Sanity vs strife
Komal Vijay Singh

Tremors of Violence: Muslim Survivors of Ethnic Strife in Western India
by Rowena Robinson Sage. Pages 262. Rs 295.

Tremors of Violence: Muslim Survivors of Ethnic Strife in Western IndiaTHIS is an urbane and analytical social treatise that examines and attempts to define the Muslim identity. The premise of the study has come up in the backdrop and aftermath of increased, organised violence in recent times against Muslims. The book is sure to gain the stature of an important work as the author employs ripe wisdom and felicitous exposition at her command to address issues of survival and communal conflict.

Based on narratives of Muslim survivors of ethnic strife in Western India, the study is skillfully interspersed with a historical overview.

There is no comfort here for those who are looking for a book merely to confirm their prejudices. One can only hope that Tremors of Violence will receive the wide reading both inside and outside the social and political firmament that its scholarly subject matter and treatment so well deserve.

The author, who teaches at IIT, Mumbai, has two other books, Conversion, Continuity and Change: Lived Christianity in Southern Goa and Christians of India, to her credit. In her latest work, which is thought-provoking in the best sense, she has woven a tapestry of word and action and conflict. She writes eminently authentic documents of Muslim victims of violence and the present grim realities they are caught up in. Leaving no doubt about where her sympathies lie, she writes at the beginning of the book, "A society which does not defend all, defends none." She addresses the specifics while negotiating the academics. The first chapter opens in a brutally frank fashion. She writes how going for ablutions translates into "going to Pakistan." The Indian Muslim is thought of as a Pakistani who should leave for Pakistan.

Divided into seven chapters, the book takes shape through the stories of men and women who shared their experiences with the author and allowed her entry into their worlds. Why this book? Why Muslims? Robinson here inserts the rationale of co-responsibility of individuals or communities, though not necessarily defined by religion. She has vividly portrayed how anxieties are whipped up about Muslim fertility rates, "their uncontrolled breeding and imminent outnumbering of the Hindu majority."

With fear of Muslims and their numbers being fed frenziedly, the riots recently have begun resembling pogroms with the sole aim to free the country of them. The Muslims who speak in this book have been the victims of suspense and mistrust. Most of them have encountered the "savagery of inter-community strife in post-Independence India." If this is not an indictment of our social fabric and those who govern us then nothing else can be.

And it goes to Robinsonís credit that without kicking up a shindig, she demystifies the stereotyped Muslim and leaves an indelible imprint on the readerís mind. This is a book that disturbs you, for sure. Anyone who wants to understand the "Muslim other"needs to pick it up for an engrossing, read.