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Theft of an Idol

During my field research in north India during the twenty years previous to publication of this book, I gathered considerable material on a number of incidents involving both police–village confrontations and so-called Hindu–Muslim riots in villages, small towns, and large cities. Five of those incidents have been selected for presentation in this volume. They include the following: (1) an incident involving the theft of an idol from a Jain temple in Aligarh district, later "found" by Hindu villagers from an important local caste; (2) an incident in a small town in Meerut district involving the alleged rape, allegedly by Muslims of the alleged daughter of an old Hindu man who had been traveling with the woman on a bus (the repeated use of the term "alleged" here is deliberate, reflecting the ambiguities that riddle this case, rather than bad grammar); (3–4) two incidents of police–village confrontations involving alleged police brutalities committed against villagers of backward caste and minority status, one of which became transformed into an example of police brutality against backward castes, untouchables, Muslims, and women and was used by Mrs. Gandhi and her son, Sanjay, to precipitate national elections in 1980, and the other of which attracted virtually no national attention; 5) the post-Ayodhya destruction and killings in Kanpur City in December 1992.
The procedure I have followed with regard to these events has been, first, to construct "texts" from my field notes of the accounts given to me by respondents concerning their origins and interpretations. Second, I then proceed to analyze the texts to reveal the multiplicity of interpretations, explanations, and contexts that are provided by participants and observers of them to describe the happenings and to show the internal contradictions in each account. Third, I then try to reconstruct the incidents into coherent accounts of two types: a "who dunnit?" account that attempts to figure out who the actual culprits were in transforming the incidents into police–village or communal confrontations and a social science account that attempts to provide a coherent contextual "explanation" of the happenings. The final step, however, is to show how the reconstructions themselves can lay no claim to a special truth status.