The Hatred Communalism Breeds: Before The Sparks Lead To A Fire

Posted on June 16, 2015 in Society

By Abdul Muheet Chowdhary:  

The previous two articles examined the communal ideology and the implications of its uninterrupted growth. This article will explore some solutions that can be implemented.

Holding The Police Accountable

It is a well-known fact that no communal riot can continue for longer than a day without the consent and even connivance of the police. The police bow down to pressure from communal politicians and remain inactive during the violence as well as in the course of its follow up which involves filing FIRs, making arrests, producing chargesheets and so on.

Therefore the first and most important step in preventing communal violence is holding officials in charge of law and order accountable. Legal reforms must be introduced which severely punish them through firing/dismissal or at the least suspension if they are unable to prevent a communal riot and do not conduct its follow up properly. The choice given to them must be stark: either kowtow before the communal politician and lose your job or do your duty and keep it. Faced with such a choice, it can be fairly surmised that most law and order officials would choose to keep their jobs and would act effectively in dealing with communal violence.

communal violence

This approach of holding officials accountable for lack of service delivery is present in all sectors whether public or private. For example in the case of RTI applications, the law prescribes penalties for information officers who do not answer in time. Protection of life is certainly the most important service delivered by the Government and accordingly the accountability for its effective delivery must be the highest possible.

Encouraging Pluralistic Settlements

Communal riots are only an indicator of a ‘boiling point’ being reached and a multi-pronged strategy is needed to address the factors that contribute to communalisation. Ghettoisation is one of them as religious segregation strengthens communal identities and reinforces negative stereotypes of the ‘other’. Ghettos form because of the prejudices inherent in society and therefore Governmental action is required to correct this.

The Government should have a policy that encourages pluralistic settlements where members of different communities live together. This can be done in two ways. First, existing barriers should be removed. There are regular instances of intolerance where Muslims, Christians, Dalits, non-Brahmins, North-Eastern citizens, meat-eaters etc. are denied housing owing to their identities. This should be cracked down upon and landlords should be penalised. The Sachar Committee report on the status of Indian Muslims recommended the creation of an Equal Opportunities Commission that would deal with such complaints.

Second, pluralistic settlements should be incentivised. The Government can provide rewards to settlements that are diverse whether they are public housing projects, private settlements, gated colonies, etc. These can take the form of tax breaks, rebates, cheaper loans for future projects, cash prizes, etc.

Such a policy of integration has been followed successfully in Singapore which is a highly racially diverse society. The Ethnic Integration Policy provides for mixed-racial housing through quota systems of representation that are proportional to the national average.

De-Communalising History Education

Ultimately communalism is an ideology and can be neutralised through education. Two main areas that need attention in this regard are i) the way history is taught ii) equipping children to deal with diversity.

The present categorisation of Indian history into Ancient, Medieval and Modern has significantly contributed to communal thinking in the country. It has effectively divided history into the Hindu period, Muslim period and Christian period. Medieval India begins in about 1000 CE/AD with the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate which is widely seen as the ‘Muslim invasion’. Modern India begins in about 1757 CE with the establishment of the British Raj after their victory in the Battle of Plassey. This is seen as the beginning of the ‘Christian invasion’.

This categorisation is tremendously flawed and is a real source of danger. It has given rise to the now-dominant thinking that India was basically a Hindu country which was ‘invaded’ by Muslims and Christians who subsequently went on a temple-busting and conversion spree and oppressively ruled for a thousand years. This has resulted in the cult of Hindu victimhood which desires vengeance through retribution as exemplified by the case of the Babri Masjid. As the blame is on Muslims and Christians primarily and not on say the Tughlaqs or the Portuguese, the Muslims and Christians of today are the targets of blame for the supposed sins of their ‘fathers’.

Another deeper and more tragic consequence of this categorisation is that it prevents Indians from appreciating the entirety of their composite culture and civilisation. Each religious community glorifies its period as ‘golden’ and ‘others’ the remaining periods. Muslims are not encouraged to see the achievements of Panini and Samudragupta as their own nor are Hindus encouraged to see the achievements of Amir Khusrao and Iltutmish as their own.

At its core, this categorisation is fundamentally flawed as it is rooted in the basic communal assumption that members of one religious community are internally homogenous and have the same interests which are opposed to the interests of other (equally internally homogenous) communities. This is utterly untrue and the Tughlaqs, Sayyids, Mughals and Qutub Shahis were as different from each other as the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British, or the Chalukyas, Satavahanas, Cholas and Guptas. To categorise these diverse groups with diverse interests under the vague garb of religion is dangerously misleading and socially harmful.

Therefore it is abundantly clear that the way history is taught needs to be drastically changed. A much better framework is one based on class. An excellent example is the one suggested by the great historian Romila Thapar in her masterly work ‘The Penguin History Of Early India‘ (p 31). It periodises history based on major changes in society such as changes in the economic structure (eg from hunter-gatherer to agrarian), in the political system (eg from tribal oligarchies to monarchies), in technology (eg from stone to iron tools), and so on. It offers a far more realistic view of the development of history. Similar frameworks have been used by D.D. Kosambi, Irfan Habib and Harbans Mukhia. However the re-categorisation of history is a highly complex topic and needs to be explored in more detail.

Teaching Our Children To Deal With Diversity

Finally, children must be taught how to deal with difference and diversity. This must be in the form of practical exercises that instil in them the habits and skills required to do so such that these remain with them throughout their lives. Some examples include role-playing (promotes empathy for different groups), exercises in critical thinking (to guard against prejudice), exposure visits, conflict resolution through dialogue and so on. UNESCO has an excellent series called ‘Tolerance: The Threshold For Peace‘ that contains details on such exercises.

These were some steps that can be taken by the Government in neutralising communalism. However in the long run social reform is essential. In the words of Dr. Ambedkar, ‘Law can punish a single solitary recalcitrant criminal. It can never operate against a whole body of people who are determined to defy it.’

Therefore the main thrust of the effort towards neutralising communalism is in the sphere of social and political reform and in bringing about a change in the values and mindsets of the people at large.

This is the third in a four part series that explores the issue of communalism and communal violence in India. Part I explains the phenomenon of communalism and why it occurs. Part II examines the likely implications if this phenomena is left unchecked. The next and concluding part of this series will lay out strategies of action on this front.