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Fracturing a Community, Hegemonizing Secularism

Padmini Swaminathan

By Dionne Bunsha
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2006, pp. 307, Rs. 295.00

By Rowena Robinson
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 261, Rs. 295.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 10 October 2006

How does one understand violence, Gujarat, and atrocities against a religious minority? The above books address precisely these themes in their own ways. Taken together one is able to weave a link between the three themes; at the same time the books not only make explicit uncomfortable questions that have persisted but also throw up new challenges that are not yet part of anybody’s agenda.   Bunsha provides racy but graphic accounts of the different elements associated with the violence that erupted in the aftermath of Godhra – contradictory accounts provided of the incident itself, the horrendous details of the burnings, killings and assaults with the full knowledge, complicity and backing of the state, the ignominious existence of entire communities as refugees, the further mortification that these refugees were subjected to if they wished to return to their original and legitimate place of residence, and the physical, psychological and irreversible ‘borders’ that have emerged between and across communities, between generations within and across communities, and across spaces in towns and cities.   “Most riots in modern India aren’t spontaneous chaos, but are sometimes planned by vested interests. Often, there is some element of state and police collusion with the instigators, only the degree of state involvement varies. So what was different about the Gujarat carnage? For one, the level of state complicity was unprecedented. Never before has a chief minister instructed top police officials to let the mobs have their way. Never have ministers sat in the police control room and overseen whole-scale slaughter without doing anything to stop it. Never have MLAs defended the accused in court. Never has the top police chief of a city visited an MP’s house while it was under attack and then allowed it to burn… Months of violence, institutionalized terror and subordination. Muslims were now second-class citizens. After 2002, political parties don’t need another riot in Gujarat – the marginalization of the minorities is complete” (pp.23-24). Bunsha illustrates with examples how the after-shocks of the violence pressed people into crises that pushed some to kill themselves. “They were not attacked, but just as surely destroyed”.   Against the backdrop of state and police backed violence, Robinson, in her study, enquires into “how Muslim victims and survivors reconstruct their modes of being brutalized by actual and symbolic violence”. The study using qualitative ethnographic methods was conducted in Mumbai and in two cities of Gujarat. An ...

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