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Violence Exposure and Ethnic Identification: Evidence from Kashmir

  • Gautam Nair and Nicholas Sambanis


This article studies the conditions that lead peripheral minorities to identify with the state, their ethnic group, or neighboring countries. We contribute to research on separatism and irredentism by examining how violence, psychological distance, and national status determine identification. The analysis uses data from a novel experiment that randomized videos of actual violence in a large, representative survey of the Kashmir Valley region in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, an enduring site of separatist and irredentist conflict. We find that a strong regional identity is a counterweight to irredentism, but violent repression by the state can push members of the minority to identify with an irredentist neighbor. Violence increases perceived distance from the nation and reduces national identification. There is suggestive evidence that these effects are concentrated among individuals with attributes that otherwise predict higher levels of identification with the state. Information about integrative institutions and increased national status brought about by economic growth is insufficient to induce national identification in a context where psychological distance from the nation is large.

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We are especially grateful to Lauren Pinson for inputs on research design and Aijaz Wani, who helped facilitate the training at Kashmir University, provided comments on the survey instrument, and was our local partner during implementation. Chris Blattman, Thad Dunning, Guy Grossman, Dipin Kaur, Devesh Kapur, Dorothy Kronick, Cathy Lee, Shamika Ravi, Ashutosh Varshney, and Steven Wilkinson provided helpful comments on design, analysis, and implementation. Iba Marwein, Atulesh Shukla, and Bhartendu Trivedi of Morsel Pvt. Ltd. managed the survey in challenging conditions. We thank enumerators and survey respondents for participating in the study. Nair acknowledges funding from the South Asia Studies Council, MacMillan Center, and Georg Walter Leitner Political Economy Program at Yale. Sambanis acknowledges funding from Yale's MacMillan Center. This study received IRB approval under Yale Human Subjects Committee Protocol #1507016145. All views and errors are the authors’.



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