Rise And Growth Of Communalism In India History Essay

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Introduction: Communalism is defined as a theory of a society that is divided into several small, independent communes and the state is just a confederation of these communes. It is sometimes said to put the interests of the community above the interests of the individual. 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.

However it has turned to take a negative meaning where people start promoting the interests of one community over another.

Communalism believes that the people of different religions have different interests in political and economic matters, regardless of whether they belong to the same nation or province.

It is divided into three stages:

First: People having similar religion are intended to have similar area of interests.

Second: No common area of interest among people of dissimilar religion.

Third: People having similar interest from different religions are incompatible to each other because of hatred and fear of religions.

In the Indian context it has gone on to mean divide on the basis of religion and ethnicity leading to communal violence instead of peace and brotherhood.

Growth of Communalism in India:

During the revolt of 1857, which is described as the first war for independence, Hindus and Muslims fought side by side united in their purpose of defeating a common enemy. The British noticed this unity and realized that their survival rested on being able to keep the people divided, for they had managed to establish their rule because politically India had been a divided country at the time of their entry. This realization led to the famous British ‘Divide and Rule’ policy.

Religion was supposed to be one of the best factors to divide the people. It is used as an influential mechanism to attain economic, political and other social activities. And British used religion as their weapon to divide the strength which India had as a whole.

 Till 1870 the British oppressed the Muslims greatly for they held them responsible for the revolt. After 1870 the British changed colors and instead started favoring the Muslim community. The rise of nationalism had threatened the British power in India and their efforts obviously were directed to suppress it. Now an important feature of the national movement was that it took longer to spread amongst the Muslim community. As a result the early nationalist’s movement was made up mainly of people from the Hindu, Parsi and Christian communities. The British noticed the absence of the Muslims in this movement, and quickly began working on ensuring that they did not join the movement. The British began implementing policies too that promoted the activities of communal forces, and divided the national struggle.

When the British opened up the administration of the country most positions were taken up the Hindus since the education culture had not spread to the Muslim Community making them feel left out and demand a special reservation.

Sir Sayyed Ahmed Khan, an earlier nationalist drifted towards Communalism.

Communalism was also fostered through the writing of the Indian History. Socio-religious reform movements like Arya Samaj, Sanatan Dharam movements, Aligarh movement, Wahabi movement and some other fringe movements contributed towards communalism.

Partition of Bengal:

The Partition of Bengal in 1905 was made on October 16 by then Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon. Partition was promoted on the grounds that Bengal was a very large state with a large population causing the eastern region to under-governed. However, the actual motives behind the partition were different. The position of the Bengali Hindus would be weakened, since Muslims would now dominate in the East which led to Hindu opposition to the partition while the Muslims highly favored it. This partition was one more part of ‘Divide and Rule’ policy.

As the partition was in favor of Muslims they welcomed it, whereas the Hindu’s were not in favor of it. Due to this Hindu community launched a Swadeshi Movement by boycotting the British goods. Seeing this scenario British decided to support the Hindus, this act disturbed the Muslims. It was medium to tell the Muslims to go to their homeland.

Formation of Muslim League:

The growing communalism led to the Muslims forming a new political party called the Muslim League in 1906. Initially it was only confined to the educated class of Muslims. At around the same time the Indian National Congress began garnering mass support from its members and also consisted of young Muslims.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah one of the major forces behind the creation of Pakistan was in fact a member of the Indian National Congress till 1920.

Khilafat Movement:

Khilafat Movement (1919-1924) was a significant Islamic movement in India during the British rule. The sultan of turkey also known as the caliph i.e. khalifa or successor of Prophet Muhammad was considered as the religious leader of the Muslims all over the world. This was first the religious political movement in India involving common Muslims. However, initially this movement was first targeted to the educated and elite Muslims only. The goals of the Khilafat Movement were:

Secure the Ottoman Caliphate

Turkey’s territory should be protected

And not letting the Muslim holy places go under the hands of Non-Muslims.

The Khilafat Movement received the support of Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru, who related his Non Cooperation Movement with it. As major Congress leaders had joined hands with this movement the other political parties came together to support the injustice faced by the Muslims. Following were some steps taken by the movement:

No involvement in the Victory celebrations

Boycotting of British commodities

Non-cooperation Movement with the Government.

The main leaders of the Khilafat Movement were Maulana Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali, famously known as the Ali brothers. They were among the leaders who used to protest from jail and their voices used to be heard through magazines and newspaper which awakened the Muslim community. The hub of this movement was Bombay, where they had their first conference wherein discussing the issues of the Movement.

Jinnah, Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha:

The mass popularity that the Indian National Congress was enjoying led to The Muslim League feeling increasingly sidelined. As a result the Muslim League won only 109 from 492 reserved Muslim seats and only 4.8 percent of the overall Muslim votes showing thereby the lack of famous assistance for the Muslim League even amongst the Muslim inhabitants.

In the elections of 1937 Muslims had a good response whereas its counterpart Hindus did not have encouraging response. For example, Hindu Mahasabha had acquired only 12 seats from 175 in Punjab. This resulted in union of the parties in order to ensure survival.

This got worse in 1938 when the congress prohibited communalists from functioning within the Congress organization. Thus the congress was criticized for preaching that Hindus were the only Nation living in India. This led to the Hindu fundamentalist’s version of ‘two nation theory’.

The ‘two nation theory’ included Hindu Maha Sabha wherein it states that the country belongs to only Hindus and the Muslims should find their own home or should remain obedient to Hindus. And other ‘the Muslim League’ wherein it states that Pakistan is the only option to protect the interest of Muslims as it has the maximum population of Muslims.

After the outbreak of World War – II, Viceroy Linlithgow constantly promoted the Muslim League and the Pakistan power was used to contradict the Congress command that the British should promise to liberate India after the war and as evidence of honesty, shift actual power of Government to Indians immediately. Before promising or coming to a concrete solution the British wanted an agreement between the Muslims League and the Congress organization which stated that no political settlement should be made which was offensive to the Muslims League. This agreement would give Jinnah a type of a ‘veto’ power which he would use in future.

Jinnah the main leader of Muslim League had a different outlook for religion and its practices. One of the major drawbacks of Jinnah was he only supported the elite Muslims whereas showing no anxiety to the low and backward Muslims. The Muslim League wanted to give all the privileges to the elite Muslims only, which was for the Muslims Landlords and Nawabs.

As the Muslims were not united during the pre partition days, the aim of the Muslim League was to provoke religious passions to dedicated path. As the low caste Muslims were not given importance in the Muslim League they decided their own pathway where they from sections like North West province and South where they supported Indian National Congress. Seeing this scenario the Muslim League used violent language.

Since 1870, elite Hindus like zamindars, money lenders and other leaders started an organization to provoke anti Muslims and simultaneously opposing India National Congress. Their sole purpose was to remove the Muslims from the country. For them Hindus were first Hindus and then Indians. This thought formed an organization known as Hindu Mahasabha and later was called Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Hindus Mahasabha created a false impression of patriotism by using slogans like ‘Bharat Mata’ i.e. Mother India and so on, which created an impression that they wanted a country without Muslims. As according to them Hindus and Muslims were a separate Nation.

Following are some common features of Hindu Communalism and Muslim Communalism

Was mainly for elite members like, Landlords and Kings

Was supported by British, basically was in favor of British and not against the British.

Both wanted a separate nation as a whole

Strongly opposed Indian National Congress

Hatred for each other

Politics was their backbone

Followed a hierarchy system

Were strongly against democratic ethics

By understanding the roots of communalism we must recognize that it is neither signifies religion nor patriotism as one but it signifies wellbeing. Then the religious communities are being divided into various sections like elite class low class and language it should be realized that no religious community is uniform as communalists. These particular fault lies in both Hindu and Muslims community. The Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha deliberately did not allow the low caste to participate which made linguistic culture lines which divided their religion on the basis on caste.

As a result there were three main aspects which lead to the partition of India which are:

British ‘Divide and Rule’ policy

Muslim Communalism i.e. the Muslim League representing elite Muslim leaders, zamindars and nawabs

Hindu Communalism i.e. Hindu Mahasabha or RSS representing Hindu leaders, Brahmins, money lenders


Most communal riots prior to 1947 were rooted in the policy of British colonial rulers. But after the partition, a section of the Indian elite of both sections are also blamed for the problem. Communal problems post independence has been caused many factors, some of which are:

The class division of society and the backwardness of our economy resulted in unequal and unbalanced economy.

It is the upper classes of the less developed communities that have enjoyed the fruits of limited growth and have hence enjoyed the political power.

In order to draw support from their own communities, these leaders have always encouraged communal feelings to strengthen their political support.

If we were to take a surface view of bare facts of any communal riot in India, it would appear that the riot was caused by an incident so insignificant that we would stand amazed at how such a trifling matter could cause so much Larson, loot and murder. It however does not require much thinking to know that this incident was not the real cause of the riot. The basic cause for all communal disturbances is the communal atmosphere pervading the country and the communal tension built up between two communities. The communal atmosphere provides a ready tilled soil for communal minded people to sow seeds of communal hatred and nurture them until the bitter harvest of communal riots are reaped.

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