Decoding Violence through Demography

‘Butterfly effect’ of violence would be easier to decode if we look at it through the lens of demography, of course technology and other tools can also help.

Written by November 26, 2019 18:27

Violence today has become a global phenomenon, almost all major countries of the world are struggling to deal with it. Not just the incidences of violence but also the changing nature of violence are equally baffling and world over efforts are underway to understand and contain the ‘Butterfly Effect’ of violence. Few years back, an unsavory cartoon in a magazine in Paris caused ripples in far-off countries like India. Likewise, the ghastly shooting act in New Zealand caused reciprocation elsewhere.

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No matter, today technology has made it easier for us to predict the weather, occurrence of tsunamis, earthquakes and other such natural disasters, but there is no method or strategy that has been worked out to predict structural violence which is also a disaster and disruption, but of a man-made nature. Although efforts are on to contain violence by monitoring activities across social networking sites, but in Indian context demography seems to be more relevant.

Thus the initially mentioned, ‘butterfly effect’ of violence would be easier to decode if we look at it through the lens of demography, of course technology and other tools can also help. In the present write up, we shall examine in Indian context the role of demography in structural violence as India is facing all four types of violence (Militancy, Terrorism, Insurgency and, Maoism).

Underlying, intrinsic link between the two (violence and demography) is such that through the demographic analysis of a region, it is possible to explain the incidence and pattern of violence. In addition to that, in regions with no present history and instances of violence, we can predict the nature of violence likely to occur in future with the help of a study of its demography. In most cases the change in demography is the most likely trigger for structural violence.

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Likewise, while observing the nature of violence in India from ground zero, it becomes quite evident that the any change in demography has paved way to violence. Apart from colonial impact, our love for sectarian identities gave ample space to demographical changes which had far reaching impact. More than our eternal identity, as Indians, the cultural linguistic affinity and regional affiliation, got embedded in our minds and this got roots when the linguistic re-organisation of the states was undertaken after independence. Hence this paved way and provided space to all kind of ism’s to prevail.

It is no surprise, how over the years linguistic affinity partakes our eternal identity as belonging to same roots and heritage. Examining further, the linguistic identity issue became even more evident when late Potti Sreeramulu undertook an indefinite fast for the cause of a separate Telugu-speaking state. Unfortunately, his death in December 1952, after sixty days of fasting paved the way for the creation of the Andhra State, in 1953.

Likewise there were a series of demands for separate statehood in different regions. Master Tara Singh who was already demanding the creation of a Punjabi-speaking state culminated in the formation of Punjab in 1966. This demographic divide planted a deep spike which erupted as violence in Punjab much later. Then, there was also C N Annadorai’s demand for a Dravida Nadu for the Tamil-speaking polity. This linguistic affinity of the regional leadership created an emotional disconnect between the people of the different regions and states.


The then PM Nehru institutionalized this by forming the State Reorganization Commission in 1953 which recommended reorganization of states on the basis of language. Great visionaries like Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Sardar Vallabhai Patel had cautioned Jawaharlal Nehru against such an approach as they felt that it would place both, national integration and national security, at peril. The fears of Dr Rajendra Prasad and Sardar Patel that once begun, the disintegration of states will never cease and the unity of our country would suffer has proved to be a foreboding of the present scenario where we have seen the further bifurcation of different states any many such demands.

Moreover, this identity based affiliation of ours gave ample space to forces which believed in conversion, monotheism and expansion by using violence thus striking at the very root of our culture which is steeped in diversity. Today they have become a force to reckon with and we are not even realising how silently we are being destabilized. While we discuss all other issues as a developing country but refrain from discussing sectarian affinity.

Further, the denizens of the states which were reorganised on the basis of linguistic and cultural similarities gradually moved away from umbrella of the national identity to take refuge in their regional identities. Thus turning into distinct entities indifferent to the causes they espouse. This explains the tensions when issues like water-sharing, pollution, ethnic identity, migration, language are discussed.

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Wherever, the sectarian identities have dominated the mind-sets the majority populace has receded into background, creating a demographic vacuum. To understand the gravity of the situation let us take the glaring example of Kerala According to the last Census report , in Kerala there was a 0.25% reduction in the population of Christians, 2% increase in that of Muslims, and a parallel 2% decline in the population of Hindus. While the 0.25% decline caused consternation among the leaders of the Christian community, enough to mull over a three-children policy endorsed by the Church. The rather sharp 2% reduction in the Hindu population did not even raise a hiccup in the linguistically bound Hindus of Kerala knowing the fact that ‘demography is destiny.’

At a defence officers’ seminar on ‘North-East Region of India — Bridging Gaps and Securing Borders’, organised by the Centre for Joint Warfare Studies and Integrated Defence Staff at DRDO Bhavan (New Delhi, February 21), the Chief of Army Staff, Gen Bipin Rawat, flagged the demographic invasion.

Bipin Rawat, Jammu and Kashmir, Indian Army

The changes in the demography of India, has led to a plethora of problems for the society and the nation as on today. Evaluating these repercussions of demographic changes can lead us to the instances of structural violence breaking out sporadically across the country.

Additionally, stress and insecurity induced by change of demography may also explain some hate crimes against members of a particular religion, region or race. Migrations also cause demographic divide. Migrations for livelihood and business has sole purpose to earn and migrants are not able to establish a connect with the original inhabitants. This has led to violence some cases. It is interesting to note that the nature of psychosomatic problems faced by the converted and forcibly migrated are quite similar.

Whatever may be the cause of demographic changes , either by chance or deliberation, the vacuum created hence leads to violence sooner or later. In view of the above, examining the correlation between the demography of a region and the instances of violence therein, can further help governments all over the world in mitigating this menace of structural violence.

((The writer has been working in the conflict zones in India for past two decades and possess experience in conflict transformation.))