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Definition: phenomenon of religious differences between groups that often leads to tension, and even rioting between them. In its not so violent manifestation, communalism amounts to discrimination against a religious group in matters such as employment or education

A man of religion is not communal, but a man who practice politics by linking it with religion is communal. Hence we can define communalism as “political trade in religion”.

Features of Communalism

• orthodoxy and intolerance.

• dislike of other religions.

• elimination of other religions and its values.

• use of violence against other people.

• considers his own religion to be superior to other  religions

Factors aiding communalism

Political factors: British policy of divide and rule led them to focus on using religion to divide India. This culminated in separate electorates for Muslims, which was later given to Sikhs and Anglo Indians. Other political factors include religion-based politics, partiality of political leaders towards their communities etc.

 Economic factors: Communalism in India has its beginnings in the British policy of ‘divide and rule’. A prominent reason why this policy gained currency was that the Muslim middle class had lagged behind the Hindus in terms of education, which contributed to their low representation in government jobs. Due to lack of enough economic opportunities at that time, a government job was highly coveted by the middle classes

 Historical factors: British historians projected ancient India as being ruled by Hindus and Medieval period as the period of Muslim rule, when Hindus were exploited and threated. Some influential Indians too supported this projection.

 Social factors: Issues like beef consumption, Hindi/Urdu imposition, conversion efforts by religious groups etc., further created a wedge between the Hindus and Muslims.

 Current issues regarding communalism

Hadiya case: A 24 year old Hindu woman, Akhila, who converted to Islam and took a new name, Hadiya was at the centre of the ‘love jihad’ controversy. While she alleged that she converted to Islam and chose to marry her husband out of choice, her father filed a Habeas Corpus petition and claimed that she was forced to convert to Islam and was targeted as a recruit of ISIS. The Kerala High Court annulled her marriage, sent her to her parents’ home and observed that “she was a weak and vulnerable girl capable of being exploited.” However, the Supreme Court protected her freedom to choose her religion and freedom of movement and asked her to return to college to continue her studies.

Beef consumption and ensuing deaths: The issue of beef consumption and transportation has been a contentious issue in India and has triggered communal outbreaks in various parts of the country.

Ghar Wapsi programmes: It is a series of religious conversion activities, facilitated by Indian Hindu organizations such as the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), to facilitate conversion of non-Hindus to Hinduism.

Religious fundamentalism among youth:  There is on-going threat of radicalization among Kashmiri youth, which can give an impetus to already existing separatist tendencies.

Issue of Kashmiri Hindu pundits (1989): Spread of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism in Kashmir valley led to mass killing and large-scale exodus of Kashmiri pundits during 1989- 90. The region continues to be threatened by communal violence.

Babri Masjid incident (1992): On December 1992, a large crowd of Hindu kar sevaks demolished the 16th century Babri masjid (mosque) in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh claiming the site to be Ram Janmabhoomi (birthplace of Ram). This led to months of inter-communal rioting between the Hindus and Muslims resulting in deaths of hundreds of people.

Evolution of communalism

• The rise of communalism has been a very complex process. Communalism in India has its beginnings in the British policy of ‘divide and rule’. A prominent reason why this policy gained currency was that the Muslim middle class had lagged behind the Hindus in terms of education, which contributed to their low representation in government jobs.

 Moreover, the post-1857 anti-Muslim bias of the British also gave a slight edge to the Hindus, who took to modern enterprises/professions with great keenness. As a result, the demand for a separate nation of Pakistan got the favour due to marked inequalities in socioeconomic indicators including representation in the seats of power.

• The first so-called communal clash during colonial rule was the Mappila Rebellion. It only so happened that the landed gentry were Hindus and the peasants were Muslims.

• Hence 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 led to growth of communalism in pre independence era.

• Post-independence, things did not change much for Muslims, which was well substantiated with the findings of Sachar committee report. According to this report:

o The literacy rate among Muslims is far below the national average and this gap is greater in urban areas and for women.

o Working population ratios are lower for Muslims than any other socio-religious community and this is more so in the rural areas.

o Moreover, Muslim workers are concentrated in self-employment- small traders, enterprises etc. due to more exposure to disruptions and damage caused by urban conflict and violence.

o Muslims have poor access to bank credit

• Hence, among all the socio-religious communities, Muslims are the most economically vulnerable, educationally backward and financially excluded.

 Measures to address the problem of communalism:

• Building solidarity and assimilation of various religious groups at different levels in society workplace, neighborhood etc. by fostering a secular culture eg. celebrating each other’s religious festivals.

• Swift and prompt response to radicalization by a militant group on social media through police action, counselling sessions for those radicalized especially adolescents etc.

• Ensuring that political parties refrain from using religion, religious ideologies in order to garner votes through strict vigilance

• Mobs leading communal riots should be controlled and strict action should be taken against them as a combative measure.

• Stern law should be framed by the Parliament against communal violence.

• The CBI or a special investigative body should investigate communal riots within a stipulated time frame. Further, special courts should hear such cases for quick delivery of justice to victims.

• Pluralistic settlement where members of different communities live together should be Encouraged

• Secular education should be taught in all educational institutions.

• History education should be de-communalized as the present categorization of Indian history into ancient, medieval and modern has contributed to communal thinking

• Increased employment opportunities for minorities can lead to decrease in communal discord.

• Uniform Civil Code should be formulated and implemented with the consensus of all religious communities so that there is uniformity in personal laws.

• Media, movies and other influential should be used in promoting religious harmony and peace.

February 2024