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Social Integration and Communal Harmony in India

In India from time immemorial, people belonging to various religious faiths lived in harmony and peace. There are fundamental values and traditions in our culture that promote integration among different communities. This was helpful for the growth of a great civilization in the Indian sub-continent. It will be our endeavour as the citizens of this country to preserve the rich tradition of Social Harmony among diverse religious and ethnic groups and pass it over to the future generations. Even though communal tensions in India are well under control, there is no place for complacency as many internal and external forces are waiting with their ulterior motives sowing the seeds of ill-will.

Human needs can be found as the same everywhere in the world if we look at it from biological and psychological perspectives. Irrespective of the geographic, linguistic or religious differences humans everywhere have common biological needs like hunger, thirst, sex etc; the satisfaction of which is essential for their survival. Similarly man has psychological needs like, need for recognition, need for companionship, need for security, need for prestige etc. the fulfillment of which is inevitable for maintaining sound mental health. Man cannot satisfy most of such needs through his own individual efforts. He requires the assistance of his fellow members of the group in this regard. That is why human beings are considered as social animals. A cooperative integrated society is most congenial for leading a healthy social life.

Religion is one of the social institutions found in all human societies. It assists man to establish and maintain harmonious relationships with the supernatural forces that are believed to have direct influence in the fortunes of man. Moreover religion is one of the agents contributing to the integration of society. Religion provides ‘we feeling’ among its members. Performance of religious rites, participation in festivals, leadership provided by priests and religious functionaries, following many common beliefs and values, etc reinforces the unity among the members of a religion. Even though holy books and teachings of each religion claim that they help man reach God, none of them propagate hatred against other faiths. All religions in their essence assist people to live in harmony with members of the society. According to Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India “ the communal problem is not a religious problem, it has nothing to do with religion.” Nobody can blame the presence of diverse religions for the emergence of communal problems in the world.

Even though all religions proclaim the universal brotherhood of man, history is full of bloody, violent conflicts between members of different religions. Many battles were fought between Muslims and Christians, Jews and Muslims, Hindus and Muslims and so on in the past. Many such struggles are going on even now like the conflict between Muslims and Jews in Palestine. A deeper analysis of the causative factors of these conflicts shows that in all these situations non-religious, often political and economic interests were instrumental to these problems. Religious identity was used as a mask to cover up the vested interests of the conflicting parties. Therefore the root cause of communalism is not the presence of many religions in the country. When religious sentiments are exploited with an economic or political motive the resultant effect gives rise to the genesis of communalism. According to Madan (2001) communalism is the political expression of religion. He defined communalism as an ideology, which envisages the religious community as a political group committed to the protection and promotion of its social and economic interests and cultural values.

While communalism is a feeling or state of mind existing at a psychological level, communal conflict or riot is its overt expression. Once generated, communalism remains in the minds of people always, and communal conflicts emerge only occasionally when there is a total breakdown in the good relations between two communities. From a sociological perspective social conflict by its very nature cannot continue indefinitely. During communal violence each community used it as an occasion to harm the interests of the rival community who may be socially or economically sound. The feelings of relative deprivation felt by one community is often converted into violent attacks against a well placed community. This is what happened in 1984 when there were violent attacks against the Sikhs in different parts of the country after the assassination of the then Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi by her body guards who happened to be from the Sikh community. Investigations conducted later by sociologists and many other social scientists proved that Sikhs who were economically well placed were attacked and members of other communities who were jealous of their prosperity looted their shops. People with vested interests to attain their ulterior goals exploited this particular context by exploiting the religious sentiments.

One must not confuse communalism with communal violence, rioting etc. Poorly conceived Communal ideology leads to communal violence. Communal violence is a consequence of the spread of misunderstood and ill-conceived communal ideology. But it is not the crux of the communal situation at all. Communal ideology cannot only exist, but can grow for decades before it takes the form of violence.

This book contains some of the selected papers presented in the National Conference on Social Integration and Communal Harmony organized by the Kerala Sociological Society from 1st to 3rd December 2006 at Sree Narayana College, Thiruvananthapuram.

Prof. N.R. Madhava Menon in his paper Constitutionalism and Management of Diversity in Multi-cultural Societies deals with the significance of Indian Constitution to manage various problems in a multi-cultural society. He points out that secularism is a basic feature of the constitution which cannot be changed even by parliament. There is no state religion and the state is prohibited against discrimination on the basis of religion. He believes that for multi-culturalism can survive and communal harmony can prevail only when we ensure equality of status among people and equal opportunity for everyone as conceived in the Constitution of India. In the second part of the paper, the author focuses his attention on the concept of social integration. He notices that the constitutional strategy to promote fraternity is helpful to attain social integration. In this context the author recommends a Uniform Civil Code for the entire nation. However, political parties do not support this view because no political party is ready to talk about it, because of the vested interests involved especially because of the vote bank politics.

In her paper, Social Integration and Communal Harmony, Prof. M. Indukumari presents the multiple factors and contexts that influence social integration and communal harmony. First of all she explains the significance of this theme in the present Indian context. According to her view, the prime concern of any nation aiming at development should be the attainment of social / national integration.

Moreover, she argues that despite some differences at ritual, social and cultural levels among different religions, there is conspicuous commonality at the level of values that promotes communal harmony. The author lists many examples of inter religious co-operation that exist in Kerala for a long period. However, she also points out that this rosy picture of Kerala is changing gradually and this society has started showing symptoms of religious intolerance and communal violence. This paper gives due consideration towards the debate on the need for a Uniform Civil Code for India. Another concern of this paper is to show how communal violence affects the interests of the vulnerable sections like women, religious minorities, tribals, dalits etc. The author expresses confidence that NGOs can play a crucial role in maintaining communal harmony. In the concluding part of the paper she identifies certain strategies to promote communal harmony. On the whole this paper provides a comprehensive picture of social integration and communal harmony in India.

M.K.George in his article on “Tolerance is various faiths” attempted to highlight how various faiths and religions can contribute to the building of tolerance in the world. He stresses that every religion contains components of belief, rituals, information and knowledge, behavioural consequences and the expectations that guide the whole system. The author briefly looks at Bhuddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Hinuduism and observes that in discussing religion as an instrument of peace and harmony one needs to make this distinction between religiosity, which only can divide, and spirituality which can unite all believers. Religiosity focuses on differences, where as spirituality emphasizes what is common. Spirituality provides meaning to life and reality. Spritiuality connects, with the self, others, god and native. He stresses that the social scenario in India and the world over demands an active Youth population striving for peace and tolerance and hence the Youth needs to take this agenda.

The paper Secular Legacy and Communal Paradox - The case of Kerala contributed by Dr. Antony Palackal presents some unconventional interpretations of the communal situation in Kerala. The author observes that secularism, the characteristic facet of social life in Kerala society is currently under severe strain. According to him nowadays there seems to be an alarming spread of communal and fascist forces in the State. This article marks an enquiry into the characteristics and dynamics of the emergent communalism in Kerala and tries to trace its secular legacy and the communal paradox. The first part of the paper seeks to unfold the secular legacy and the opposite reality of communalism that has engulfed it. The second part is a discussion on the unique forms of communal manifestations in Kerala. The third part is an exploration into the evolution of the growing communalism in Kerala. The concluding section briefly sketches the relation between communalism and spirituality vis-à-vis religion and the possible manner in which the growing menace of communalism may be addressed. The paper reveals that communalism gives rise to a heightened sense of identity and belongingness as it operates on the basis of the theory of ‘polarization’. Polarization results in emotional, mental or physical mobilization of individuals and groups to cause cohesion within a group . However it divides people as members of larges communities. The author feels that religious and/or caste sectarianism and communal interests dominate most of our political life today. The paper conclude with an optimistic note that a viable alternative to the prevailing communal paradox appears to be the resurgence of societal consciousness born out of neo-renaissance movements capable of regaining the lost secular legacy of Kerala.

The paper Hindu Response to Conversion Threat: Questions on Conversion and Social Equality written by Shaji.A is undertaking a historical analysis of the communal situation in 20th Century Kerala. The major focus of this paper is on The Temple Entry Proclamation of Travancore, 1936 that was a turning point in the history of modern Kerala. This proclamation put an end to the inhuman practice of untouchability and it opened a new future to the oppressed classes in Travancore. The author notices that before 1936 several low caste people of Travancore including Ezhavas converted themselves into other religions especially Christianity since they found it as the easiest way to escape from the caste tyranny.

However, Sree Narayana Guru, leader of SNDP movement was successful in preventing this tide of conversion to Christianity or to Buddhism. The Ezhavas were also interested in Islam and Sikhism. When the low caste Hindus including Ezhavas started large-scale conversion to Christianity, it became an eye-opener for progressive Hindu reformers. Efforts were made to bring back the converted Hindus to Hinduism under the initiative of the Hindu Mission. By permitting entry to all Hindus to the temples, low caste Hindus including Ezhavas were retained in their religion. This paper clearly explains how Temple Entry Proclamation assisted the Hindu leaders to meet the challenges of conversion.

Through her paper Causes of Communal Conflict and Violence, Pushpam. M attempts to describe the multitude of factors that are instrumental in communal conflicts and violence in India. The author points out that communalism is a constant threat to the unity and integrity of our country. She clarifies the meaning of communalism in the context of this study and presents different dimensions to it. Next part of the paper deals with the explanation of the meaning of communal violence and its causes. Large number of causes like social, economic, religious, political, legal, psychological, administrative, historical etc is presented here. The role of mass media in the context of communal violence is also briefly mentioned. She points out that many of the leaders who fight against communalism are not sincere in their efforts and offering only lip service towards this cause. The author concludes her paper by saying that communal violence is part of the total violence in the society and therefore when we develop strategies to prevent violence as a whole in the society, the incidence of communal violence is likely to come down.

The paper Communalism and communal riots in India contributed by Sajitha J. Kurup gives a detailed description of the communal situation prevailing in India and the occurrence of large number of communal riots in the recent period. She begins her analysis by explaining the etymological meaning of communalism.

The author points out that social factor play a very important role in the genesis of communalism. She supports the view that communal problems began to emerge with the establishment of British rule in India and so communalism is a modern phenomenon and not a medieval phenomenon. However, communalism which we had inherited from the British period attained new dimensions during the post-independence period. All communities and political parties used it for achieving their economic and political goals. After explaining the meaning of communal violence the author also deals with the theories of communal violence such as Social Barriers Theory and the Theory of Polarization and Cluster Effect. A major part of this paper is devoted to describe the large number of communal riots that took place in the year 2005. The paper further gives an idea of the recent trends in communal violence and the occurrences of some stray incident here and there. In the concluding part of the paper the author suggests some long term and short-term measures to meet the challenges of communalism and communal violence.

The paper, Social Capital and Social Mobilization of Women for Communal Harmony – The case of Marad, contributed by Jyothi S. Nair, invites the attention of the readers towards a serious communal conflict in Kerala. This paper is based on the primary data collected from the women of Marad in Kozhikode district who are the victims of this communal violence. This study seeks to analyze how far the mobilization of women through Self Help Groups (SHGs) has withstood the turbulences of communalism in Marad. Moreover, an attempt has been made to understand whether the social mobilization of women through SHGs, and the social capital created by them act as an alternative in ensuring communal harmony. The major finding of this paper is that social capital is an effective instrument for maintaining communal harmony. The author suggests that the civil society and Local Self Government Institutions should join hands together for encouraging the women to form SHGs which are inter-religious in nature to build a harmonious society.

The paper of Dr. Anishia Jayadev on Communal Riots and Minorities in Kerala: The case of Muslims, examines how communal riots affect the interests of the minorities in Kerala. She points out that the Constitution of India gives freedom to practise and propagate any religion. The Indian government is also not indifferent to religion . The Constitution provides for special protection to the religious minorities.

However, the majority community persecutes the minorities, including Muslims on many occasions. Though there are fewer communal problems are in Kerala, still there are occasional conflicts. Hence, she emphasizes the need to take precaution any steps precautionary.

Bushra Beegom R.K. in her paper Role of civil society in promoting communal harmony in Kerala deals with a vital topic that is neglected by many scholars. She points out that in the modern society it is the responsibility of every individual to preserve communal harmony. The author highlights the importance of civil society, democratic ideology, decentralization of power, welfare programmes etc for attaining communal harmony. This paper also puts forward the need for a national campaign for reconciliation and harmony. The author explains that organizations in the modern civil society like NGOs, mass media, professional associations, trade unions, religious groups, academic community etc can play their respective roles in fostering communal harmony. She also advocates the need for social reform and legal measures to attain this goal. The author has genuine faith in the capabilities of civil society in this regard.

In her paper Communal Violence in Gujarat - Perspectives on the Causative Factors, Jayasree.G, discusses the various factors leading to conflict between Hindus and Muslims in India. Lack of timely action by the State Govt was identified as the most important factor that led to the killing of large number of innocent people in Gujarat. With the help of secondary data the author argues that minorities suffered disproportionately in most of the communal riots on India. At the same time she points out that Hindu – Muslim conflict can be considered as an extension of the wider social conflict that includes inter as well as intra communal riots, caste violence and other forms of sectional upheavals. On the whole Jayasree is successful in giving some new interpretations for the eruption of communal violence in India.

The paper of Maya P.V, Role of Women Councilors in Promoting Social Harmony, gives special attention to women members of Local Self Government Institutions in urban areas. In the introductory part of the article the author explains the cultural and political dimensions of communalism in India. Based on an empirical study conducted among the women councilors in Attingal Municipality of Thiruvananthapuram district the author argues that they can play a significant role in promoting communal harmony and social integration. She highlights the role played by Self Help Groups in bringing together women of different communities

The paper of Rajani R.V on Theoretical perspectives on communalism and communal violence in India, deals with the different theoretical interpretations on communalism and communal violence in India. Initially she explains the concept of communalism and provides a number of definitions. The author then approaches the problem from a historical perspective. Moreover, the paper unearths the sociological, anthropological, and psychological dimensions of communalism. The paper also explains the nature and causes of communal violence with special focus on the situation in India. According to the author the problem of communal violence seems an aggressive articulation of the differences between the two major communities – Hindus and Muslims – or an expression of the inability to live together, and this in turn serves a device for the short-term political gains on the part of the communal politicians of both the communities. The paper also deals with the theories of communal violence like Social Barriers Theory and the Theory of Polarization and Cluster Effect. In the end of the paper, the author emphasizes the need for using various measures to check communal violence.

Biju Vincent, through his paper, Consumer Society and Communal Harmony – A Materialistic View, attempts to explain the dynamics of religion in consumer society. The author holds the view that growth of materialism diminishes the influence of spiritualism that binds a group or community together. According to him people in the modern consumer society undergo a process of homogenization, so that they develop similar ideals, beliefs, practices and interests. He also refers to the understanding and concern among the agrarian, industrial and postmodern societies, in order to substantiate how homogeneity developed in the postmodern consumer eva. The author supports the view of Baudrillard that people are brought together on the basis of what objects they consume. Then religion becomes not very important to any group. In a consumer society nobody is interested in others’ matters including religion. The paper concludes by saying that state can ensure religious harmony by promoting free economy that will assist in creating modern consumer society.

Sajeena Beevi. N, in her paper Hindu-Muslim Communal Violence in India: Genesis and Historical Roots examines the historical context in which communalism emerged in India. With historical evidence she argues that Hindu – Muslim conflicts are essentially modern phenomena and communal riots were rare till the end of 19th century. According to the author, the British policy of divide and rule resulted in fostering communal clashes deliberately for keeping intact their hegemony. Moreover, the leaders of the Indian National Congress were not successful to promote Hindu – Muslim cooperation in fighting imperialism. The weakness of the Indian National Congress contributed to the emergence of Muslim League as a strong political party and claimed the right to speak for all Muslims. After giving a vivid picture of communal riots from 1947 to 2002 the author suggests prescriptive measures to meet communalism. In conclusion, she rightly says that multi-pronged measures are needed to contain the communal tensions and to bring about communal harmony in the country

The paper by Kavitha.V on Communal Violence and the Role of Print Media attempts to examine the emotional feeling of a reporter who covers a communal conflict influences his reporting. She also analyses how far the reporters enjoy freedom of expression while reporting communal issues. The author strongly advocates for certain restrictions in this regard as it can help to contain the communal eruptions. However, she notices that often local newspapers publish sensational stories on communal conflicts in order to optimise the sale of their papers. This article also raises the issue of biased reporting by newspapers to safeguard the interests of certain vested interests. In the concluding part, the author emphasizes that the print media must be vigilant to keep themselves away from communal interests.

In his article on “Sarva Dharma Sambhav for Social Cohesion-Gandhian Perspective”, Ajith Venniyur analyses Gandhian thoughts on conflicts, violence and its solutions. He points out that Mahatma Gandhi challenged all those conditions which destroyed peace and harmony in social life. Gandhi wanted to establish peace between man and man, religion and religion, group and group and nation and nation. For Gandhiji there can be no peace without understanding and no understanding without peace’. Ajith Venniyur further explains the concept of Sarva Dharma Samabhav, and their process of integration viz, the integration of personality which reconciles the individual to his own native, integration with his fellow men and integration with god, the supreme spirit. He concludes that Gandhian way of living is the only solution for attaining peace and harmony in society.

The pith of the communal problem in India did not so much lie either in the fact of indigenous differences, or in the fact of various historical factors like immigration of Muslims or the policies of British colonialists. On the contrary, the crux of the problem lay in the way in which it was dealt by the various governments and political parties who were controlling them. “Communalism is an ideology and to some extent politics organized around that ideology” (Chandra, 1991). Therefore the solutions for mitigating the communal problems also must come primarily from the political parties.

The economic, psychological and socio-religious factors are the prime movers of communalism. It is on these three planes of human existence that we can truly discover means by which the evil side of communalism may be overcome and we may exist with less tension amongst the communities.

For defeating the vicious agenda of communalists the communal ideology has to be consciously combated. No automatic results follow in this field because of the indirect steps. For example, after 1947, many people had the belief that with economic development or spread of education, etc our country would get rid of communal ideology. However, the fact is that once communal ideology has emerged in a crystallized form, it is very necessary to wage a conscious anti-communal ideological struggle against it. It will not go on its own, whatever other steps might be taken.

The state comes in, in one respect, in this context, because it can either promote communal ideology or ideological struggle against it, or it can take a weak stand vis-à-vis communal ideology. In India communal riots emerged in an unprecedented manner in states like Gujarat where the state supported the communalists of one religious community against the other. At the same time in states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh etc the there are no large scale violence reported as respective state governments are vigilant.

To fight communalism there must be a mass movement and the intellectuals and all sections of the society must take part in this mass movement. However, today the communalists are more successful in their programmes. The need of the hour is to build up a mass movement of the order of the shilanyas organized by the Hindu communalists in 1992.

If communalism is an ideology; then education formal or informal or through the media acquires a crucial importance. Education alone can mould young minds to develop a secular attitude that can promote communal harmony and social integration.


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