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Civil society in conflict cities: the case of Ahmedabad

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This paper raises important questions about the role of civil society in the context of violence and conflict. Drawing on field work conducted in the city of Ahmedabad, India, the author explores a specific case of serious failure on the part of civil society, state officials and organisations to effectively respond and protest the perpetration of violence and human rights abuses between Muslim and Hindu factions in the city. The author concludes that we can not assume that all civil society organisations will be democratic, and that unless people come together across religious, caste and other ethnic divides, civil society will be unable to monitor and respond to transgressions by various actors. This research suggests that shared experiences and identities, a state monopoly over violence, and a visible effort to neutralise political projects along ethnic lines are necessary preconditions for an effective civil society. Policy makers should closely monitor situations where ethnic identities become a formative aspect of a state making project as this will likely lead to violence. Further, it must be recognized that civil society is an essential pre-condition for democracy and is significant in building sociability and solidarity, requisites themselves for a stable and functioning state and society.

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