Working paper

Next-door strangers: explaining ‘neighbourliness’ between Hindus and Muslims in a riot-affected city

Religious communities Ethnic conflict Social conflict Hinduism Islam Ethnic relations Violence Group identity India
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Abstract: One of the factors demonstrated by racial or religious segregation is people’s preference for residential homophily – the tendency of like-minded people to gather in the same places. In societies disposed to ethnic conflict, homophily serves the added purpose of safety in numbers. When such conflict societies face rapid urbanization, escalated land prices accompanying the rapidly shrinking urban space veto the preference for homophily: people are unable to relocate to neighbourhoods of choice and find themselves restricted to living in mixed neighbourhoods. How do these neighbourhoods survive; what mechanisms generate cohesive neighbourly relations; and, indeed, what constitutes being a neighbour?

This paper is based on previous and ongoing ethnography in heterogeneous neighbourhoods located in three municipal wards of Ahmedabad (western India), with varying histories of ethnic violence. Findings suggest:

(1) spatial proximity is essential but not sufficient for positive neighbourly relations. People were more likely to develop neighbourly relations with people whom they encountered along daily street routes or with spatially distant co-ethnics rather than with residents in spatially proximate households

(2) Hindus and Muslims collaborated in constructing superficial friendliness in public as opposed to intergroup antipathy displayed in private. Superficial friendliness with contiguous households served to assuage antipathy and ensure neighbourhood collective efficacy, as a means of survival in mixed neighbourhoods facing imminent violence, rather than explain the occurrence of violence (or peace) itself.

Dr Raheel Dhattiwala, Postdoctoral research fellow, International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding, University of South Australia

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