Delhi Violence: What Explains Growing Hindu-Muslim Mistrust?

The main issue here is: why are the people — who have everything to lose in violence — getting polarised? 

6 min read

Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

The debate will continue over who were the original instigators of the Delhi violence that claimed (at last count, as per official records) 53 lives. The claims and counter claims will keep coming our way as to which of the two communities — Hindus or Muslims — are to be blamed. Did the hate speeches delivered by some politicians play a role, and to what extent? This debate is likely to go on for a while.

But the main issue here is: why are the people — who have everything to lose in violence — getting polarised? We know that some politicians will do whatever they can to get votes, even if that means pitting one community against other. But why are common people getting infected by the communal virus that is being spread all around?

Reasons Behind Hate & Polarisation

Research suggests that slight reduction in the (relative) deprivation of Muslims could be the reason behind this polarisation. The 2014 study by Anirban Mitra of University of Ohio and Debraj Ray of New York University begins with an assumption that: “if a group is relatively poor to begin with, an increase in the average incomes of the group controlling for changes in inequality, must raise violence perpetrated against that group.”

Using data of all communal riots between 1950 and 2000 and extrapolating that with NSSO’s per capita monthly expenditure data, they conclude that: “an increase in Hindu prosperity is negatively associated with greater religious fatalities in the near future, while the opposite is true of Muslim prosperity.” Does this conclusion match with what you hear on the ground?


The Beginning of a Series of Communal Riots

The country had had, on an average, nearly 16 communal riots every year, between 1950-1981. The number swelled to 48 every year during 1982-1995. The decades of the 1980s and 1990s witnessed heightened agitation for the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya and that probably explains the sudden spike in incidents of horrific communal riots. While the number has come down since then, sporadic episodes of inter-community violence do take place even now, with Delhi being the latest.

The authors find out that every one percent increase in “Hindu per capita expenditure is predicted to decrease casualties by anywhere between 3 percent and 7 percent, while the same increase in Muslim per capita expenditure increases casualties by 3-5 percent.” (Per capita monthly expenditure is an indication of how much he/she is earning.)

Is this the reason why we are witnessing heightened polarisation all around? Do we know if members of ‘a relatively poor community’ (Muslims) are indeed experiencing an increase in their income?

Muslims Entering Middle Class Ranks Faster than Others

As mentioned above, there is evidence of reduction in (relative) deprivation of Muslims. Based on National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data, social scientists Sandhya Krishnan and Neeraj Hatekar mapped the growth of the new middle class, according to different social categories, from 1999–2000 to 2011–12.

The authors had included all those who spend USD 2 to USD 10 (roughly Rs 145 to Rs 740) per capita per day, in the new middle class. What stands out is the sharp differential in the growth in size of the new middle class among Muslims and privileged caste Hindus.

According to the NSSO data analysed, while the size of the Muslim new middle class grew by a whopping 86 percent between 1999–2000 to 2011–12, that of the Hindu new middle class went up by 76 percent.

However, the size of the new middle class of the privileged castes (meaning non-OBC, non-SC and non-ST Hindus) grew by a mere 45 percent in the same period. The privileged castes, it seems, has lagged behind all other social categories. Is this the category that is getting radicalised the most because of a sense of deprivation? Other than anecdotal evidence, we do not have any credible research to conclude that.


Rise in Income of Muslims

What explains the rise in income of Muslims in recent years? In order to understand that, we need a fair idea about the kind the occupations Muslims are engaged in. The Sachar Committee report, constituted during the UPA I to analyse the socio-economic condition of Muslims, gives us some clues. It says: “While the share of Muslim workers engaged in agriculture is much lower than for other groups, their participation in manufacturing and trade (especially for males) is much higher than for other SRCs (socio religious categories). Besides, their participation in construction work is also high.”

The report highlights that, other than construction, the participation of Muslims in retail and wholesale trade, transport, auto repair, manufacturing of tobacco products, textiles and fabricated metal products is quite high. It adds that: “the share of Muslim workers in manufacturing is particularly high in states like Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan, where the share is more than 25 percent.”


Rise in Incomes of Skilled Workers

Now, juxtapose this with the findings of the recent TeamLease study published in the The Economic Times. The headline of the study, ‘Want to be an MBA? Why not electrician’, is quite revealing.

Here are the highlights of the study:

  1. An engineering graduate or an MBA from a below par institute earns almost as much as a trained electrician.
  2. Between 2016 to 2018, the average salary of a trained electrician saw a growth in excess of 40 percent. An MBA with similar year of experience saw his salary rise by 30 percent. However, in the case of an engineering graduate, it was a meagre 10 percent.
  3. It says that the demand-supply gap of skilled workers is going to be quite high in the next five years, pushing their salaries even higher.

Skilled Work & Notions of ‘Purity & Pollution’

Read about the average occupation of a Muslim together with the findings of the TeamLease survey. Add your own inputs from what you observe in your midst. Be it tailoring, auto repair, skilled construction work or retail trading, Muslims have been dominating these areas.

Hence, a reduction in (relative) deprivation of Muslims in recent years.

Why this skew? The Brahminical order’s excessive emphasis on the notion of ‘purity and pollution’ (even with regard to a person’s vocation) is the reason why there are fewer Hindus in the ranks of skilled workers. Hindus have followed an order that places the pursuit of education above everything else. Today, it means pursuing a degree to get a decent job. Soiling one’s hands has always been looked down upon. Muslims, on the other hand, have traditionally been engaged in skilled work.

And we know that we are amidst a long period of jobless growth. The country has not been able to create enough jobs to absorb the growing young population.

This, perhaps, has impacted Hindus more than the Muslims. Hence, the growing sense of relative pauperisation among Hindus, and there is a feeling that Muslims are to be ‘blamed’ for their plight. One gets such ideas whenever one visits troubled areas and talks to the locals there. Several messages on social media platforms indicate as much.


Political Fallout of Riots

Now, the question is: what is the political fallout of riots? A 2016 study by three Yale professors suggests that riots almost always adversely impact the parties that draw support from more than one community.

It says: “Does Congress in fact lose votes when riots occur? Though the results should be interpreted with caution as they are not causally identified, estimates from OLS regressions suggest that it does: the outbreak of one additional riot in the year preceding a state assembly election is associated with a 1.3 percentage point average decline in Congress’s district vote share. Can this result be attributed to polarisation? We test this by examining the relationship between riots and the vote share of Hindu nationalist parties” which “shows that the BJS/BJP saw a 0.8 percentage point average increase in their vote share following a riot in the year prior to an election.”

The study focuses on the period 1962 to 2000, when the Congress was a dominant force in national politics. Will the voting behaviour change now that the BJP has replaced the Congress as the key player in the country’s politics?

(Mayank Mishra is a senior journalist who writes on Indian economy and politics, and their intersection. He tweets at @Mayankprem. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed in this article are that of the writer’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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