CGIS Hosts Seminar on Defensive Cooperation Between Indian Religious Groups


Researchers gathered for a joint seminar on South Asian politics held by Brown University, MIT, and Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and Mittal Institute last Friday.

During the seminar, Harvard Government professor Melani C. Cammett, the director of the Weatherhead Center, and Poulomi Dar Chakrabarti, an assistant professor of Political Studies at Queen’s University and a Weatherhead Center fellow, presented research on pro-social attitudes between Hindus, who comprise a majority, and Muslims — a religious minority — in Delhi, India.

Their article, published last August in the Journal of Comparative Political Studies, addressed how the two groups responded differently to various forms of social pressure via a large-scale survey conducted in several slum neighborhoods in Delhi.

In the neighborhoods, only around 14 percent of households have a private tap or toilet, and 60 percent have no drainage outlet. Anonymous survey participants were asked to rate their likeliness to contribute a small fee for a collective contract hiring a private company to do drainage work.


Cammett and Chakrabarti created an experimental group in which participants were subjected to various forms of social pressure from neighbors and local leaders.

Their research found that for a control group, Hindus were more likely than Muslims to contribute to the public works project, but that after being subjected to social pressure, Muslims were more likely than Hindus to cooperate.

Chakrabarti noted that this willingness to cooperate may explain sustained levels of political engagement from Indian Muslims, despite their declining trust in the government.

She speculated that persecuted groups are “more willing to trust scenarios where there is some form of accountability, because the state isn’t serving your interests.”

“We observed that Muslims have lost trust in certain kinds of state institutions,” Chakrabarti said, but added that their level of political participation “is the same as” non-Muslims.

Though their research focused on Muslims and Hindus in India, Cammet and Chakrabarti concluded that all persecuted minorities may participate in “defensive cooperation,” a type of cooperation that focuses on defending oneself from additional scrutiny by a majority group.

Corrections: December 4, 2023

A previous version of this article featured a headline incorrectly describing the seminar as focusing on defensive cooperation between Indian ethnic groups. In fact, the seminar discussed defensive cooperation between Indian religious groups.

A previous version of this article incorrectly omitted the Mittal Institute from the list of seminar sponsors.

A previous version of this article used the incorrect pronoun to refer to Poulomi Dar Chakrabarti.