Communalism (South Asia)

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Communalism is used in South Asia to denote attempts to construct religious or ethnic identity, incite strife between people identified as different communities, and to stimulate communal violence between those groups.[1] It derives from history, differences in beliefs, and tensions between the communities.[2]

The term communalism was constructed by the British colonial authorities as it wrestled to manage violence between religious, ethnic and disparate groups in its colonies, particularly Africa and South Asia, in early 20th century.[3][4][5]

Communalism is not unique to South Asia. It is found in Africa,[6][7] the Americas,[8][9] Asia,[10][11] Europe[12] and Australia.[13]

Communalism is a significant social issue in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.[2]


Communalism is a term used in South Asia to represent ideologies centred on particular communities, especially religious communities. The term came into use in early 20th century during the British colonial rule, where the rulers saw India divided into several communities and attempted to placate separate "communal" interests. The Hindu Mahasabha and the All-India Muslim League represented such communal interests, whereas Indian National Congress represented an overarching "nationalist" vision.[14] In the run up to independence in 1947, communalism and nationalism came to be competing ideologies and led to the division of British India into the Republics of India and Pakistan. The bloody Partition violence gave a clear sense to every one what communalism leads to, and it has since been frowned upon in India.

Communal conflicts between religious communities, especially Hindus and Muslims, have been a recurring occurrence in independent India, occasionally leading to serious inter-communal violence.

Incidents of communal violence[edit]

Examples of communalist violence, with strong motivations based on religious identity include:

Incidents of "communal violence" cannot clearly be separated by incidents of terrorism. "Communal violence" tends to refer to mob killings, while terrorism describes concerted attacks by small groups of militants (see definition of terrorism). See also Terrorism in India#Chronology of major incidents.


  • Its roots lie in the British colonial policy of taking “communities” as the relevant units in recruitment or in the allotment of seats in representative assemblies. Originally, the term had no pejorative connotation, but Indian nationalists in the freedom movement objected to these “communal” policies which allegedly aimed at keeping the Indian population divided. Indeed, the biggest worry of the freedom movement was the “communalist” collaboration of the Muslim League with the colonial administration: in exchange for “communal” electorates and recruitment quota, the party claiming to represent the Indian Muslims agreed to stay aloof from the anti-British agitation. Today, “communalism” is one of those labels allotted exclusively to people who reject it; it is a term of abuse. Even people who advocate communal recruitment quota (a demand recently revived by an array of Muslim organizations) are now self-described “secularists” and signatories to every new “National Manifesto (...) Against Communalism. (...) Jamaat-i-Islami (whose Pakistani wing has campaigned for decades, and with success, for the desecularization of the state) attacks “communalism” in the name of “secularism”. I cannot recall a single issue of the Islamist papers Radiance and Muslim India which failed to brandish “secularism” and denounce “communalism”.

(...) which lists Muslim grievances (...). These include: being blamed by Congress minsters for starting riots, being insulted by the singing of the “idolatrous” anthem Vande Mataram”, “Hail Mother(land)”, the non-recognition of Urdu as all-Indian link language, Gandhi's talk against cow-slaughter, and (...) Though the Muslim League was the very incarnation of communalism (foisting communal electorates, communal weightage in representation and communal job quota on India, its attacks on Congress, Mahatma Gandhi and even Jawaharlal Nehru were remarkably similar to the post-independence “secularist” critique of “Hindu communalism”. (Elst 2001, Decolonizing the Hindu Mind, p. 15-20)

See also[edit]


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  1. Donald Horowitz (1985), Ethnic Groups in Conflict, ISBN 978-0520053854
  2. 2.0 2.1 Pandey, Gyanendra (2006). The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India. Oxford India.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Gerry van Klinken, Communal Violence and Democratization in Indonesia - Small Town Wars [archive], ISBN 978-0-415-41713-6, Routledge
  4. Arafaat A. Valiani, Militant Publics in India: Physical Culture and Violence in the Making of a Modern Polity, ISBN 978-0230112575, Palgrave Macmillan, pp 29-32
  5. David Killingray, Colonial Warfare in West Africa, in Imperialism and War: Essays on Colonial Wars in Asia and Africa (Edited by Jaap A. de Moor, H. L. Wesseling), ISBN 978-9004088344, Brill Academic
  6. Kynoch, G. (2013). Reassessing transition violence: Voices from South Africa's township wars, 1990–4. African Affairs, 112(447), 283-303
  7. John F. McCauley, Economic Development Strategies and Communal Violence in Africa, Comparative Political Studies February 2013 vol. 46 no. 2 182-211
  8. Willis, G. D. (2014), Antagonistic authorities and the civil police in Sao Paulo Brazil, Latin American Research Review, 49(1), 3-22
  9. Resource guide for municipalities [archive] UNODC
  10. Mancini, L. (2005) Horizontal Inequality and Communal Violence: Evidence from Indonesian Districts (CRISE Working Paper No. 22, Oxford, Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford)
  11. Werbner, P. (2010), Religious identity, The Sage handbook of identities, ISBN 978-1412934114, Chapter 12
  12. Todorova, T. (2013), ‘Giving Memory a Future’: Confronting the Legacy of Mass Rape in Post-conflict Bosnia-Herzegovina, Journal of International Women's Studies, 12(2), 3-15
  13. Bell, P., & Congram, M. (2013), Communication Interception Technology (CIT) and Its Use in the Fight against Transnational Organised Crime (TOC) in Australia: A Review of the Literature, International Journal of Social Science Research, 2(1), 46-66
  14. Akbar, M. J. (1989). Nehru, The Making of India. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 9780140100839.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "The Hindu genocide that Hindus and the world forgot" [archive]. India Tribune. Archived from the original [archive] on 9 November 2013. Retrieved 7 June 2013. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Marad report slams Muslim League [archive] Indian Express, Sep 27 2006

External links[edit]