Kerala Communal Society

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Role of civil society in promoting communal harmony in Kerala

The problem

Kerala was a state, well known for communal harmony and peaceful co existence of different religions. Everywhere the Hindus, Muslims, and Christians have been leading harmonious life. But now, the dehumanized paradigm of human development and the ballot box politics have fragmented our society and disturbed its peace. The development model, caste based politics, rising unemployment among the educated youth, increasing poverty, population explosion, fundamentalism etc have created and intensified the frequency of the problem. Mankind demands the realization of diverse values to ensure their individual and collective well-being. It is also observed that certain communal forces in the society engage in exploitation, oppression, persecution, and other forms of deprivation resulting in disturbing communal harmony. In our society it is the responsibility of every individual to preserve harmony and protect the rights of the individual. It is high time to check mate the impact of identity politics and communalism in Kerala and the erosion of secular space by new forms of aggressive communalism. Civil societies have to join together to thwart the narrow-minded policies of the polity with an iron hand to create communal harmony. The multifarious activities can play a dominant role in influencing the civil society at all levels and creating increasing awareness for communal harmony to ensure sustaining peace in the state.

Kerala had given birth to strong civil society. To bring communal harmony to the society, it requires democratic ideology, welfare policies, and popular development activities to make people exercise their democratic rights. This is to make way for meaningful popular participation and vigilance against the abuse of power and to prove that it was worthwhile for people to promote their own future through collective effort and action based on common interests and ideas, instead of relying on communal loyalties.

BUSHRA BEEGOM.R.K, Research Scholar,Dept Of Sociology ,University Of Kerala,Thiruvananthapuram

Even though there are so many things needed for bringing communal harmony, we can see that some factors are inevitable with regard to this. It needed a wide spectrum of activities. We must recognize that the modus vivendi between the communities that we adopted at the time of partition of India has broken down and that new modus vivendi needs to be worked out. The civil society and the state can do wonders in the field. This network between the individual and the state holds great potential as a vehicle for a continuous flow of information between governors and the governed. This flow of information allows for greater local authority in managing civil affairs. Thus, the networks of democratic associations become the effective organizational mechanisms for local to global governance. There is need to reconceptualise and riposte existing institutions. Therefore, schools, media and other civil organizations reclaim their public voice and political and social legitimacy, a thriving civil society depends upon people's habits, customs, and ethics - attributes that can be shaped only indirectly through conscious political action and must otherwise be nourished through an increased awareness and respect for culture. In sum, cultural scholars suggest that society is evolving a new order of freedom and justice, indeed, a new order of community that enhances the life of individuals. Civil society grows out of a paradox of opposites - between what is private and what is public what is secular and what is sacred, what is voluntary and what is coercive, what is free and what is orderly. Historically democratic politics in India has been complemented by a strong and active civil society. A key characteristic of Kerala civil society is that it is heterogeneous and representative of multiple ideologies and perspectives

Objectives of the study

1. To identify the necessity and the role of civil society in bringing communal harmony in the society

2. To outline the need for a national campaign for reconciliation and harmony

Conceptual clarification

Communal harmony: “To develop harmonious relations between people based on respect of equal rights and self determination of people, fundamental freedom for all without any distinction of caste, class, religion, sex and region, for that all members of the society have to take joint and separate action in cooperation with the state for the achievement of these and related purposes”.

Civil society: - Civil society includes non governmental organizations, people's movements, citizens' groups, consumer associations, religious institutions, women's organizations, and indigenous people's associations. Civil society organizations may be grassroots organizations directly serving individuals of their community, or networks of grassroots organizations like federations. Civil society is the network of citizens and nongovernmental organizations that create a political community. This network lies between the individual citizen on the one hand, and the state on the other. The institutions of civil society are concerned with the expression and preservation of core community values and beliefs.

Minority community: Luis Wirth defined a minority group as "a group of people who, because of their physical or cultural characteristics, are singled out from the others in the society in which they live for differential and unequal treatment, and who therefore regard themselves as objects of collective discrimination” This definition includes both objective and subjective criteria: membership of a minority group is objectively ascribed by society, based on an individual's physical or behavioral characteristics; it is also subjectively applied by its members, who may use their status as the basis of group identity or solidarity . In any case, minority group status is categorical in nature: an individual who exhibits the physical or behavioral characteristics of a given minority group will be accorded the status of that group and be subject to the same treatment as other members of that group.


The study is primarily based on secondary data. By reviewing the literature, the researcher has prepared the paper on role of civil society in bringing communal harmony in Kerala.


Major strategies: There is a key role for a vigorous democratic civil society in empowering pluralism. Civil society organisations have the advantage of being flexible, creative and able to promote dialogue through their networks. The following component parts of civil society merit particular attention:

1. Community groups, and other NGOs, which can bridge cross-community divisions;

local authorities, which can be effective instruments in strengthening intra-communal harmony;

2. The media, in encouraging increased understanding of the realities and issues involved in constructive pluralism;

3. Professional associations, which can encourage communication and cooperation between different members of different cultures;

4. Businesses and trade unions, which can promote diversity in the workplace through inclusive working practices, diverse representation and culturally sensitive working arrangements;

5. Religious groups, which can encourage mutual respect and understanding if they emphasize the inclusive aspects of their respective traditions;

6. Academic community, through the encouragement of greater understanding of the nature of pluralism;

7. Multicultural publications and media, which provide for the positive self-expression of particular communities and combat divisions; and

8. Increased cultural diversity in the marketplace.

Each and every section of civil society has its own role to develop communal harmony in the state. The following methods can be adopted to reach this goal.

(1) Need for social reform

Civil society theorists maintain that the individual is a social being, not just a political being, or a citizen of the state. So, civil society can initiate the process of social reform or social renaissance in the state. What is needed is a national campaign for reconciliation and harmony. At the heart of reconciliation, effort must be taken for an inter religious dialogue between communities. All communities must be taught to regard each others' religion with respect. Groups of persons of goodwill, drawn from different communities can teach the noblest elements of each of the sacred texts. Fables and teachings from various religious sources must be made and used for the purpose of countering negative feelings and promoting positive ones. Regular arrangement for a continuing inter-religious dialogue must be established. Religious groups can encourage mutual respect and understanding if they emphasize the inclusive aspects of their respective traditions. For such renaissance the civil society should organize a mass movement which should be structured, and able to institutionalize the society. There is the need to reestablish and restructure movements in order to make them more people centered and relevant to the context. Religious institutions, NGOs, and other groups align with similar bodies of other faiths and ideologies can take up the mantle for mobilization and create awareness among people. This networking of movements of various groups need to be encouraged and facilitated and can bring communal harmony in the society. Community groups and other NGOs can bridge cross-community divisions; and can awaken the people. Like Spenserian theory describes the evolution of society through the heterogeneity, integration and transformation, various civil organizations in the society can bring forth new ideas to change and improve the institutions for the welfare of the communities.

(2)Moral persuasion of the individuals

The most important vehicle for social change is the moral persuasion of the individuals in the society. The civil society can create awareness about to learn, to accept and appreciate the differences in our culture. There are some basic values that are accepted by all communities. These include trust, honesty, integrity and justice, which are for the well being of every society. These ethical values are relevant despite changes in society. For that the civil society must ensure the proper socialization from the childhood itself. Each section of society must be taught the positive contributions of other ones. The positive assertive role of both majority and minority communities to lessen the fear, hatred and suspicion is essential to generate communal harmony.

(3)Role of academic community

For moulding such an awakened and harmonious society, the academic community, can play a role through the encouragement of greater understanding of the nature of pluralism. The academic community can give enough importance to renew the curriculum and syllabi of the text books from schools to higher studies. Education being a state subject, the content and structure must carry in accordance with the characteristics of the communities in the region. In order to strengthen the education system and for introducing the relevant and appropriate syllabus, the government, NGOs and community must actively participate. The civil society organizations can push the government to introduce peace education in the school curriculum. Life history of leaders, and renowned persons should be included in the school curriculum. The civil society should be aware of the need to introduce the peace and non violent education in the curriculum. Exaggerated stories of different rulers from different religions should be avoided.

Education has the capacity to lift our mind and it widens our perception of life. It can sensitize the country's young through the common cultural heritage. From the childhood one learns to become the citizen of the nation, and through socialization process child can be developed into a citizen absorbing habits, qualities, attitudes and so on. The instructional materials such as syllabi, text books etc should be periodically evaluated in order to incorporate the theme of national integration. It can act as a pro-active force to foster in students the capacity for critical thinking, nonviolent resolution of conflicts, responsible citizenship, inter-cultural understanding, etc. Here mothers, leaders of different religious groups and particularly the teachers can play an active role in developing the character and quality of love, peace etc. Therefore, selection of teachers is a vital area where the academic community should give due importance. Teachers who encourages communal activities should be dismissed from their job. Training programs can be organized for the teachers for the implementation of such curricula packages in the state. The political parties infusing hatred directly or through educational set up should be purged. As part of the political agenda some parties have been trying to revise the text books and the curriculum. It will create innumerable social networks where prejudices are nurtured and fascist solutions to the problems are legitimized and it will rule the roost. It can change and mould the mindset of children from a broader identity of national unity to the narrow mindedness of communal hatred.

Campuses in the state can organize apolitical and cultural activities. Campus always moulds a knowledge society. This knowledge society can guide the outside society. For that we must eradicate religious based politics from the campus. Caste based regional political parties are rapidly emerging at different regions of Kerala. All the tension around the campus is politically inspired. This type of resentment and tendency to behave in the communal way should be strictly scrutinized and plucked off in the bud stage, at any cost. Politics based purely on religion in the campus should be banned. Otherwise it would cripple the young minds of the state.

(4)Role of media

The media, which is a vital element of the civil society, can also play a crucial role in moulding the character of the individuals as it is the potent means of mass education and mass mobilization of people. Media can scrutinize the public affairs without fear or favour and must be accountable.. Media inducing communal tension should be strictly supervised by the state and at the same time media with the right attitude should be encouraged. Media can integrate our society economically, socially, and politically. It can motivate people to live in accordance with the demand of the social surroundings; it can propagate the need for living in harmony and peace through the presentation of various communities in a harmonious way. Programmes highlighting communal harmony are helpful to respect all religions and cultures. In the overall sphere of the activity of the nation the media can play a role in raising the awareness level and enable the masses to recognize individual's role in socio economic and political power structure of the country. Leaders of our freedom struggle used media to generate awareness and prepared people to fight for their rights. It can sensitize the people towards preserving the cultural heritage and the national identity. Hence the media can play an active role in cementing communal harmony.

(5)Strengthening composite culture

We could see that behind the entire dynamism and progress, there lies philosophical ideal of composite culture that again revolves around the integration of mankind. Our basic culture itself is a blend of tolerance and reasonableness, the acceptance of free thought in matters of truth, a strong will to live and let live. Hence we can proudly claim ourselves to be the part and parcel of the common culture whether we are Hindus, Muslims or Christians. All political, social, economic and cultural institutions contribute to the creation of this unique culture. Therefore efforts must be made to teach everybody to be proud of being the part of our composite culture.

(6)Need for a pluralistic approach

For that feeling we need a pluralistic approach. There is a long term debate between communitarian and liberal theories. Common values must be protected in order to ensure both the possibility of self fulfillment of individual members and the long term survival of the community. Civil society should uphold the cultural right of various communities. The significance of every community would be generated through the secular solution. The pluralistic solution deals with its own cultural and religious affairs. Government has the crucial role in the formulation and development of a multi cultural approach. Government can celebrate the festivals of different religions and should give equal importance to all faiths and can enable its citizens to bear worthily the responsibilities of democratic citizenship and counteract all the fissiparous tendencies which hinder the emergence of a broad social outlook. It can establish a national system of education and encourage the institutions to promote national integration and communal harmony. The world is becoming increasingly homogenous at the global level but more and more heterogeneous locally due to the force of globalization. The aim should be equality and inclusiveness, not uniformity. The recognition of differences can strengthen unity by allowing individuals to enjoy the security of particular identities within an accepted social and constitutional framework.

This has important implications for attempts to accommodate the complexities and to meet the challenges of pluralism. Government and civil society organizations together can reduce the impact of globalization and can bring new plans and policies to bring up the backward and downtrodden in the society. Globalization has had its ramifications in the socio economic conditions of the state. In recent times globalization of the economy pervades all walks of life. The net result of globalization such as poverty, unemployment, exploitation, growth of slums together forms the feeling of relative deprivation and it finally lead to communal tension in the state. So, effective steps should be taken to reduce the rate of unemployment and poverty in the state.

(7)Save minorities

The disadvantages and disempowerment experienced by the backward and downtrodden people in the country induce communal violence to some extent. Civil society organizations and social movements should include in their agenda the issues of communalism and violence. However, the civil society often falls into the trap of the majority the very power that it seeks to challenge, and always the views of are articulated through the civil society. As a result, marginalized groups are in struggle for recognition not only with the state but also in the civil society sphere. Further the language, narratives, vocabulary and symbols that civil society uses constitute an exclusive dominant discourse that prevents the marginalized from representing their perspectives in the struggles that are ostensibly in their name. The civil society can protect the minorities. The secular activists concerned with social justice have a responsibility to ensure it as a public discourse and to enhance the feeling of security among them. Civil society can emerge as a central player in bringing communal harmony in the society.

Another problem is that minorities in the state experience more relative deprivation. They are discriminated and excluded from the social and economic activities of the state. Their representation in major posts of public and private sector is very low. They suffer from widespread illiteracy, low income, irregular employment and a high incidence of poverty. As the relationship between socio economic deprivation and religious identity is complex, the civil society must address the socio economic deprivation faced by religious minorities that can reduce the communal tension to some extent, and the government has to take steps to corrective and welfare legislation. Cementing of trade union movement, special concession to the depressed classes in educational institutionsand creation of employment opportunities can go a long way in consolidating the social and economic status of different segments and thus the problem can be mitigated to a great extent. Therefore the government should find positive alternatives in economic issues. The process of recruiting young men for acts of terrorism begins with the offer of jobs, either abroad or close to home. Most of them never know the real reasons for the offer.

(8) Control of government over religious institutions

Some institutions in the state propagate and mobilize people communally. Religious symbols and idioms have been manipulated to promote narrow sectarian interests which create division in societies.. Religious groups with vested interests induce their own religious symbols and values which will act as catalysts for thinking in a sectarian way. Political parties in the state also influence religious institutions. In some places we find that these institutions promote violent attacks against groups on grounds of religion, deliberately indulge in malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings, promote enmity between different groups on grounds of religion. Thus money, power, and religion together play a crucial role in communal violence and ultimately create far reaching impact on the society. In our society there are no laws to control or supervise such institutions. Most of them have the money inflow from foreign countries. In order to make them transparent and accountable, there should be proper auditing of its financial matters and scruting of their activities. Here only the state and civil society organizations can undertake such intervention and can bring adequate measures to control their activities and curb communal violence. Here the civil society activists can organize a collective effort to boycott and eradicate such fanatic feelings.

(9)Social boycott

All communal problems tend to cease when we accord one another the dignity of a human being. In the nineteenth century, individualist anarchists experimented with various strategies that hinged on using psychological pressure to affect change. Thus social boycott practiced in those days aimed at eliminating destructive elements from organizations or from society itself. Social boycott is the shunning of a person by the group. Here the civil society can reject and refuse people to involve in the normal socio-political, economic relations that make the life palatable to the individual. It makes the individual so uncomfortable that he decides to leave the society. This strategy never involves the confiscation of property or the initiation of force. It has been used effectively by a wide variety of societies, most notably the Amish. Social boycott seem to provide a peaceful means by which people could address actions they considered as immoral as to be intolerable.

(10) Make people aware of the consequences

It is the responsibility of civil society organizations to make the people aware of the consequences of communal violence such as the death of innocent civilians and polarization of communities. They have to teach the need of respecting the rule of law in the state and expose the political parties which exploit the common man for his vote bank. Violent communal conflict slows down economic growth by destroying physical infrastructure, motivating talented individuals to migrate and deferring away foreign investors from investment. It will destroy lucrative tourism opportunities and eventually threaten the very existence of a civil society and democratic institutions. There must be greater awareness about the impact of communal conflicts on the development goals of India.

The following agenda should be included in the state programmes for bringing communal harmony in the society.

(1)Bring out a bill in consultation with relevant secular civil society groups and minority community leaders.

(2) Youth should be requested to be vigilant about contributing to development and social service organizations.

So it is high time to mobilize the like minded people and make them aware of the dangers of involving in communal violence and conflicts and the need to join hands for protestesting against such divisive and destructive forces.

Need of the hour

Since wars begin in the minds of man, the UNESCO preamble says: “It is in the minds of man the importance of peace must be constructed”. Apart from the socio economic and cultural factors, there is an unhealthy mingling of politics and religion. The minds of modern mass must be addressed constructively if we are to root out this menace. Among the suggestions that could be considered within the action plan is the formation of Rapid Response Teams that could be quickly deputed to trouble spots to nip communal conflagrations in the bud. Long term measures would include strengthening inter faith dialogue initiatives besides structured education and awareness programs targeting key groups such as police, social activists and religious leadership from all faiths. However, we can see that today's civil society is unable to address the problem of material deprivation of minorities that highlights the hegemonic tendencies within the civil society. In addressing the issues of cultural rights and for protecting the constitutional guarantees of the communities, civil society can play an indispensable role. Here civil society can effectively push the state to move beyond its limitations. Civil society, despite its limitations can articulate the needs and demands of the down trodden and negotiate with the state for attaining them.



The civil society can organize various groups in the society such as government officials, women, youth and leaders from different religions to work towards communal harmony in the state. Small but concrete steps are to be taken to organize and empower the weaker sections in the society. Much more needs to be done in order to restore the communal harmony and to build a shared humanity for all with special concern to the most distressed and dehumanized sections of society. It is our common cause and we need to work across the boundaries of caste, religion and cultures. Our goal is to ensure communal harmony and national integration in the country. The sentiments of mutual understanding, brotherhood, secularism and respect to each others religion, caste, language, region, etc may prove conducive to realize these goals. It is our moral responsibility of bringing harmony in the society. Punitive penalties to root out the problems such as communal riots, scientific education comparative study of religions, a strong political will and a dedicated government can bring communal harmony. However, we cannot leave these ideas to government alone. The political system and the civil society must come together and the combined effort of both can establish communal harmony and thereby we can attain national integration. In order to bring communal harmony in the state everybody should take part in all the activities and we should avoid becoming the part of the communal conflicts. Members of civil society can mobilize the resources and influence to help in diffusing the communal conflicts whenever they arise, and they should help in fostering the policies, that create communal harmony and national integration.


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4. Roy Indrajit. 2002. Community, Organization and Development, Economic and Political weekly, Vol xxxviii, No 35.

5. Wirth, L. 1945. The Problem of Minority Groups, in Ralph Linton (ed.), The Science of Man in the World Crisis. New York:Columbia University Press.