The post-conflict fight

The book details the everyday violence faced by Muslim women in parts of our country after a riot ends

Sushila Ramaswamy | March 14, 2017


#riots   #book review   #Muslim women   #post-conflict life  


Ever since the rise of subaltern history in India in the 1980s, there is a widespread attention to marginalised groups which were earlier ignored by mainstream historians. However, the incompleteness of this project led to pioneers like Partha Chatterjee to announce its closure as a specified project. Yet, in spite of its severe limitation, the particularistic focus on localised events and its impact on what may be called representative sampling continues to be attractive as an alternative historiography.

The present work focuses on oral history concerning communal riots with specific episodes and their impacts felt by minority Muslim women in Mumbai, Gujarat and Hyderabad. The project highlights the plight of women survivors of mass violence to redraw their essential relationships to society and the state after the change of the entire scenario. The post-conflict situation and the engagement of these women in regard to family, community, markets and the state is also examined in detail. The three-year project documented 75 life history narratives of Muslim women survivors and of 19 of them are accommodated in this book. The attention was on the poor women though women from the middle class, political and professional backgrounds have also been incorporated.

 
 
In these interviews, there is a commonality of ideas expressing the deep wounds as that followed the mass violence disrupting their lives totally. Across class and region with many differences of culture and language the total dehumanisation, and in many cases manlessness, creates permanent wounds leading to a rupture of the old scenario and bringing in a new age of uncertainty, fear and severe economic dislocation.
 
The essential framework of the book is provided by anthropologists which underlines the centrality of the women’s own narratives emphasising on their own experience, both in conflict and post-conflict articulations. The most important point is the realisation that their daily lives were full of violence. This emphasis leads to a startling disclosure across the research locations. We find women speaking of continuous everyday experience of violence as more traumatic, more difficult to fight and more pernicious in their impact than the trauma of conflict. This trauma leads to an endurance test in a situation of continued unresponsive and clearly hostile state institutions and community coupled with impoverishment and displacements, loss of dignity and family. The women negotiate the challenges in their own way, yet there is a common thread that unites them to charter a new course in a totally disadvantaged situation for themselves in asking the question “what it means to be Muslim in India today” (pg 7). In a vivid description where a middle-class professional Muslim woman was comfortable in her belief structure of a liberal society which she had to abandon after the 2002 riots, she takes the conscious decision that she should work with Muslim women.
 
A distinction also emerges: earlier riots were smaller, and homes and dignity were restored but the recent ones were more gruesome and resulted in complete dislocation. Such statements though explain the brutality of recent incidents of violence yet might not be correct in underplaying the violence and displacement of the earlier ones. For instance, the biggest riot in Gujarat was not in 2002 but in 1969 when Hitendra Desai of the Congress was the chief minister. 
 
Such violent incidents also lead to the triumph of tradition over modernity. Amongst the increasing turbulence and insecurity of these riot-affected Muslim women “is the increased presence and mobilization of conservative schools of Islamic thought” (pg 21). The failure of the state to protect the basic human rights and property is writ large over the entire book with tales of horror and total absence of the rule of law. The book deals effectively with the immediate and long-term implications of the survivors of communal carnage at the three places. The book also highlights another significant point in comprehending the problem of Muslim women in an analytical manner. 
 
The debate on Muslim issues in India today mainly concerns personal issues and increasing fundamentalism which is a stumbling block to the project of modernity. In restricting the debate to these issues the important ones like that of rights, accountability, citizenship, democracy, rule of law and secularism are all forgotten.
 
The book is an important reminder to us about the serious limitation of our social science researchers and activists to deal with issues that would really change the lives of the wretched of the earth. It also reveals the grievous fault lines in our democratic evolution and the absence of a helpful state in advancing and rooting our democracy on a firmer and an institutional manner. The book raises a number of fruitful questions; the challenge is to find out the answers. 
 

Ramaswamy teaches political science at Jesus and Mary College, New Delhi.

The article appears in the March 1-15, 2017 issue of Governance Now)
 
 

Comments

 

Other News

Four trends that will shape healthcare post-Covid

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted economies and healthcare systems across the world. Even in the countries like the US that have the highest spend on healthcare and public health emergency preparedness, the impact of coronavirus pandemic on health and livelihoods of people has been tremendous. There are

India to play leading role in global revival: Modi

India would play a leading role in the global revival, prime minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday, as he addressed the inaugural session of India Global week via video-conference. He said that this is closely linked with two factors. “First is - Indian talent and second is India`s

BMC spells out numbers to counter Fadnavis’ claims

The BrihanMumbai municipal corporation (BMC) has countered Maharashtra leader of opposition Devendra Fadanvis’s suspicions of fewer Covid-19 tests, as it outlined various measures it has adopted since the first test conducted on February 3, and how it has gradually brought down the number of cases in

Mumbai opts for “most liberal Covid-19 testing” in the world

As part of the four T strategy of trace-test-track-treat, Mumbai – the most affected city in India – has decided to make Covid-19 tests accessible to all. The municipal corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) has come out with guidelines allowing all laboratories to conduct RT-PCR (

Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger

In a major development on July 6, the Chinese army started moving back its tents, vehicles as well as troops from locations where disengagement was agreed upon in eastern Ladakh’s Galwan Valley. This is a significant milestone in regional geopolitics with India having been successful in isolating the

Hiranandani Group launches ambitious data centre project

With the Covid-19 pandemic pushing more online activity and the capacity usage of data centres going up, India’s largest data centre (DC) building and the biggest tier-IV data centre, Yotta NM1,the  second largest in the world, has been launched in Mumbai. The launch event on Tue



Archives

Current Issue

Opinion

Facebook    Twitter    Google Plus    Linkedin    Subscribe Newsletter

Twitter