Violence Conflict Prejudices

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Communalism and communal violence seems to have become endemic in our society. It is a structural problem quite integral to the processes and nature of social transformation. The transformation process changes the correlation of forces in the existing structure, disturbing its stability and brings about confrontation among the newly emerging correlation of forces. The sociological concepts are useful in exploring the relationship between structure and processes of society and its level of violence. The societal bonds which indicate the degree of social integration are also seen in shared values. The societal processes may be responsive to members if they allow discrepancies between the desires of members and the provisions of society to grow is a key factor in generating communalism and communal violence.

India experiences massive problems in the form of communalism and casteism. Conflict between minority and majority communities is getting aggravated. Our pluralist culture is facing constant threat and it is getting weakened. The present educational system also creates more prejudices than national and value -oriented critical thinking. The country has failed to solve economic problems and unemployment among educated youth is increasing day by day. This is one powerful source of many evils in our society like sectarianism and communal conflict.

The terms communal violence, communal conflict and communal prejudices are closely used while discussing the phenomenon of communalism. N.C. Saxena feels that prejudice, conflict and violence are interrelated, one leads to the other, these three sociological expressions of inter-community relations have autonomy of their own. While analyzing the dynamics of communal violence he pointed out that conflict is transformed into violence.

Pushpam. M, Lecturer, Department of Sociology, University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram

Communal tension arises as a result of the skillful manipulation of the religious sentiments and cultural ethos of a people by its elite which aim to realize its political, economic and cultural aspirations by identifying these aspirations as those of the entire community. Community consciousness eventually leading to communal conflicts in India has so far been explained either in terms of class-community continuum or of the inherent religiosity of the people in a traditional society, elite manipulation or the lack of it adding another dimension to such interpretative models.


Communalism is a modern term that describes a broad range of social movements and social theories which are in some way centered upon the community. Communalism can take the form of communal living or communal property, among others. Communalism is the interests of the community above the interests of the individual, but this is usually only done on the principle that the community exists for the benefit of the individuals who participate in it, so the best way to serve the interests of the individual is through the interests of the community.

Communalism is an ideology which states that society is divided into religious communities whose interests differ and are at times even opposed to each other. The antagonism practised by the people of one community against the people of other community and religion can be termed ‘communalism'. This antagonism goes to the extent of falsely accusing, harming and deliberately insulting a particular community and extends to looting, burning down the shops and even killing persons.

The degree of violence and the methods of executing violence also vary in communal riots Oommen.T.K (1989) has suggested different dimensions of communalism. They are:

  • Assimilationist communalism is one in which small religious groups are assimilated / integrated into a big religious group.
  • Welfares communalism aims at the welfare of a particular community.
  • Retreatist communalism is one in which a small religious community keeps its members from politics.
  • Retaliatory communalism attempts to harm, hurt, and injure the members of other religious communities.
  • Separatist communalism is one in which one religious community or a cultural group wants to maintain its cultural specificity and demands a separate territorial state within the country.
  • Secessionist communalism is one in which a religious community wants a separate political identity and demands an independent state.

Of these above types of communalism, the last three create more problems in our society.

Communal violence

Communal violence involves people belonging to two different religious communities mobilized against each other and carrying the feelings of hostility, emotional fury, exploitation and social neglect. The high degree of cohesion in one community against another is built around tension and polarization. It could thus be said that communal violence is based mainly on hatred, enemity and revenge.

The developments in communal disharmony were indicative of:

  • Communal violence could be erupted on silly and many a time on insignificant grounds.
  • Communal clashes could be between the members belonging to two religious communities, between two rival groups in the same religious community, between castes and sub-castes, between denominations of the same religion etc.
  • Organizations / associations formed on the basis of religious communities, castes, sub-castes, denominations, sects etc. could cause communal tensions and violence. Some of the organizations / associations encourage and even extend their whole-hearted support to fire-up communal tension.
  • Political parties openly or secretly supported communal violence. They justified the acts and at times condemned the religious bigotry.

Causes of communal violence

Various scholars have developed different perspectives to understand the causes of communal violence and suggested different measures to counter it. The Marxist school relates communalism to economic deprivation and to the class struggle between the haves and have-nots to secure a monopoly control of the market forces. Political scientists view it as a form of power struggle. Sociologists see it as a phenomenon of social tensions and relative deprivations.

Sarolia, Shankar, (1987) proposed a multiple-factor approach to analyze this situation in which the author gave importance to several factors together. Ten major factors identified are: social, religious, economic, political, legal, psychological, administrative, historical, local and international.

Social factors: - The social factors include social traditions, stereotype images of religious communities, caste and class ego or inequality and religious based social stratification

Religious factors: - The religious factors include decline in religious norms of tolerance and secular values, narrow and dogmatic religious beliefs, and use of religion for political gains and communal ideology of religious leaders. Restricting human relations on the basis of religious-human relations are established on the basis of castes and sub-castes. People having leadership qualities in a particular caste /sub-caste make attempts to organize themselves on the basis of the unifying force and thus people unite together and the unity formed becomes a source and force of communal tension and violence. The rising trend of communalism and the accompanying violence have created a feeling of insecurity among the religious minorities. Most communal clashes take place on the occasion of religious festivals.

Political factors: - Communal violence has increased quantitatively and qualitatively ever since politics came to be communalized. The political factors include religion-based politics; religion dominated political organizations, canvassing in elections based on religious considerations, political interference in religious affairs, instigation or support to agitation by politicians with vested interests, political justification of communal violence and failure of political leadership to certain religious feelings. It is time secular political leaders and political parties ignore political and electoral considerations and condemn and take action against some religious organizations which disrupt peace and stability through statements and threaten the unity and pluralistic identity of India.

Economic factors: -Besides political interests, economic interests too play a vigorous part in fomenting communal clashes. The economic factors include economic exploitation and discrimination of minority religious communities, their lop-sided economic development, inadequate opportunity in competitive market, non-expanding economy, displacement and non-absorption of workers of minority religious groups, and the influence of gulf money in provoking religious conflict.

Legal factors: - The legal factors include absence of common civil code, special provisions and concessions for some communities in the Constitution of India, special status of certain states, reservation policy and special laws for different communities.

Psychological factors: - The psychological factors include social prejudices, stereotyped attitudes, distrust, hostility and apathy against another community, rumour, fear psychosis and misinformation / misinterpretation / misrepresentation by mass media.

Administrative factors:-The administrative factors include lack of coordination between the police and other administrative units, ill- equipped and ill-trained police personnel, inept functioning of intelligence agencies, biased policemen, and police excesses and inaction.

Historical factors: - The historical factors include alien invasions, damage to religious institutions, proselytisation efforts, divide and rule policy of colonial rulers, partition trauma, past communal riots, old disputes on land, temples and mosques.

Local factors: - The local factors include religious processions, slogan raising, rumours, land disputes, local anti-social elements and group rivalries.

International factors: - The international factors include training and financial support from other countries, to domestic communal organizations in order to disunite and weaken India by generating communal violence.

Other causes of communal violence

There are some other causes for the deterioration of communal harmony and for the development of communal violence. They are:

1. Communal riots: - The number of riots taken place in the county is very large. Students, labourers, political adherents and many organized groups in society involve themselves into riotous activities. Some causes of communal violence are rumor and other trivial issues taking a communal turn, fomenting communal troubles by manipulating religious issues, etc. Sometimes provocation due to hurting of religious sentiments results in communal riots.

2. Hypo-critic secularism: - Some studies indicate that the children born and brought up in a particular religious culture become basically communal and peripherally secular in their behavior. Such children when they grow up become intolerant to other religions. The religious fanatics exploit this weakness of the masses and thus they cause communal disharmony and tension.

3. Constitutional guarantees and political patronage: - The Constitution of India allows people to form associations. This paved way for unifying people to promote communalism and inter religious hostilities. This was inevitable for some to continue as leaders in their community and to get acceptance among other communities. The people unite themselves on the basis of communalism or communal feelings and many political parties come forward to offer patronage.

4. Influence of mass media: - Nowadays any communal riot taking place anywhere in the country can reach anybody within no time owing to the influence of television and print media. As soon as the news is flashed people react to it by declaring bandhs / hartals / demonstrations / hooliganism / communal clashes etc. The result of such reaction is the spreading up of the communal riots. The role of mass media is undoubtedly an important one either in spreading or combating caste and communal violence. There is value deterioration in society and it has been caused by value conflicts created by mass media in the society. The press has now understood the evil effects and impacts of reporting communal riots so much so that there has emerged a consensus among the journalists not to give undue publicity to communal riots. It has in a way resulted in putting down the extent and intensity of communal violence.

5. Attitude of making small things into big communal issues: - A scrutiny of the causes of communal clashes shows that a matter which is insignificant and is usually ignored is made into a big communal issue.

6. Ritualistic strategies to transform communal attitude: - In the public sphere most people oppose communalism and at the same time many are communal in their own way. Everybody knows that communalism is a social cancer and it cannot be easily eradicated. Many leaders speak against communalism and that is one way of getting popularity and public support. Irrespective of such ritualistic and dishonest fight against communalism it continues to dominate the culture of the people.


The present study has made an effort to understand the causes of communal conflicts and riots as a number of factors in the local situation play an important role in fanning the fire of communal violence. Communal conflicts and violence have been one of the distressing and disgraceful features of Indian social life in the last fifty years. They have often arisen from trivial causes, but the damage to national well being and solidarity has been deep and far-reaching.

Communal conflicts not only create bitterness and a sense of insecurity but have far-reaching economic and political consequences as well. Communal violence is a part of the total violence in the society and therefore when we develop strategies to prevent violence as a whole in the society, communal violence will also come down. They retard economic development and divert inadequate national recourses to preventive or restorative measures when they are sorely needed for programmes of national reconstruction.

The violence in the country is getting aggravated everyday and sometimes it comes even in the form of terrorism and armed insurgency. This means that communal violence cannot be and should not be seen in isolation; rather it should be studied along with other types of violence. It is a culture within the society's culture of violence and any exhortations and insincere attempts to prevent communal violence without controlling or preventing the culture of violence, agitations, riots and clashes among the people will be an exercise in futility. The academicians, politicians, social reformers, religious leaders and administrators may think together to find out ways and means to prevent the communal violence.


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