Historically India has been a country of different cultures and religions which could co-exist peacefully for centuries. With the arrival of the Europeans, the two chief religions in India were Islam and Hinduism, with Hinduism being the majority. This feature did not create problems between the two religions as in olden there would be kings from a religious minority ruling over the majority community. Thus the question of this country splitting into the republic of India and the Islamic republic of Pakistan arises. In order to answer this question one must understand what communalism actually is and what lead to the rise and growth during the British rule.
What is communalism?
Communalism is an ideology with 3 stages
Stage 1:- Beliefs that people following the same religion have familiar or common interest like political, cultural, social and economical interests. This comes down to the fact that India can act socially and politically as well as protect their communal interest only if they are members of these religion-based communities.
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Stage 2(liberal communalism):- As India is a multi-religious society, the political, economical, social and cultural interests of different religions are dissimilar.
Liberal or moderate communalist People are those who believe in communal policies but at the same time hold certain liberal, humanistic, nationalist and democratic values. They believe that the religious or communal differences could be accommodated, brought into accord and built India as a nation. Examples of a few liberal communalists are - The Muslim league, the Hindu Mahasabha, M.A Jinnah, Lajpat Rai, Ali brothers after 1925 and Madan Mohan Malaviya.
Stage 3(extreme communalism):- As there are communal or cultural differences, these "communities" are perceived to be unfriendly and unable to get along.
Extreme communalism is based on fear, hatred, violent language, language of war and hostility. This was the stage where the Hindu and Muslim cultures were in threat of repression. The rivalry between Hindu and Muslim became eternal when the communalist declared that the Hindus and Muslims should have a separate nation.
Before the British colonization, the Mughal period was a period where there were frequent wars between the Mughals and the British. This resulted in destruction of people, property and culture (destroying worship places). With the win of the British, the Muslim rulers amalgamated with the non-Muslims to fight for freedom. This shaped the politics of the Indian freedom struggle where people from different cultural backgrounds fought for a common goal. Therefore the preliminary period of British rule brought different people together.
Brief overview of the rise of communalism:
Modern politics played an important role in the rise of communalism
It was a product of the India's historical and social development
By-product of the colonial underdevelopment
Due to the economic stagnation
(In order to get jobs people used religious means.)
The absence of opening in commerce, education and industry.
Many authors stated that the major cause of communalism was religion. But what needs to be understood that it's not religion but the belief system. Belief system is what people follow and the ideology of a religion based socio political identity, which is communalism.
Religion was just a mobilizing factor. Diversification in the religious practices did lead to tension and riots. It was not religion but religiosity that played an important role in the rise and growth of communalism.
Following are the list of factors that lead to the rise and growth of communalism
Divide and rule
British were aware of the divisions in India based on religion, language and their several internal fights. Taking advantage of the situation they formulated the strategy of "divide and rule". It was during the British rule that triggered and ignited the evils of communalism. The influential support of the colonial state too developed the extent to divide the country. Communalism was a route through with colonialism could taper the social base of workers, peasants and middleclass.
Methods or ways adopted by the British to encourage communism:-
They continuously threatened the Hindus Muslims and Sikhs as separate communities.
Communalists were given special treatment by the British
Always on Time
Marked to Standard
By accepting communal demands
Education and profession
In order to build the base of British conquest in India, they had to eliminate the Muslim elites. In order to do so, they encouraged Hindu aristocracy: educating the Hindu upper class. This led to the refusal of Muslim elites towards English education. The (majority Hindu) merchant-money lenders became economically dominant because of the colonial policies. In several parts of the country there was an overlapping of the religious and social distinctions. Here most of the exploiting sections (landlords, merchants and moneylenders were the upper class Hindus and the exploited were the Muslims.
Modern education benefitted the Hindus to get them placed in the bureaucracy. Post 1857, the anti Muslim bias of the British proved to be advantageous for the Hindus who performed modern professions with enthusiasm.
It was during the debates on Minto-Morley and Montagu-Chelmsford reforms that the word communalism was used for the first time. The trend of communism is closely linked with the growth of nationalism in India. Several religious groups were formed around 1880s which started with the notion of modern nationhood. The British smartly turned multi religious India into communalism which led to narrowing nationalism at the level of religious communities. Although nationalism resulted in unification of several regions, it increased the gap between different religions. Communalism was designed by the British to create a cleft between the Hindus and Muslims. It was planned to disturb the growth of the congress which attempted to unite the two communities against the British rule.
Extremists, literature, The Hindu tinge
Most of the extremists emphasized on the Hindu religious elements and established in the nationalist thought and propaganda. They did not include the medieval period as an important part of the Indian culture. There were Hindu slogans, idioms or ideology attached to Indian nationalism.
Tilak used Ganesh pooja and Shivaji festival to publicize nationalism. Muslims were referred to as foreigners in many novels by writers like Bankim Chandra Chatterjea. Many plays poems and stories too linked nationalism with pure Hinduism.
The Hindu Tinge too contributed to failure of nationalism and cause of communalism as it made it difficult to win over Muslims. It encouraged the government and Muslim communalists to keep large sections away for the nationalist movement as it was implanted in their minds that the success of the movement will be tagged as "Hindu supremacy".
Spread of communal consciousness
Communalistic ideologies were taught in schools and colleges which contributed in the growth of communalism. Gandhi wrote" communal harmony cannot be permanently established in our country so long as highly distorted versions of history were being tough in schools and colleges through the history textbooks". Poetry, drama, historical novels, newspapers, magazines etc also contributed in spreading the communalism. Apart from this oral discussion through public platform, socialization, private discussions too played a significant role.
The 19th century marked an important start to this. A British historian, James Mill segregated the periods based on religion. He stated the period of Indian history to be the Hindu period and the medieval period as the Muslim period. In continuation with this, later the culture and society of diverse periods were asserted to be Hindu and Muslim in nature.
A view of the medieval rulers to be anti Hindu, and that they were forced to be converted was adopted. The medieval period was considered to be filled with Hindu-Muslim conflicts.
The table gives details about important riots that took place which supports the growth of communalism
Riots between 1800-1920
Azamgarh , bombay
Kartapur, Saharanpur, calcutta
Partition of Bengal
The congress was formulated to protect and provide support to various interest groups. To get everyone's support the congress endorsed the conception of territorial nationalism. Many Muslims believed that the congress that had majority Hindus were not promoting Muslim interests. This led to the application of a disconnected political organization of the Muslims by Gulam-us-Saqlain in 1903. He was dissatisfied by the competitive examinations to be given before joining the congress, as majority the Muslims were not well educated. It was taking advantage of this situation that Lord Curzon came up with the concept of partition of Bengal in 1905. This brutal act contributed in destroying the cultural integrity of the Hindu Muslim regions where they co-existed for several decades. The Hindus were against this, but as this act was beneficial to the Muslims, some of them took he governments side opposed the Hindu agitations.
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Sir Syed Ahmad Khan
Sir Syed Ahmad Khan played significant role in encouraging communalism, thus becoming a chief enemy of the Indian National Congress. He founded the Annual Muslim education conference in 1886. The aim of the conference was the ability to cover the upper India with Muslim societies and communities. Here elite and educated Muslims could come and work towards the betterment of the Muslim community
He also founded the Indian Patriotic Association in 1888.
The main purpose of the association was to counter the congress and their activities.
To inform everyone that all the Indian rulers and chiefs were against the aims and objectives of the National Congress.
To safeguard peace in the country and defend the British rule by trying to discard ill feelings generated by the congress against the British government.
He stated the Mohammedan Defense Association of upper India in 1893. This helped the British government to deal with the growing powers of the congress and also protected the Muslim rights with the assistance of the British. It was anti-congress, anti-Hindu whose ultimate aim was to destroy the congress and the national movement.
Formation of the Muslim league and its consequences
The partition of Bengal created agitation among the citizens of India (especially Hindus). This gave rise to the boycotting foreign goods and launched a Swadeshi movement. The agitation against the partition of Bengal took a communal turn. Along with the partition of Bengal the government targeted to introduce political reforms in order to signify different communities in democratic government.
As a result of which a 35 Muslim leaders who's head was Agha Khan appealed Lord Minto to commence an image for Muslims in the government. The Viceroy assured them to defend their interest. This encouraged the Muslims to shape a separate political association of their own which lead to the formation of the All India Muslim League at Dhaka On 30th December 1906. This was a communal political party as the members were only of one community. The course of this league was completely dissimilar to the Indian National Congress.
The Muslim league had the following objectives:-
To encourage reliability towards the British government among the Muslims of India.
To protect and progress with the political rights and interests of the Muslims.
To prevent Muslim hostility towards other communities.
The Muslim League encouraged the Hindus to have an organization of their own which led to Bengal Hindu Movement and Punjab Hindu Sabha unity. Similar to the Muslim League, these movements and Sabhas aimed at protecting the significance of the Hindu community. Also in reaction of the Muslim League, the Hindu Maha Sabha was formed with the contribution of leaders like Bipin Chadra Pal, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya and Lala Lajpart Rai.
The Muslim league and the Hindu Maha Sabha got popular and eventually became contradictory organizations. The British fueled this fissure which unfavorably influenced the congress unity.
Lord Minto and the Minto-Morley reform
Suppressing the demand for self rule was becoming difficult; therefore Lord Morley (liberal secretary of the state for India) and Lord Minto (Viceroy of India) introduced the Monte-Morley reforms in the 1909. The aim objective was to have a communal dissonance. Separate electorate was set up for Muslims to which gave rise to communal conflict. The following were the main features of the Act of 1909
The members of the legislative council was increased from 16 to 60 members (in number)
The legislative council members at the center and in the province were suppose to be of the following 4 categories
Governor general and members of the executive councils
Nominated official members (nominated by the governor general and government officials)
Nominated non-official members (nominated by governor general and not government officials)
Right of separate electorate was offered to the Muslims.
Elected members (elected by different categories of Indian people)
2 Indian were to be nominated to the post of the secretary of state for Indian affairs.
The governor general had the supremacy to nominate 1 Indian to the executive council.
The provincial legislative members were also increased. 50 members in the provinces of Bombay, madras and Bengal and the reaming provinces had 30 members.
The Minto-Morley reform influenced people rather than giving them power. The authority remained with the government, giving control to only one set of people. These reforms lead to the mutual aggression between the Indian community and the British government.
Hindu Mahasabha :- It was a solely Hindu organization which soon became an important political party. It was set-up in Lahore (1882). By 1960 was spread through Punjab. Its first session was set up in UP, it acquired string participation from the congress members until 1930. Post Khilafat movement, this Shabha provoked the Indian Muslims in several ways. It supported the anti Muslim movements like SHUDDHI and SANGATHAN, with the purpose of converting Muslims to Hinduism. The points stated to support this was
By converting the Muslims there would be saving of cows from slaughtering.
It was perceived that most Muslims were originally Hindus, and they were forced to convert themselves during the Muslim rule in India.
The Hindu Mahasabha had the following demands
Hindi language to be the main language or the national language of India.
Purify the Hindus by not letting them participate in Muslim festivals.
Promoted playing music outside the mosque during prayers.
Its main purpose was to train the Hindu for self-defense in order to force Muslims out of India and have a Hindu Raj
Hindu Mahasbha contributed in increasing the gap between the Hindus and Muslims.
Mahabhaba leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai and Malaviya dreamt of destroying the hindu muslim unity at the earliest. This dream was backed by the press :- Amrit Bazar Patrika, The Tribune and Paratap. The Muslims too, annoyed by this started Tabliqh and Tanzim movements. Having the Hindu zamindars support; the mahashaba became stronger in going up against the congress policy of unity.
Rise of Khilafat movement
The Khilafat movement took place in 1919-1924. It was an important Islamic movement in India which took place during the British rule. The main purpose of the movement was to unite the Indian Muslims to sustain the Turkish Empire attacked by the European supremacy. This All India Khilafat movement was launched by Mr. Abdul Bari. There were several committees and branches throughout the country to illustrate support.
During the same time the Rowlatt Bill was launched. This was passed during the First World War where the government had the power to any individual suspected to any act of violence or terrorism. It basically gave the British the authority to deal with revolutionary actions. Demonstrations against the bill provoked the country as a whole. The government maltreated the Indians in Punjab, Delhi and Bombay, this event lead to the unification of the League and the Congress. Under Gandhiji's leadership, they made a decision for non-cooperation and a non-violent movement.
Positive and negative impact of Khilafat movement
Re-affirmed the authenticity and reality that religion is a mobilizing force. Islam had the ability to mobilize and systematize masses.
Hindu Muslim unity was short term; it did not continue to stay alive.
It resulted in enduring of the Muslims.
This movement was initiated on the basis of extra territorialism. Later nothing major but only the Pan - Islamic sentiments sustained.
It reactivated organizations like Muslim League and other Muslim organization. These activities were resuming as a separate nation.
Negative impact of the Khilafat movement
There were a few reasons as to why the movement was not a success
The Moplah rising and the Chaura Chori incident.
Gandhi's involvement in the movement did have an adverse impact.
Hirjat movement too lead to the decline
A conflict in needs and demands.
Insisted on weight age for minorities
Demanded provincial self-sufficiency
Wanted a separate electorate for Muslims
He wanted the cabinet to comprise of Muslims
Wished for one third representation of Muslims in the central government.
preoccupied with communal issues
No weight age for minorities
Wanted a powerful central government
Wanted a joint electorate
He was in opposition to having Muslims in the cabinet
Did only desired for one third representation for Muslims in the central government
Obsessed with the rule of majority.
RSS K.B.Hedgewar and Golwalkar
The Rashtriya Swayamsevek Sangh was founded in 1925 by K.B.Hedgewar. This was a cultural and social organization, mainly to counter British colonialism in India. This became the leading Hindu nationalist organization as it intensively participated in social and political movement's embracing the freedom movement.
K.B.Hedgewar, the founder, was influenced by the social reformers like Swami Vivekanad , Aurobindo and Vinay Damodar Savarkar to found the RSS. He participated in innovative organizations like Anushilan Samiti and Jungantar in Bengal. They continued to be the member of the Hindu Mahasabha till 1921. He was imprisoned twice, in 1921 and 1930 by the British for agitation. This is when he inculcated the RSS to stay distant from the political activities like Salt Satyagraha in 1930 and maintained to be a social organization.
Golwalkar : the brain of RSS
Madhavrao Sadashivrao Golwalkar was the second RSS chief. Although he was not involved in founding the RSS, it was the mastermind of Golwalkarr that launch and established this organization in the Indian political scene. He was the longest serving chief of RSS. He played a major role in the success of the organization. When Hedgewar died there were about 50 shakhas and 1, 00,000 members but before Golwallar died the numbers had risen put to about 10,000 shakhas and over a million members.
Background and inception of RSS:- The major problems that the Hindus faced was suppression and oppression by the British in the earlier periods as well as in the present. Some significant blemishes in the Hindu temperament included provincialism and untouchability. Hedgewar decided to have a common platform for the Hindus to unite and infuse in them discipline and national spirit.
The RSS first met in 1925 in Nagpur. The aim of RSS was to be the Shakha (branch) in every village, where the members would perform drills, chants, slogans in the open. The RSS was preliminary followed by Bhaiyyaji Dani, Bhaurao Deoras, Vyankappa Patki and Balasaheb Deoras. RSS under the leadership of Hedgewar left the status of a junior member of the Hindu right. This organization was developed as a fighting machine where the RSS members got involved in in actual fights. Hedgewar tried making this as a disconnect identity for Hindu Mahasabha, as a result it turned into even more anti-socialist than the Mahasabha. RSS chose a non-confrontation approach towards the British.