The Effect of Affect: Friendship, Education and Prejudice in India

Publication Date01 Dec 2020
AuthorAsha Venugopalan
SubjectSpecial Section on Politics & Society Between ElectionsSpecial Section Articles
Special Section Article
The Effect of Affect: Friendship,
Education and Prejudice in India
Asha Venugopalan1
Intergroup relations are fundamentally based on the idea of ‘us’ and ‘them’, and this categorization
has driven political loyalties and social ties in India, particularly the relations between Hindus and
Muslims. Contemporary nationalist politics have often combined patriotic love for the country along
with suspicion of minorities, particularly the Muslims. Given the history of tense relations between the
Hindus and Muslims, the role of positive intergroup relations becomes paramount in sustaining peace
among the groups. Based on Allport’s intergroup contact hypothesis, this article tests whether having a
Muslim friend reduces prejudicial attitude among Hindus. Additionally, the article also tests the notion
of education being a harbinger of liberal values and its role in reducing prejudice. The results indicate
that having a Muslim friend is significantly correlated with a more positive outlook towards the Muslim
community, but education does not reduce prejudice.
Contact hypothesis, Hindu–Muslim relations, friendship, education, nationalism
Intergroup behaviour is fundamentally based on the concept of ‘us’ and ‘them’. This distinction has been
the basis of Hindu–Muslim relations in India. There has been a long history of tumultuous inter-religious
ties, marred by instances of riots, pogroms and violence. In the past decade, especially with the rise of
Hindu nationalist parties, there have been multiple instances of violence against the Muslims, including
lynchings and assault (Arun, 2019; Ayyub, 2019; Siddiqui, 2019) fuelled by myths, rumours and preju-
dice. Given the long history of Hindu–Muslim relations in India, this article asks a simple question: does
friendship reduce prejudice?
In the current atmosphere of suspicion and prejudicial attitudes between religious communities, the
role of positive intergroup relations becomes essential in sustaining peace in multi-ethnic societies. The
study of intergroup relations has a long history in social psychology from the study of race relations in
the USA during the 1940s to the present-day studies on acceptance of same-sex relations (Collier et al.,
Studies in Indian Politics
8(2) 152–169, 2020
© 2020 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/2321023020963441
1 Department of Political Science, Stony Brook University, New York, USA.
Corresponding author:
Asha Venugopalan, Stony Brook University, New York 11794, USA.
Venugopalan 153
2012; Pettigrew et al., 2011). Based on the vast literature on intergroup ties, this article is grounded on
the intergroup contact hypothesis (Allport, 1954).
In this article, the author examines whether social contact, in the form of friendship, with a member
of an out-group religious community, influences attitudes towards the out-group in general. Specifically,
does having a Muslim friend reduce Hindu prejudice towards the Muslim community? The author
focuses on these two religious communities, since, numerically, Hindus and Muslims constitute, not only
the majority and the largest minority but also the two largest religious communities in India.2 The author
explores whether having a Muslim friend improves the Hindu perception about how peaceful or violent
they perceive the Muslim community to be. In order to bring more nuance to this article, the author also
explores how the educational attainment of the individual influences intergroup attitudes since education
has been seen as the ‘propagators of democratic creed’ and values like equality and tolerance (Jackman
& Muha, 1984, p. 751).
Although there are a multitude of studies in North America and Europe on intergroup relations, quan-
titative studies in South Asia or India have been limited to small-n samples. This article uses the data
from a collaborative study conducted by Azim Premji University and Lokniti—Centre for the Study of
Developing Societies, titled ‘Politics and Society between Elections’ (‘PSBE’), which covers 23 Indian
states and the National Capital Region (NCR) of Delhi. The second section explores the literature on the
contact hypothesis, the promise of education and the prevalence of prejudice in the Indian society. The
third section discusses the construction of the methods and measures. This article uses descriptive statis-
tics, ordinary least square (OLS) models along with propensity-score matching to test the hypotheses.
The fourth section explores the results of the models, followed by discussion of the results in the context
of contemporary Indian politics and society.
Review of Literature
Intergroup behaviour and the shaping of social identity essentially depend on drawing boundaries within
one’s social environment and the categorization of people into ‘us’ and ‘them’ (Chaturvedi & Chaturvedi,
1996, p. 168; Tajfel et al., 1971, p. 151). Such classification guides in-group behaviour, shapes the stereo-
types towards the out-group (often as ‘alien, evil and impure’) and normalizes, even justifies, violence
to secure the self.
Intergroup attitudes are determined by the cognitive elements, such as stereotypes (a simplistic image
of the out-group) and prejudice (‘an unfair negative attitude towards a social group’), and affective ele-
ments, in the form of the interaction with members of the out-group (Dovidio & Gaertner, 1999; Leyens
et al., 2003; Millar & Millar, 1996; Miller et al., 2004; Stangor et al., 1991; Tajfel, 1982). While pre-
existing notions and stereotypes may determine one’s attitude towards certain groups, Stangor et al.
(1991, p. 361) argue that, theoretically, ‘direct, self-relevant experience produces stronger attitudinal
responses in comparison to indirect experience’. Contact hypothesis thus provides the apt theoretical
framework to consider the relation between close friendship and prejudice.
2 According to the 2011 census, Hindus constitute 79.8 per cent of the population, and Muslims constitute 14.23 per cent.

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