independence, for instance, will likely come as a surprise to readers, because the Mappila rebellion of 1921 has frequently been characterised as one of the worst instances of Hindu-Muslim conflict before independence. Verghese recognises that the Malabar is a problematic case for his argument, and he therefore goes to considerable lengths to show that the rising was at its core driven by caste and economic concerns. He uses the fact that many Muslims were low caste converts, that many landlords were Hindu upper castes, and that some low caste Hindus were involved in the uprising (albeit in the initial stages) to argue that, “At its core, the Mappila unrest was agrarian…in essence an expression of long-standing agrarian discontent, which was only intensified by the religious and ethnic identity of the Moplahs and by their political alienation.” This caste interpretation may be plausible, but he provides no conclusive evidence to show that this is the only reading possible for events that clearly had a variety of economic, caste, agrarian and religious motivations, nor for his contention that communal tensions dramatically declined in Malabar after 1921 and 1947, while caste identities remained salient.
A related question, while we are on the subject of categorisation, is how we can we squeeze the fluidity and complexity of history into the hard categories of social science and especially statistical analysis. In his Bastar chapter – my personal favourite – Verghese argues that the exceptionally high violence in pre-1947 Bastar was not really an exception in terms of his overall characterisation of princely India, because Bastar had actually been run for much of the pre-1947 period directly by the British. The British controlled the region’s forests, exploited the natural resources and the tribal populations and, when it suited them, took over the princely state directly for long periods on some pretext or other. Thus, the distinction between the British and the princely is not as clear as we may think. Some British territory was clearly administered differently and with more of a nod to local precedent, interests, rulers and customs than others and on the princely side some areas like Bastar clearly had much less autonomy than others, and were administered directly or indirectly by the British for long stretches.
But if we do accept that distinctions such as British-princely, indirect rule-direct rule, or Zamindari-Ryotwari-Mahalwari land systems are really continuous variables, with lots of regional and local differences in policy and implementation, rather than hard-and-fast categories, then is the recent large-scale use of such variables in statistical analysis –including by Verghese in this book – defensible? In truth, as Verghese’s qualitative analysis makes clear, some states such as Hyderabad had enormous autonomy, others much less so, while in other states rulers were autonomous for some periods but were under heavy British supervision or even direct rule for others, in a way that makes statistical dummy variables seem inappropriate.
Ajay Verghese. Credit: University of California, Riverside, website
Ajay Verghese. Credit: University of California, Riverside, website
A third point, in any study that wants to establish continuity with the past, is the question of whether we are we sure we have got the past right? Verghese seems confident on the basis of his archival work that he has his facts about the past correct, and that others do not. He argues that scholars such as the historian Ian Copland, who have argued that Ajmer was as communally sensitive as Jaipur before independence are just wrong: “Ajmer had only two minor riots prior to Partition” while Jaipur experienced several more riots than listed by Copland.  Verghese himself however has missed a few riots in Ajmer. In addition to the two ‘minor’ riots he lists in 1923 and 1936, by my count there seem to have been at least three more in Ajmer before the end of 1947 – one in 1926, a riot in May 1928 in which 25 Muslims were injured, and one in December 1947 in which more than 50 persons, mainly Muslims were reported killed December 1947. In addition there was a reported Hindu-Muslim riot over a Holi procession at Bhinai, outside Ajmer, listed in the 1912 administration report. There may, of course, be more cases. So overall it is hard to see Ajmer as a complete bastion of communal peace prior to India’s independence, and without that clear difference the ‘continuity’ argument that Verghese makes between levels of communal peace before and after 1947 in Ajmer starts to look more doubtful.
One final question is about the role of post-1947 politicians in determining the pathway that these different regions have taken? If we focus so much on past colonial policies in explaining outcomes such as caste and communal conflicts, or the number of roads and schools in a region, does that absolve the post-1947 politicians, parties, and agents of the state from blame, and what does that mean in terms of our agency to change things in the present? Verghese properly acknowledges this tension, but one thing I would have liked to see more of in the book is a more explicit consideration of how much he thinks the historical institutions he explores gave post-1947 Indians, and Indians today, the freedom to change things, and reduce levels of conflict, Naxal and caste violence today.
Steven Wilkinson is Nilekani Professor of India and South Asian Studies and Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at Yale University.

India: Violence and rioting at Ramjas College and in Delhi university by ABVP the Hindutva right wing youth organisation

ABVP violently disrupt student teacher march to protest violence Police present in large numbers

A teacher of English literature has been badly assaulted by some 15 odd people from ABVP apparently

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Announcement: Discussion on the book 'Life, Emergent - The Social Afterlives of Violence' (2 March 2017, New Delhi)

Announcement: Mass Violence and the Idea of Healing - a Talk by Manoj Jha (February 25, 2017, New Delhi)

Anhad Collective invites you to
Baat Cheet

on February 25, 2017
from 3 pm to 5 pm

Speaker: Prof. Manoj Jha

Topic: Mass Violence and the Idea of Healing

About speaker: Manoj Jha, Head, Department of Social Work, DU, Manoj K Jha’s research interests revolve around methodological and conceptual issues of social protest movements, minorities and marginalised communities. He was a lecturer at Department of Social Work, Jamia Millia Islamia from 1994 to 2002 before joining DSSW. He is also a visiting faculty to School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi.
VenueAnhad, B 5 Basement, Nizamuddin West, New Delhi-110013
Tel: 011-41670722

P.S.: a line of confirmation on anhad.delhi@gmail.com would be highly appreciated