Field Notes: Finding Bigotry And Generosity In A Riot-Hit Town In MP

VIJAYTA LALWANI

I briefly experienced what it was like to be on two extremes of society. One part of Khargone, Madhya Pradesh had become a patchwork of destruction after the demolitions, while another part was abuzz with people roaming around the markets, going about their daily routine.

Between April 22 and 23, I met with several residents, traders and community leaders in the aftermath of the violence there. I fleshed out how prominent Hindu residents and traders in the area were enforcing an economic boycott of Muslims. But what horrified me was the way these upper-caste men carried their bigotry on their sleeves. They were unafraid to air their views against their Muslim neighbours, or even express apathy for those whose homes were demolished. 

I met Muslim traders as well who were anxious about what such boycotts could spell for them. One of them I spoke to had moved to Indore from Khargone to find an escape from the divisions that were rooted in his hometown. After a brief interview, he invited me to share an Iftar dinner with him and his family. 

We met at a restaurant in a crowded market in Indore. We squeezed our way past a number of waiters and customers and found ourselves at a table in a quiet corner. The businessman carried his two-year-old son on his shoulders. His wife was dressed in all her finery and her makeup glistened as she rocked her two-month-old toddler to sleep. As we settled in our seats, we exchanged stories about our upbringing. The businessman spoke of his childhood in Khargone, of how his family had witnessed violence in the past, and of his constant fear of it. 

We shared a simple meal of dal, rice, paneer and roti and ended it with a small block of kulfi as he talked about his decision to move his family to Indore. He was evidently disturbed about the happenings in Khargone and said that some of his neighbours in Khargone shared messages to boycott Muslims. 

“When will the truth come out?” he asked in earnest while feeding his son. He still had many Hindu friends who condemned the communal violence but that pool was only narrowing further as many fell prey to misinformation, he said. The social isolation coupled with the move away from his hometown made him and his wife feel uncertain about their future and that of their children. 

Turns out, his wife and I had much more in common as we were both the youngest of four siblings. As we ate and laughed over our experiences with sibling rivalry, I could not help but feel remorse for those who would never be able to experience such generosity and shared cultures. 

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