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Centre for South Asian Studies: Events


Warm bonds or functional transactions? Being neighbours in Delhi 1984 and Ahmedabad 2002

Warm bonds or functional transactions? Being neighbours in Delhi 1984 and Ahmedabad 2002
Speaker: Raheel Dhattiwala # University of Oxford
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Date and Time
28th Jan 2021 16:00 - 28th Jan 2021 17:30
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Raheel Dhattiwala, University of Oxford.

Warm bonds or functional transactions? Being neighbours in Delhi 1984 and Ahmedabad 2002.

 Stories of courage and friendship abound during mass civilian violence. Of people saving their neighbours and giving them refuge at a cost to their own lives. However, there is overwhelming evidence that perpetrators of mass violence are often neighbours. Neighbour-on-neighbour violence contradicts the ‘contact hypothesis’ (Allport 1951) which postulates that intergroup friendly contact can reduce prejudice—and violence also (Varshney 2002). But there are gaps in our understanding of contact. Existing studies have failed to systematically test the moderating impact and scope conditions, such as the nature of contact, of Allport’s hypothesis (Paluck, Green and Green 2018). 

 This paper builds upon my previous field research in mixed neighbourhoods of Ahmedabad (Gujarat), one of the main sites of attacks on Muslims in 2002. Drawing upon literature on neighbour relations in the context of the genocide in Rwanda and anti-Jewish pogroms, I provide new data based on interviews, cognitive maps and legal documents from Ahmedabad and Delhi, the site of attacks on Sikhs in 1984, to emphasize the complexities underlying the nature of contact and its association with violence and peace. Relationships between Hindus and Muslims in Ahmedabad and Hindus and Sikhs in Delhi were remarkably similar in violent and peaceful neighbourhoods, before violence in 1984 and 2002 occurred. Low level of differences between groups and warm bonds between neighbours did not guarantee peaceful coexistence just as functional social relations did not necessarily lead one neighbour to tell on another. Respondents identified a ‘neighbour’ as a co-ethnic rather than spatially proximate. The paradox of diversity is implied. Further questions may be raised: In what ways do identities evolve prior to and after the cessation of violence? Does the nature of contact have a bearing on who rescues and who kills during mass violence? 

 Raheel Dhattiwala is a visiting research fellow at Nuffield College, University of Oxford, with a D.Phil. in Sociology from Oxford. Her research centres on collective violence and the spatial component of group relations. She has published in Politics & Society; Qualitative Sociology; Economic and Political Weekly and Contemporary South Asia. Her book Keeping the Peace: Spatial Differences in Hindu-Muslim Violence in Gujarat in 2002 (Cambridge University Press, 2019) explains the mechanisms of peacekeeping amid a state-orchestrated pogrom. She formerly worked as a senior journalist at the Times of India in Ahmedabad.

Damaged fishing boat, Telwatte, July 2005