Source:South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal, Volume 11, p.1-45 [gold OA] (2015)
On 16 January 2013, a Sunni real estate developer opened fire at a Shi’a religious assembly in Wazirganj, a mixed neighbourhood in old Lucknow, India, killing one and injuring two. At its core, this was a business rivalry gone awry, but was soon labelled the ‘Wazirganj Terror Attack’ by Shi’a activists. Demonstrations were staged, politicians were arrested, and religious gatherings were invigorated. Based on 17 months of ethnographic fieldwork, this paper considers why the attack took place and why it escalated. The political economy of real estate and local politics are argued to have motivated the attack, but the attackers miscalculated and lost control of the incident. The subsequent escalation can only be understood in light of Shi’a clerical competition over new moral registers and an emerging middle class morality that replaces ethical concern for solidarity with narrow codes of ‘proper’ conduct. This underlines the importance of intra-group contestation to intergroup conflict, and the limits of purely instrumentalist explanations of sectarian violence.