Hindu-Muslim violence is surprisingly small scale and geographically concentratedby Edward Luce / May 20, 2002 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2002 issue of Prospect Magazine
Ethnic conflict and civic life
Yale University Press, ?35
A curious thing happened in India earlier this year. While the city of Ahmedabad and other places in the state of Gujarat were undergoing a gruesome orgy of “communal” violence, the rest of India was not.
It might sound callous to attach significance to the fact that the killings did not spread on any scale to other parts of India. After all, more than 700 Indian Muslims were slaughtered in the course of five days by Hindu gangs, following the massacre by a suspected Islamist group of 59 mostly Hindu train passengers.
Many of those killed in the attacks were children, methodically incinerated after being doused in kerosene. Crowds gathered to cheer on a series of such burnings, sometimes with the police acting as cheerleaders-hardly, perhaps, a moment to talk about sectarian restraint in India. And yet, this is one of the themes of Ashutosh Varshney’s original new book-Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India. Its findings challenge the standard international commentary on the Gujarat massacres: India (or it might be Bosnia or some other ethnic flashpoint) is a land of dark hatreds that spill over into medieval-style slaughter, so there is no need for context. Communal killing is just what happens.
The truth is more contingent. What happened in Gujarat earlier this year might occur again, possibly on a larger scale. But it need not. In an overwhelming majority of the areas in which Muslims and Hindus live side-by-side in India, communal killings have never occurred, far less the type of pogrom witnessed in Ahmedabad.
In a painstaking ten-year study of communal violence in post-colonial India, Varshney produces some startling findings. Perhaps most striking is the fact that 96 per cent of all deaths resulting from Hindu-Muslim violence in India took place in cities. More than two-thirds of India li…