Journal of Agrarian Change, Volume 17, Issue 1, January 2017
Contrary to the general view that communal riots in India are urban-centred, the rural areas of Muzaffarnagar in the state of Uttar Pradesh were the site of a major communal riot in September 2013. The majority of victims in the riot were Muslim labourers from the lower-caste groups, and the alleged perpetrators were members of the relatively prosperous Hindu Jat households. This paper deals with how the leadership and membership of a ‘new farmers’ movement’ – the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) – actively internalized, and helped entrench, a communal discourse that preceded the riots. It argues that the reasons for why the identity of a ‘Hindu’ prevailed over the class-neutral identity of a ‘farmer’ during the riots can be traced to the ways in which the BKU has historically sought to culturally construct the identity of a ‘farmer’. The political intermediation of the traditional institution of khaps is highlighted as central to this process. Khaps played a major role in spreading and sustaining a communal discourse and preparing the ground for the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013.
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