The Colonial Origins of Ethnic Violence in India
Ajay Verghese


Contents and Abstracts
chapter abstract

This chapter lays out the puzzle driving this book: why does ethnic violence in multi-ethnic states revolve around one identity rather than another? The origins of patterns of ethnic conflict in India, one of the most diverse countries in the world, lie in the era of British colonialism. Three-fourths of India's population was governed by colonial officials, but the remainder lived under largely autonomous native 'princes'. These two sets of rulers had different ways of thinking about ethnicity, stratifying ethnic groups, and their disparate policies led to different fault lines of conflict. Former British provinces experience more caste and tribal violence in contemporary India, but former princely states experience more religious conflict. This chapter details the book's multi-method research design, and concludes by discussing how this project contributes to important social science debates on Hindu-Muslim riots, ethnic salience, and the impact of colonialism on ethnic violence.

1 Colonialism, Institutions, and Ethnic Violence in India
chapter abstract

This chapter offers a new interpretation of British Indian history and its effect on modern ethnic conflict. It begins with a discussion of pre-colonial India, where religious conflict occurred extensively but caste and tribal violence was less prevalent. British influence began in the 17th century and increased until the Rebellion of 1857, a revolt that left a quarter of the population under the control of native princes. British administrators promoted caste as the central organizing principle of their territories, but princes continued to emphasize religion. These rulers then instituted different policies of ethnic stratification: the British favored high castes, discriminated against low castes and tribals, but protected religious minorities. Princes did the opposite: they favored coreligionists, discriminated against non-coreligionists, but protected low castes and adivasis. Colonial patterns of violence were reinforced in post-independence India through formal and informal institutions, as well as the failure of reform efforts.

2 Violence in North India: Jaipur and Ajmer
chapter abstract

This chapter examines ethnic conflict in a controlled historical comparison of Jaipur and Ajmer districts in the north Indian state of Rajasthan. These two areas are similar except for their colonial history: Jaipur was ruled by a Hindu dynasty whereas Ajmer came under British control. Drawing on primary source research from a variety of archives, this chapter begins by showing that the Hindu rajas of Jaipur discriminated against Muslims, creating a long legacy of religious violence, but protected low castes and adivasis, stunting the development of caste and tribal conflict. In Ajmer, on the other hand, discriminatory British policies against low castes and tribals generated conflict in the countryside, but protective policies for religious minorities prevented Hindu-Muslim discord. Utilizing elite interviews and a variety of data sources on local conflict, this chapter then shows that this pattern of violence became embedded in formal and informal institutions in modern Rajasthan.

3 Violence in South India: Malabar and Travancore
chapter abstract

This chapter examines ethnic conflict in a controlled historical comparison from the south Indian state of Kerala. The northern region of Malabar, which came under British rule, is compared with the southern princely kingdom of Travancore. This comparison has strong analytical leverage because there is evidence that the British wanted to conquer all of Kerala, but – for various historical reasons – they were unable to annex the south. Although Kerala is not an extremely violent state, this chapter highlights that even in this largely tranquil territory there is a pattern of ethnic discord that stems from the colonial era. British rule in Malabar created a long history of caste antagonism, but princely rule in Travancore generated communal conflict among the state's Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. Kerala is also a noteworthy case because post-colonial reforms here, unlike elsewhere in India, successfully reduced the total amount of ethnic violence in the state.

4 Explaining Violence in East India: Bastar
chapter abstract

This chapter examines the largest deviant case for the theory of ethnic violence proposed in this book: the tiny Hindu kingdom of Bastar, located in the eastern state of Chhattisgarh. Since the mid-19th century, this remote princely state has been the bloodiest battleground for tribal violence in India. Drawing on a variety of archival sources, this chapter shows that tribal rebellions began in Bastar precisely because the British interfered repeatedly in the politics of the kingdom, a level of intervention that was unique compared to other princely states in India. After independence, the post-colonial government continued most of the same British policies that had initially sparked tribal rebellion. This led to the extraordinary growth of the adivasi-led Naxalite movement in the region. This chapter therefore confirms one of the major arguments of this book: wherever the British ruled, tribal revolts subsequently followed.

5 Patterns of Ethnic Violence Across Contemporary India
chapter abstract

This chapter builds on the qualitative research from Chapters 2-4 by presenting the results of a quantitative study of colonialism and ethnic violence across 589 contemporary Indian districts. This large-n analysis draws on new sources of data on ethnic conflict in India, as well as information aggregated from various British government reports, the census, and private statistical firms. This study shows that former British districts experience significantly more caste and tribal violence in contemporary India, but former princely districts experience significantly more religious conflict. These results confirm that the patterns of ethnic violence evident at the case study level are also visible across the entire country. These results are significant even when controlling for a number of alternative explanations of violence that focus on poverty, geography, and demographic factors. They are also sensitive to robustness checks for endogeneity concerns: a propensity score matching design and an instrumental variable analysis.

6 The Indian Model of Colonialism
chapter abstract

This chapter uses colonialism in India as a foundation for examining patterns of ethnic conflict in three other British post-colonial states: Myanmar, Malaysia, and Nigeria. While the Rebellion of 1857 upended British plans to control the entire subcontinent, colonial officials over time came to realize the value of combining direct and indirect rule in a colony, most of all because it prevented further uprisings. Administrators began extoling the virtues of this 'Indian model' of colonialism. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the British exported this model to other territories across the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean. In Burma, Malaya, and Nigeria, British officials shared power with the sawbwa, sultans, and emirs. Through analyzing these cases, this chapter shows that the exporting of the Indian model led to discernible patterns of ethnic conflict abroad, patterns that are still evident in the contemporary politics of these three countries.

chapter abstract

This chapter offers a complete summary of the book, its relevance for several academic debates within the social sciences, and some social policy implications. It first recaps the book's central argument, and then details the extensive archival and interview evidence marshalled in support of this theory in Chapters 2-4. Former British provinces like Ajmer and Malabar primarily experience caste and tribal violence today, but former princely states like Jaipur and Travancore tend to experience religious conflict. The statistical analysis in Chapter 5 showed that these patterns of violence are evident across 589 contemporary Indian districts, and the comparative analysis in Chapter 6 highlighted that India served as a model for the colonization of other states in Asia and Africa. This chapter concludes by detailing the contributions this project makes to several academic debates – above all, this book emphasizes the key role of historical legacies in driving modern ethnic violence.