Pogrom in Gujarat: Hindu Nationalism and Anti-Muslim Violence in India

Pogrom in Gujarat: Hindu Nationalism and Anti-Muslim Violence in India

Pogrom in Gujarat: Hindu Nationalism and Anti-Muslim Violence in India

Pogrom in Gujarat: Hindu Nationalism and Anti-Muslim Violence in India

Synopsis

In 2002, after an altercation between Muslim vendors and Hindu travelers at a railway station in the Indian state of Gujarat, fifty-nine Hindu pilgrims were burned to death. The ruling nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party blamed Gujarat's entire Muslim minority for the tragedy and incited fellow Hindus to exact revenge. The resulting violence left more than one thousand people dead--most of them Muslims--and tens of thousands more displaced from their homes. Parvis Ghassem-Fachandi witnessed the bloodshed up close. In Pogrom in Gujarat, he provides a riveting ethnographic account of collective violence in which the doctrine of ahimsa--or nonviolence--and the closely associated practices of vegetarianism became implicated by legitimating what they formally disavow.


Ghassem-Fachandi looks at how newspapers, movies, and other media helped to fuel the pogrom. He shows how the vegetarian sensibilities of Hindus and the language of sacrifice were manipulated to provoke disgust against Muslims and mobilize the aspiring middle classes across caste and class differences in the name of Hindu nationalism. Drawing on his intimate knowledge of Gujarat's culture and politics and the close ties he shared with some of the pogrom's sympathizers, Ghassem-Fachandi offers a strikingly original interpretation of the different ways in which Hindu proponents of ahimsa became complicit in the very violence they claimed to renounce.

Excerpt

POGROM IN GUJARAT is a study of an anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat, India, that began on February 28, 2002, and lasted for three days— approximately seventy-two hours. Officials rationalized the violence as a reaction—pratikriya—to the aggression of its victims. In the city of Ahmedabad and in Gujarat’s central provinces, a state of exception ruled for approximately three weeks. Several mass killings were followed over a few months by many instances of violence on a lesser scale. Muslim homes and religious structures were desecrated and destroyed; Muslim commercial establishments were boycotted. Countless flyers circulated, appealing to Hindus to awake to the essence of who they were—and many did. For weeks on end, a curfew was put into effect in select areas of Ahmedabad and other cities. When it was over, 150,000 individuals had been driven from their homes and more than 1,000 people lay dead, the majority of whom were Muslims. Many Muslims understand the pogrom to have lasted much longer than three days and, instead, still today insist it lasted anywhere from six weeks to three months. Central Gujarat did not return to normalcy until spring 2003, which coincided with my departure from the scene after eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork. Despite its severity and some singular aspects of its organization, the pogrom resembled similar events experienced by previous generations in Ahmedabad and elsewhere at the end of the 1960s, 1980s, and the 1990s (RCR; Sheth and Menon 1986; Spodek 1989; Nandy et al. 1995: 104-107, 110-123; Breman 2003: 253-262; 2004: 221-231; Shani 2007: 77-132, 156-188; Kumar 2009: 80-215).

A pogrom is an event driven by words and images, as much by the associations and invocations that precede it as by those that accompany it. The enactment of the Gujarat pogrom followed a script collectively shared on the streets and in media representations. In the chapters that follow, I examine the forms of complicity that the pogrom demanded and the quotidian understandings it engendered. While many of these understandings seem to be recurrent instances of collective violence, I focus only on events of 2002 and seek to unravel the specific cultural and psychological processes of individual and collective identification that . . .

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