Book review: Raheel Dhattiwala, Keeping the Peace: Spatial Differences in Hindu–Muslim Violence in Gujarat in 2002

AuthorStuart Corbridge
Publication Date01 Jun 2020
DOI10.1177/2321023020918069
SubjectBook Reviews
Book Reviews
Raheel Dhattiwala, Keeping the Peace: Spatial Differences in Hindu–Muslim Violence in Gujarat in 2002.
Cambridge University Press. 2019. 193 pages. `695.
It probably still is the case that popular accounts of ethnic violence worldwide, as well as of communal
violence in India, are rooted very often in stereotypical models of an innate disposition to violence
against primordial antagonists or blood enemies. Raheel Dhattiwala makes this point at the start of her
book, Keeping the Peace (xiii), and repeatedly in the text it is available as a backdrop (or straw person)
for the book’s author. Dhattiwala recognizes, however, that serious scholars of violence—including
ethnic violence—rarely begin in the primordial soup. They rather seek to understand the incentives for
participating in acts of individual and collective violence. Some of these incentives have to do with the
individual probability of being caught and tried and convicted (or captured, wounded or killed). Others
are more collective in orientation. There is a rich literature now in respect of India which has established
how the British, notably, including through various Censuses of India (what Nick Dirks has called ‘the
ethnographic state’), and the politics of divide and rule, ensured the hardening of hitherto more fluid
identities into Muslim or Hindu, or as members of one caste or ‘tribal’ group or another.
More recently, this literature has been deepened by means of a particular focus on Hindu–Muslim
violence, especially in post-Partition India. Paul Brass has written extensively about the ‘institutionalized
riot systems’ which quite literally guide the production of urban violence across so-called communal
groups. Meanwhile, Ashutosh Varshney and Stephen Wilkinson, drawing on an extraordinary shared
data set, have respectively highlighted the roles played by inter-community associational life and
electoral competition in keeping the peace (or not) between Hindus and Muslims. Both authors, like
Brass, have recognized that the distribution of ethnic violence in India is non-random across space and
time. It is primarily urban and very often linked to electoral cycles and party political calculations.
Raheel Dhattiwala adds important detail to this extant literature and set of debates. Keeping the Peace
is—according to its author—‘almost entirely my doctoral thesis at Oxford University’ (xv), including
some parts previously published with her doctoral thesis adviser, Michael Biggs. Unsurprisingly, then,
the book reads rather like a conventional PhD, for better and worse. On the plus side, it is clear that
Dhattiwala has identified an interesting problem or ‘puzzle’ and that she has approached that puzzle by
means of a pleasing combination of quantitative methods and ethnography. A lot of work has gone into
this short book, which is organized to explain why some neighbourhoods in Ahmedabad were targeted
by rioters, arsonists and murderers in the anti-Muslim pogrom that shook the city in 2002, while other
neighbourhoods (including adjacent neighbourhoods) ‘kept the peace’. Not least, the author is to be
congratulated on an extraordinary data set on killings and peace across five main neighbourhoods in one
municipal ward of east Ahmedabad, which has large or even majority Muslim populations. Table 1.3
provides a truncated account of the very significant amount of work that went into building these data
Studies in Indian Politics
8(1) 115–121, 2020
© 2020 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
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DOI: 10.1177/2321023020918069
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