Identity of the Mob and its “Paper Reality” | Department of History

Identity of the Mob and its “Paper Reality”

The question of mob identity has been a topic of research among academicians for quite some time, and this paper too would like to understand similar trajectories of that question. While the identity of the mob has previously been divided between religions, I would like to understand how a mob is actually formed. The aim of this project is to expand on the nature of the mob and the events that may trigger the formation of one. Thus, the main trajectory that this project will be following is to understand how the mob comes into being and how it becomes the producer or generator of violence. The thesis will question the separation of the concept of the mob from that of the public, asking if the two are really separate entities or if the mob can be thought of as a certain kind of public, emergent within the modern nation state. For instance, Veena Das draws on the ordinariness of violence in terms of recognising new possibilities of examining the continual interplay of different modes of life that can be seen in the mob, which would in turn help create the understanding of the mob being a part of the everyday (Mehta: 2014). Much of the scholarly work too has focused on the creation of mobs showing that they are not an aberration and can be produced by a secular nation- state like India that can enter the notion of the everyday, being a unit of the public itself and not necessarily an external force that exists outside of the everyday paradigm of the social.   

This also brings focus to the aspect of the mob that it is not always created in spontaneity. An example for this will be the Babri Masjid- Ram Janmbhumi incident of 1992 in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, saw unprecedented violence and the demolition of the historic monument of Babri Masjid on the 6th of December. The main “aim” of this incident is difficult to single out as it became an amalgamation of many layers of the social into one incident- “it was a contest over property, historical and archaeological interpretation, cultural tradition and the place of Muslims in the country”, according to Deepak Mehta. And the documentary ‘Ram Ke Naam’, directed by Anand Patwardhan which was shot before the riots took place, also shows us that the instigation of a large group of karsevaks was mobilised under the garb of the Rath Yatra by various political and non- political groups, namely the Bhartiya Janata Party and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad- led by LK Advani, in 1990 to build the Hindu temple at the site of the Babri Masjid. According to the documentary, the leaders of the Rath Yatra maintained that it was a peaceful gathering, focused on the construction of the temple alone, the karsevaks had a completely different view on the same. This project will also be exploring the escalation of this group into a mob and the events that led to it as an example to showcase the research question at hand.    

Through this project, I seek to gain an understanding of the mob as a part of the public and its nature- whether it is a religious or a secular group. In doing so, I will also try to analyse newspapers as a source of information or more specifically, the process that goes behind the creation of knowledge that the public relies on for ‘factual information’, which will also help analyse the nature of the mob as mentioned above. Therefore, the newspaper also becomes an important aspect of such incidents as the public then depends on them, as a source of information, how the event is described, how the event is translated onto the newspaper, how different languages can affect the narrative of an incident, and also if any information is left out in the different English and Vernacular newspapers. Therefore, trying to see how newspapers can affect the life of a narrative and politics of the everyday. This will also help us to complicate the understanding of the very terms ‘Secular’ and ‘Religious’. Talal Asad’s work (Asad: 2003) shows us that the line between the two terms is not always neat and that simple to categorise under just one category through his analysis of the importance of religion in a modern nation- state, and how the understanding of the functioning of the secular and religion gets complicated in the public sphere.

Therefore, the methodology this project will be following are is the analysis of English and Vernacular newspapers as the primary sources to understand how the event was formulated and how was the nature of the mob was portrayed. This will also enable us to critically investigate the ways in which an “imagined community” (Anderson: 1983) was formed through media presentations of the event and how this too shaped moulded the collective public memory through these very newspapers, affecting the after- life of the mob. The other information on the sociological aspects of mobs and the history of the 1992 riots will be taken from multiple secondary sources, mostly academia and documentary films.

Ultimately, the outcome that I expect to achieve at the end of this project is to gain an understanding and synthesize the nature of mobs and the generation of violence that ensues by such forces, while complicating some conceptions that surround its being on its spontaneity and aberration, through the use of primary and secondary sources in the form of newspapers, documentaries and academic scholarship on these topics. The term “Paper Reality” (Raman: 2012) has been used in the title of the paper as well to examine the same- the way in which the ‘reality’ of the incident was shown to the rest of the country. And, how newspapers can affect a narrative through the process of information and knowledge generation by the working of different paradigms of languages (English and Hindi).