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Displacement and migration constitute what might be called a traumatic experience for many as they lead to uprooting one from one’s base. But if this happens due to some large scale violence, which has a communal and a caste overtone, it makes the situation worse. It doubly marginalises the victims.  Till recently, it was the violence in Muzzaffarnagar that had become such a distressing story. According to a conservative estimate, more than 41,000 Muslims were rendered homeless, with most of them never being able to return to their village and having to live the life of a destitute. Gujarat (2002) was another example of a communal violence which had led to the displacement of a large number of people, as more than 2 lakhs were displaced within the first two years itself. Those who had to flee their homes had to settle down in houses on rent in Muslim concentrated villages and towns.  As per a status report (2012) published by the Ahmedabad based NGO, Janvikas, 16,087 of them continue to live in 83 relief colonies built by faith based (Muslim/Islamic) organizations and NGOs.

The book under review deals with this subject up to some extent. Taking cue from the much talked about and equally criticised category of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) of the United Nations (introduced in 1998), the author examines violence in Gujarat since 2002. She argues that “displacement (in Gujarat) is not only symptomatic of the state being taken over by a majoritarian vision of the nation in which the minorities may be threatened, but that in our globalised times it entails a shift in the very idea of the state in terms of what can be rightly expected of it and the source of its legitimacy.” The author of the book currently teaches at the Department of Civics and Politics, University of Mumbai, and according to her, this work of hers is a result of almost nine years of research that had begun with a thesis at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

Communal Violence, Forced Migration and the State

Book: Communal Violence, Forced Migration and the State: Gujarat since 2002

By Sanjeevini Badigar Lokhande

Cambridge University Press, Delhi, 2015, Hardbound

pp. XI+ 216, Price: Not Mentioned, ISBN-10: 1107065445

Apart from the introduction, the book is divided into five chapters. These reflect the meticulous research undertaken by the author of using ethnographic data, government documents, archival materials, NGOs and media reports, and shows how over the years, people who were displaced during the anti-Muslim Gujarat violence of 2002 have been to reduced to the status of subjects from once being citizens, and how it is now affecting their lives. Presenting a brief history of communal violence induced displacement, the author notes that it is not entirely without precedent in Gujarat. “The displacement of thousands of Muslims due to the violence in 1969, which the camps bore testimony to, also meant a loss of livelihood and even the means of livelihood for thousands as those who had been rendered homeless had lost all their possession that included their tools, instruments and other means of livelihood,” notes Lokhande. (p. 113)

She further notes that, “The examination of the governance of communal violence through state responses in the many instances of communal riots in Gujarat reveal that while the scale of relief offered in different categories of assistance for the victims of communal violence was increased howsoever variably, the categories of assistance remained the same, even in the case of latest relief package offered by the UPA in 2007.”

In the author’s opinion, “the state government scrupulously avoided the term displacement or IDPs, referring to it as migration which suggests that the movement was voluntary and under compulsion.” Hence, these victims are not entitled to the benefits suggested under the United Nation’s guides for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). “These illustrate,” notes Lokhande “the state’s absence in the complex problem of displacement where a large number of people did not want to return to what was once their home because it had become a place of vulnerability that was exposed during the violence and in some instances, a site where crimes had occurred that after the violence held the probability of legal action and led to continued tension in neighborhoods”. (p.128-12)

In the second last chapter of the book titled Reconstruction And Rights Though Self-Help, the author rightly concludes that, “From (the) account of reconstruction after the violence in 2002 it is not just the long term effects of displacement that are illustrated, but also that the phenomena of displacement is not a ‘one time set of events’ bounded in time and space but continue long after violence as those affected negotiate the uncertainties in their changed realities. In Gujarat these negotiations have included the assertion of their rights through recourse to litigation and self-help for security, housing and social rights as well as through different forms of settlements or compromise to avoid conflict. These shifts gleaned from ground analysis reflect changes in the larger political universe that further need to be unpacked.” (p. 157)

This book is important in its perspective on displacement and communal violence. However, while one appreciates the author’s attempts at taking up a relatively untouched theme, there has been an attempt at trying to touch and cover almost everything, which makes the book slightly monotonous and uninteresting. One also feels that it could have been better and substantial had the author tried limiting it, and rather focusing it on the core subject (of forced migration) as the book starts with promises of examining the issue of forced migration in detail but gets lost in detailing the different aspects of the violence of 2002.

For someone who has been following the issue for some time, it might appear to be a bit repetitive and offer nothing new except for the intense detailing of the different aspects of 2002. However the book will be an interesting read for those who are new to the subject and are looking for a guide on it.

First published in The Book Review Journal, August 2016.