Visiting a Site of Communal Violence: Gujarat 2002
The anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002 was masked by the Hindutva forces as ‘inevitable’ and ‘understandable’ acts to secure the Hindu Self. The (meta)discourse of security offered the forces of Hindutva a tool to legitimize violence as nonviolence, killers as defenders, rape as understandable lust, and death as non-death. I shall not go into details of the violence and explanations of it here (see Anon, 2002; Independent Fact Finding Mission, 2002; Anon, 2003; Mander, 2002; IIJ, 2003; Varadarajan, 2002). What I propose is one of the ways in which we can make sense of the complicity of a significant number of Hindus in this violence, borrowing the analysis from various reports mentioned before in Part II of this article.
During February 2002 the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), one of the constituents of the Sangh Parivar, was carrying on with its agitation over the building of a temple in Ayodhya.6 After some altercation, one coach of the Sabarmati Express, a train returning from Ayodhya and carrying many Hindu kar sevaks (activists), was burnt at Godhra station in Gujarat on 26 February, killing 58 people. What followed for the next couple of months was massive communal violence in which most of the victims were Muslims. Although Hindutva forces painted this anti-Muslim violence, in which around 2000 were killed, as a reaction to Godhra, documented evidence points to four crucial features of this violence which challenge the ‘riots-as-post-Godhra-reaction’ thesis. First, there was active state complicity— through police inaction (see Human Rights Watch, 2002); frequent police participation in anti-Muslim violence; hate speeches by members of the state government and the BJP; active participation of local and state leaders in fomenting violence; and availability of lists of Muslim establishments (data privy to the government) to the Hindu mobs. Second, there was conscious and well orchestrated pre-planning for communal violence through the activities of various Hindutva organizations. Third, organizations such as VHP used the train incident as an excuse to ‘teach Muslims a lesson’ through vicious use of brutality. Fourth, the ruling party, the BJP, used this to buttress its political position—a strategy that succeeded, with the party coming to power with a greater majority in a snap election. After a few months the violence subsided but the hatred and its legacy remain as the struggle to rebuild lives and secure justice continues.
What makes the spectacle of anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat 2002 extraordinary is its banality and its ‘participative’ nature. Class, gender, age, or caste were no barrier either for the willing participants or for the unwilling victims. It is not sufficient to explain this phenomenon in instrumental terms alone. While interests did play an important role (for instance, looting, grabbing of land, occupying houses, settling scores), these were not the sole determining factor. For the majority who did not benefit in instrumental terms but still accepted Hindutva versions of the violence and voted with their feet by re-electing the BJP in Assembly polls, it was the imagined subjectivity of the victims (dangerous, fanatic, violent, and hence to be blamed for provoking Hindus) that was the important factor. It is these dehumanized representations of the Other as a danger that offer us a good handle with which to understand the normalization of abnormal violence and the construction of a secure Hindu identity through the humiliation and extermination of other identities.
The approving statements of a Hindu man (a non-participant, middle class professional man), quoted by Cohn (2003), reflect a sentiment that is widespread (both in the real and the virtual world): Muslim boys, even married ones, try to have friendships with Hindu girls. I tell you, most Muslim guys are very good looking, and Hindu girls are very innocent—once they give you their heart, it’s easily broken . . . I personally feel they’re spoiling the lives of these Hindu girls. Our blood gets hot. We can’t stand them . . . It’s time that the Hindus fight violence with violence.
The need to secure the Hindu female body against the danger of ‘the Muslim’ was therefore seen as one of the rationales for violence against Muslims. Gujarat 2002 was a lesson in masculinization, showing, through the defeat and humiliation of Muslim men, who the ‘real men’ were. The slogan ‘Jis Hinduon ka khoon na khola, woh Hindu nahin, woh hijra hain’ (Those Hindus whose blood does not boil, are not Hindus, they are eunuchs), chanted by the student wing of BJP at a premier university in Delhi during a post-Godhra procession (see Sarkar, T., 2002), illustrates this obsession with manhood. Various forms of display of violent sexuality were seen, emphasizing Hindu manhood as the violent protector of Hindus and revealing the impotency of ‘the Muslim’. The reaction of Pravin Togadia, a leader of the VHP, in the aftermath of Godhra is significant: ‘‘Hindu Society will avenge the Godhra killings. Muslims should accept the fact that Hindus are not wearing bangles. We will respond vigorously to all such incidents’’ (An Independent Fact Finding Mission, 2002). Pamphlets exhorting Hindu men not to feel guilty about raping Muslim women; regional Gujarati newspapers sensationalizing false stories about Hindu girls being raped; Hindutva ideologues hammering on about the historic rape of Hindu women and nation at the hands of Muslims; the distribution of bangles (an ornamental marker of femininity) to Hindu men who did not participate; the punishment (through killing, boycott and hate campaigns) of Hindu men and women who were seen as helping Muslims—all these show that the macabre display of ‘tolerance’, ‘passion’ and ‘reaction’ (these were the self-serving terms used by various proponents of Hindutva to characterize the anti-Muslim violence) was anything but spontaneous (for detailed reports, see ‘Genocide Gujarat’, 2002). They show the construction of a particular form of masculinity through acts of violence, a masculinity that declares itself the protector of the security of Hindu bodies as well as of the Hindu body politic. The majority of the people in the affected areas of Gujarat did not participate directly in the violence. However, there was no strong protest against the violence. Many non-governmental organizations and citizens groups did not speak out in strong terms condemning the violence. ‘All sides should calm down’ is seen as implying that no one is responsible. The silent majority’s inaction in Gujarat in 2002 was an action loaded in favour of those perpetrating anti-Muslim violence. The BJP state leadership, which was clearly identified as complicit with the Gujarat 2002 killing machinery, was confident of gaining electorally after the riot and the fact that this confidence paid off is an indictment of the silent majority. The electoral victory in the State Assembly elections of December 2002—the best performance ever by BJP on its own in any state in India—challenged most factors that are seen as important in India’s electoral democracy (e.g. anti-incumbency factor, lack of development and strength of the opposition) and showed that violence against Muslims had paid off.
This cannot be explained by the instrumental interests of the Hindu majority alone but by the lack of compassion for the Muslim victims. There was a curious reversal of responsibility as many Hindus blamed Muslims for the violence and saw themselves as the victims whose security was threatened by ‘the Muslim’.
Conclusion: Does Security Kill?
This article answers in the affirmative. Security is not a response to a pre-existing danger but is constitutive of it. And this constitution of danger and insecurity is productive of violence. Security masks violence in the name of counter-violence, killing in the name of protection. As the case of Hindutva in India illustrates, violence against minorities is normalized in the name of personal, communal, national and even international security. The will to secure the Self has as its corollary the will to make insecure the Other, the desire to control and use violence. An engaged scholarship that recognizes the violence of security is a step in the direction of interrogating the theory and praxis of security that underpins the violent world we live in today.
Originally published The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 94, No. 379.
Professor Dibyesh Anand is the Head of the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Westminster in London.
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