The Mumbai Attacks and The City’s Local History of Religious Violence

Faisal Devji in The Immanent Frame:

Since colonial times the practice of religious violence had possessed a mirror-like character, in which the defilement of a temple was repaid by that of a mosque or the murder of three Muslims by that of an equal number of Hindus, often leading to a spiral of violence as the stakes were incrementally raised. Such tactics lend a measure of control and predictability to tribal feuds as well as gangland conflicts in many parts of the world. The 1993 blasts, however, departed this logic for the first time to provide a different kind of “retaliation”, one that not only stepped through the mirror of religious violence but also exited the political arena because it was unattached to any political claim let alone to a political party, creating only a sense of existential self-respect and agency for ordinary Muslims that was much-remarked upon at the time. A consequence of the disparity of numbers between Hindus and Muslims, or between the firepower of militants and the state, terrorism effectively removed the mirror that had for so long been set between the two communities, with “Muslim” bombs and “Hindu” riots following each other until very recently, when it appears as if explosions at mosques and other places of Muslim resort indicate an attempt to “balance” mutual violence again.

Whatever its nature Hindu militancy remains within the political arena, supporting as it does established political parties and tied as it is to electoral struggles in different parts of the country. Outside Kashmir, however, and unrelated to the struggle for autonomy and secession there, Muslim terrorism lacks a politics. As if recognizing this lack, such bombings have never provoked Hindu retaliation, since according to the anthropologist Vyjayanthi Rao they appear to come from nowhere and cannot be linked to any particular Muslim population. Indeed these forms of violence indicate the increasing helplessness and even irrelevance of traditional Muslim authorities, both secular and religious, something of which they are well aware, being no longer in a position either to control militants or act as mediators and stop conflict between communities. All of this only proves Gandhi’s dictum that religious violence is a form of luxury because its combatants’ lack of political responsibility allows them to rely upon the state to reassert order.