Warm Bonds or Functional Transactions? Being Neighbours During Ethnic Pogroms in India

Stories of courage abound during mass violence. Of people saving their neighbours and giving them refuge at a cost to their own lives. However, perpetrators of mass violence are often neighbours, e.g. anti-Jewish pogroms, genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda, and anti-minority violence in South Asia. Neighbour-on-neighbour violence effaces the norms and values that underpin neighbourliness as a social practice given that, during community emergencies, prior hostility does not preclude cooperation between neighbours. Attacks on neighbours also urge a nuanced review of the ‘contact hypothesis’ (Allport 1951), which postulates that, under appropriate conditions, intergroup contact can reduce prejudice—even violence (Varshney 2002). How does the nature of neighbour relations, prior to violence, influence behaviour during violence? In what ways do norms of neighbourliness evolve after the cessation of violence? I build upon findings from a five-year ethnographic study of anti-Muslim violence in 2002. New data from anti-Sikh violence in Delhi (northern India) in 1984 is added. The absence of judicial convictions had compelled victims to continue living alongside perpetrators long after cessation of violence. This research design allowed me to examine the evolution of neighbour norms. During violence, warm bonds did not assure peaceful coexistence just as functional transactions did not guarantee neighbours telling on each other. After violence had ceased, the norms of neighbourliness were sustained. By implication, neighbour norms can aid the everyday conciliation of violence triggers, even if beneficial relations may be unhelpful in shielding targeted groups when violence is authorized by the state.

Raheel Dhattiwala holds a DPhil in Sociology from the University of Oxford and is currently a visiting research fellow at Oxford (Nuffield College and the Department of Sociology). She is also affiliated with the Group Violence project at the Department of Sociology, University of Amsterdam. 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 correspondent at the Times of India in Ahmedabad (2001-2007).