chapter  6
16 Pages

Scribing Dhamal (Chaos): Moral and Ethical Dilemmas of Working in Areas of Violence

Fieldwork was conducted in two such resettlement colonies built by community organisations for housing Muslim survivors. one colony was located in the south eastern (vatwa) part of the city and the other, in the south western (Juhapura). a third site for my research, Gomtipur was a low-income mixed neighbourhood in the industrial suburbs to the east of the main railway station of the city where dalit8 and Muslim mill workers lived in close proximity to one another. this neighbourhood attracted me because it was sensitive to communal tensions in the city both historically and after the 2002 violence. Most of the foot soldiers recruited for violence were from these areas. Most of my respondents in these sites were second-generation migrant Muslim and dalit men whose families had moved to the city to work in the textile mills in the early 1970s and continued to live in the city finding casual work within the local economy after the closure of the textile mills

in the initial phase, i spent time meeting representatives of non-governmental organisations (nGos), through whom i familiarised myself with the post-violence geography of the city as well as the reconstruction process. then i visited vatwa with a friend who was working with the widows from a neighbourhood that had witnessed over 100 deaths. these widows had been resettled by a community organisation and my friend was helping them establish a livelihood by honing their tailoring skills. i began frequenting the tailoring centre, and in time, my interactions with these women and my understanding of their circumstances deepened. i noted the stories and the context in which they were told to me. in contrast to Malkki’s experience of women feeling under entitled to assume authorship of narrative expression (1995: 50), Muslim women in urban ahmedabad were willing to talk about their experiences. this was probably because they were used to telling ‘their story’ to the media, human rights organisations, government surveyors and nGo workers visiting them on a regular basis. the women knew i was there to conduct research; they wanted their stories to be told; they began inviting me to their houses for ‘interviews’. they found it puzzling that i did not have questionnaires, nor did i record their conversations on tapes – the two methods to which they were most accustomed. i did realise that if one wanted to go beyond these stories one had to be very sensitive to what was said, what messages were articulated through gestures, who was present when these things were said. tarlo shows how gestures provide a context for voices, which, if disembodied, can too easily be used uncritically by writers as a simplistic device to support the story they want to tell (2003: 14).