Neighbour relations and behaviour during state-orchestrated violence: An ethnographic investigation of anti-minority pogroms in India

Rescheduled to 2nd June at 13:00

This paper investigates neighbour relations in two cities of India before and during the occurrence of state-orchestrated anti-minority pogroms in 1984 and 2002. Neighbours in both waves of violence sheltered victims or participated in/abetted attacks. Neighbour-on-neighbour violence effaces the values that underpin neighbourliness as a social practice. It also urges a closer examination of the ‘contact hypothesis’, specifically the conditions wherein friendly intergroup contact can have a palliative effect on prejudice and violence (Allport 1954). I build upon findings from an ethnographic study (2010-2015) of anti-Muslim violence in peaceful and violent neighbourhoods of Ahmedabad (western India), by adding qualitative data from anti-Sikh violence in Delhi (northern India). Warm bonds between neighbours prior to the violence did not guarantee rescue, just as superficial transactions did not assure attacks. Helping was costly, yet some neighbours sheltered victims. Testimonies highlight the expectation of a neighbour to help, verbalized as “duty” / “obligation” or “betrayal”, regardless of the nature of prior relations. The timing of violence and the built environment were also important. When violence erupted without warning, neighbours were obliged to help—spatial availability of households rather than spatial proximity enforced a compulsion to shelter victims. The study has two implications. First, it draws attention to the importance of taking into account Allport’s original conditions for contact, especially in the study of race and ethnicity. Second, the built environment of neighbourhoods is significant in instilling a greater sense of collective ownership.