Indian Port cities that have enjoyed a long history of ethnic tolerance
even as regions around them succumbed to violence, commerce may have
provided the path to peace.
an assistant professor of political economy at Stanford Graduate School
of Business, who studies conflict among different social and ethnic
groups, looked at the level of violence in medieval port cities in
India, which tended to have greater ethnic diversity than other towns.
He discovered that when differing groups provide each other with
complementary goods and services, their cities are more peaceful.
examined the history of Hindus and Muslims in South Asia, where they
have interacted for more than 1,500 years. The two groups have done a
lot of fighting, but they have also had peace, and Jha wanted to learn
what conditions led to some long periods of tolerance and cooperation.
His research showed that port cities were five times less prone to
Hindu-Muslim riots between 1850 and 1950, and half as prone from 1950 to
1995. In the Gujarat state in India, port cities were 25 percent less
likely than similar inland towns to experience violence in the ethnic
rioting that swept the region in 2002. The medieval port city of Surat in Gujarat was peaceful during that upheaval.
a minority group, or group not native to the area, provided goods or
services that couldn't be duplicated, peaceful coexistence was likely.
In a paper in the American Political Science Review,
Jha wrote that seventeenth century Muslims had something Hindus wanted.
They had transoceanic trade routes, developed through religious
pilgrimages. For millions of Muslims from all over the world, the Hajj, an annual pilgrimage to Mohammed's birthplace in Mecca
in Saudi Arabia, in a time-honored obligation. Jha writes that from the
700s through the 1800s the world's largest textile market was in Mecca
during the Hajj. Ocean trade routes couldn't be stolen or replicated,
Jha writes, so the Muslim dominance in Middle Eastern trade was valuable
to Hindus, and made the two groups less prone to conflict.
also found that institutions and organizations, especially those that
emerged from historic ethnically diverse trade, can help counter
conflict. For example, he writes, the Bhoras were Muslim traders who had
promoted ethnic tolerance and community disaster relief as well as
commerce through a well organized religious hierarchy. See Jha's paper on trade organizations and religious tolerance.
The influence of such organizations is likely to have aided the
historical and present day relatively peaceful coexistence of Muslim and
Hindu in port cities in the Indian Ocean region. See a Stanford news
release here.image credit: ancient city of Surat from freelibrary.com