Communalism - Meaning, Causes, Effects of Communalism in India


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Indian Society

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Mains: Social Empowerment, Communalism, Regionalism & Secularism.

Communalism refers to the belief in the primacy of one's own religious community over others, often leading to conflict and violence between different religious groups. It can also refer to the political ideology and movements that promote this belief. Communalism as an ideology emphasizes the interests and identity of a particular religious community over those of the larger society.

What is Communalism?

Communalism, as a political movement, seeks to mobilize members of a particular religious community for political action. In India, Communalism has been a major source of social conflict with political implications.

What are the different connotations of Communalism?

Communalism can manifest itself in different forms, including

  • Assimilationist: According to this dimension, members of minority communities should give up their distinct cultural and religious identities and assimilate into the dominant culture and society. For example, The Hindu Code Bill applies to Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains in addition to Hindus.
  • Welfarist: This connotation refers to the belief that members of minority communities should be provided with special welfare and affirmative action programs to improve their socio-economic status. For instance, the Jain community associations utilize a welfarist approach by providing resources such as hostels, scholarships, and employment opportunities for the members of the community.
  • Retreatist: By following the retreat approach, minority communities retreat into their own separate and distinct communities, away from the dominant culture and society. It is evident from the example of Bahaism, where members are prohibited from participating in political processes.
  • Retaliatory: In retaliation, people retaliate against the dominant culture and society in response to perceived injustices and discrimination. For example, Assam Violence of 2012 between the Bodos and Bengali-speaking Muslims.
  • Separatist: Separatists believe that members of minority communities should form a separate state as an independent country. For example, there was a separatist tendency, especially in the 1980s, among religious fundamentalists in Punjab for the demand of Khalistan as a separate country.

How did Communalism Evolve in India?

Communalism in India has evolved over a period of time and has been shaped by various policies and incidents. Some key incidents and policies that contributed to the evolution of communalism in India include

  • Divide and rule: The British colonial policy of divide and rule was a significant factor in the origin and evolution of communalism in India. The British created divisions between communities by playing them against each other, leading to communal tensions and conflicts.
  • Partition of Bengal: The partition of Bengal in 1905 by the British was also a significant factor in the origin of communalism in India. The partition led to a Muslim-majority province in the east and a Hindu-majority province in the west.
  • Communal Award: The Communal Award of 1932 was a policy implemented by the British government that allocated seats in the legislative assembly to different depressed communities based on their population.
  • Appeasement policy of the British: The British government's appeasement policy further increased communal tensions by favoring one community over the other. This led to perceived alienation and the rise of communal ideologies.

Causes of Communalism in India

The main causes of communalism can be complex and multifaceted and vary depending on the specific context. However, some of the main causes of communalism include:

  • Historical factors: British colonial policies, such as the divide and rule strategy, led to the creation of communal divisions and tensions between different religious communities in India.
  • Political factors: Political factors such as competition for power and resources, as well as divisive political rhetoric, can contribute to the rise of communalism. Some political leaders and parties may use communal rhetoric to mobilize support and gain power.
  • Socio-economic factors: Socio-economic factors such as poverty, unemployment, and lack of access to resources can contribute to communal tensions as different communities compete for scarce resources.
  • Socio-cultural factors: Socio-cultural factors such as caste and class divisions, as well as regional and linguistic differences, can contribute to communal tensions. For example, the caste-based reservation system in India has often led to communal tensions between castes and communities.
  • Role of Media: The role of media in shaping communal ideologies and spreading misinformation and hate speech can contribute to the rise of communal tensions.
  • Religious factors: In some cases, religious factors such as religious fundamentalism and extremist ideologies can contribute to communal tensions. For example, religious extremist groups and fringe elements can incite communal violence against minorities.

Effects of Communalism in India

There have been several major occurrences of communalism in India throughout history, some examples include

  • The Partition of India in 1947: One of the most significant events in India's history, the partition led to the creation of Pakistan and resulted in widespread communal violence and displacement of millions of people.
  • Anti-Sikh Riots: In October 1984, the anti-Sikh riots broke out after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, where more than 4000 Sikhs were killed in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and other parts of India.
  • The Babri Masjid demolition in 1992: The destruction of the Babri Masjid, a 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya, by a mob of Hindu nationalists led to widespread communal riots across India, resulting in the deaths of over 2,000 people.
  • The Gujarat riots of 2002: A series of violent communal riots in the Indian state of Gujarat resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 people and the displacement of over 150,000 people.
  • Assam Violence 2012: Violence broke out due to ongoing tensions between the Bodos and Bengali-speaking Muslims. These tensions stemmed from competition for resources, land, and political influence.
  • The Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013: A series of violent communal riots in Uttar Pradesh resulted in the deaths of over 60 people and the displacement of over 50,000 people.
  • The Delhi riots of 2020: A major communal violence broke out in New Delhi, in February 2020. The violence resulted in the deaths of over 50 people and injuries to hundreds more, as well as the displacement of thousands of people.

Steps Required to Address the Issues Pertaining to Communalism in India

Addressing the issues of communalism in India is a complex and multi-faceted task that requires a combination of short-term and long-term strategies. Some steps that could be taken to address the issues of communalism in India include:

  • Promoting social harmony and understanding: Encouraging interfaith dialogue, cultural exchange programs, and educational initiatives that promote understanding and respect for different communities can help to reduce communal tensions.
  • Addressing socio-economic inequalities: such as poverty, unemployment, and lack of access to resources, can help to reduce the competition between different communities for scarce resources and thus reduce communal tensions.
  • Holding political leaders accountable: Holding political leaders and parties accountable for divisive rhetoric and communal actions can help to reduce the use of communal ideologies for political gain.
  • Media monitoring: Monitoring and regulating the media to prevent the spread of misinformation and hate speech can help to reduce communal tensions.
  • Implementing legal measures: Implementing legal measures to punish those who incite violence and discrimination based on communal identity can help to reduce communal tensions.
  • Addressing historical issues: Addressing historical injustices and conflicts can help to reduce communal tensions.
  • Promoting secularism: Promoting secularism, where the state is neutral towards all religions, can help reduce communal tensions.

It's important to note that addressing communalism is a long-term process and requires the involvement of various stakeholders, including the government, civil society, media, and the public. It also requires a holistic approach that addresses the root causes of communalism and its different dimensions, and it's not a one size fits all solution.

Related Topics
Regionalism in IndiaCivil Disobedience Movement
Non-Cooperation MovementFreedom Fighters of India
Champaran SatyagrahaRevolt of 1857
Cripps MissionPartition of India
British Administration in IndiaQuit India Movement

PYQs on Communalism

Q.1. Communalism arises either due to power struggle or relative deprivation. Argue by giving suitable illustrations. (2018)

Q.2. Distinguish between religiousness/religiosity and communalism giving one example of how the former has got transformed into the latter in independent India. (2017)

FAQs on Communalism

Q) Has communalism always been in India?

No. Communal conflicts between religious communities in India, especially Hindus and Muslims, started occurring since the British colonial rule, occasionally escalating and leading to serious inter-communal violence and clashes.

Q) What is the difference between Communalism in the west and Communalism in India?

Communalism in the west generally refers to the division of society along religious or ethnic lines, often leading to discrimination and prejudice against certain groups. In India, communalism is a more serious issue as it has led to large-scale communal riots and violence in the past, whereas in the west, it is mostly limited to discrimination and prejudice.

Q) How does communalism impact the development of a nation?

Communalism can have a significant negative impact on the development of a nation. It can lead to disruptions in economic activity, damage to infrastructure and property, and loss of human life. It also undermines the social fabric and civic peace of the society, which can cause mistrust among different communities and a lack of willingness to invest in or develop the country.