Social Aspects of Intergroup Conflict between Muslims and Hindus in India

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Before the 200 years of British colonialism in India, many regions of the country were under Muslim political control. During this time, the Hindus felt that their beliefs had been suppressed and the visual symbolism of Hinduism; its temples, were violated by Muslims whilst the country was under Muslim control (Talbot, 1995). It is alleged that there could have been as many as 60,000 temples destroyed and 3,000 mosques erected on the hallow sites (Hinduism Today, 1994; as cited in Talbot, 1995).

One of the most infamous of these Muslim mosques, built on the grounds of a destroyed Hindu temple, is at Ayodhya in North India, which is believed to be the birth place of the Hindu god Rama (Johnson-Roehr, 2008). The reason for this site’s notoriety is due to the violent clashes that ensued after 150,000 volunteers followed Hindu nationalist leaders to the site and destroyed the Babri Mosque (Nelson, n. d. ).

The number of dead that could be attributed to the destruction of this mosque can hardly be counted, with 2000 being killed in violent clashes in the immediate aftermath, but also ten years later and there are still violent responses being played out (Johnson-Roehr, 2008). The purpose of this paper is not to discuss the politics of India nor the attitudes and beliefs of the two religious groups, but to examine the intergroup behaviours of the two groups.

As Khan & Sen, (2009) have suggested, whilst many academic disciplines such as sociology, political science, economics and history have discussed the group relations in India, psychology theory and research has been slow. This paper will discuss some of the social psychology aspects of intergroup theories that this case study highlights. Groups, and in particular religious groups, provide their members with a comprehensive social identity with shared values and norms, which assists in mobilizing and justifying collective actions.

Social identity is not only derived from the group membership but also the members of the group strive to gain a positive self esteem through maintaining a positive social identity; this is commonly known as the self esteem hypothesis (Breckler, 2006). They maintain this positive social identity, and therefore creating a positive self identity, by comparing themselves between the in-groups and the relevant out-groups. Some researchers suggest there are issues with the measurements and methodologies employed in research in the self esteem hypothesis and suggest it has been overstated (Rubin & Hewstone, 1998).

However, Foels, (2006) has carried out more recent research into the self esteem hypothesis, taking into consideration the previously highlighted measurement issues, and found that in fact it is not intergroup favouritism that elevates social and self esteem but in fact it is in-group favouritism. Once identified with a group if the group perceives that they are not the favourable group then they will then take steps to resolve this (Brown, 2000) and by associating themselves with a particular group this will not only describe their attitudes but it will also prescribe how they should think and behave (Hogg & Vaughan, 2009).

Tajfel & Turner, (2004) posited that there is a true distinction between personal and social identity, in that in interpersonal situations a person’s behaviour is directed by personalogical variables whereas in group situations a person’s behaviour is largely directed by category based processes. Once individuals have identified themselves with a group what are the factors that then steer that group to take collective protest? Klanderermans (2002; as cited in Hogg & Vaughan, 2007) identified three concepts that are fundamental to collective protest.

The first of these concepts is injustice. In this case study the injustice could have been perceived by the Hindu people that they had been mistreated during the Muslim leadership (Talbot, 1995) but also the Muslim mosque could be seen as a symbolic threat as it represents a religious site that is important in the Hindu culture and had been previously taken from the Hindu people. In addition to the symbolic threat there could also be a realistic threat of the actual potential of building another mosque or temple on it (W. G. Stephan & C. W. Stephan, 2008).

The second concept of efficacy is the belief that the situation can be changed by collective action. In this case it could be interpreted that the Hindu people believed that by destroying the Muslim mosque they could reclaim the site as their own and rebuild their temple. Klandermans (2002; as cited in Hogg & Vaughan, 2007) further defines efficacy as collective action at a reasonable cost. In this case did the Hindu volunteers that followed the nationalist leaders fully understand the consequence their actions might have?

The Hindu nationalist leaders could be viewed as very ideological leaders in that they have the vision for the Hindu people but this vision is very much based on their personal values and standards opposed to the social needs. Mumford et al. , (2007) posited that it is ideological leaders that are more likely to be able to promote violent acts. They suggested that one reason why this might be is that those that are seen not to share the leaders values could themselves be subject to being condemned by their groups, and could actually be subject to social violence.

Also, the ideological leaders exert value based control over their group which brings the group to believe the acts of violence are truly justified. The final Klandermanns’ (2002; as cited in Hogg & Vaughan, 2007) concept is that of identity. The identity in this case is widely publicised as the religious groupings of Muslim and Hindu. What leads a group from peaceful collective action to acts of destruction and atrocities?

Taylor, (2006) has three basic assumptions on why groups perform atrocities such has been seen in the Indian riots. The initial assumption, which is aligned with the previously discussed Klandermanns’ (2002; as cited in Hogg & Vaughan, 2007) concepts, is that atrocities arise from the forming of groups and defining and classification of in and out group members. This is an everyday occurrence in group formation, however, Taylor, (2006) argues that it is other genetic factors that eventually drive group members to acts of destruction.

One of the genetic factors, and the second of Taylor, (2006) assumptions, is that acts of destruction are derived from early human behaviour were groups of relatives, and therefore similar genetic make-up, stayed together in groups. They then had to protect scarce recourses from other out-groups in order to promote their genetic survival. The final of Taylor’s, (2006) assumptions is that acts of violence, towards out-group members, are influenced by the individual’s brain structure and the physical and social environment in which they live.

Taylor, (2006) argues that there is a very complicated bio-psychological process between the individual’s brain neurons and their physical and social environment. By following through with this argument Taylor, (2006) is suggesting that individuals who have been involved in violent clashes will never be able to break the violence cycle. However, there are many cases in history where people who were party to violent acts changed and became peace activists e. g. Eamonn McCann who was an active member of the IRA in Northern Ireland and is now a truly committed peace activist in Londonderry in Northern Ireland (McCann, 1993).

Often when authors discuss the violence in the aftermath of the destruction of the mosque and that which continues today, they describe the perpetrators as belonging to either the Muslim or Hindu religious groups. However, they do not distinguish the extremists within these religious groupings that have different group beliefs and behaviours of violent acts and it is the actions of the sub groups of the extremist and the interaction they have with their overall religious grouping that causes the violent scenes.

Although the extremists might incite the group to violent acts, the individuals of the group are driven by more than the collective behaviour of the group to be able to carry out such level of reported violent acts (Sali, 2003). Haslam, (2006) suggests that this, in part, can be explained by the process of dehumanisation and Kelman, (1973) further argues that dehumanisation also has a role in sanctioned mass violence.

Dehumanisation is when one group perceives another out-group as having less than human qualities and can be likened to that of animals, which allows the group that are carrying out the acts of violence to have little or no compassion or guilt (Hogg & Vaughan, 2009). Although there are many writers who discuss dehumanisation when it comes to acts of violence, Haslam, Stephen Loughnan, Reynolds, & Wilson, (2007) suggest that actually dehumanisation occurs in everyday groups. This is because groups tie less emotions to out-group members than their in-group members and therefore they perceive the out-group members to be less emotionally complex.

However, after further research Steve Loughnan, Haslam, & Kashima, (2009) suggest that although an individual may attribute out-group members as having fewer emotions than in-group members this does not lead to individuals inferring that the out-group members are more animal like and less human like. So although everyday groups may tend to perform attribute based dehumanisation it does not mean they will be able to perform acts of violence or hurt out groupers. There are a number of theories in social psychology that work towards reducing conflict and intergroup tense.

These include contact theory, breaking down segregation and re-categorisation to mention but a few. However, they are much too detailed and complex to try and cover in this paper and therefore this paper has been confined to some of the theories in social psychology as to why intergroup conflict might have occurred and how the extreme acts of violence ensued in India between the Hindu and Muslim people. This paper has discussed some aspects of social identity, self esteem hypothesis, collective behaviour and why violent acts might have, and still do occur, due to intergroup conflict.

Some might argue that the way to reduce intergroup conflict is to try and prevent group formation. However, this is virtually impossible as it is important to note that it is human behaviour to want and need to form groups in order to attain a positive self identity and that is why sports programs across communities could have positive consequences. This is because participant in sports and supporting teams allows individuals to have contact with out-group members and also allows them to sub-categorise themselves and to identify with the sports groups.

The intergroup conflict can then be played out on the sports field by trying to win the sporting event and therefore repositioning their group into a more favourable position. Branscombe & Wann, (1991) also suggest that the sports teams do not necessarily need to win in order for the individuals who participate or support the team to attain a greater sense of esteem. So perhaps a possible avenue of further research could be devising a sports program, in areas of intergroup conflict that foster and fully embrace the theories of social psychology that reduce intergroup conflict.

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