Saturday, April 15, 2023

A review of Moyukh Chatterjee’s Composing Violence: The Limits of Exposure and the Making of Minorities

If a government is driven by the need to secure majority mandates, what incentives does it have to secure minority rights? In fact, if all institutions are ultimately answerable to majoritarian sentiments, if the creation of an unyielding majority is a constant political necessity, it stands to reason that the re-creation of minorities is also essential. Moyukh Chatterjee’s Composing Violence: The Limits of Exposure and the Making of Minorities addresses this question in direct and rather unsettling ways...

He argues that violence against minorities is not an exceptional event in the Global South, that it is essentially political violence – garbed as religious or ethnic violence – used to construct more or less permanent majorities and minorities. While this book focuses on India, it reminds us that modern Western states like the US and Canada were built on ‘the expulsion and subjugation of Indigenous and Black people’ and that contemporary violence against such racial minorities is ‘not a deviation from modernity but an integral aspect of the making of the modern nation-state itself.’ There is something foundational about antiminority violence and as postcolonial countries have developed into modern democracies, their respective pogroms and ethnic ‘conflicts’ have served to establish dominant racial or religious majorities as stable political majorities. 

Posing the question – ‘What can India tell us about the power of public violence against minorities to act as a catalyst for the creation of a permanent majority?’ – the author attempts to answer it through this book. His title – composing violence – is an attempt to understand ‘how violence persists, motivates, and animates social and political life beyond the scene of horror,’ and to move away from the idea that violence is ‘a breakdown, interruption, and exception,’ to instead describe it as ‘a constitutive force.’ This transformational quality of violence serves as a catalyst for turning Muslims in India into permanent minorities and ‘outsiders’. 

Read the full review here:


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