Communalism in India – Origin, Causes, Effects, Initiatives

One of the biggest threats to the idea of India, a nation with syncretic culture is the menace of communalism. India has lost probably more lives in communal riots than it has lost in wars.

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What is communalism?

Communalism means a strong attachment to one’s own community, it may be one’s own religion, region or language. It promotes the difference of interests between the communities that may induce disaffection to enmity between the communities.

Communalism in India takes a specific character. In India, it is generally associated with strong and even aggressive attachment to one’s religious identity which induces directed enmity against other religions.

What are the characteristics of Communalism?

  • It generates a perception of community-specific interests.
  • It preaches the exclusivist approach by arguing the difference of interests between different communities that may be compatible or incompatible.
  • Communalism mobilizes one community against another community.
  • One community tries to grow and gain a socio-economic advantage at the expense of other communities.
  • Extreme communalism often preaches the elimination of other religions indispensable.

Most probable and repeated topics of upsc prelims

Communalism and India

Communalism in India has a lot in common with other forms of communalism in other parts of the world. The ideas of Fascism, anti-Semitism, etc. All over the World and in India, communalism has always tried to protect interests that are not rooted in reality, something that doesn’t even exist.

History of communal relations in India

  • India has been a multireligious society since ancient times. India is an adobe to all the major religions in the world. As Swami Vivekananda said, India has accepted people from different religious backgrounds with an open heart.
  • The Vedic and Upanishadic traditions were highly accommodative preaching compatibility and harmony between different religions. The Indian culture has also accepted irreligiosity and atheism along with religious identities.
  • Emperor Ashoka preached Secular harmony between different communities and directed them to live in perpetual fraternity.
  • The different racial, ethnic communities who came as conquerors are today indifferentiable parts of our syncretic society.
  • The Sufi and Bhakti traditions are examples par excellence of the secular intellectualism of the Indian masses.
  • In the periods of the sultanate and Mughal rule, many rulers acknowledged the necessity of harmonious relations and promoted a fraternal attitude.
  • The ruling emperor Akbar was an exercise in communal harmony. His “Din-e-Ilahi” and “Sulh-i- Kul” promoted brotherhood and give and take of religions for better understanding.
  • There were some communal elements within the socio-political friction like the demolition of places of worship which were highlighted by the colonial historians but that had to do more with the political one-upmanship than a religious struggle.
  • We have not had the crusades like in the west against the so-called threat to the religion.
  • There were some communal rulers like Aurangzeb who brought religious restrictions, imposed Jizya and caused disaffection among other religions.
  • Some of the foreign attacks such as attacks by Mahmud Ghazni and others which attacked the places of worship.
  • But overall, the social interactions among the masses was of brotherhood and functional interlinkage based on craft and trade.

The problem of communalism is essentially a modern phenomenon that is rooted in modern socio-economic structure created in India by colonial masters. Modern politics based on mass mobilization and public participation.

What are the Stages of communalism?

  1. Communal nationalism- since a group or section belongs to a particular religion, their secular and religious interests are the same.
  2. Liberal communalism- since two communities have different religious interests, their secular interests also differ.
  3. Extreme communalism- Not only secular interests of different religions differ, they are also incompatible and the two communities cannot coexist at all.

What are the reasons for the growth of communalism in India?

Reasons for Growth during the British rule

The British rule in India was the culprit of the exponential growth of communal tendencies. The divide and rule policy and desperate attempt to find local supporters of its rule caused the systematic growth of communalism.

  • Communal History Writing
  1. The colonial powers propagated a myth of religious history.
  2. They portrayed ancient India as a Hindu period and medieval India as a Muslim period with a history of intense struggle on religious lines.
  3. The conflict of ruling classes was distorted and exaggerated notions of religious conflicts were put forth.
  • Socio-economic development
  1. Among Indian masses, the Hindu community was quick to learn western education.
  2. This led to emergence of professional and bourgeoisie class early in Hindu community than Muslims.
  3. Result was that the few government jobs were captured by the elite Hindus.
  4. The economic backwardness and unemployment were exploited by the British to create a wedge between communities which were left competing for limited opportunities.
  5. This situation got communalized very quickly.
  • Side effects of Socio-economic reform movements
  1. The reform movements in both Hindu and Muslim communities were polluted by the revivalist tendencies.
  2. The Wahabi movement in Muslims and the Shuddhi movement among Hindus with their revivalist approach emphasizing ancient glories of respective religions enhanced the wedge.
  • The militant nationalist movements
  1. The militant nationalists tried to mobilize the masses around religious elements. The Ganapati and Shivaji festivals by Lokamanya Tilak were misinterpreted as a religious mobilization though the motive was nationalist mobilization.
  2. The activities by revolutionaries like a dip in Ganga and worship of Goddesses did not enthuse Muslims.
  • The British policy of divide and rule
  1. British cunningly played the divide and rule policy by strategically appeasing the first Hindu elite and then the Muslim elite.
  2. The government used the Muslim intelligentsia to counter the growing influence of congress.
  3. The Partition of Bengal in 1905, encouragement to form and promote Muslim league, the separate electorate of 1909 and the communal award was directed at creating enmity among communities and weakening the freedom struggle.
  • Communal reactions by religious communities
  1. The communities played into this game and reacted with aggression.
  2. Formation of extremist organizations such as Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim league propagating Two nation theory making offensive barbs on religious lines strengthened enmity.
  • The non-role of congress
  1. The INC was always extra cautious when it came to minority reaction.
  2. In 1889, the congress decided not to take up any issue that hurt minority sentiments.
  3. The Lucknow Pact of 1916 proved very harmful in the long run.
  4. The congress was successful in building up sufficient national consciousness to exert pressure on the British but it failed largely to integrate Muslims into the nation.
  5. This was most evident in the 1946 elections when the Muslim League won almost all the seats reserved for the Muslims.

Post-Independence reasons of communalism

  • Legacy of Partition
  1. The partition of India on religious lines only strengthened the enmity.
  2. The bloodshed during partition is imprinted in the minds of those who suffered.
  3. Initial years were very difficult as there were majoritarian reactions like mobilization against the Hindu code bill.
  • Deep penetration of communalism
  1. There were large scale riots after independence in various parts.
  2. Communal tensions over places of worship, conversions remained active in one or other parts of the country
  3. In the 1960s – A series of riots broke out particularly in the eastern part of India – Rourkela, Jamshedpur and Ranchi – in 1964, 1965 and 1967, in places where Hindu refugees from the then East Pakistan were being settled.
  • Politicization of religion
  1. the communal mobilization was done by the political parties to manipulate the first past the post system of elections.
  2. The multiparty democratic system also led to the formation of religion-based political parties who espouse religious interests.
  • Economic causes
  1. The economic condition of the minority communities did not change even after independence.
  2. The Sachar committee report highlighted the relative deprivation of the minority religions in health, education, income and standard of living.
  3. This created a perception of the majority bias of the establishment.
  4. These facts were exploited by selfish sections for political gains.
  • Media sensationalism
  1. The insensitivity showed by the media in reporting communal clashes only increased the tensions.
  2. The social media has become the echo chamber of communal hatred.
  • Weak enforcement of secularism
  1. The inaction or appeasement action during Shah Bano, Babri Masjid, Kashmiri Pandit exodus dealt serious blows to the credibility of the establishment to uphold secularism.
  2. This created perceptions of appeasement in both Hindu and Muslim communities.
  • The rising tide of communalism
  1. The youth is increasingly falling prey to the communal brainwashing.
  2. The radical Islamic groups such as ISIS engage in the brainwashing of the youth.
  3. This creates counter-reaction in the Hindu community which can be seen in increasing cases of cow vigilantism and mob lynching.

Some Episodes of communal violence

  1. Anti-Sikh riots (1984)
  2. Issue of Kashmiri Hindu pundits (1989)
  3. Babri Masjid incident (1992) and riots after the incident.
  4. Godhra Riots (2002)
  5. Assam violence (2012)
  6. Muzaffarnagar Riots (2013)
  7. Beef consumption and ensuing deaths
  8. The protests against CAA and NRC are becoming more and more communal and there is large scale violence going on in Delhi.

What are the effects of communalism?

  • Harmful to Social Fabric
  1. Communalism blows a dent to social harmony and brotherhood.
  2. The poisonous ideology of communalism takes a toll on rationalism and scientific temper.
  3. It creates a perpetual cycle of distrust, enmity, and violence.
  4. The integration of a nation is impossible in an environment of communal harmony
  • Economic fallout
  1. Communalism puts breaks into the development trajectory.
  2. The Jammu and Kashmir is a classic example of a region marred in communal tensions and not achieving its tremendous potential for growth.
  3. The development of a country can only happen in a harmonious environment where the human resource is engaged in productive activities.
  4. A communally charged country is not a good investment destination.
  1. There is always a chance of a riot and violence in some pockets of the country.
  2. The vulnerable youth is falling prey to external interests and its brainwashing activities. There are Home ministry reports of around 100 youngsters joining ISIS
  3. The communal tension in border areas can lead to illegal infiltration and threaten peace and national security.
  • Democracy
  1. The biggest casualty of communalism is democracy.
  2. The voters charged with communal feelings will not make the right decisions through ballot boxes.
  3. There is a loss of credibility of democracy when the electoral process Is hostage to the communal politics.

What is being done?

  • Constitutional provision
  1. Constitution declares India a secular democracy.
  2. The Fundamental rights of equality, non-discrimination, religious freedom are justiciable provisions.
  3. It puts a fundamental duty on every citizen to promote harmony and brotherhood for the integrity of the nation.
  • Electoral laws
  1. The Representation of Peoples’ Act, 1951 prohibits communal canvassing. The Abhiram Singh judgment has declared communal canvassing an electoral offence.
  2. The model code of conduct is an effective way to curb communalism during elections.
  3. Section 123(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 prohibits a candidate from making sympathetic appeal based on religion. Such a candidate is liable for disqualification.
  • The National Integration council
  1. It is an extra-constitutional body chaired by the Prime Minister.
  2. The NIC was constituted to combat the evils of communalism, casteism, regionalism, and linguism.
  3. Sixteen meetings of NIC have been held until now.
  • Ranganath Mishra Commission

It was constituted to suggest practical measures for the upliftment of the socially and economically backward sections among religious and linguistic minorities.

Way forward

  • Passing of law like Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011 which was lapsed.
  • The politicization of religion must be tackled by law enforcement agencies very strictly.
  • A special investigative body should investigate communal riots within a fixed time frame. Further, special courts should hear such cases for quick delivery of justice to victims.
  • The Governance must improve governance to take the minority along to allay fears of marginalisation.
  • Increased employment opportunities for minorities can lead to confidence building in them about the system. Skilling of minority communities through various programmes and initiatives is a good step for their economic empowerment.
  • The process of Socialization must be reoriented to include social harmony and brotherhood in every instance of socialization like education, employment, etc.
  • Uniform Civil Code should be formulated and implemented but only with the consensus of all religious communities and taking them along in the process.
  • Building solidarity and assimilation of various religious groups at different levels in society, workplace, neighbourhood, etc. by fostering a secular culture eg. celebrating each other’s religious festivals.
  • Media and popular arts can contribute to social harmony through its portrayal of India’s syncretic culture.
  • International best practices on tackling communal issues must be studied and adopted. e.g. “Race Relation Unit” for the promotion of harmony between different races and facilitate the integration of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, Ethnic Relations Monitoring System of Malaysia.
  • The National Integration Council must be reinvigorated.

Practice question for Mains

Discuss the threats posed by the communalism in recent times. Why have we not been successful in tackling communalism even after 70 years of Independence? (250 words)