Communalism is referred in the western world as a “theory or system of government in which virtually autonomous local communities are loosely in federation”. Communalism is a political philosophy, which proposes that market and money be abolished and that land and enterprises to be placed in the custody of community. But in the Indian sub-continent context, communalism has come to be associated with tensions and clashes between different religious communities in various regions.

Communalism is a political philosophy, which proposes that market and money be abolished and that land and enterprises to be placed in the custody of community. But in the Indian sub-continent context, communalism has come to be associated with tensions and clashes between different religious communities in various regions.

Communalism is a political philosophy, which proposes that market and money be abolished and that land and enterprises to be placed in the custody of community. But in the Indian sub-continent context, communalism has come to be associated with tensions and clashes between different religious communities in various regions.

Communalism is a political philosophy, which proposes that market and money be abolished and that land and enterprises to be placed in the custody of community. But in the Indian sub-continent context, communalism has come to be associated with tensions and clashes between different religious communities in various regions.

Development of communalism as political philosophy has roots in the ethnic and cultural diversity of Africa. It is characterized as, people from different ethnic groups or community, who do not interact much or at all and this has somewhere acted as hindrance in the economic growth and prosperity of Africa.

Communalism in South Asia is used to denote the differences between the various religious groups and difference among the people of different community. And generally it is used to catalyse communal violence between those groups.

Communalism is not unique only to South Asia, but is also found in Africa, America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. But, it is significant socio-economic and political issue in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, etc.

What is Communalism?

Communalism is an ideology which consists of three elements:-

  • A belief that people who follow the same religion have common secular interests i.e. they have same political, economic and social interests. So, here socio- political communalities arises.
  • A notion that in a multi-religious society like India, these common secular interests of one religion are dissimilar and divergent from the interests of the follower of another religion.
  • The interests of the follower of the different religion or of different ‘communities’ are seen to be completely incompatible, antagonist and hostile.

Communalism is political trade in religion. It is an ideology on which communal politics is based. And communal violence has conjectural consequences of communal ideology.

History of communalism in Indian society

If we discuss Indian society, we will find that ancient India was united and no such communal feelings were there. People lived peacefully together and there was acceptance of each other’s culture and tradition. For example, Ashoka followed religious tolerance and focused mainly on Dhamma.

In Medieval period, we have examples such as- Akbar, who was the epitome of secular practices and believed in propagating such values by abolishing Jaziya tax and starting of Din-I- ilahi and Ibadat Khana. Same acceptance for different cultures and tradition was practised in several kingdoms throughout India, because of which there was peace and harmony, barring few sectarian rulers like Aurangzeb, who was least tolerant for other religious practises. But, such motives were guided purely for their personal greed of power and wealth.

Such rulers and actions by them like- imposing taxes on religious practises of other community, destructing temples, forced conversions, killing of Sikh guru, etc. were instrumental in deepening and establishing the feeling of communal differences in India. But, these incidents were not common as, huge majority of Indians were rural and were aloof from such influences and so people coexisted peacefully.

Though, they were very rigid in practising their own rituals and practise, but it never became a barrier in the peaceful coexistence. Overall, the Hindus and Muslims in those days had common economic and political interests.

Communalism in India is result of the emergence of modern politics, which has its roots in partition of Bengal in 1905 and feature of separate electorate under Government of India Act, 1909.

Later, British government also appeased various communities through Communal award in 1932, which faced strong resistance from Gandhiji and others. By Communal award colonial government mandated that consensus over any issue among different communities (i.e. Hindu, Muslims, Sikhs and others) is precondition for any further political development.

All these acts were done by the British government to appease Muslims and other communities, for their own political needs. This feeling of communalism has deepened since then, fragmenting the Indian society and being a cause of unrest.

Stages in Indian Communalism

India is a land of diversity. And it is known for lingual, ethnic, cultural and racial diversity. Communalism in India is a modern phenomenon, which has become threat to India’s unity in Diversity. Its various stages are:-

  • First stage was rise of nationalist Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, etc. with only first element of communalism as discussed above. Roots of this were laid in later part of 19th century with Hindu revivalist movement like Shuddhi movement of Arya Samaj and cow protection riots of 1892.
  • Similarly, Muslim movement like Faraizi movement started by Haji Shariatullah in Bengal to bring the Bengali Muslims back on the true path of Islam, was another religious reform movement which had bearing on communalism in 19th century. Later people like Syed Ahmed Khan, who despite of having scientific and rational approach, projected Indian Muslims as a separate community (qaum).
  • Second stage was of Liberal communalism which believed in communal politics but liberal in democratic, humanist and nationalist values. It was basically before 1937. For example organisations like Hindu Mahasabha, Muslim League and personalities like M.A. Jinnah, M M Malviya, Lala Lajpat Rai after 1920s.
  • Third was the stage of Extreme Communalism, this had a fascist syndrome. It demanded for separate nation, based on fear and hatred. There was tendency to use violence of language, deed and behaviour.
  • For example Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha after 1937. It spread as a by-product of colonialism, economic stagnations and absence of modern institutions of education and health.
  • These factors caused competition and people started using nepotism (patronage bestowed or favoritism shown on the basis of family relationship, as in business and politics), paying bribes to get job, etc. Short term benefits from communalism started giving validity to communal politics.

Later on, spread of education to peasant and small landlords gave rise to new middle class, as agriculture was becoming stagnant. So, these people started demanding communal representation and this way, social base for communalism widened.

Middle class oscillated between anti-imperialism and communalism. Communalism started rooting deeply, as it was an expression of aspiration and interest of middle class for less opportunity.

Further, from very beginning upper caste Hindus dominated colonial services as they adapted early to colonial structure. Because of Mughal rule and 1857 revolt, colonial government was suspicious towards Muslims and they patronised Hindus. This resulted in resentment in Muslims in late 19th century and they then formed a pressure group under Sir Syed Ahmed Kahn to bargain as a separate community. In contrast Congress standpoint was always focused on ‘rights and freedom of individual’ not on a particular community.

In several parts, religious distinction coincided with social and class distinction, causing communal distortion. Communal outlook was given, not by participants but by the officials, politicians and journalists. In fact agrarian conflicts did not assume communal colour until the 20th century. For example, Pabna agrarian movement.

Communalism represented a struggle between two upper classes / strata for power, privileges and economic gain. For Example, in western Punjab at that time, Muslim landlord opposed Hindu moneylenders. In eastern Bengal, Muslim jotedars opposed Hindu zamindars. Later on, communalism developed as weapon of economically and politically reactionary social classes and political forces.

Communalism was a channel for providing service to colonialism and the jagirdari class (land officials). British authorities supported communal feelings and divided Indian society for their authoritative ruling. Communal press & persons and agitations were shown extraordinary tolerance.

Communal demands were accepted, thus politically strengthening communal organizations. British started accepting communal organisations and leaders as the real spokesperson of communities and adopted a policy of non-action against communalism. In fact, for the same reasons even the communal riots were not crushed. Separate electorate started in 1909 to communal award in 1932 fulfilled the wishes of British authorities of ruling India by dividing the societies on communal lines.

In parallel, there was introduction of strong Hindu religious element in nationalist thoughts and propagandas. For example, Bal GangadharTilak popularised Ganesh Pooja and Shivaji Mahaotsav and taking dip in Ganga,etc. The programmes related to “Ganesh Pooja” and “Shivaji Mahotsav” was not initiated to support the interests of Hindus.

 However, both “Ganesh” and “Shivaji” were associated with the emotions of a number of Hindus. This was to be used by the Britishers as tool to politically awaken Indians. But, Indian history in schools and colleges were given Communal and unscientific colour. This kept Muslims largely away from Congress till 1919. In early decades only 8-9% of members of Congress were Muslims.

Gradually, religiosity became major contributory factor and it started intruding the non-religious and non-spiritual areas of life and also beyond the individual’s private life.

Though, India is a secular country but due to communal feelings the secularization is getting affected. Secularization is narrowing down the sphere of religion to the private life of the individual. So, communalism is basically becoming a belief system through which a society, economy, and polity are viewed & expanded and around which effort is being made to organise politics.

With these unprecedented changes, the best atmosphere of communal harmony should have been created in India and according to the expectation of Mahatma Gandhi this country should have become an example in this direction.  But this did not happen.

Some episodes of Communalism in India:

Partition of India, 1947

  • After partition, millions of population was forced to move from both sides of the border. Hindus in Pakistan and Muslims in India were killed in masses, women were raped, and many children lost their parents. There was hatred everywhere and oodles of bloodshed.

Anti-Sikh riots, 1984

  • This is one of the bloodshed in India, where Sikhs in large number were massacred by anti- Sikh mob. This massacre took place in response to the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by his own Sikh body Guard in response to her actions authorising the military operation.

Ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindu Pundits in 1989

  • Kashmir is known as the heaven of India and was known for its Kashmiryat, i.e. the reflection of love, peace and harmony through brotherhood and unity of Hindu, Muslims and other communities living together. But, the brotherhood saw a serious blow due to Extremist Islamic terrorism in the Kashmir valley.
  • It led to mass killing and large scale exodus of Kashmiri Pundits from the valley to the various regions and corners of the India, giving them the status of refugee in their own country. Since then, the valley is under the grip of communal violence and the ongoing unrest has become a problem for the development of the people.

Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya, 1992

  • According to Hindu mythology, Ayodhaya is birth place of Lord Rama and therefore it is sacred place for Hindu religion. But in medieval period, Mughal general Mir Baqi, built a mosque named after Mughal ruler Babur. The ownership of land is disputed and riots also took place over the issue.
  • In 1990, due to some political mobilisation, there was atmosphere of protest by Hindu religious groups and in large scale “kar sevak” visited Ayodhya from all parts of India, in support of demolishing Babri masjid and building Ram temple there. These movements caused huge amount of bloodshed and since then it is a disputed matter.

After this, violence was followed by the Godhra incident in 2002, when “kar sevak” returning from Ayodhya in a Sabarmati Express were killed by fire in the coaches of train. This act was followed by the extended communal violence in Gujarat. That violence is like black spot in the history of the Gujarat and nation too, as Muslims were killed without any mercy. Hindu and Muslim community became antagonist to each other. Till now people are fighting for justice in Supreme Court, with a ray hope from the Indian Judiciary.

Assam Communal violence, 2012

North eastern states are known for its distinguished tribal population & ethnic diversity and large scale Bangladeshi immigration has changed the demography of North eastern states, which often becomes reason for clashes. In 2012, there were ethnic clashes between Bodos (Tribal, Christian & Hindu faith) and Muslims. Ethnic tensions between Bodos and Bengali-speaking Muslims escalated into a riot in Kokrajhar in July 2012, when unidentified miscreants killed four Bodo youths at Joypur.

Muzaffarnagar violence, 2013

The cause of this ethnic clash between Jat and Muslim community is very much disputed and has many versions. According to few, it was started after some suspicious post on social media platform Facebook. According to some, it was escalated after the eve teasing case in Shamli. Let the reasons be unknown, but what matters is the nature and scale of loss to the country with respect to human resource and peace.

In all these and hundreds of other riots, one thing is common that huge majority of victims have nothing to do with communal hatred. In short, preparators of violence and victims of violence are different persons.

Causes of Communalism

There are a number of economic, social and political causes which are responsible for the prevalence of communalism.

  • Propensity of the Minorities: The Muslims either don’t consider themselves in the national mainstream or they believe that India was once ruled by them but now they are oppressed. Low participation in the secular nationalistic politics and their insistence on maintaining for separate identity. The elite among the Muslims and the Muslim clerics have failed to generate the appropriate national ethos.
  • Orthodoxy: The orthodox members of Religious communities feel that they have a distinct entity with their own cultural pattern, personal laws and thought. Such feeling has prevented them from accepting the concept of secularism and religious tolerance.
  • Sectarian Politics: Communalism has flourished in India because the communalist leaders flourish it in the interest of their communities. The demand for separate electorate and the organization of Muslim league were the practical manifestations of this line of thought. Ultimately the partition of the country into India and Pakistan provided further an antagonistic feeling towards each other.
  • Economic Status: Communities in Rural India have failed to adopt the scientific and technological education. Their educational backwardness and insufficient representation in the public service, causes the feeling of relative deprivation and such feelings contain the seeds of communalism.
  • Geographical Causes: The territorial settlement of different religious groups especially Hindus Muslims and Christians causes in them wide variation in the mode of life, social standards and belief system. Most of these patterns are contradictory and this may cause communal tension.
  • Social Causes: Cultural similarity is a powerful factor in fostering amicable relations between any two social groups. But the social institutions, customs and practices of Hindus and Muslims are so divergent that they think themselves to be two distinct communities.
  • Psychological Causes: Psychological factors play an important role in the development of communalism. The Hindus think that the Muslims are fanatics and fundamentalists. They also believe that Muslims are unpatriotic. On the contrary, the Muslims feel that they are being treated as second rate citizens in India and their religious beliefs and practices are inferior. These feelings lead to communal ill-feeing.
  • Provocation of Neighbors: Our neighbours and some other countries try to destabilize us by setting one community against the other through their agents.
  • Impact of Mass Media: The messages relating to communal tension or riot in any part of the country spread through not only the local and vernacular but the mainstream, English media also.

Effects of Communalism

  • Consequences of communalism are well known to all of us. With mass killings, the real sufferers are the poor, who lose their house, their near and dear ones, their lives, their livelihood, etc. It violates the human rights from all direction. Sometimes children lose their parents and will become orphan for a lifetime.
  • Ghettoization and refugee problem are other dimensions of communalism induced violence, whether its inter country or intra country. Sudden increase in violence against any particular community causes mass exodus and stampede which in turn kills many number of people. For example, this was seen in the case of Bangalore in 2012, with respect to people from North eastern states, which was stimulated by a rumour.
  • Apart from having effect on the society, it is also a threat to Indian constitutional values, which promotes secularism and religious tolerance. In that case, citizens don’t fulfil their fundamental duties towards the nation. It becomes a threat for the unity and integrity of the nation as a whole. It promotes only the feeling of hatred in all directions, dividing the society on communal lines.
  • Other than these, minorities are viewed with suspicion by all, including state authorities like police, para military forces, army, intelligence agencies, etc. There have been many instances when people from such community have been harassed and detained and finally have been released by court orders guilt free. For this, there is no provision for compensation of such victims, about their livelihood incomes forgone, against social stigmas and emotional trauma of the families.

Such things are a set back for the society and become a barrier for development. This is one of the reasons which is still keeping India under the status of “developing nation” because, such activities occurring frequently do harm the human resource and economy of the country. And then again it takes years for the people and the affected regions to come out the traumas of such violence, having deep impact on minds of those who have faced it. They feel emotionally broken and insecure.

Steps that have been taken

  • National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in India fights for the causes of rights of the victims, but its recommendations are advisory in nature, which doesn’t gives significant outcome.
  • From time to time, respective governments have constituted various committees, to give recommendations to solve the issue of communal violence. Prominent among them are SACHAR COMMITTEE, NANAVATI COMMITTEE and RANGANATH MISHRA COMMISSION.

The Nanavati-Mehta Commission was set up by Gujarat government in 2002 to enquire about Gujarat violence.

Sachar Committee was appointed in 2005, recommended to set up Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) in 2010. EOC was to set up a grievance redressal mechanism for all individual cases of discriminations- religion, caste, gender & physical ability among others.

The Ranganath Mishra Commission was entrusted by the Government of India to suggest practical measures for the upliftment of the socially and economically backward sections among religious and linguistic minorities and to include the modalities of implementation for the same. The report of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, headed by former Chief Justice of India Rangnath Mishra, says that 10% should be reserved for Muslims and 5% for other minorities in central and state government jobs in all cadre and grades.

The purpose of all above committees is to give recommendations to find out the causes of backwardness of minorities and steps required to improve their conditions.

  • The Indian law defines communal violence as, “any act or series of acts, whether spontaneous or planned, resulting in injury or harm to the person and or property, knowingly directed against any person by virtue of his or her membership of any religious or linguistic minority, in any State in the Union of India, or Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes within the meaning of clauses (24) and (25) of Article 366 of the Constitution of India”.

Though India is under the grip of communal violence, but till now, other than provisions under IPC and CrPC, there is no firm law to punish the originators of such violence, no clear policy for relief and rehabilitation of victims. There are no regulations for security of witness, for accountability of public servants, etc.

  • Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011’ lapsed in the parliament. The bill provided for a seven-member National authority for communal harmony, justice and reparations. It attempted to safeguard the minority sections. It had provisions for ensuring accountability of the district administration. This has already been recommended by the Sachar committee and Raganath Mishra Commission.
  • The role of police in communal riots is highly controversial. Generally, riot victims complain that- police did not came to rescue, police forces were themselves instrumental in the killing, they led the mob in looting and burning, arrested the innocent people and harassed them inside the lockup, etc. But as we know, that police can act much better, if there is political will and if they are given free hand along with the implementation of recommended police reforms.

There are specialised battalions of Rapid Action Force in India, which is a wing of CRPF, to deal with riots, riot like situations, crowd control, rescue and relief operations, and related unrest.

Steps that are further required

  • The solution of such problems cannot be one or two steps by government. Apart from legislative support, administrative efficiency and alertness with the help of modern tools and technology, the major onus lies on the citizens themselves by avoiding communal violence. Though it’s bit philosophical in nature, as it’s not a concrete solution, but the sustainable changes can be brought only by those steps.
  • Each of us, have to make a balance between our own religious community and national interests, we have to unite with nationalism, and then should move forward. The teachings of a religious community may be great, but the followers of the community concerned should understand that nationalism is greater.  If they do not become familiar with this fact, they will be away from national stream; they will suffer. This fact relates not only to India but also to many other countries of the world.
  • We have to be rational while making decisions. Each and every religious community has been founded on the basis of certain values that were best and necessary for circumstances of the country and times.  Goodness like adjustment with others, or co-operation, or consistency can be found in their teachings.  
  • But by not moving  according to the teachings of their religious community those who depend upon fundamentalism and conservative practices, or those who use their co-religionists taking advantage of their poverty, illiteracy or innocence, are dishonest towards their own self, their co-religionists and also towards those great leaders who founded the religious community.  Everyone must understand this fact also.  
  • Along with this, leaders of all communities, by knowing it, must come forward for an atmosphere surcharged with harmony, in which lies their welfare too. The religious teachers should promote rational and practical things through religion promoting peace and security.
  • Policies like appeasement, fun and frolic with the sentiments of people for individual and party interests, and selection of candidates on the basis of religious community or sect by keeping aside the qualifications, one, certainly, does the things against national interest or nationalism; are reflections of lower national thinking.  That is why; these kinds of acts should be stopped at government level and also at the level of political parties.
  • There is a great need to work towards eradicating the problem of unemployment among the youths, illiteracy and poverty and that too with honesty and without any discrimination.  This will help in solving many problems, and will create awakening.  The result will be in checking on communalism to a great extent.  That is why it is expected that a lot of work have to be done at government level in this direction.
  • Now a day’s social media has become notorious for spread of communal hatred. It provides almost instant transfer of provoking material on which our government has no control. It has become potent tool in hands of religious bigots to spread hatred for other religions.
  • Media, movies and other cultural platforms can be influential in promoting peace and harmony. Though all such practises in India are common, but there is still scope for improvement in this direction. Thus, in order to get rid of the problem of communalism in India, there is a need of collective efforts.


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By B2B

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