Communalism refers to a politics that seeks to unify one community around a religious identity in hostile opposition to another community. It seeks to define this community identity as fundamental and fixed. It attempts to consolidate this identity and present it as natural – as if people were born into the identity, as if the identities do not evolve through history over time.

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In order to unify the community, communalism suppresses distinctions within the community and emphasizes the essential unity of the community against other communities. One could say communalism nurtures a politics of hatred for an identified “other”—ex: “Hindus” in the case of Muslim communalism and “Muslims in the case of Hindu communalism. This hatred feeds a politics of violence.

Communalism, then, is a particular kind of politicization of religious identity, an ideology that seeks to promote conflict between religious communities. In the context of a multi-religious country, the phrase “religious nationalism” can come to acquire a similar meaning. In such a country, any attempt to see a religious community as a nation would mean sowing the seeds of antagonism against some other religion/s.

A stagnant secularization process (involving separation of religion and politics) due to:

(1) Slow development of economy,

(2) Competition between Hindu and Muslim elite,

(3) Weak mercantile bourgeoisie vis-a-vis feudal lords,

(4) British policy of divide-and rule.

Was the intrinsic reason of communal tension prevailing in contemporary times.

A belief or ideology according to which all people belonging to one religion have common economic, social and political interests and these interests are contrary to the interests of those belonging to another religion constitutes communalism.

There are three stages (degrees), discernible in the development of communalism:

Mild : People following the same religion have similar interests

Moderate : Dissimilarity of interests between people of different religions

Extreme : Interests of people following different religions are antagonistic to each other, based on fear and hatred of other religions

Slow pace of transition from a feudal structure to a modern set-up results in-consolidation of religion/caste-based identities. In a limited job market, competition based on religion/caste communal politics is handy to (a) hide economic frustrations, (b) hide the real sources of misery, and (c) mask the relationship between exploiters and the exploited. Sometimes religious/caste distinctions coincide with economic distinctions, e.g., the exploiting sections (landlord, moneylender and merchant) were upper- caste Hindu and the exploited are poor peasants, landless labour, etc., were low-caste or Muslims

Characteristics of Communalism:

  • It is an ideological concept,
  • It is a complex process,
  • It has a broader base which encompasses social, economic and political aspects for its manifestation.
  • It causes rivalry, violence and tension among masses,
  • It is used by the higher class people and elites as an instrument for division and exploitation of the communal identities of the poorer sections of their co-religionists.
  • It is simply engineered by opportunistic political and economic interest of contending groups and factions within a political party or by political parties
  • It strikes at the roots of democracy, secularism and national integration.

Communalism is a very serious problem looming large over India today. Even though it has been an integral part of sociopolitical life in India for a very long time, the colonial period is widely considered to be responsible for the large-scale communalization of India. However, its replacement by an independent secular state which was preceded by the partition of the country on communal lines, was expected to lay the foundation for a steady decline of the communalisation of Indian society. But this expectation seems to be progressively belied in recent times. There appears to be now an unparalleled growth of communalism and, consequently, communal tensions in India. It is a fact that communalism has crept into all levels of Indian polity and that there is today a complimentary relationship between politics and communalism. the roots of this problem of increasing communalism in the present day India are to be searched in the nature of the modem state itself and in its various policies and programmes of secularisation.

In other words, the post-colonial secular state is largely responsible for this development; more specifically, it was the nature of the relationship between the secular and communal politics that actually brought about this rise of communalism. That the most manifest variety of communalism in modem India, i.e. the majority communalism. Particularly alarming in this situation is that, in many instances, the state itself has acted in a reprehensively prejudiced manner indulging in non-secular practices. The failure of the state policies has been still more disheartening. The failure to introduce a uniform civil code as stipulated in the Constitution is one of the most telling examples of such a failure. Further, succumbing to the compulsions of electoral politics the state has also followed policies to favour one community or the other at different times.

Communal Violence

Most communal riots prior to 1947 were rooted in the ‘divide and rule’ policy of the British colonial rule. But after the partition of the country, sections of the Indian elite from both the communities are also to be blamed for the problem. Communal violence in independent India has been caused by many factors. Some general factors are : First the class divisions of our society and the backwardness of our economy has resulted in uneven development of the economy. It is the upper classes of the less-developed communities that have enjoyed the fruits of limited growth and hence it is they who have also enjoyed political power.

Over a period of time some sections among this elite developed a sense of rivalry vis-à-vis their counterparts in other communities. In order to draw support from the masses of their own community, these leaders have often encouraged communal feelings to strengthen their political support. Thus, the traditional beliefs of the society are perpetuated to the advantage of the elites. When they, many among common people, feel insecure because of some adverse circumstances, they often tend to rely on religion, which make them vulnerable to political manipulation to inflame communal passions, some times leading to violence.

Communal violence also increases because communal parties carry on religious propaganda in an offensive manner, thereby creating ill-will among the members of the various communities. The political parties in India which adopt a communal attitude should be blamed for encouraging communal feelings which often cause communal violence.

Apart from these general factors, some specific local causes also account for communal violence in India. First, because the power of smugglers and criminal gangs, local rivalries between traders of different communities often leads to such violence. Large cities are also prone to periodic communal riots because of the power of smugglers and criminal gangs. The communal violence after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1993 is an example. Secondly, communal riots occur in towns which have a history of communal riots. Aligarh and Hydrabad, among other cities, suffer from this trend. Presence of a large proportion of religious minorities increases political rivalry between the upper strata of both these communities who often appeal to their communal identity to gain support. Whatever may be the cause of communal violence, whenever it occurs, it immediately attracts attention of the nation. In our society class identities still remain submerged under caste and communal identities. With economic problems becoming important, the ruling elite of our country manages to convert economic problems like poverty unemployment,price rise etc. into caste and communal ones. People should be careful not to be influenced by such tactics. Economic problems of the people, like-poverty and unemployment must be resolved in the country before the problem of communal violence can be totally eliminated.


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