Arafaat A. Valiani

Maneuvers of Virtue: Encounters with Militia Training and Violence in a Shakha of the Hindu Nationalist Movement in Gujarat


This paper draws upon participant observation from within a shakha in Ahmedabad, critically, in order to reveal how physical training and the use of force, among swayamsevaks (volunteers) of the Hindu right in Gujarat, are discursively situated and pursued as a form of moral conduct. Such practices, which have an historical genealogy, strenuously interrogate the liberal-Eurocentric claim on the categories of civic membership and secular citizenship. While being cognizant of the lethal outcomes of such practices, and including testimonies from Muslim and lower-caste communities of Ahmedabad that have endured chilling episodes of communal violence in the postcolonial period, this paper will explore the daily routines that are collectively enacted in one shakha, located in Ahmedabad, in order to map the contours, preliminarily, of an emerging non-liberal ethical practice and discourse of civic virtue in postcolonial Gujarat.


Before taking up his current appointment in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at Williams College, Arafaat Valiani earned his doctoral degree in Sociology from Columbia University. He has a Masters degree from the School of Oriental and African Studies and the London School of Economics. Valiani’s current book project focuses on the history of militant and violent dissent in colonial and postcolonial Gujarat, India. This study traces the historical emergence of a militant mobilization vision for national emancipation in relation to colonial constructions of religion. The project also connects this analysis to an investigation into the formation of mobilization techniques of the Hindu nationalist movement which later fostered one of its surest – and lethally violent – bases of support in the state of Gujarat.