'Everyday Communalism: Riots in Contemporary Uttar Pradesh' review: Not a spontaneous outburst

Everyday Communalism: Riots in Contemporary Uttar Pradesh  

A long past and continued intensity of communal violence in India has made it a subject matter of scholarly attention. The attempt of these studies has been to understand the nature of communal violence; the reasons why communal riots (riots are area specific instances of violence) break out; the factors that embitter inter-community relations; the process of ‘othering’; and, the normalisation of beliefs such as, ‘us’ and ‘them’.

This has added to our understanding of the phenomenon of communal violence as it has occurred over time and space. It was seen that in the 1980s communal violence was a fallout of economic competition where business rivalries and upward mobility of specific communities led to communal riots (Asghar Ali Engineer). A further engagement with the phenomenon of communal violence brought out that weak civic or associational ties in certain towns were factors that led to communal riots (Ashutosh Varshney).

In some States it was seen that political competition became a cause for violence — where governments that were not dependent on minority support saw prolonged and intense rioting and attack on minorities (Steven Wilkinson). Unleashing of what are seen as “institutionalized riot systems” with rumour mongering, recruitment of participants and other provocative activities (Paul Brass); and, the existence of patronage networks with their processes of give-and-take (Ward Berenschot), were some other explanations of communal riots. Scholars have also drawn our attention to the world of the everyday and the ordinary — schools, workplaces, homes, khaps — where communalism (especially majoritarian communalism) defines and fortifies itself and the result is the communalisation of everyday discourse (Satish Deshpande, Shubh Mathur, R. Ramakumar, Jagpal Singh). Scholarship on communal violence in India converges on the point that riots are not spontaneous outbursts of community anger. On the contrary, they are meticulously planned by vested interests in an environment of socio-cultural dislocations brought about by modernity.

The U.P. example

The book under review looks at Hindu-Muslim violence in Uttar Pradesh in the 2000s. It offers what it calls a “new model” to explain riots in western and eastern U.P. — a model which the authors name, “institutionalized everyday communalism”. On a closer look, this model draws upon some of the explanations mentioned above when it tries to explain communalisation of everyday issues and normalisation of an anti-Muslim sentiment in eastern and western U.P. at the hands of the Sangh Parivar organisations.

The book is based on intensive fieldwork in Mau and Gorakhpur in eastern U.P. and Muzaffarnagar and Shamli in the west. The authors commendably bring out the difference between the nature of riots at the height of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and the decade of the 2000s (this is the repetitive theme in the book). They highlight that Hindutva organisations like Yogi Adityanath’s (current chief minister of U.P.) Hindu Yuva Vahini have worked relentlessly in eastern U.P. to communalise local issues that have led to unprecedented acrimony leading to violence. They point to the involvement of BJP-RSS workers and the role of Jat leaders to popularise the Sangh Parivar that deeply embittered relations between Jats and the Muslims in western U.P.

The authors endorse and extend the argument that the BJP’s 2014 victory in U.P. was through a deft combination of the promise of the “Gujarat model” of development and communal mobilisations. They elaborate how this brought together the upper castes, backward castes and Dalits as a bloc supporting the BJP leading to its massive victory. The authors highlight that it is the upwardly mobile, new middle classes, the new rich, the better-off lower castes, anxious to obtain recognition, who are most likely to fall prey to projects of religious and ethnic intolerance. This happens in a setting of persistent underdevelopment and high income inequalities, even in the economically better-off districts.

Distress signals

U.P. in the 1990s, as the authors point out, went through political and economic instability with the erosion of a single party system and further decline of the economy. The State also remained mired in caste and communal politics. The consequence was that localised tensions and skirmishes acquired serious dimensions leading to large-scale rioting with extra-local implications in the 2000s.

The book details the narratives and testimonies of different respondents on communal riots in U.P. in the 2000s as also the communal mobilisations immediately preceding the riots — in this it is a rich source. It admirably sketches the socio-economic distress that eastern and western U.P. have undergone that have made them highly vulnerable to communal propaganda of the Hindu right. However, the book does not adequately elaborate its core theme — the elements that make up “everyday communalism” in U.P. What is the “sustained” and “grassroots” work the authors allude to; what is the “everyday” effort of the Hindutva organisations which can be conceptualised as “institutionalized everyday communalism” that got victory to the BJP in 2014? There is little discussion on this core point. In the beginning of the book, the authors mention a three-pronged structure of their model of everyday communalism but this is not followed by a systematic discussion later.

Notwithstanding this shortcoming, the book is a timely contribution to understand the contemporary political and socio-economic dimensions of Hindu-Muslim violence in U.P. where Muslim communalism is on the back-foot, and Hindu communalism in all its ugly dimensions masquerades as nationalism. It highlights how a divisive majoritarian ideology, and its spokes-vehicle the Sangh Parivar, align with the local elite to construct communal antagonism where previously it was almost non-existent.

Everyday Communalism: Riots in Contemporary Uttar Pradesh; Sudha Pai and Sajjan Kumar, Oxford University Press, ₹995.

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Printable version | Sep 16, 2021 9:28:10 PM |

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