This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Course: Religion and society in India Assignment – 2 : Book Review Submitted to the Course Teacher: Prof. Susan Viswanathan
Rowena Robinson’s ‘THE TREMORS OF VIOLENCE: THE MUSLIM SURVIVORS OF ETHNIC STRIFE IN WESTERN IN INDIA’
Submitted by: Prafulla kumar Rana III semester, sociology, CSSS SSS, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
This book is written by one of the eminent sociologists in India Prof. Rowena Robinson. She is currently teaching at the centre of Social Sciences of Indian Institute of Technology (Mumbai) and was also the teacher in the department of sociology of Jawaharlal Nehru University. It was written during 2003-04 just after the PostGodhra riots in Gujarat and the subsequent persecution to the Muslims and published in the year of 2005 by the Sage publications, New Delhi.
‘Tremor of violence: the Muslim survivors of ethnic violence in western India’, the book by Rowena Robinson, is a study of the Muslims and their condition in the present days of twenty first century after the riots. It deals with only the western parts of the country particularly focussing on the three major cities of Mumbai, Ahmadabad and Vadodora in Gujarat. It is an ethnographic study based on qualitative ethnographic methods and the interviews of the Muslim survivors residing in the riot-hit areas. Based on the narratives and the explanations of the Muslim men and women as modes of expression, she tries to understand the world and the worldviews of those who have lived through several violent confrontations and riot. The book seeks to explore the difficult and troubling questions such as; what are the ways in which the memories of violence bring about shifts in everyday practice of living and what it means to be a Muslim in India considering the space and time of the present day. In her introductory chapter, ‘Inaugurating responsibility’ (pp. 13-37), she underlines the extent of the challenges facing ethnographers in relation to how far they are, or they allow themselves, to become personally involved in their work, and she reflects on what being an Christian Indian may have meant as far as her responsibilities as a researcher were concerned. In the second chapter, ‘Space, time and the stigma of identity’ (pp.38-77), offers interesting reflections on the physical reorganisation of urban spaces that has altered Mumbai since the early 1990s, with similar processes of reconfiguration taking place in the cities in Gujarat. It also explores how the survivors of violence remember and recollect their experiences. Interesting insights are provided about the demarcation of space in cities such as Mumbai, with green and saffron flags increasingly used to mark and inscribe Muslim and Hindu residential as well as religious space. From her interviewees, it would seem as if urban public space has become Hindu space, something recognised by NGOs who have called for the process of the recovery of [Muslim] rights to use urban public spaces, whether for entertainment, work or even for protest (p. 56) In this third chapter Marginality and the experience of violence, (pp.78-112), the author tries to make out the consciousness of the marginality among the Muslims. She brings out that the violence and discrimination meted out to them is mainly due to the marginality. Though this section constitutes the 12% of the total population, still they enjoy a little
representation in the govt services, higher administration, and even in the army. She uncovers that their proper representation in the hierarchy of power has made them vulnerable to violence. Chapter four, ‘I can harden my heart to bear this: women’s words and women’s worlds (pp. 113-153), contains particularly revealing insights. In it Robinson explores the extent to which women and men speak differently about the violence that they have experienced. It is widely accepted that communal violence is gendered, but Robinson helps us to understand more clearly how and why this is the case. Women’s narratives, she concludes, are tinged with personal sadness, while those of men are couched in more abstract terms. However, what adds extra value to this chapter is the way in which it demonstrates ‘differences’ between women themselves. Hence, there are variations between the narratives of women interviewed in Mumbai and in Gujarat, with the voices of Gujarati women seem ‘splintered and caught up in images of distress ’, while ‘those from Mumbai showed a greater tendency to mould themselves into fuller and more complete narratives’ (p. 140). In Chapter five, Fissures in a time of crisis (pp. 154-193) she takes the discussion outside the home into the world of community members and leaders working with the survivors of communal violence, and there seeks to explore the ‘negotiated intricacies of the “real”’ (p. 157). Here we learn about the ways in which the pain of these events has not necessarily brought Muslim communities together, as might be expected, but has led to processes of community fragmentation and increased sectarian antagonisms. In the sixth chapter, ‘Breaching boundaries: experiments in remaking the world’ (pp.196224), she has given the life stories of some Muslim men and women activists about their post-riot life and through it discusses some of the women issues, muslin laws relating to them etc. Then the author starts with giving an account about the life and work of a Muslim boy Altaf who is caught with the dilemma after he is told by his neighbours and family members that his father died in the riot of 1985. Despite the wound, he has taken up the work of social service to assist the riot victims in his area. In the last chapter ‘Through a dark tunnel: the face of the future’ (pp.224-250), the author is talking about some core issues of discrimination in the fields of law, protection and education etc. she states that where there is no education, where is no job for the educated, no protection of life and property and no dignity of life…How can we talk about maintaining law and order? (pp.224). She then focuses upon the harassing laws of TADA and POTA and their misuse by the state forces to prosecute the minority Muslims. She quotes the eminent writer Arundhati Roy “in Tamilnadu the POTA is used to stifle the criticism of the state govt., in Jharkhand it is used to threaten the tribal to punish as the Maoists, in U.P. it is clamped down against those who protest for the alienation of their land and livelihood and in Gujarat it is mainly being used against the Muslims.” Later she brings the explanation of exploitation by Young and then has focussed upon the education of the minority Muslims.
Remarks Rowena Robinson states her position even before the first page when she declares the dedication that ‘society which does not defend all defends none’. Her intention is primarily to inform but one cannot read this book easily, without feeling the impulse to initiate change. Her writing seeks to be critical in the hope of promoting such transformation, but nonetheless, critical thinking can also be analytical and the book provides a detailed and masterly anthropology of interreligious violence inflicted upon Muslims in various incidents that took place in Bombay and Gujarat. The book attempts to answer such questions as ‘how do Muslims construct their identities under the conditions of brutalization by actual and symbolic violence?’ Whilst doing so she explores the role of boundaries, the influence of Muslim religious movements that attempt to redefine Islam in the contemporary context, and the organization of relations between neighbours, communities and the state. This book deals with the politics and relations of ‘Otherness’. Very few regular visitors to India who go beyond superficial knowledge of its communities and their social life would be unaware of the degree to which Muslims have been fiercely ‘othered’ and perceived as alien in Majority (Hindu) discourse and the everyday speech of the home and marketplace. This has become far worse in recent years but it is surprising to know that the degree in which Muslims whose national identity has always been Indian since their conversion centuries before are now derogatorily labelled as Pakistanis. Robinson informs us that not only are the areas of Indian cities inhabited by large concentrations of Muslims known as ‘Little Pakistan’ but identification of Muslim and Pakistani is furthered stigmatized by such everyday practices as the heavily ‘polluted’ and ‘impure’ defecation spaces in homes or villages being labelled by Hindus as ‘Little Pakistan’. The most disturbing element of the anthropology of communal violence is the discovery that such acts are not random but rather that they are carefully selected. They occur on top of a layer of discrimination in which embodied markers of Muslim identity such as hennadyed beards, prayer-caps and circumcised penises are brought into the glare of public ridicule and then function to distinguish those to whom violent acts are directed (p. 20). But horrifyingly, there is a connection between the narratives of discrimination and the actual forms that violence takes. The making and marking of identity as ‘other’ is informed by narratives of Muslim fertility, population growth, the fecundity of women and attacks so often occur on women and children, especially the slaughter of infants; the cutting out and burning of foetuses, the amputation of male sexual organs left to hang in public places, and, of course, rape. Torture is itself ritualized as the negative opposite to Muslim key symbols of identity. In the realm of space it is the mosque and the shrine which are the recipients of real and symbolic violence. All too often we are told that communal violence is random and sudden but Rowena Robinson’s fieldwork cuts through that myth and leaves it in tatters. The most interesting in her discovery is the different attitudes towards communal violence amongst Muslim men and women. Muslim men are more likely to extend the margins of
violence backwards and forwards located in the sufferings of Muslim communities around the world and in history. Although acts of violence are extended backwards by Muslim women they are much more likely to be particularized rather than generalized, focusing on the displacement or damage suffered by the family than transcendent narratives of a suffering ummah (p. 65). Women are also likely to feel the impact of a backlash of conservatism that results from communal violence, and to find their freedoms, already vicarious, further restricted (p. 67). However, the author is not able to fully explain differences in women’s narratives from those caught up in the riots of Gujarat 2003 and those in Mumbai a few years earlier. This would seem to require further and more detailed investigation. Robinson points out the ghettoization, the overwhelming decay and lack of civic services in Muslim areas of India. They are at similar levels of deprivation as Dalit communities and she points out that expectations of violence play an important role in fixing Muslim expectations at a low level and in maintaining a defensive cultural profile (p. 28). Indeed, she goes on to conclude that militancy and the politics of terror are linked to social, cultural and economic structures which marginalize whole groups of people (p. 235). This is a complex issue and economic deprivation cannot fully explain Islamic militancy. The origins of Indian Muslim maintenance of defensive cultural profiles and isolation are also due to internal strategies of resistance developed in the nineteenth century as a reaction to loss of power and any explanation needs to consider the historicity of Indian Muslim religious life. It seems the author has become impatient and lost objectivity when she writes that “the felony (the Sabarmati express burning in Godhra by the suspected Muslims) was used to legitimise the killing, rape and looting of Muslims across the state. (Pp-26)” It is not the case, rather it was a spontaneous action of retaliation. She has given another prejudiced view that “while Muslims were indicted for indulging in attacks, looting, arson and rioting, there was no evidence found that Muslim organizations of the type of the Shiv Sena, for instance, had been involved in managing or provoking violence. One would have to admit the dispersed and random character of Muslim communal violence at the present juncture. (Pp- 28)” It is to be mentioned that there are so many Islam radical organisations (JuD, LeT, Hazrat – Muzzahideen etc. ) those are waging Jihaad against the Hindus. This book is not a comfortable read but it is a rewarding one. Though it seems the author is a little bit biased, the analysis is excellent but it is the testimonies of the victims of communal violence that contributes so much to the study of religious violence from the perspective of the victim.