Colonialism and Patterns of Ethnic Conflict in Contemporary India
Ajay Verghese, Shorenstein Postdoctoral Fellow at Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University
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Why does ethnic violence in multi-ethnic states revolve around one identity rather than another? Why, for example, do some conflicts revolve around religion whereas others revolve around language? This is an important question for understanding ethnic bloodshed in a variety of plural states in Europe, Africa, Asia, and elsewhere. Ajay Verghese has examined these questions through an investigation of India, one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. Using a mixed-methods research design that combines a quantitative analysis of 589 Indian districts with 15 months of archival work and elite interviews conducted in six case studies, he argues that the legacies of British colonial rule are the major determinant of contemporary patterns of ethnic conflict. Verghese finds that areas in India formerly under the control of British administrators experience more contemporary caste and tribal violence, but areas which remained under the control of autonomous native kings experience more religious conflict. Bifurcated colonial rule in India embedded master narratives of conflict in specific regions, reinforced them through local institutions, and ultimately engendered commonsensical understandings of how ethnic conflict is legitimately organized. Colonialism in India became a model for later British expansion into parts of Africa and Southeast Asia, and this project therefore has major implications for understanding the historical roots of ethnic conflict in a number of multi-ethnic states around the world.