The recent communal attack on Muslims in Atali village in Ballabhgarh, Haryana is yet another symptom of the great cancer that is afflicting the body politic of the Indian nation – the cancer of communalism.
Growing Communalisation Of Society
The events that took place in Ballabhgarh follow a pattern that has become fairly standard: as elections approach, a communal riot is engineered by politicians through deliberate provocations that polarise communities on religious lines. Once the riot begins, the police remains inactive owing to political pressure. Survivors flee leaving behind their possessions which are then looted and grabbed by their neighbours. The majority of perpetrators – especially the main ones – go scot free, arrests are minimal and prosecutions drag on for decades and frequently end in acquittals. The victims of the attack are terrified to return and generally end up in a ghetto or in miserable refugee camps.
This sequence of events can be applied to any of the communal riots that have occurred recently – Trilokpuri in Delhi, Muzzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, Alirajpur in Madhya Pradesh and so on. However the communalisation of society can continue without riots, which are only an indicator of a ‘boiling point’ being reached in an otherwise simmering cauldron. The process of communalisation has devastating consequences and is one of the greatest challenges being faced by the nation today. It is therefore a matter of urgency that we understand this phenomenon, what its effects can be, and how it can be stopped.
Communal Ideology And Its Fallacies
The essence of the communal ideology or outlook assumes that society is primarily comprised of religious groups and that people belonging to one religion have common social, economic and political interests. Even those who want peaceful relations but still see religious communities as having common interests are using the communal framework and are prey to succumbing to more extreme forms of communalism, as the historical examples of M.A. Jinnah and Lala Lajpat Rai show.
In its extreme forms, the communal outlook assumes that the interests of different religious groups are hostile and antagonistic towards each other. For the communalist, ‘Hindus’ across the country have common interests regardless of differences of class, language, region, ethnicity, caste, etc and these differences are opposed to the interests of ‘Muslims’ who again are seen as a homogeneous group having a homogeneous set of interests.
Thus for the Hindu communalist, a male Brahmin IT professional from Delhi, a female Dalit construction worker from Tamil Nadu, a male Baniya Gujarati businessman from Ahmedabad, a male landlord from Punjab and a female marginal farmer from eastern Uttar Pradesh all have common social, economic and political interests by virtue of being ‘Hindus’, and these interests – whatever they are – are directly opposed to the interests of ‘Muslims’.
This ideology in action is visible to us day in and day out through the politics and activities of the Hindutva Right – the BJP, VHP, RSS, Bajrang Dal, etc. However a close examination of the issues raised and demands made by these groups invariably shows that their obsession is more with Muslims and Christians than with Hindus and their welfare.
The reason why this happens is because of the very flaw in the communal ideology. It seeks to lump together an extremely diverse group of people under the amorphous category of ‘Hindus’. First, Hinduism is an extremely diverse faith by itself and any attempts to define a real Hindu is an exercise fraught with danger as it can lead to terrible infighting between differing sects such as Vaishnavites and Shaivites. Second, Hindu society (and South Asian society in general) is afflicted with the reality of caste and each caste has a very different set of interests.
Therefore to speak of a unified Hindu identity and its interests is something which practically cannot be done. It is far easier to define it in negative terms and say that a Hindu is not a Muslim or a Christian, that their needs are not the needs of these communities and that in fact the needs of these communities form a danger to the needs of Hindus. This is why the core agenda and the obsession of Hindutvawadis is always with issues of Muslims and Christians – beef eating, temple construction over disputed sites, religious conversions, love jihad and so on. Simply put, they have nothing constructive to offer and are negative because they have to be.
One has to only look at Pakistan – a country founded due to Muslim communalism – to see the truth of this. The ideologues for Pakistan raised the cry of Islam in danger to pit ‘Muslims’ against ‘Hindus’. After its creation they had the country almost entirely to themselves (Pakistan is today 97% Muslim) but the question necessarily arose as to who were the Muslims for which the nation had been created and whose interests now had to be served. This led to the beginning of terrible infighting between the various sects of Muslims and the civil war in Pakistan today – for it cannot be called anything less – is the direct result of this politics of communalism. India is headed in the same direction and unless urgent steps are taken it will end up as a Hindu version of Pakistan.
This is the first of 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. Part III and IV discuss solutions.