Paul R. Brass

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.

Selected Works

An Indian Political Life focuss on the role of Charan Singh in the politics of the period, while providing a broader perspective on the major issues, controveries, and developments of the time.
This collection of essays focus on the various forms of collective violence that have occurred in India during the past six decades, which include riots, pogroms, and genocide.
Explains the persistence of Hindu-Muslim rioting in India.
Case studies of collective violence in the twentieth century.
Second edition, covering Indian politics and political economy from 1947 to 1992.
Comparative and theoretical studies of ethnic groups and nationalities in India and the Soviet Union.
Comparative studies in ethnic conflict and the interaction of ethnic identity and the state.
History and analysis of the politics of language and religious movements in northern India,
The first major study of local politics in post-Independence India.
Articles and Essays
Critique of the Social Sciences in Light of the Works of Nietzsche and Foucault
Focuses on three aspects of the Bihar Famine crisis: the process of defining the situation in Bihar; the rehtoric used in labeling it and in distinguishing it from a "normal" situation; and the responses of the authorities to the crisis.
A consideration of the consequences of curfew restrictions for the populations affected by them and the human rights issues raised by extended and punitive curfew restrictions, with special attention to India.
Discusses the problems of memorialization faced by religious/ethnic communities whose members have been subjected to large-scale, traumatic violence.
Reviews of my book by Thomas Blom Hansen, A. R. Momin, and Roger Petersen, with my response.
Text of article published in the INDIAN JOURNAL OF SECULARISM, Vol. 9 No. 1 (Jan-Mar 2006)
Biographies of Indira Gandhi, Jayaprakash Narayan, Vallabhbhai Patel, Lal Bahadur Shastri, and Ram Manohar Lohia in the New Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Text of article published in the ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY (October 30, 2004).
Text of article published in Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 27 (No. 3) May 2004, pp. 353-375.
Chapter 1 in Ravinder Kaur (ed.), Religion, Violence and Political Mobilisation in South Asia (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2005), pp. 46-68.
Analysis of the 1984 parliamentary election results in Uttar Pradesh
Text of article published in The American Political Science Review, Vol. 62, No. 4 (Dec., 1968), 1174-1191.
Text of article published in Modern Asian Studies, XVIII, No. 1 (February, 1984), 89-118.
Transcript of a discussion with Asghar Ali Engineer at the Center for Ethics and Public Policy, Washington, D. C., held on January 12, 2004
Analysis of the killings and destruction in the Indian state of Gujarat after February 27, 2002.
Analysis of Foucault's ideas concerning power, knowledge, governing, and governance.
Conference papers
Prepared for the Panel on “Corruption as Practice and Discourse in India” at the Annual Conference on South Asia, University of Wisconsin, Madison, October 19-22, 2006
Prepared for the Hiroshima Peace Institute Conference on Comparative Research into Genocide and Mass Violence, Hiroshima, Japan, March 22-26, 2004)
Methodology and ideology in the analysis of forms of collective violence