The making of legitimate victims: Islamic relief aid strategies in the context of “religious” violence in Uttar Pradesh, India
Dr. Catherine Larouche
Department of Anthropology, McGill
Abstract: Humanitarianism is often understood as a form of relief provision that should be apolitical, neutral and focused on responding to the immediate needs of those affected by conflict or disasters. Yet, many scholars have demonstrated that humanitarian action in contexts of conflict-induced crises and displacements is always political, either because of the unintended political consequences of relief activities or because of organizations’ explicit forms of public and political engagement. This presentation focuses on Islamic charitable organizations’ responses to the 2013 politically-orchestrated riots against Muslims in Muzaffarnagar (Uttar Pradesh, India). I demonstrate that while avoiding strategies of outright opposition to local political actors, some Islamic charitable organizations nevertheless used resettlement and “development” activities as pragmatic political strategies to benefit victims. The strategies developed by local Islamic charitable organizations highlight the dilemmas and constraints that humanitarian organizations, especially religious ones, face regarding possible forms of public and political engagement in post-conflict contexts. These examples also point to the need for a more situated understanding of the relationship between religious humanitarianism and politics.