Communalism

Previous Year Questions

  1. Distinguish between religiousness/religiosity and communalism giving one example of how the former has got transformed into the latter in independent India. (2017)
  2. ‘Communalism arises either due to power struggle or relative deprivation.’ Argue by giving suitable illustrations. (2018)

What is Communalism?

According to Prof. Bipin Chandra, “Communalism is the belief that because a group of people follow a particular religion, its members have, as a result, common social, political and economic interests.” It is this belief that in India, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or Christians form different and distinct communities which are independently and separately structured or consolidated and that the followers of a religion share not only a community of religious interests but also common secular interests—common political, social and cultural interests.

He also explores comprehensibly various possible dimensions of communalism and argues ,

The followers of a religion in the country as a whole have in common not only their religion and religious interests but also some social, economic and political interests,

Some of these interests are separate from those of the followers of other religions; that is, many of the economic and political interests of the followers of the other religion diverge and are sometimes opposed because of their adhering to different religion; and

The interests of the followers of different religions are not only different, but are also mutually totally antagonistic.

Communal ideology is multi-faceted not only in terms of its content but also in terms of the growth and development.

In this context, there are three stages in the development of communalism:

  • the formation stage
  • the institutionalization stage
  • the explosion stage.

Whereas in the first stage, the feelings of insecurity or deprivation on the part of religion/ethnic minority may give rise among its members an awareness of their community identity vis-a-vis other community backed by appropriate leadership and a programme of action, the second stage involves the redressal of grievances through established institutional procedure which when unresolved lead to other modes of action such as extremism or terrorism which may yield quick results (the third stage).

Theories on Communalism:

There are varying theoretical paradigms and perceptions dealing with the issue of communalism and communal riots. The important ones are discussed below:

Socialist Perspective:

Marx viewed conflicts as historical involving social classes and struggle between them due to the contradictions that emerged around the mode of production and its implications for the relations of production. In other words, the economic interests and their articulation bring up the people with interests. Although conflicts have been viewed functional as these tends to be progressive but such development has also become obstacles to orderly, peaceful and harmonious social living. The struggle also becomes acquire violent, not ruling out killings on religion or communal line. The political perspective view communalism as created and nurtured by political elites to attain political power. Also, Marx argued that “ideas of rolling classes are in every age the ruling ideas”. The ruling classes in the multi-religious country support either one or the other community and spread their cunning ideas of polarizing the religious communities and derive political benefits. The ruling classes as a whole are responsible for encouraging communal identities for political ends thereby aggravating the communal conflict.

Theory of relative deprivation:

Relative deprivation perspective view that the competition between different religious communities for scarce resources may lead to communal riots. Ted Gurr defined relative deprivation as the perceived discrepancy between value expectation and value expectancies in a society. In other words, communal groups are more likely to start a political movement for the change of their position when they receive less than they feel they deserve. Such resource completion may lead to communal/collective movement and conflicts if a group which has previously acquired privileges is threatened or their status in relation to other changes. At such moment, communal groups may come to develop a perception of relative perception and this is where people of community develop the feeling that the situation of deprivation is inequitable and unfair to them. The deprivation approach is also evident in Karl Marx’s prediction that workers would organise in opposition to competition. Marx argued that capitalism deprived workers by giving them low wages and little social power, thereby alienating them from their own creative potential. In reaction to this, labour unions and various political organisations of workers have arisen to redress grievances from the deprivation experienced by working class men and women. Marxist economic perspective assumes conflict originating out of the prevalent structural economic disparities and conflicts of economic interests between different collective groups or members of religious denominations. In his theory of class conflict Marx argued that that profound dissatisfaction over the economic interests turns in to conflict.

Power relations theory:

The theory of Majority-Minority power relation explains the communal problem otherwise. Majority-minority relation theory has linkages with the ethnic/racial phenomenon. Max Weber defined ethnicity as a monopoly forming factor, i.e., a factor leading to “community closure” on the pretext of such differences as languages, religion, life style, etc. for the monopolization of political and economic and social advantage. Thus, in Weber’s view ethnicity/race is considered as a form of communal belief and action having important consequences for the formation of a political community. Ethnic relations have generated number of theoretical frameworks which are based on majority-minority relationships. The central idea of these frameworks is that in multi-ethnic societies, ethnicity emerges as a major determinant of inter-group relations and that ethnocentrism, inter-group competition, and the group power differential shape the configuration of ethnic relations. In the continuation of majority-minority relations, the other explanation involves distinction between, ‘We’ versus They’. It assumes that there exists a fundamental distinction between the religious traditions which are indigenous to a country and those that came from outside the country and succeeded in establishing themselves on the same soil. Such a distinction further implies insider-outside question. Also, a further distinction divides these religious traditions of alien origin-between those which succeeded in establishing a peaceful and congenital relationship with the dominant/host tradition and their adherents are tolerated and accepted without conflict and those whose relationship with the dominant tradition is marked by confrontation and conflict whose adherents are not tolerated. Such a tussle between these inside-outside religious groups creates communal problem. Functional perspective views that communal riots persist because they are functionally useful to the individual, group, parties and the state authorities. In fact, it is the unwillingness, lack of desire of these people to take any preventive measure to stop’ riots in time.

Features of Communalism

 On the basis of above discussion, following may be the distinctive features of communalism:

 1) It is an ideology based on prejudices.

2) It is an instrument in the hands of elite and people of higher classes.

3) It drives masses towards violence.

4) It is opposed to secularism and integration.

5) It negates the concept of pluralism.

6) It recognizes only its own religious community and not the nation or its welfare.

7) The implicit assumption of a communal identity explanation is that the interests of various groups identified as Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, etc., are conflicting and divergent.

8) It perceives other religious communities as enemies.

9) It is based on economic, political and social interests within whom it finds manifestation.

10) In Indian context, communalism has primarily come to mean the widespread feelings of fear, rivalry, suspicion, vengeance and violence that exist between different religious groups.

Causes of Communalism in India

Following may be identified as the causes of communalism:

1) The textbook in history written by different scholars also perpetuates communal hatred. A balanced view of history would certainly help bridging the present gulf between the communities.

2) The most important cause is an ultra-sensitive and intolerant attitude of each communal group towards the other.

3) The aggressive attitude of fundamentalists of majority community towards other communities creates a sense of fear and insecurity amongst the later.

4) Communal politics is an outcome of arrested and differential modernization.

5) The politicians for their selfish ends shamelessly exploit the religious, caste and communal feelings of masses.

 6) Pakistan and other Muslim countries patronize the Muslim community of India, which is uncalled for. The occasional interference in favour of the Muslims certainly retards the process of their Indianisation and develops a sense of alienation among them.

7) Some people do not properly understand religion. They believe in demonstrative and aggressive religiosity, which is effectively exploited for political purposes.

 8) The unbalanced development of capitalism in India because of many reasons is also responsible for the communal disturbances in India. For the phenomenon of communalism, the major responsibility lies with the present leadership both political and religious who should not exploit communal forces to gain political power. The ruling and opposition parties with a view to prevent the use of the communal card for selfish political ends must draw up some code. The concept of communalism in India, generally, has been used to explain the confrontation between the Hindus and the Muslims, as they are the major religious groups and their numbers really matter in the elections.

Communal Riot:

A communal riot, in general refers to a collective violent manifestation of one’s identity, ideas and beliefs, etc. in relation to other religious community for the realization of certain interests, openly manifested of sometimes hidden but presented in a mystified way. It is, most often, a consequence of the spread of communal ideology. Intensity of communal violence and riots is sometimes small and sometime large depending upon the situations and planning. Communal violence can be classified under two categories:

1) Communal violence which is carefully planned and executed with political or state support or at least with subtle state connivance. Such violence results in great loss of life as well as properties. It goes on for a long period of time and is deliberately not controlled unless goal is achieved.

2) Those riots which spontaneously break out on minor causes like dispute on land or money matters between two groups, knocking out somebody accidentally by car or scooter or construction of mosque or temple etc. Since these are unplanned and spontaneous, clashes can be easily controlled.

 And in such riots few lives are lost or not much damage is done to properties. There had been many conflicts and riots emanating from Hindu-Muslim communalism, in the post-independent era. Prominent among the riots are Jabalpur (1961), Meerut (1968), Ahmedabad (1969), Gujarat (2002) and the major issue of Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhumi.

Communalisation of Politics:

Thapar views communalism as a political exploitation of a religious ideology and argued that it is a phenomenon of recent times when communities are identified by religion and this identification is brought in play as a major political articulation. From the forgoing it can be therefore be argued that communalism is basically an exploitation of religious communities by political parties/elites.  The political parties are using religion as stepping stone for political power. Similarly, the religious organizations, utilize it for political clout or to preserve hold on their vote bank. The places of worship are being converted into centres of political activities. The party tickets in elections are ensued, keeping in view the particular caste, creed, language or religious group, so as to enhance the chances of victory. It is this process, that actually prepares the ground for communalization of politics. This intermixture of religion and politics has encouraged the concept of communal politics in Indian political infrastructure.