Spirits of Discord and Everyday Labours of Peace: Intercommunal Relations in Amroha
The small qasbah of Amroha, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, presents an unusual record in terms of inter-communal peace. Despite being located in a communally sensitive region, the town has been spared incidents of Hindu-Muslim or Sunni-Shia violence that repeatedly plunged other parts of the province into bloodshed since the late nineteenth century. The preservation of communal harmony was no easy task. It required intensive work, be it institutional (through activities of coordination between various Muslim anjumans, Hindu caste associations and representatives of the administration) or symbolic (through frequent public expressions of Hindu-Muslim camaraderie). Over the years, these efforts at maintaining inter-communal harmony have given birth to a peacemaking habitus among local populations, that is, a set of attitudes, practices and mannerisms oriented towards the expression of goodwill and the peaceful resolution of conflicts.
These everyday labors of inter-communal peace have been sustained and disrupted by a common moral economy of the invisible world. Amroha remains a land of wonders, inhabited by spirits of various kinds (jinns, bhoots, paris, churails,…). And while representations of the invisible world are largely shared across denominational divides, the threats and opportunities that it presents humans with are both a source of rapprochement and discord. This is exemplified by the conflict raging since the 1960s between various Sunni, Shia and Hindu parties for the appropriation of the thaumaturgic powers (and afferent sources of income) attributed to two key figures of local lore: a Muslim amil known as Sheikh Saddo and his powerful Jinn, Zain Khan.
Laurent Gayer is a senior research fellow at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), currently posted at the Centre d’études et de recherches internationales (CERI), Paris. He is the author of several edited volumes (including Muslims in Indian Cities. Trajectories of Marginalisation, co-edited with Christophe Jaffrelot) and he recently published Karachi. Ordered Disorder and the Struggle for the City (Hurst/Oxford University Press, 2014). He is currently working with Sibtain Naqvi (Habib University, Karachi) on the social and political history of inter-communal peace in Amroha.
This seminar is organised with the support of the History Faculty.