Kazuya Nakamizo, Professor at Kyoto University, Visits Yale for SASC Colloquium

March 21, 2023

            On Thursday, March 9, South Asian Studies Council at Yale University was pleased to host Kazuya Nakamizo, Professor in the Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies at Kyoto University, for the second installment of the South Asia Colloquium Spring 2023. Nakamizo’s lecture was titled “Nation and Violence: Reflections on recent vigilante violence in India.” Nakamizo is the author of the award-winning book Violence and Democracy: The Collapse of One-Party Dominant Rule in India, recently translated into English. In his presentation, Nakamizo discussed the relationship between violence and the nation-state in contemporary India with a focus on vigilante violence against minority communities. The hybrid-format talk was attended by nearly forty people.

            Nakamizo began the talk with an overview of the relationship between violence and the state, commenting on the close links between nationalism and violence since the emergence of the former in the Age of Revolutions (1775–1848). He also introduced the audience to state-building literature with a reference to Charles Tilly’s famous aphorism, “War made the state, and the state made war.” The broader question, Nakamizo suggested, is whether violence makes nations and nations make violence.

            Nakamizo then argued that there are two types of nationalism: inclusive and exclusive, using India’s modern history to compare manifestations of each phenomenon. This was followed by an overview of the victimizer-victim question in violence, “Who uses violence against whom?” Nakamizo drew the two ideas together to introduce victimhood nationalism in the Indian context. Victimhood nationalism, the idea that Hindu Indians have been the victims of Muslim invaders from whom the country must be reclaimed, animates the modern Hindu nationalist (Hindutva) movement in India.

            Nakamizo subsequently argued that violence can be plotted against nationalism and offered examples of each combination of violence and nationalism. Manifestations of high violence and exclusive nationalism include Partition and the suppression of secessionist movements. Exclusive nationalism and medium violence include large-scale and medium-scale riots and the activities of vigilante groups like the Ranvir Sena (an upper-caste militia) in Bihar. Exclusive nationalism and low violence is demonstrated by Gau Rakshaks (cow-protectors). Low-violence, inclusive nationalism is represented by the Gandhian tradition.

            Nakamizo argued that while in 20th century India, vigilante violence was a phenomenon in areas of deficient state capacity, in the 21st century vigilante groups have operated with tacit state support during periods of Hindu nationalist rule. He compared four vigilante organizations—Maoist rebels (anti-state), the Ranvir Sena (state deficit), Gau Rakshaks (state agent), and the Hindu Yuva Vahini (close to state) of Uttar Pradesh—to illustrate the relationships different kinds of vigilante groups have with the state in India. The reason for the shift from state deficiency to state capacity in vigilante situations, Nakamizo said, is the “democratic constraint,” the need for Hindu nationalist parties to get elected, forcing a change in strategies of oppressing religious minorities. Nakamizo traced this phenomenon to the dilemma facing the Sangh Parivar, the umbrella group for many Hindu nationalist organizations including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, after the 2002 Gujarat riots: mobilize Hindus through violence or retain power at the center in order to realize the ideal of a Hindu rashtra (nation)? Nakamizo concluded that vigilante groups provide a solution to this problem: small-scale violence to mobilize Hindu voters, but not significant enough to harm election performance.

            After a review of the literature on communal violence and and electoral politics, Nakamizo presented a case study of the impact of Gau Rakshaks on a Bihar community where he said they institutionalized the inferiorization of the community’s Muslim minority. He also reviewed polling panel surveys from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh on knowledge of and support for Hindu nationalist vigilante groups and the relationship between these variables and party support.

            Nakamizo concluded by arguing that although nationalism and violence have a close relationship, the Gandhian movement demonstrates that they are not inseparable. He also pointed out that the Hindu nationalist state is capable of restraining violence, and chooses to do so for electoral reasons, indicating that Indian democracy is dying but still alive, with glimmers of hope. He then took questions from the audience on the democratic constraint concept, the role of technology in facilitating violence, nonviolence and victimhood nationalism.