Communalism in India – II

Post-Independent India factors:

  • Political opportunism was an immediate factor which led to strengthening of communal politics. The power struggle between the congress led by Indira Gandhi vs Jana Sangh and Swatantra party (mainly former princes angered by Indira Gandhi’s abolition of Privy Purse). Other parties which were anti-socialist joined. They insisted communal passions to weaken Mrs. Gandhi’s appeal.
  • The continued questioning of the loyalty of Muslims to India strengthened communal politics. For example, Jana Sangh in 1969 Patna session openly called for Indianisation of Muslims which amounted to question Indianess and nationalism of Muslims.
  • The continued backwardness of some regions with incidentally community being a majority presents a perfect opportunity for communalism by narrow sectarian leaders. In a backward and communally divided society, it is difficult to develop class solidarity across communal identities.
  • Formation of political parties by communal leaders as a political strategy for the party’s success is also factoral. For example, formation of Shiv Sena in 1969.
  • Communalism is also strengthened because of militant insurgence, regional along with communal identities to get a larger share in limited economic resources. For example, the Nairs of Kerala encouraged the RSS to strengthen bases in Kerala to grab more economic opportunities in limited Kerala.
  • Communalism is also used as a strategy/rivalry between criminal systems. For example, in Baroda’s riot, it was rivalry between illicit liquor gangs of Hindus and Muslims.
  • The Godra riots are actually a manifestation between the Sindhis and the Ganchi muslims, both of who are dominant entrepreneurial classes and hence have an entrepreneurial rivalry.

Need of a law:

Commissions of enquiry setup after every major communal conflict have consistently come down heavily on the state authorities as also certain parties and organizations for their role in violence. However, it is in very rare cases that perpetrators have been convicted. By and large, police and the administrative classes have been left untouched by the law. Hence, a carefully designed law on communal violence is needed.

Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005:

  • This bill provides for (a) prevention and control of communal violence, (b) speedy investigation and trials, and (c) rehabilitation of victims.
  • The state government can declare an area as communally disturbed under certain conditions. The district magistrate or the competent authority appointed by the state government can take measures such as regulating assembly, directing persons to deposit their arms, searching premises etc to control communal violence.
  • The bill provides double the punishment as provided by other existing laws. The state governments shall establish special courts to try offences under this law. These courts may direct convicted persons to pay compensation to victims or dependents.
  • Communal Disturbance Relief and Rehabilitation Councils will be formed at the national, state and district levels.
  • The district council shall pay atleast 20% of total compensation as immediate compensation to victims.

Historical perspective of Communalism in India

  • Communalism became a political force only after 1937.
  • It’s a modern ideology like nationalism, which emerged in British India along with nationalism.
  • It was not an inevitable product of Indian history though it definitely borrows some elements of the past, like religious diversity. Hence communalism should not be seen as restoring the past, because it was absent in the past. Its social roots and its socio-economic, political interests (objectives) are modern.
  • Communal consciousness emerged like nationalism as a consequence of modern politics based on people, i.e. modern politics based on notion of popular sovereignty, popular participation of people and politics based on mobilization of public opinion.
  • Communalism is not a legacy of medieval India, but it is a particular view of medieval history, where the view itself is based on communal ideology.

For example, politics of medieval period was based on relations between the upper ruling classes, but not between the ruling class and people. In medieval India, if there was any communal politics, it was the activities of the leaders but not of the masses. The isolated events of communal politics in medieval India had much more to do with territorial wars rather than seeing the society is made up of separate nations of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. In fact, in medieval India, these communities didn’t form separate nations and they didn’t even form a distinct homogenous community except for some religious purposes. They were no sharply separate interests of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. In fact the conditions of the Hindus, Muslims and the Sikhs were the same. Socially, culturally and economically these Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs equally belong to any regional society and to common divisions between communities based on religion. The real division was because of linguistic regional groups. This reality on division based on linguistic regional factors is clearly evident when Bengali Muslims of East Pakistan declared that they had no linguistic, cultural, economic and political affinity with the Punjabi dominant West Pakistan. In north India, for example in Medieval times, social groupings were formed at the village level or a group of villagers on the basis of caste with Muslims serving in practice as another caste.

  • In historical India, even the bond of religion between members of a given religious group existed as the sentimental level rather than in terms of specific objectives.
  • Communal nationalism also didn’t exist in India. The communalists failed to represent national interests and in fact didn’t even represent the interests of their own communities. Many times, political activity of these communalists were harmful to their own communities. The very idea of considering Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs as separate communities is itself wrong because such groups were not really present in Indian society. The grouping itself was created to spread communalism.
  • The advent of modernism in India following the entry of Europeans led to new social, economic and political institutions and realities. There was inability of Indian people to grasp these new realities. Hence, compelling them to understand these new realities in terms of familiar traditional identities based on region, religion, language etc. The developing contradiction between colonialism and the Indian people along with the formation of new social classes made it necessary to look for wider identities. The inability of the Indian people to identify such wider categories of identity made them fall back on pre-modern categories of self identity, based on religion, region and caste and hence leading to the slow emergence of communal consciousness.
  • Communalism was not anti-imperialism or nationalism which is a consciousness based on a real conflict, but represents a distorted reflection of the real conflict. It has historical roots to the extent of presence of religious diversities in India, but making this diversity the basis of political organization, mobilization is development of the false consciousness in modern India unlike the true consciousness of nationalism which also developed in modern India.


It is a belief that religion based communities form distinct and separate national units. Hence, followers of a religion are believed to share not only common religious interests, but also common political, social and cultural interests.

Communalism is an ideology which states that society is divided into religious communities whose interests differ and are, at times, even opposed to each other. The communalism between the Hindu and Muslim communities is the single largest threat to the secular ideas that are enshrined in our Constitution.


The antagonism practised by the people of one community against the people of other community and religion can be termed ‘communalism’.

This antagonism goes to the extent of falsely accusing, harming and deliberately insulting a particular community and extends to looting, burning down the homes and shops of the helpless and the weak, dishonouring women, and even killing persons.

Communalism implies that every religious community has its own separate history. Religion is the basic social identity and the basic determinant of social relationships (Communist Argument).

  • That religious community is the basis of organization of modern politics in India.
  • That each religious community constitutes a homogenous unit and a distinct society by itself (false argument).
  • That India is a confederation of religious communities and hence communal identity and division have always been part of Indian society.
  • The most meaningful distinction among Indian people is to be made on the basis of units of religious communities. This distinction overrides all other distinctions.
  • Members of a given religious communities are seen to be making choices and getting benefits as members of those communities.
  • That economic, political and cultural interests are divergent and incompatible are considered to be self-evident truths, which are wrong.
  • That mutual hostility and even hatred between communities is and always been normal in India, while tolerance and peaceful co-existence are considered to be temporary and also conditional.

Meaning of Communal Tension:

Spasmodic manifestation of strained relations between religious communities. Communal tensions often involve the lower classes of the society. During times of communal tension, the mutual relations between communities are snapped and communal passions are aroused by vicious propaganda. This manifests sometimes as communal riots. The middle and upper classes rarely participate in such riots, but provides moral and material support. Each episode of communal riot and tension leaves behind a legacy which can become the source of communal tension in the future. In India, communal riots started appearing from the last quarter of 19th century.

India witnessed maximum communal riots before independence between 1923-26.

 Communal Violence:

In communal violence, the involvement of people is mobilized against another community. The movements here are unpredictable, uncheckable and carry an emotional fury and violent expressions which take the form of rioting. The degree of violence and the methods of executing violence also vary in communal violence. In communal violence, the fight is against social discrimination, social neglect and social and religious exploitation.

The degree of cohesion also varies. The high degree of cohesion in a communal riot situation is built around hostility, tensions and popularization of population. The target of attack is members of the ‘enemy’ community. Sometimes, violence is exercised against public property in the form of loot and arson. Anti-social elements are given a free hand to operate in communal riots. The flare-ups in communal disturbances are restricted to particular structures.

There is no leadership in communal riots which could control and contain the riot situation. The aftermath of communal violence is intensified animosity, prejudice and mutual suspicions of one community against the other. It could, thus, be said that communal violence is based mainly on hatred, enmity and revenge.