Communalism as discourse: Exploring power/knowledge in Gujarat riots of 2002

15 March 2018

This paper looks at communalism as a discourse, rather than using causal-based explanations, to understand how knowledge around communal issues are maintained and circulated through various institutions and practices to serve the interest of those in power.

This paper explores the communal violence in Gujarat during 2002. It argues for communalism to be conceptualized as a discourse and understand how knowledge regarding communal issues are produced. The research deals with Hindu Communalism led by the Sangh Parivar ('the Sangh') in the case of Gujarat. The Sangh Parivar is led by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and its affiliated organizations include the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, and Rashtriyasevika Samiti. It has sustained ideological propaganda against minority communities. This paper uses Foucault’s power/knowledge framework to understand how the Sangh used symbols, ideologies, institutions, and identities during the riots in Gujarat. By using these four 'I's the paper will seek answers to 1: how the Sangh managed to mobilize people on lines of religion. 2: how the Sangh prevents other political movements, other than on lines of religion, from becoming more dominant. It enables us to move beyond a causal understanding of the issue of communalism and communal violence. The paper begins by problematising single causal explanations of communalism and arguing why studying communalism as a discourse would provide a more complete understanding. It also provides a background of Hindu communalism in India and the Godhra riots followed by an analysis of how symbols, ideologies, institutions, and identities were employed. It argues that the Sangh managed to justify sexual violence and destruction of mosques due to the way it symbolized women and mosques, as well as the identity it created of Muslims.

This paper was presented at the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI) 2018 Conference: "Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World"