October 24, 2022



  • 1984 Delhi Riots
    • background
    • videos (warning)
    • Das (2007)
  • What is ethnic violence?

1984 Delhi Riots


  • Political Conflict in state of Punjab

  • Rise of Sikh Nationalists

  • Amritsar Occupation

In Groups:

Is this ethnic violence?

What makes this ethnic violence (or not)?

Look a little closer

Das (2007)

What happened during the 1984 riots at a local level?

  • Neighborhood of Sultanpuri
  • recently settled area on outskirts of Delhi
  • internal migrants, lack of property protections

Sikh communities in Blocks A4, B2, B3, C3, D2, D6, E3, F2, F4

Das (2007)

Where was the violence?

Das (2007)

What explains these uneven patterns?

Das (2007)

Block A4 and Block A2

  • Neighboring communities of Siglikars (Sikhs)/Chamars (SC Hindu)
  • both migrants to Delhi, relatively low status
  • insecurity of legal tenure to households

This produced …

  • dependence on local politicians (fixers)

Das (2007)

Block A4 and Block A2

  • status divisions between groups: Siglikar Sikhs had remittances from Middle East (nicer homes, consumer goods)
  • disputes between Siglikar/Chamar pradhans (neighborhood leaders) over status in patronage network
  • pradhan status threats from gurudwara

Das (2007)

Local patronage leader was intermediary between:

  • state/local government
  • local organized crime, muscle
  • local laborers
  • police

Das (2007)

Block A4 and Block A2

How the violence happened:

  • started with taunts between A2 and A4 pradhans
  • targeting of Sikh pradhan with police standing by
  • participation of local organized crime
  • violence spread, murder of men, looting of houses
  • invocation of status reversal, murder of Indira Gandhi

Das (2007)

Block B2-B3

Sikhs told by neighbors:

  • violence in A4 was between Chamars and Siglikar Sikhs
  • property not worth looting

Das (2007)

Block D

  • Organized self defense, with help of Hindu neighbors, fended off mobs

Block F

  • Minimal violence

Das (2007)

Personal motives?

  • killing of paramours
  • looting of material goods

Das (2007)


Is this ethnic violence?

What is ethnic violence?

Kalyvas (2003)

Violence often thought to be motivated by “master cleavage” in a conflict:

  • in ‘ethnic’ conflicts, violence assumed to be motivated by ethnicity, so members of ethnic group are ‘interchangable’
  • but violence often motivated by “local cleavage” or even private disputes
  • violence often result of alliance/intersection between local and master cleavage

Violence may be simultaneously “ethnic” and “not ethnic” depending on our perspective

Ethnic Violence?

What makes violence ethnic?

  • the perpetrators? Who is doing the violence?
  • the victims? Who is targeted in the violence?
  • the form of the violence? What is the technique?
  • how we talk about it? How do people present and label the violence?
  • the audience? Who is observing/reacting to the violence?


  • Whether violence is ethnic: not always easy to decide
  • Real-world violence is complex, challenges easy narratives
  • Disconnect b/t what happened and the narrative