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Some Trouble with Cows

Some Trouble with Cows: Making Sense of Social Conflict

Copyright Date: 1994
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    Some Trouble with Cows
    Book Description:

    Fascinating in its combination of personal stories and analytical insights,Some Trouble with Cowswill help students of conflict understand how a seemingly irrational and archaic riot becomes a means for renegotiating the distribution of power and rights in a small community. Using first-person accounts of Hindus and Muslims in a remote Bangladeshi village, Beth Roy evocatively describes and analyzes a large-scale riot that profoundly altered life in the area in the 1950s. She provides a rare glimpse into the hearts and minds of the participants and their families, while touching on a range of broader issues that are vital to the sociology of communities in conflict: the changing meaning ofcommunity; the impact ofthe stateon local society; the nature ofmemory; and the force ofneighborly enmityin reshaping power relationships during periods of change. Roy's findings illustrate important theoretical issues in psychology and sociology, and her conclusions will greatly interest students of ethnic/race relations, conflict resolution, the sociology of violence, agrarian society, and South Asia.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91412-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Maps
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. The Cast of Characters (presented in order of appearance)
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In a remote village somewhere in South Asia, someone’s cow ate someone else’s crop. Within two days, tens of thousands of men were ranged against each other, armed, hostile, righteous.

    Who those men were, how they chose sides, the symbolic choreography of their fight, were all particular to that village. But an inclination to confrontation is widespread. Social conflict is a durable fact of life throughout the world, from the back alleys of Belfast to the urban canyons of New York City, from the dusty pathways of Israeli settlements to the public squares of Lithuania.

    The need to understand why...

  7. Part One: Making Trouble

    • Chapter One The Quarrel Cows, Crops, and Communities
      (pp. 13-47)

      “There was trouble with cows,” said the farmer. “I tied my cow and went home. But the cow got loose and ate the [plants] in their field.”

      By the time the “trouble” was over, masses of men had mobilized, several people had died, many were injured, and life in the village was altered forever after.

      The problem, it seems, was that the cow belonged to a Muslim and the crop to a Hindu.

      I first heard about the incident from an old woman named Basantibala Majumdar. Her family were acquaintances of mine, and I had come to pay her a...

    • Chapter Two The Decision From Hot Words to Collective Deeds
      (pp. 48-71)

      Many cows had eaten many plants over the years. Village fights were common. To be a farmer in a poor Bengali village is to be ripe for a fight. Toil is constant, and so is fear of an uncertain future. There is little margin for tolerance and generosity toward a neighbor who messes with your crop or your cattle.

      But a riot is something else. It does not just happen. Many people made many decisions that resulted in the riot: to spread the word, to ask for allies, to seize the cow, to go to the field armed. Some of...

    • Chapter Three The Riot Language of the Unheard
      (pp. 72-90)

      [Golam:] The fight continued for three days. . . . The two sides were sitting facing each other for three days.

      Were they literally fighting for three days?

      No, they were just sitting for three days and nights.

      Sitting for three days and nights! There wasn’t fighting?

      Now and then someone would chase someone else, a little jostling would happen.

      So culture-bound was my picture of a riot-people running about, smashing things, looting things, beating each other up-that I literally didn’t believe my ears. ¹ People sat, faced off, for three days, a ritualized battle of stubborn sides, each waiting...

    • Chapter Four Intervention and Punishment Enter, the State
      (pp. 91-110)

      The riot voiced “inside talk” in the outside world. “Outside” is relative, though. At first the public forum remained within the village community. Next, people from extended communities arrived on the scene, strangers who were nonetheless involved because they were Namasudras or Muslims, members of the groups in conflict. With the arrival of the police and the authorities, however, “outside” took on new meaning.

      To this point, the state had appeared as a category in people’s recollections, a sort of abstract shadow of distant rules and laws cloaked in veils of inevitability. As Mofizuddin put it:

      In the British time,...

    • Chapter Five Reconciliation and Thereafter An Uneasy Peace
      (pp. 111-122)

      [Sunil:] After the firing, the whole field was empty. . . . After that, the officers from the government were there. They questioned both sides and tried to make a reconciliation, tried to make us join hands.

      Was it a true reconciliation?

      We were forced to reconcile. But in our hearts we have never reconciled. We still have the apprehension that it could happen again in future.

      For Altaf the whole event may have arisen from personal causes, not worthy of so much trouble. But to Sunil, who was personally involved in only tangential ways, what the riot wrought was...

  8. Part Two: Making Sense

    • Chapter Six Lessons of Panipur
      (pp. 125-136)

      And so there was some trouble with cows in Panipur. A riot happened and ended and became a story, and life returned to normal. But it was a new normal, not totally unlike the old one, but different in important respects. For the villagers, the story became a morality tale, told with more or less humor, more or less regret, more or less bravado, more or less wonder, depending on the teller, the hearer, the purpose, and the moment. “How can it be?” asked Sunil. “They damage our crops, and when we protest there is this reaction. It was totally...

    • Chapter Seven Self and Decision
      (pp. 137-152)

      1. The villagers chose to riot. They were not swept mindlessly away on tides of passion, nor were they forced by circumstances to behave in ways destructive to their interests, although both passion and circumstance figured into their decisions.

      We sat down together and decided to hold a meeting. . . . It was decided that all the people would assemble. . . .

      It was decided that it would be unwise to waste any time, and we should start the fight the next morning.

      Ourmatabbarsdecided that there would be nonishputi[compromise]. They often made compromises, but then...

    • Chapter Eight Community and Identity
      (pp. 153-168)

      2. Decision-making was a process located in communities that themselves were chosen and reconstituted for the purposes of action. In the heat of conflict, why the villagers looked to associations defined by religious identity rather than any of the several other groupings available to them is not obvious and must be explained by examining both cultural and historically specific meanings attached to the communities.

      It needs no arguing that the decision to riot was made in community. “That evening, we Mussalmans held a meeting,” said Golam.

      We thought we could not go on living like this.

      Did you meet together with...

    • Chapter Nine History and Ideology
      (pp. 169-183)

      3. The decision to riot was deeply informed by an awareness of history understood in terms of lived experience. The act of rioting integrated the village into a moment of national transformation which until then had been abstract and distant. In so doing, the rioters brought change home to the village and thus took their place in the making of their own history.

      How people experienced themselves as members of communities, their community identities, was important not as static social facts but because they gave rise to, or served to justify, a set of ideas about the world, individuals’ locations in...

    • Chapter Ten Bringing History Home
      (pp. 184-194)

      “Why couldn’t they now accept our rules?” asked Mofizuddin quizzically. After the riot, “they” did in fact accept the new rules. The communal harmony which now reigns in Panipur, and possibly throughout Bangladesh, is the peace of defeat. A prominent and powerful Muslim politician said it clearly. We were talking about why communalism had abated in recent years. He asked that the tape recorder be turned off so he could speak confidentially, and then he said, “The Hindus are too weak to fight back, and they and we all know it.” Sunil said much the same thing:

      We keep silent,...

  9. Appendix A: Chronology
    (pp. 195-196)
  10. Appendix B: Land Relations in Panipur
    (pp. 197-198)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 199-210)
  12. Names and Terms
    (pp. 211-216)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 217-228)
  14. Index
    (pp. 229-231)