Communalism is one of the
most serious problems that India has to face after her freedom from colonial
rule in the mid of 20eth Century. This problem, which has existed among the
followers of two principal religious communities- Hindus and Muslims – many
times raised a great challenge before the secular structure of India. In the
name of religion such acts have been committed that are no doubt shameful and a
act of fleeing from the message of Mahatma Gandhi who lead the country to the
door steps of freedom through non-violence, the sacred human value.
Mahatma Gandhi devoted his entire life for propounding communal harmony. He whished in ‘India of his
dream’, “I shall for an India, in which the poorest shall feel that it is their
country in whose making they have an effective voice; an India in which there
shall be no high class and low class of people; [and above all] an India in
which all communities shall live in perfect harmony.”
But it is unfortunate that after independence to this year, i.e. up to the year 2004, there have been over
five thousand communal riots in India, and most of them occurred between Hindus
and Muslims. After all, why have there been riots in such a large number? In
other words, what is the reason for them? Whether is it one reason or are there
many reasons? What is the impact of such riots on common man? What situation
is created at national-international level due to these riots? These are the
questions we become curious to get an answer to. Along with this we want to
know, how to get rid of this problem. Come let us try to find answers to these
questions pertaining to the problem of communalism in India. But prior to it,
let us know and understand the meaning and definition of communalism.
Not only in India but also all over the world, scholars and subject-specialists have defined communalism in
different manners. And, all these definitions, unfortunately, do not reveal the
complete meaning or sense of communalism in clear-cut terms. However, Richard
C. Lambert, who has given the definition of community according to the
conditions prevailing in the country, provides us a correct picture regarding
the position of communalism in India.
According to Richard C. Lambert, “The word Community is used in India for the unequal social units.” It
may be said that communalism is the negative aspect of the community. That is
to say, when the people of a particular community care only for their own
narrowly concerned interests, through the means of their religious faiths, old
customs and conservative practices, disregarding the interests of whole society,
then it may be termed as communalism.
In general, following four main things can be found in a state of communalism:
- Disregard to the interests of society.
The unfair means that are
adopted in a state of communalism, neglecting the interests of society,
instigation on the basis of religious sentiments is the main among them, which
can be observed clearly in communal violence that occurred during the last 57
years in India.
India has a history of
communal riots. The problem of communalism, especially relating to the modern
age, and seeds of which were sown during the 19th century, is a gift
of colonial rulers to India. In other words, the colonialists played the main
role in starting communal tension in India in the 19th Century.
Along with this, some people from a particular religious community were also
involved in this act, who keeping aside the interests of entire Indian Society
and filled with narrow-minded thoughts, joined hands with the colonialists.
They were also in favour of bargaining with the colonialists for the benefit of
their co-religionists. It was an easy task for them. India is a country of
diversities, a land of different religious communities and sects. In such a
country, if the government protects the people of a particular community who are
ready to fulfill their own interests even by spreading communalism, what can be
difficulty for them? They can do so without any fear.
Towards the end of the 19th
century, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who was one of the great political leaders of
India at that time, started “Ganesh Pooja” and “Shivaji Mahotsav” in Southern
India, especially in Maharashtra and its nearby regions, with the aim of
creating awakening among the masses. I hope, even today, nobody can believe
that while starting “Ganesh Pooja” or “Shivaji Mahotsav” programmes, he would
have contemplated about Hindu-Muslims, or there would be any thought in his mind
in the interest of Hindus – his co-religionists. He was one who always thought
and worked for Indians, Indian nation and Indian nationalism. The programmes
related to “Ganesh Pooja” and “Shivaji Mahotsav” was not initiated to support
the interests of Hindus. However, both “Ganesh” and “Shivaji” were associated
with the emotions of a number of Hindus.
A procession connected
with the above programme was passing through the streets of Mumbai in the year
1893. When it reached near a place of prayer of another religious community, it
was pelted with stones. The quarrel ensued between those participating in the
procession and attackers, and finally resulted in a communal riot. Similarly,
another incident occurred in the coming year, i.e. in 1894 at Pune. Behind both
these incidents was the support of colonial rulers to the narrow-minded people
involved in the acts.
From here, started communalism, which was also evident on some occasions in the Gandhian era of the
national liberation movement of India? Mahatma Gandhi, as I have already said,
was committed to communal harmony. He was of the firm belief that if the
followers of two principal religious communities – Hindu and Muslim walk hand in
hand, come forward together to solve the problems, small or big, become
identical to nationalism, only then the progress of the country will be possible
in real sense and the cultural heritage of India will be protected.
According to his firm belief, Mahatma Gandhi entered in the “Yajna” of national freedom along
with others, whether they were Sikhs or Buddhists, Parasis or Jains, Christians
or Muslims, or his own co-religionists. He, as all know, accepted ahimsa
as both, means and goal. He made it the basis for achieving freedom for India.
In my opinion, ahimsa holds its due place in all religious communities.
I do not believe that it does not help the followers of any community to perform
his or her duty. Rather I believe that it is ahimsa alone that assists
to enable us to fulfill our duties in the best possible manner.
But it was unfortunate that many people could not become identical with the firm and true message of
Mahatma Gandhi pertaining to non-violence. Even then, he, time and again,
repeated his message of ahimsa till the last breath of his life; worked
for communal harmony declaring it a value supplementary to non-violence. He,
time and again, conveyed suggestions for peace brigade and for volunteers to
work for harmony. These suggestions are more or less important even today for a
country like India.
After independence there
came a change in social, political and economic conditions of India, which was
quite natural. There were many reasons for change in social conditions such as-
provision of equality before law, equal opportunities to all to get job etc. and
above all, liberalization of the ownership of land. The change in political
conditions mainly depended on adopting a democratic system for which all adults
[men and women] of the country got the right to choose their representatives.
Similarly, there was a definite change in the economic conditions as well. The
freedom of earning livelihood by fair means, without any fear or pressure, was
given to everyone. And, all rich or poor, so-called high or low, became
entitled to government jobs without any distinction. All these things were
truly symbolic of change in economic conditions.
With these unprecedented changes, the best atmosphere of communal harmony should have been created in
India and according to the expectation of Mahatma Gandhi this country should
have become an example in this direction. But this did not happen. Then, what
happened? The same I have mentioned in the beginning. Communalism has become a
serious problem in India and it has greatly damaged the country. After
independence, there have been many reasons behind this problem. Along with
this, it has also undergone numerous changes. Besides two religious
communities, two sects of the same community, or even between sub-sects, you can
see the atmosphere of conflicts. Even then, most of the problems of communalism
in India revolve around Hindus and Muslims, which is a matter of great concern.
In my opinion the reasons for the problem of communalism in India are mainly two – silent and apparent.
Side by side, there is also a third different reason that can be observed in
several other countries of the world.
The reasons, which I have termed as silent, must be analyzed very carefully in relation to the problem of
communalism in India. Among these reasons is the large number of unemployed
youths, which comprise nearly ten per cent of the total population, i.e. ten
crores, illiteracy and poverty is the main. Perhaps, you know that there are
twenty-five provinces and seven union territories in India. In some of these
provinces, even after fifty-seven years of independence, fifty or even more
percent people are illiterate. Also in the entire country 26 per cent people
live below the poverty line.
Poverty, illiteracy and unemployment create a lot of compulsions, especially before younger generation.
That is why, many from younger generation, because of lack of right thinking,
remain unemployed and in a state of poverty, get involved in the evil like
communalism. In this context, as I have already mentioned, a minute and careful
analysis is necessary. After this analysis certain remedial steps must be
taken. The efforts being made for uprooting poverty, illiteracy and
unemployment are not as fruitful as they should be.
With reference to communalism whatever apparent reasons are discussed generally, among them the
first one is religious, and the second one is political. Third one is
socio-economic and the fourth one is international. In the first, i.e.
religious, its fundamentalism should be considered responsible for communalism.
Malevolence like reactionary attitude, traditional bourgeois and conservative
approaches etc. are mainly behind fundamentalism.
After all ‘Our belief alone is true’ and ‘rest is untrue or incomplete’, we find this kind of
mentality of fundamentalists. As per this mentality, when the followers of any
religious community, sect or sub-sect indulge in their activities, they
certainly come in conflict with others. Reason is quite evident. They do not
have tolerance, which is absolutely necessary for a country like India–a land of
different religious communities. They become the cause of confrontation, malice and struggle.
Politicians also have played a villainous role in creating serious communal situations in India.
There was politics at the root of painful division of India in 1947 in the name
of a particular religious community. But even after paying a heavy price in the
form of partition, in many riots provoked thereafter, we can find the
involvement directly or indirectly, of political parties or their supporters.
Along with this for the sake of vote bank, the policy of appeasement, selection
of candidates on the basis of community, sect, sub-sect and caste, and flaring
up religious sentiments at the time of elections, led to the rise of
communalism. These practices are still continued and the country is bearing
heavy loss because of it. We can witness many adverse results of these practices.
Economic and social reasons can be found mainly in competition among the people living at lower and
lower-medium levels and in the involvement of professional hooligans,
speculators and the anti-social elements in communal riots. This involvement
is, purely for economic gains and to attain overwhelming influence on society.
I find the above-said realities and reasons in riots occurred a few years back
in my own city and also in other cities like Mumbai.
External elements also have a role in worsening the problem of communalism, and making it serious. I
may not mention the name of any particular country in this regard but scholars
and those who think on this problem from time to time are quite aware of this fact.
The main reasons for involvement of external elements or their role in riots are as follows:
- To create an atmosphere of instability, so that it becomes socially weak;
- To hope for gaining sympathy from minorities;
- To try to weaken the economic structure of a foreign country; and
- With the aim to conceal their own incompetence.
Besides above-mentioned facts there can be more - silent or apparent – reasons in all areas, which
create communalism or enhance it, or make it serious. There are also some such
reasons that rise instantaneously and result in communal disturbances or in riots of serious nature.
Other that silent and apparent, the third reasons, that I have mentioned earlier, will come before us
in brief in remedial suggestions by me, and I do hope that we will understand it.
In India, since the year
1947 up to the year 2002, the amount of property that has been lost in communal
riots, with that, if not more, at least 2 crores and fifty lacs people could
easily be given employment; the problem of housing and education of the same
number of people could be solved.
Due to the communal outbursts the occupational activities were affected, and that would be
considered as national loss. With this loss the day-to-day problems of
crores of people could be solved and their life could be made happier and
more peaceful. But it is unfortunate that wealth and property, lost in riots,
was burnt without any aim in a country like India in which crores of people are
under poverty line. What should be done so that such situations are not faced?
I once again appeal that if at all three levels-individual, community and
government – something in a concrete manner is done stage by stage, the country
would be free of communalism.
Let us, first of all,
discuss the steps to be taken at individual level. India has a population of
more than one hundred crores, in which 12 or 15 crores are Muslims. More than
80 crores are Hindus. It is possible that, due to differences with
Hindus, such a large number of Muslims will disappear? Certainly not. Then,
will they leave the country? It is also not possible. Most of the Muslims,
more than 90 per cent of them, are Indians, i.e., they are born here. This
country belongs to them too, and living here they have to build their future.
There is no doubt about it. They have no other alternative other than this.
More than eighty crores
Hindus cannot dream of a truly progressive India advance on the path of peace
without co-operation of Muslims and other communities. It is only possible when
all from majority and minority communities walk hand in hand.
Each and everyone have to make a balance between his or her own religious community and national
interests, he or she has to unite with nationalism, and then should move
forward. The teachings of a religious community may be great, but the followers
of the community concerned should understand that nationalism is greater. If
they do not become familiar with this fact, they will be away from national
stream; they will suffer. This fact relates not only to India but also to many
other countries of the world.
Each and every religious community has been founded on the basis of certain values that were best and
necessary for circumstances of the country and times. Goodness like adjustment
with others, or co-operation, or consistency can be found in their teachings.
But by not moving according to the teachings of their religious community those
who depend upon fundamentalism and conservative practices, or those who use
their co-religionists taking advantage of their poverty, illiteracy or
innocence, are dishonest towards their own self, their co-religionists and also
towards those great leaders who founded the religious community. Everyone must
understand this fact also. Along with this, leaders of all communities, by
knowing it, must come forward for an atmosphere surcharged with harmony, in
which lies their welfare too.
Policies like appeasement, fun and frolic with the sentiments of people for individual and party interests,
and selection of candidates on the basis of religious community or sect by
keeping aside the qualifications, one, certainly, does the things against
national interest or nationalism; are reflections of lower national thinking.
That is why; these kinds of acts should be stopped at government level and also
at the level of political parties.
There is a great need to work towards eradicating the problem of unemployment among the youths,
illiteracy and poverty and that too with honesty and without any
discrimination. This will help in solving many problems, and will create
awakening. The result will be in checking on communalism to a great extent.
That is why it is expected that a lot of work have to be done at government
level in this direction.
Thus, in order to get rid of the problem of communalism in India, there is a need of collective
efforts. All will have to discharge their duties. If we do so, definitely
harmony will prevail. Everybody will prosper. This must be done; this was
the dream of Mahatma Gandhi for a free India.
* Dr. Ravindra Kumar is the former Vice-Chancellor of CCS University, Meerut [India].
Also he is the Editor-in-Chief of 'Global-Peace'-an international journal of philosophy, peace, education, culture and civilization.