Aftermath of a Riot Foretold: Violence, Impunity and Sovereignty in Gujarat, India Open Access

Chatterjee, Moyukh (2015)

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This dissertation examines sociolegal processes that allow Hindu nationalists and state officials to perform mass, public, anti-minority violence in Gujarat in ways that expand and deepen their power. I argue impunity is not merely the breakdown of law and order but a systematic and ongoing process of legitimizing and performing Hindu sovereignty in India. Based on ethnographic and archival research conducted over eighteen months in Gujarat, I describe long-term official and unofficial practices by which political violence against Muslims is denied and authorized within a liberal secular state. This research delineates legal trials that declare victims' testimony inconsistent and exaggerated, police documents that transform anti-minority violence into a generic 'riot,' and a legal apparatus that renders mass violence often unaccountable. Through an investigation of legal technologies, state writing practices, and everyday techniques of Hindu nationalist activists in Ahmedabad, I uncover the legal and political infrastructure of impunity that outlives recurring episodes of anti-minority violence in contemporary India. I take as my ethnographic entry point one of India's most gruesome episodes of anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat, a Western state in India, often called the "laboratory of Hindutva" or militant Hindu nationalism. The perpetrators, armed groups of Hindu nationalists with the support of the local police, politicians, and government attacked and killed Muslims in 2002. The attacks were justified as 'reaction' to the deaths of 59 Hindu activists killed by a Muslim mob in Godhra. Subsequently, the police told Muslims "we have no orders to save you." About 1000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the attacks. Around 150,000 were displaced and forced to take shelter in relief camps. In 2014, Narendra Modi, who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat during the attacks against Muslims and widely criticized for allowing the violence, won a historic mandate in the national elections to become the Prime Minister of India. Scholars, civil society, and activists often describe the recurrent exoneration of perpetrators of public violence against minorities as the failure of the rule of law. I suggest that legal frameworks of modern states sometimes function very effectively to confer impunity on perpetrators of state-abetted violence. I demonstrate that these state practices of exonerating violence are better understood as a technique of governance - a form of state authority based on the ability of those in power to control, subdue, and punish minorities within postcolonial states. Traditionally, legal processes and law-enforcement agencies are expected to address and rectify such wrongs. In contemporary India, however, legal practices frequently impede accountability after everyday and extraordinary violence against minorities. This generates an urgent problem in Indian society: Why is political violence against minorities most often legally unaccountable? In 2010-13, I spent eighteen months attending criminal trials, interviewing survivors, paralegals, NGO workers, Hindu nationalist activists, and analyzing police and legal documents in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. My fieldwork included both Muslim and Hindu communities, activists, courts and NGOs. By embedding modes of unaccountability in the heart of everyday legal and state practices, I show why 'spectacular violence' does not disturb everyday politics, but is an important force to claim public legitimacy and strengthen state power.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Introduction 1

Why Gujarat? 8

Ahmedabad: A Divided City 11

Action and Reaction 15

The Paradox of Gujarat 2002 24

Activism and Trials in the Aftermath 32

The Impunity Effect 44

Communal Violence in India 52

The Paper Trail 56

Law and Order in India's "Hindu" State 60

Chapter Outline 66

Conclusion 71

Chapter Two: Putting Victims on Trial 74

Meeting the Witness 78

Activism as Proceduralism 83

Breaking the Witness 91

Producing the Survivor as Non-Witness 98

The Verdict 106

Crime and Punishment 111

Legal Technologies of Denial 114

Conclusion 117

Chapter Three: The Paper Trail of Impunity: Tracing the Police FIR 121

The Beginning is the End 124

The Preface: Action and Reaction 127

The Omnibus FIR 131

Gujarat Bandh: The Erasure of Witnesses 137

Languages of Violence 143

The Trace 147

Conclusion 149

Chapter Four: Exaggeration and Contradiction: Violence against Women 154

Sexual violence in the Gujarat pogrom 162

The Unspeakable? 167

Unmaking Evidence 171

The Question of Rape 175

Gendered Violence as Exaggeration 178

How Law Denies 185

Conclusion 186

Chapter Five: What Kind of Hindu Are You? Everyday Techniques of Hindu Nationalism 188

Beyond the Exception 189

Bajrang Dal and the VHP 194

Meeting the "Boys" 199

The Rule of the Mob 202

Temple # 2 211

Cow Protection 215

Conclusion 221

Chapter Six: Once Upon a Riot: Narrative Analysis and the Identity Theory of Hindu-Muslim Violence 225

What Everyone Knows... 226

Rioting and Impunity 232

Writing the Riot 236

The First Information Report 242

Mediating the Riot 246

Beyond the Riot. 249

Unraveling the "Riot" 253

Narratives and Violence 257

Conclusion 259

Chapter Seven: Conclusion 263

Works Cited 279

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