India is a country whose history is filled with communal acts of violence. This is due to many reasons such as its independence from the British, its relationship with neighboring countries etc. In this essay, we will introduce some key terms that will help you understand the topic better and then we will look at some of the ways in which we can stop communal violence in this country.
1. VIOLENCE AS A POLITICAL ORDER
Political violence is a term which is used to describe a scenario in which either a single person or even whole governments use violence in order to gain political power or to achieve political goals. In India, we follow a multi-party system and because of that, there is a lot of competition in terms of getting votes. In order to get these votes, most political parties either give false promises to the people, use bribery as a means to get votes, threaten to either kill or beat up people who will go against them etc. It is not only the political parties that are responsible for political violence in India. The public too is responsible as there have been many scenarios where the public uses force in order to express their opinion on political matters. They are responsible for mobs, looting, arson etc. There are also many non- state organizations such as a terrorist group who use extreme ways such as bomb blasts as ways of communicating their displeasure. Now we ask the question of what is state-related violence?
2. STATE- RELATED VIOLENCE
State-related violence is when an organized group or the government itself uses violence either against another state or against civilians. For the purpose of this essay, we will be focusing on the latter part which is violence against civilians. There are many types of violence the state can do against civilians such as using armed forces to subdue an uprising. An example of this would be the Maoist movement in North- East India and how the Indian government is using the Indian army as a means of subduing them. What we will be focusing on in this essay is state-related genocide or ethnic cleansing. Ethnic cleansing is a process in which violent acts are carried out against a particular group of people based either on their caste, color, religion etc. This can also be called communal violence. What is communalism?
We can say that communalism “ in its most commonly perceived form, is the phenomenon of religious differences between groups often leading to tension and even rioting between them.( Mukhia 1983, p.1664). Communalism is a product of British rule in India as the Britishers separated India into separate communities for their own benefit. In India, religious conflicts have been mainly between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. It all stems back to pre-independent India, where during the 19th century, there was the cow protection movement. Hindus worship cows and thus killing cows was not acceptable to them and thus began the long conflict between Hindus and Muslims through which numerous lives had been lost. Several pictures and motifs started to appear in broadcast appeals such as “the representation of the Muslim- and to a lesser extent the Englishmen, the Indian Christian and others- as the killer cows and, hence, the enemy of Hinduism”( Pandey 1999, p.310) and “ other pictures more simply portrayed a (Muslim) butcher ready to slaughter a cow, and Hindus of several different castes crying out to him to desist”( Pandey 1999, p.310). This was just the start of the violence between Hindus and Mulims. The partition only deepened the wound as communal violence between the claimed close to 1 million lives. How do we stop communal violence?
4. COMMUNALISM WITHOUT VIOLENCE
Communalism does not mean communal violence as “ Communal violence is a consequence of the spread of communal ideology. But it is not the crux of the communal situation at all.”( Chandra 1990, p.38) There are many ways in which communal violence can be stopped. One of the most important ways is to either abolish all communal parties or to make sure that none of them come to power. As previously said, communalism was a product of colonization by the British. Due to this, there was a lot of different communities and each community had their own interests. Thus, to express those interests, each community made their own communal political party and “ The Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha of the pre-Independence India are the king examples of such communal organizations” ( Mukhia 1972, p.46)
All communal parties have a religious ideology and they would like to implement the elements of those ideologies and that is a real threat to Secularism in India. In many cases, this leads to communal violence between two or more communities. This is also not an opinion but is a fact because there have been many cases of this over the last century. It was the Muslim League who had come up with the two-nation theory and had demanded that another country is formed just for Muslims as they thought that they were second-class citizens in India. That lead to the partition of India which resulted in the lives of close to 1 million people. Another example would be when in 1984 Indra Gandhi attacked the Golden Temple in Amritsar with the help of the Indian army in order to capture the Sikh militants who had taken refuge in the temple. This was not taken well by the Sikh community as the Golden Temple has religious sentiment to them and Indra Gandhi was later assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards as vengeance for her act of violence. This later lead to anti- Sikh riots in which close to 3000 Sikhs, including woman and children, were either burned alive or killed and thousands became homeless.
Even today there are many communal parties. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ( RSS) is a Hindu nationalist party who promotes the ideology of Hindutva. If this party were to come to power then it would not be good for people of other religions as they would be treated as second-class citizens. Another communal party is Bhartiya Janata Party( BJP) who share a similar ideology to RSS. Both these parties are also responsible for inciting communal violence as it was their rally that caused the activists and the supporters to demolish the Babri Masjid in 1992. This turned into riots in which more than 2000 Hindus and Muslims were killed. Another incident in which BJP was suspected to be involved with communal violence was in 2002 in Gujrat, when a train full of Hindu pilgrim or ‘ karsevaks’ was burned and the people suspected that such an act could only be done by Muslims. This had again led to anti- Muslim riots in Gujrat and around 1000 people dead with more than 2000 people either injured or missing, with most of them being Muslim. The then chief minister of Gujrat, Narendra Modi, who was also of BJP, was accused of starting or initiating the riots.
From the examples we just discussed we know how dangerous it could be if a communal party is in power although it might not be true in all cases. If a communal party has state power then it means “above all, control of education, it means control of media, it means control of ideological State apparatuses in general”( Chandra 1990, p.43). Through this power, the party might bring good to the society, or else it could use the media and manipulate the education system to spread its ideology.
Another method to remove communal violence is through the right kind of education. As previously mentioned, most communal parties spread wrong ideologies and one of the reasons that people believe them so easily is because they have not received the right kind of education. That is because in some states the children are brainwashed at a young age as the curriculum in their schools spread their religious ideologies. The previous statement is supported by K. N. Panikar who says “. Much before the M.P. and U.P. governments took steps to rewrite textbooks these books were in circulation, imparting to in young minds Hindu religious consciousness and communal ideology” ( Panikar 1993, p.28). He also says “The focus of these books is religious and their message communal. Extracts from Hindu scriptures, stories from Hindu mythology and the heroism of Hindu kings against Muslim rulers are their main content.”( Panikar 1993, p.28). With the right kind of education, the children can learn the positive sides of every community and not participate in violence rather than being subjected to only the negatives of every other community other than their own.
Continuing with the previous argument, better education would mean a better understanding of other communities. This could be used to promote inter-communal marriage. Due to the lack of proper education in many places, religious orthodoxy remains an issue and there have been cases in which a couple from different religions either get exiled by their communities or are hunted down by their communities. This could be changed by proper education as this may get rid of previously mentioned radical approaches. If two families from different communities are joined together by marriage, then this could be followed by other families in other communities too. Through this, they will be able to ‘discover’ more about the other communities and might realize that whatever they had been told about the other community was in fact wrong. This system of inter-communal marriage is already taking place across India in big cities but it will really make a difference if also done in small cities and rural areas.
One of the very important reasons of why communal violence takes place mostly between Hindus and Muslims is due to how media portray Muslims. Due to the history between the two communities because of the violence that ensued during the partition and the recent Muslim attacks in the name of Islam all over the world, the media has somewhat demonized Muslims. Due to all this, the term Islamophobia is used. Islamophobia can be “ observed in its various forms such as racial or cultural prejudice, hatred towards Muslims and Islam and their depiction as a threat to world peace”( Iqbal 2010, p.82). There have also been many attacks in India by Pakistan. Pakistan has been blamed for using militant forces on India and has also been held responsible for trying to turn the Muslim population in India against India. An example of this would be when after the independence of India, the dispute over who Kashmir belonged to arose. In an attempt to get a hold of Kashmir, Pakistan sent militants to Kashmir to take it by force. It was only when Kashmir formally became a part of India when India troops arrived and drove the militants away. That is not the only case when India was attacked by Islamic terrorists. In 2005, a group of terrorists, whose base was in Pakistan attacked Mumbai. The attacks lasted 4 days and over 150 people were killed. It is due to these reasons that there are misconceptions about Muslims such as that all ‘Muslims are terrorists’. As previously said, Pakistan targets the Muslim community in India in attempts to turn them against their own country. This leads to some problems for the Muslim population as “some significant groups in the population find it difficult to reconcile their primordial background with the new-found civic order and hold higher allegiance to the subnational groupings'.” ( Azam 1976, p.26). With the help of the media, we can get rid of these preconceived notions.
So from all the above arguments and examples, we can say that communalism is nothing but a false ideology and that the impression it has on people is of a wrong reality which will be harmful to the society. The above reasons could hamper India’s position at a global level. If we try to accomplish the above ways through which we can eradicate communal violence, then we will certainly be able to have a better society and build towards a better future.
1. Mukhia, Harbans. 1983. “Communalism and Indian Politics”. Economic and Political Weekly 18( 39): 1664
2. Pandey, Gyanendra 1999. “Communalism as Construction”. Politics in India edited by Sudipta Kaviraj, New Delhi: OUP, pp. 349-364
3. Chandra, Bipin. 1990. “Communalism and the State : Some Issues in India.” Social Scientist 18( 8/9): 38-47
4. Mukhia, Harbans. 1972. “ Communalism: A Study in Its Socio- Historical Perspective”. Social Scientist 1(1): 45-57
5. Panikar, K.N. 1993. “ Culture and Communalism”. Social Scientist 21 (3/4) : 24-31
6. Iqbal, Zafar. 2010. “Islamophobia or Islamophobias: Towards Developing A Process Model”. Islamic Studies 49 (1): 81-101
7. Azam, Kousar J. 1976. “THE INDIAN MUSLIMS— THE QUEST FOR IDENTITY”. The Indian Journal of Political Science 37 (3): 24-42