Monday, February 25, 2013

A Model for Violence

There are many models in the literature for violence, terrorism, militancy, and insurgency -- even for those specializing on India-centric matters. I am not the first person to deal with these things, nor am I well versed with the inter-disciplinary literature in this arena. Having read a bit, however, I do have my hypotheses and claims. I believe it would be a good idea to jot down these ideas before refining them into something that is useable in some form.

My brief claim is that while religion or language or ethnicity could be a source of many problems in India, just the fact that someone is from a religion/language/ethnicity that is different from the numerically majority/preponderant one cannot (ideally!) cause problems. What could cause problems though is a contestation in the name of religion, language or ethnicity. In fact, a contestation of any type (including caste, socio-economic, supposed grievances from a bygone era, a steady isolation in terms of belonging, etc.) that creates and propagates a sense of alienation (which I like to term as the "Otherness" factor) of the minority community(ies) from the majority, and the majority from the minority, and the back and forth between these two interdependencies is more likely to be a source for insurgency.

Violence comes from being cornered or perceptions of being cornered in one's own imagined homeland, not from just merely existing. This kind of contestation would probably be able to explain better the recent Bodo-Bengali-Bangladeshi violence in Assam as it seemed to suggest a zero-sum game fight for resources, animated by contested identities that go a long time in the past. In more detail, if you asked me what factors could be associated with a higher likelihood of violence, I would pick five:
1) A certain "Otherness" factor that makes a subset of the people alienate themselves from the mainstream. Day-to-day transactions between the mainstream and the subset can both aid in reinforcement of the "Otherness" factor as well as embrace and co-opt the community by making them feel comfortable with the mainstream. Such a factor could be linguistic, religious, cultural, socio-economic, regional, [whatever]. But one definitely needs a difference in terms of outlook before such differences can be exploited.

2) Differences alone are not sufficient. Such differences have to find an outlet via some ideology. The ideology could be as good as the Justice Party-Self Respect Movement-Dravida Kazhagam which became co-opted over time into the mainstream, or it could be exclusive religious, socialist, or different hues of theoretical communist egalitarianism. In short, the Intentions of the sub-group make a big difference in channelizing their anger. If the Intention is to just attain political mobility (like the Yadavs of Uttar Pradesh or the Scheduled Castes of Uttar Pradesh or the non-Brahmin vs. Brahmin struggle for limited resources in the then Madras state) rather than avenge the wrongs of past deeds (Bhumihars vs. Thakurs in Bihar), the whole setup could be different.

3) What aids revolutionary Intentions to form is a differential literacy rate between males and females. There is a high correlation between a big gap in the male to female literacy differential and violence. For whatever good or bad reason, the southern states of India have by chance or pure luck reduced this differential. It is catching up in the North, albeit slowly for my comfort. While I have not collected enough data to feel comfortable with my hypothesis, here are my first observations: ( See also two related posts connected from this post with a bit more data.). 

4) Again, Intentions need to be channelized. That is when a community arms itself to the teeth and develops Capabilities that can seriously harm the State/establishment. Capabilities do not stand alone, they go with other factors that mutually reinforce each other.

5) To sustain the Capabilities, a group needs Finances. This could be sourced from outside or from hooking up to the usual drug trade/hawala/charity networks.

I am pretty sure I am missing many other attributes that determine violence. But a general model that flows like "Otherness --> Formation of Contested Identity --> Intentions to Hurt --> Capabilities to Harm --> Sustaining Capabilities" looks like a natural model for how terrorism/violence happens than by any other justification. I am not saying that other factors such as geography or isolation of terrain have no correlation to all this, geography indeed is responsible for some sort of Indivisible Otherness, but geography alone is not sufficient. We need so many other factors to form a feared terrorist/insurgent/violent outfit (especially in India) that needs careful study.

PS: On that count, the situation is ripe in TN for the Otherness factor, which has already been firmly ensconced in the mindset of the polity, to take a dramatic shift. Propaganda movies about alienation do not help this matter either. There are many situations in India where violence is avoided by pure luck or by accidents of history. Why does one need an accident of history when a reality-based nuanced understanding of the landscape is sufficient? For the policy wonks at the South Block, I would appeal to put their ears firmly to the ground and hear the churnings. Of course, such churnings are not exclusive to TN, but a need for those churnings in TN today are a bit groundless and a small shift can make giant differences. In other places, a small shift often means a small change in reality.

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