Documenting differences

Ethnic conflict and civic life: Hindus and Muslims in India

Ashutosh Varshney

Oxford University Press, 2002

Price: INR 495

Pages: 382

A new book examines the sociology behind communal riots in India, drawing attention to some startling differences – between cities, not

Every time major Hindu-Muslim riots like Ayodhya 1992 or Gujarat 2002 take place, they are accompanied, in liberal circles, by a sinking disillusionment with the idea of Indian democracy's capacity to keep the world's most diverse society together. Riots are no doubt not the only infirmity of Indian democracy. But the frequency with which they occur in India, and the magnitude of destruction they wreak, as much in human and material terms as in the long-term damage to the social fabric, call for some kind of an explanatory framework. Since Hindu-Muslim violence is one of the enduring legacies of the public sphere in India, 50 years of recurrent riots have provided scholars the stage to examine the phenomenon in some depth, and to detect possible historical and sociological patterns, if any. Few have chosen to examine the problem with the required diligence, though that has not come in the way of a superfluity of general theories that come nowhere near an intelligible broad spectrum understanding. This is what Ashutosh Varshney now undertakes in his book Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India.

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