Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Communal Violence in Secular India (Part 1)

Communal riots in Ahmedabad in February/March 2002. 
Photo from Wikimedia Commons. 
Skyline filled with smoke as buildings are set on fire by rioting mob.

This article was published in Pul-E-Jawan website on May 9, 2012. This was written few months back as an exercise to understand the rise of Hindu Nationalism post 1990. This is a small part of a very elaborate discourse.

Edited by Amrendra Shrivasrava for Pul-E-Jawan(Permalink:

“There has been a monotonic increase in the barrier between the two communities, decade by decade, and what had begun as a by-product of the British rule has now become a fixed and extensive feature of the politics of contemporary India.”

-Amartya Sen, Economist and Nobel Laureate *

Secular India

There is no blinking to the fact that India as a nation has a secular character. Over the years the “secular Indians” have been making effort to establish the secular nature of the state in a better way. But incidents like Babri Masjid demolition, Godhra massacre, Sikh riots, Kandhmal riots, Bhagalpur riots, are serious questions on the well established “belief” that India is a secular State.

When we talk about communal violence in a secular setup, we question the administration of the state. But questioning alone does not help in confronting the reality. Is it the administration alone to blame for the communal outburst? Or there is more than what meets the eye? This paper is an attempt to look out for answers to such questions.

Post Independence, India has witnessed rise in Hindu communalism or “Hindutva” as coined by V.D.Savarkar in 1923. This ideological strategy of RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) led to Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya, in the year 1992, which was a long disputed sight. Creation of a Ram Temple at the sight of demolition is still the most important agenda of the BJP, 2ndlargest political party in the Parliament of India. The following riots after the demolition, especially in Bombay (now Mumbai), resulted in loss of more than 2,000 human lives.

Another major incident took place in Gujarat in the year 2002- a state supported massacre of the minority Muslims. Many hold Narendra Modi, the then (and present) Chief Minister of Gujarat, culprit for the massacre. The burning of the Sabarmati Express, which carried the ‘Kar Sevaks’ (volunteers for Ram Temple creation) on 27.02.2002, by the Muslim community as a result of a conflict (of which many versions are recorded) later resulted in loss of more than 2,000 human lives in different parts of Gujarat.

Romancing the Past

Matter of concern here is “human loss” which is result of the politics of Hatred. The hate for the “other” is deep rooted. This can be well understood by a suggestion given to M.J.Akbar, senior Indian journalist, by a Hindu Leader. He said, “The best solution to the Muslim problem in the subcontinent is to line up every Indian Muslim on the border with Pakistan, and then start a war: the Indian Army could finish Pakistan while Pakistan would finish India’s Muslims.” [1] M.J. Akbar took this as a joke!

The ideology of Hindutva (this is different from Hinduism) does not only talk about the national boundaries where it demands a “Hindu Rashtra” (Hindu Nation), but it also talks about the sacred boundary for the Hindu Rashtra- “Akhand Bharat” or undivided India. This is problematic. It is foolish to live in the past. Romanticising the past cannot help a nation to flourish.

The hatred for a particular religion is result of the politics of RSS, which during the freedom struggle of India portrayed India as a victim of not only British colonisers but the Muslim as well because of the Muslim invasions thousand years back. Savarkar, in his book “Hindutva” asks the question who has the right to live in the sacred land of India. Obvious answer he gives is Hindus. Other subsidiary religion to Hiduism like Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism also find place in the holy land.

This is an ideological trap. Hindu communalism, which was portrayed as Hindu Nationalism in order to gain sympathy, gives enough reasons to the layman to believe that Hindu community which although constituted the majority of the nation, was basically victim of the Christians and Muslims.

Communal Relationship with Neighbours

The medieval era of India, which must be appreciated for its art and culture, was portrayed as the worst period in Indian history. The Hindu Nationalist discourse was further developed by M.S.Golwarkar, whose writings revolved around the question of construction of a cultural holism and national strength to negotiate and control the fragmenting impulses of modernity.

Mythology is confused with History in order to present a grand picture of the glorious India. This is a major reason why Ram Janm Bhumi (Birth place of Lord Rama) issue suddenly took the Hindu communal ideology to a total different height. Charisma of Ram was over emphasised by the television series “Ramayana” which was aired on Doordarshan in late1980s. We can also not under estimate the portrayal of Shivaji. He stood against Mughals on broad secular values but is often misinterpreted to promote parochialism and to divide the people on religious basis.

Pakistan holds a special place amongst the Hindu communalists. Partition of “Akhand Bharat” or the Undivided India, was a blow to the blind followers of the ideology. They firmly held M.K.Gandhi, amongst others, responsible for it, which led to his assassination by Nathu Ram Godse in 1948. Partition of India and creation of a new state Pakistan was a result of Muslim insecurity as well as Muslim communalism. Led by Jinnah, the Muslim communalism was put forward in the name of Muslim nationalism. Before 1947, the rage had gripped the communal Muslims in the name of Islamic nationalism; now the communal Hindus have taken to it and use it against the Muslims in the name of Hindu Nationalism; its worst exhibition has been the gruesome massacre of the innocent and helpless Muslims in Gujarat. [2]

Future is not necessarily safer than the past

In his book, Communalism- A Primer, Bipin Chandra talks about the consequences communal hatred can lead to. In such a situation when there seems a no way out, he says,
“While not giving way to a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness in facing the communalchallenge, the starting point has to be the realisation that the way out is going to be a long haul. There are no short-term or instant solutions to the problems generated over decades and generations. Communalisation of India has been occurring for over 100 years, actively encouraged for the 50 years before independence by the colonial rulers. De-communalisation has also, therefore, to be a process.” [3]
Although the secular forces see this as a problem, they fail to give a better alternative. The secular forces attack only the political wing of the ideology, the BJP, but abstains itself from talking about RSS and other related bodies like VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad), Bajrang Dal, and Shri Ram Sena who do not participate in the parliamentary system. Although BJP lost the 2004 parliament elections, the ideology is still a threat to secular India, and there is no reason to believe that the future is safer than the past.

To Be Continued

Author: Nihal Parashar, a Peace activist through theatre, writing, teaching and social media.


* Amartya sen, Foreword “Communal Rage in Secular India” by Rafiq Zakaria

1- Communal Rage in Secular India (2002) by Rafiq zakaria, page xxiv

2- Communal Rage in Secular India (2002) by Rafiq Zakaria, page xvi

3-Communalism- A Primer (2008) Bipin Chandra, page 1-2

(Read Part 2 here:

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