January 2023 | The True Vine and The Soon Coming King

The Issue of Communalism: Some Preliminary Annotations

The Issue of Communalism: Some Preliminary Annotations

Dr. Rajeevan M. Thomas

We are living in a changing world.  Even the meaning and usage of common words are also changing as per the changing of time. Terms like ‘community’ ‘communal’ ‘communalism’ etc are the classical example of it.  Basically, these words are having an inbuilt positive meaning in the social sense. Nevertheless, these words have assumed a negative means to an end. The contemporary Indian history depicts the episodes of communalism and its aftermath.  In fact, communalism is emerging as a burning issue in India on the ground of its anti-social, anti-democratic and anti-secular nature.  In one sense, communalism is a process and product which ultimately ruins the communal harmony and peace of the pluralistic nations like India by sprouting and spreading  intolerance and violence. As responsible members of church and society, we must repudiate this to maintain peace and national integration.  As a prelude to this endeavor, one must deal with some cardinal questions: what is communalism? What are the ideological and pragmatic segments of communalism?  What is the role of religion and politics in it? What are the challenges or consequences of communalism?

Understanding of Communalism

What is the meaning and definition of communalism?  Communalism is basically an ideology nexus with religion, politics, nationalism, race, ethnicity etc.  Communalism can be defined as the loyalty to a socio-political grouping based on a particular religious or ethnic affiliation.  It is also regarded as the tensions between culturally distinct but geographically intermingled communities.  Here one can see communalism acting as a positive social phenomena which emphasizes community relations and interactions based on a common culture religion, common identity etc.  But it becomes negative and anti-social phenomena when two communal groups are fighting.  Thus, communalism is generally acting both as intra-group unity and inter-group disunity or antagonism. Majority of the communalism is emanating out of the suburbs of religion and politics.  The communal powers are abusing or misusing both for their selfish motives. Honey cabral argues that communalism is an exploitative ideology misusing religious faith for crass political goals. Similarly, Prof. Ninamlashy also counts communalism as political mobilization of a community in the home of religion often for the vested interests of the elite community. Thus, the unholy alliance between religion and politics is contributing for the sprouting and spreading of communalism in a pluralistic nation like India.

Historical Origin of Communalism in India

India had a glorious past of religious tolerance and communal harmony. Unity in diversity is her key national maxim. Then, why communalism is emerging and raising its hood in India?  Any serious discussion on the question of majority or minority communities hails back to the period of western colonial powers particularly of British.  Their ‘divide and rule policy’ laid the vicious seeds of communalism in India.  It is still prevalent in India today even after the partition of India in 1947.  Their administrative and other policies had directly or indirectly caused for the division of Indian people as well as the introduction of communal venom in the Indian soil.

Basic Features of Communalism

Communalism has some inbuilt features.  Based on the historical context of India, G. Venkidesan enumerates such features as follows: 1) anti secular programs 2) communal ideology and conflicts 3) generation of fear, hatred and suspicion among the people, especially over the other groups 4) promotion of fascism and racism 5) endorsement of military violence opposition etc. Who are the proponents of communalism?  They are not necessarily confined to the majority. Both religious majority and minority are involved in creation of communalism. The Hindu-Muslim communal riots and conflicts, Christian persecutions demonstrates this fact explicitly.

Auxiliaries of Communalism

The process and product of communalism is not an independent entity but one of the elements of a comprehensive cluster.  The most important among them is fundamentalism. Basically, fundamentalism is the natural result of exclusive claims of a person, community, religion, nationality, political ideology etc.  The love towards one’s own religion or ideological and doctrinal orthodoxy is not harmful to others until it crosses its boundaries and falls into the trap of fundamentalism.  Communalism is the progressive form of fundamentalism. Religious fundamentalism with or without political motives is a great danger to the peace and harmony of the people in a nation.  The scholars enumerate the following basic elements: 1) misuse of religion for politics  2) religion based nationalism 3) communal clashes 4) opposition secularism 5) using religion for protest and military attacks 6) religious revivals and reforms 7) inclination to traditions etc.  The history of the modern India substantiates these elements of communalism and fundamentalism.

Just like fundamentalism, violence is also an inbuilt segment of communalism.  Hence, the scholars states that communalism and violence have the following features: 1) to establish superiority over the opponents  2) To take revenge  3) to weaken or destroy the emotional strength of the opponents 4) to gain public support for a cause 

5) to reduce the physical strength of the other and to eliminate the opponents to execute their plans.  Similarly the terrorists groups or the extremists are also employing violence as their tool to attain their targets.  Thus, communalism and its various auxiliary groups are always a challenge to the peaceful co-existence of diverse people groups in the secular and pluralistic nations like India.

Concluding Observations

Man/woman is a social being and in fact he/she needs to sustain lot of institutions including religion and politics. Nevertheless, religion and politics should maintain a respectful distance for the safe and smooth functioning of both as well as for the unity and peace of people in a democratic and secular India.  Religion and politics should go in parallel ways and its meeting at any time or place is a danger.  Religion should not control politics and politics should not control religion.  Indian form of secularism is the most brilliant policy in this juncture and it not only keeps religion and politics as separate entities but also gives equal respect to all religions.  But contemporary Indian national life is witnessing the perversion of it. religious fundamentalism, communalism, violence, terrorism, etc. are sprouting from the moorings of religion. It is mainly due to the misuse of religion by politicians or communal powers.  The vision of a secularist about religious degradation can be understood as follows:-

When there is a degradation in spirituality, it leads to religiousity which causes fundamentalism to emerge and which further lends itself to communalism and the final result is the emergence of terrorism.

in conclusion, we see that:-

1) Instead of uniting people, religion is dividing people.

2) Instead of making peace, religion is making pieces.

3) Instead of keeping respectful distance from politics, religion is keeping, unholy alliance with politics.

4) Instead of being as a corrective force, religion is being as a corruptive force.

5) Instead of relating with people, religion is causing retaliation among people.

6) Instead of boosting the togetherness, religion is boasting otherness.

7) Instead of promoting community, religion is producing communalism.

Do you think that these inferences are fake or fair? Being members of a church, where do we stand ? Take your own time to think and reflect.

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