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The Scramble for Houses: Violence, a factionalized state, and informal economy in post-partition Delhi | Rotem Geva

26 June 2017

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Modern Asian Studies, Volume 51, Issue 3, May 2017, pp. 769-824

by Rotem Geva (The Faculty of Humanities, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel)


The partition riots that erupted in Delhi following independence in 1947 resulted in the massacre of thousands of Muslims and the departure of roughly 300,000, leaving the remaining Muslim community seriously depleted, both numerically and politically. The article investigates the spatial aspect of Muslim minoritization in the city, namely their ghettoization, resulting from ongoing struggles over Muslim houses. It traces the gradual encroachment on the Muslim-majority neighbourhoods designated ‘Muslim zones’. An analysis of this dynamic reveals that, contrary to the prevalent assumption that Muslim zones were outside the jurisdiction of the Custodian of Evacuee Property, a great deal of the Custodian’s intervention took place precisely in these areas. This investigation also reveals that, in addition to civic violence and the bureaucratic violence of the Custodian, a host of other factors played a significant role in determining the geography and intensity of encroachment—namely deep political divisions that cut across all levels of governance and policing, as well as socioeconomic class, informal economy, and corruption. This divided political, bureaucratic, and social landscape reflected the profound uncertainties underlying the process of decolonization, and sustained the violence that lingered on long after the partition riots had ended according to official narratives.

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