Communalism in India

What is meant by Communalism?

Communalism in a broad sense means a strong attachment to one’s own community. The community may refer to a region, religion, language or any other identity.

Communalism in India refers to the attachment of a person to his religious identity. The following points describe the various facets of Communalism in India

  1. The religious identity plays a major role in people who are practising communalism
  2. Communalism also means that people from one group of a religion treat people from other religion with hatred and contempt
  3. The extreme form of communalism leads to violence between two communities. The problem of communal violence is widespread in India. For Example, the violence between Hindus and Muslims

A Brief History of Religious Communalism

The classification of religions in India are given in the following chart

During Ancient India: 

  • Ancient India was predominantly a Hindu society
  • During this phase Buddhism and Jainism originated as a protest movement towards Brahmin religious practices like cow sacrifice, social inequality etc. but there was no hatred or violence
  • These religions prescribed peace and harmony and hence the unity of the country was maintained

During Medieval India:

  • Medieval India witnessed the arrival of Islam in India.
  • The rulers of Medieval India were majorly Muslim kings. They brought in art, culture and other traditions of Islam
  • Occasional occurrences of violence were present. For Example, Mahmud Ghazni’s destruction of Hindu temples and Mahmud of Ghor’s attack on Hindus, Buddhists, Jains
  • There has been a broad tolerance towards the religious practices of one community towards another and the people of all religions coexisted with peace and harmony.

During British Rule:

  • The British government adopted a policy of Divide and Rule
  •  It means using one community against another for political gains
  • This was particularly with respect to Hindus and Muslims
  • This resulted in hatred between the two communities which eventually resulted in a demand for a separate Pakistan and resulted in Partition in 1947

Causes of Hindu Muslim violence

Social and Cultural Causes:

  • Differences in rituals and practices between the two religions vary significantly
  • The Hindus treat cow as sacred while for muslims consuming beef is a traditional culinary preference. The Intolerance Debate in India is related to this.
  • The Hindu religion is polytheistic (i.e, many gods and deities) whereas the Islam is monotheistic (ie., One god)
  • Idolatry and image worship  (i.e, the worship of idols and photos of gods ) is practiced by Hindus whereas Islam condemns both the practices

Economic Causes:

  • Muslims are educationally and economically backward
  • Their backwardness has been officially approved by the Rajinder Sachar Committee
  • Muslims are mostly concentrated in the urban areas and most of them are self employed and they constitute the urban middle class

Political Causes:

  • The most important cause of communal clashes lies in the political interests of the leaders of the two communities. The politicians who encourage communalism for vested interests are called communal persons
  • Vote bank politics and appeal to religious communities based for votes by political parties is also prevalent

Psychological Causes: 

The Hindus in India constitute the majority of the population (more than 80%). Muslims belong to a minority and as a result they develop a complex of the following

  • A feeling of deprivation for not belonging to a majority community
  • A feeling of fear and insecurity
  • A feeling of status frustration due to their economic backwardness
  • A feeling of exclusion (this arises because there is no easy bonding and friendship between the two communities)

For Example, there has been reports of landlords belonging to Hindu community not willing to rent his/her residence to muslims. This happens the other way around as well.

Characteristics of Communal Violences in Contemporary India

Communal violence in India is mostly concerned with Hindus and Muslims. Instances of violence concerning christians, jews, sikhs etc., has also been reported. Let us take a look at the characteristics of communal violences

  • Communal riots are more politically motivated. The Madan Commission which looked into communal disturbances in Maharashtra in May 1970 had found the same
  • Economic interests plays a major role in communal clashes
  • Communal riots seem to be more com­mon in North India than in South and East India
  •  The possibility of recurrence of communal riots in a town where communal riots have al­ready taken place once or twice is stronger than in a town in which riots have never occurred
  • Communal riots are more common in Urban areas than rural areas
  • Many of the communal riots take place on the occasion of religious festivals
  • The use of deadly weapons in the riots is on the rise

Communal Violence in Uttar Pradesh- A Case Study

 International Religious Freedom Report 2013 (USA) has slammed the Uttar Pradesh government for not taking effective steps to control communal violence and intolerance.
Uttar Pradesh has seen the frequent occurrences of communal riots. For Example, The Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013. Following are some of the broad reasons for frequent occurrences of communal riots in Uttar Pradesh
  • Lack of Government Control : Both the State and Central Government have not taken effective steps to reduce the communal clashes.
  • Inequality in the region: Post the spread of Green Revolution, Western Uttar Pradesh became prosperous but Eastern Uttar Pradesh lagged behind. This widened the gap between people of these two regions. This polarisation between communities is one of the reasons for many communal riots.
  • Political Advantages: There have been evidences of communal riots occurring just before the elections which are found to be politically engineered.
  • Communal Consciousness: The feeling of identity with religion is widespread among both the Hindus and Muslims
Solutions to communalism in India


  • Poverty is one of the major factors for communal violence. Poverty alleviation measures are thus important for promoting communal harmony.
  • Reducing educational and economic backwardness of muslims. This can uplift their socio economic status and reduce their deprivation compared to Hindus


  • Children in schools must be taught through textbooks and pamphlets to maintain brotherhood and respect for all religions
  • Creating awareness in the society about the ill effects of communism through mass media


  • Political communism should be avoided recent Supreme court’s directives
  • Identification and mapping of riot prone areas. For Example, Delhi police used drones to monitor to maintain vigil during communal festivals
  • Mass media’s should take excessive care when publishing communally sensitive news that has the potential to induce violence

Recommendations of Committee on National Integration

  • Joint celebration of community festivals
  • Observing restraint by Hindus while taking processions before the mosques
  • Formation of peace and brotherhood communities at local level to prevent anti-social elements from engagin in communal riots
  • Respect for religious customs, rituals and practices


  1. Wikipedia
  2. Ram Ahuja
  3. Indian Express
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