What makes for citizenship?

How state-sponsored violence can create new challenges for an already persecuted minority

Updated - September 12, 2016 07:42 pm IST

Published - May 21, 2016 04:15 pm IST

Communal Violence, Forced Migration and the State Gujarat Since 2002; Sanjeevini Badigar Lokhande, Cambridge University Press.

Communal Violence, Forced Migration and the State Gujarat Since 2002; Sanjeevini Badigar Lokhande, Cambridge University Press.

The research for the book under review began as a doctoral dissertation. Its key argument is to demonstrate how state-sponsored violence could create new challenges for an already persecuted minority and how deprivation and suffering could be pushed under the carpet by a regime that surreptitiously advances a majoritarian agenda. The book’s strength is the meticulous field work the author has undertaken in various regions of Gujarat; her countless interviews with victims and survivors of the Gujarat riots of 2002, and her attempt to connect with the larger explanations in the theoretical realm.

She seems to have revised the material she collected during her doctoral research to produce this book. This research is a departure from conventional questions on violence, perpetrators and Commissions of Inquiry. It seeks to explain why life in the post-violence period could be equally depressing and full of challenges. It calls for a renewed debate on citizenship and rights instead of being swayed by electoral victories that might drown minority voices and their issues, often deliberately, in order to hijack the mantle of democracy without respecting its basic principles.

The chapter titled ‘Vatani to Visthapit’ vividly describes what happened to Muslims during the riot in various parts of Gujarat. It shows how demographic and topographical aspects of the site were the key factors that led to displacement. In building this narrative, she argues how the journey of Muslims from being vatanis to being identified as visthapit is therefore a clear case of displacement.

Another important chapter, ‘Relief Instead of Rights’, demonstrates the indifference of the Gujarat government towards the victims. It argues there was a distinct shift in 2002 compared to previous State responses. The State government chose not to look at the movement of victims as displacement but as migration in this instance.

The chapter titled ‘Reconstruction and Rights through Self-Help’ offers enormous insight into what happens to victims once they are out of relief colonies and often fail even to return to their own neighbourhoods. It recounts several cases and concurs with the argument that displacement is not a “one-time set of events” but could continue long after. In the author’s words, “In Gujarat these negotiations (with uncertainties) have included the assertion of their rights through recourse to litigation and self-help for security, housing and social rights as well as through different forms of settlements or compromise to avoid conflict.”(p.157)

The section ‘Pursuit of justice after violence: the language of riots’ in the chapter titled ‘Violence and the Good Governance’ presents a very strong case about the struggle victims experience in the pursuit of justice, often with the help of various civil society groups. It discusses cases such as the Best Bakery case, Ehsan Jafri case, Bilkis Bano’s rape, the Naroda Patia case, and shows how despite sustained interest of the media and civil society groups in these cases, the State government remained uninterested in the pursuit of justice. Sadly, these struggles and violations made no difference to the electoral appeal of the then BJP government, which kept winning election after election on the grounds of good governance.

The author updates us with the outcome of the 2014 election and shares some of her reflections. While I am sympathetic to the reality that the full display of a majoritarian state at the national level is yet to unfold, there is some indication it would not be any different from what was witnessed in Gujarat, except the depth of consequences. This begs another question which this research completely misses out on: how could a party with a majoritarian agenda manage to manoeuvre the politics of governance that was supposed to be inclusive and pluralistic in nature? Is there something fundamentally flawed in the architecture of the Indian Constitution that leaves too many loopholes subconsciously to be exploited? It is time to reflect on these questions. The book is a very important addition to the literature on the study of violence and the government’s conduct in India; and scholars on the subject would profit by reading it.

Shaikh Mujibur Rehman is the editor of Communalism in Post-colonial India: Changing Contours.

Communal Violence, Forced Migration and the State Gujarat Since 2002; Sanjeevini Badigar Lokhande, Cambridge University Press.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.