Communalism is a phenomenon that arises from the interaction between religious or ethnic groups, where each group identifies primarily with its own religious or ethnic identity, leading to conflicts with other groups. In this sense, communalism can be seen as a form of identity-based politics. It is a complex social and political issue that has been experienced by many countries across the world, including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia, among others. It has been defined by scholars in different ways. One of the earliest definitions comes from the Indian sociologist B.R. Ambedkar, who described communalism as “the spirit of hostility between the different religious communities.” Another definition by the Indian political scientist Paul Brass defines it as “a situation where the primary and overarching identity of individuals and groups is defined by religion or religious affiliation, and where this religious identity is used to mobilize political support.”

Communalism is often associated with the idea of communal violence, where members of one community attack members of another community based on religious or ethnic differences. Communal violence can take various forms, including riots, massacres, and targeted attacks on individuals or groups. Communal violence can be triggered by a range of factors, including political tensions, economic competition, or historical grievances. In many cases, communal violence is instigated by political parties or leaders seeking to mobilize support among their own community. It has its roots in history, where religion and ethnicity have often played a significant role in shaping social and political identities. In India, for example, the caste system has been a key factor in defining social identities, with each caste often associated with a particular religion. The legacy of colonialism has also contributed to communalism, as colonial powers often sought to create divisions between different religious or ethnic groups to maintain their control.

Communalism in India

In India, communalism has been a persistent problem, with numerous incidents of communal violence over the years. The Partition of India in 1947, which led to the creation of Pakistan, was a traumatic event that resulted in the displacement of millions of people and the deaths of hundreds of thousands. The Partition was based on religious identity, with Muslims being allocated to Pakistan and Hindus to India. The process of Partition was marked by communal violence, with members of different communities attacking each other. Since then, communalism has continued to be a major issue in India. One of the most significant incidents of communal violence in recent times was the Gujarat riots of 2002, where members of the Hindu and Muslim communities engaged in violence that resulted in the deaths of over a thousand people, mostly Muslims. The riots were triggered by an incident in which a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was set on fire, killing 59 people. The incident was blamed on Muslim militants, and members of the Hindu community retaliated by attacking Muslims in various parts of the state.

Communalism in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, communalism has been a major issue for several decades, with the country experiencing a long-running civil war between the majority Sinhalese community and the Tamil minority. The conflict was fueled by ethnic and religious differences, with the Tamils being predominantly Hindu and the Sinhalese being predominantly Buddhist. The conflict resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of people and the displacement of hundreds of thousands.

Communalism in Pakistan

In Pakistan, communalism has also been a significant issue, with the country experiencing numerous incidents of sectarian violence over the years. The country has a large Shia minority, and members of the Shia community have often been targeted by Sunni militants. In recent years, there has also been a rise in violence against religious minorities such as Christians and Hindus.

One of the key challenges posed by communalism is how to balance the interests and identity of different groups within a society. In many cases, communalism has led to violence and instability, as different communities compete for resources, power, and influence. However, there are also many examples of societies that have managed to balance the interests and identity of different groups, and to build inclusive and pluralistic societies that celebrate diversity and promote social cohesion. To address communalism, policymakers and civil society organizations must work to promote greater social and economic equality, to combat corruption and political exclusion, and to promote intercommunal dialogue and understanding. This can involve a range of different strategies, from affirmative action programs and targeted development initiatives to cultural exchange programs and grassroots dialogue initiatives.

To sum up, communalism is a complicated, diverse phenomena that can manifest itself in a variety of ways. It is possible to combat communalism by a variety of policy and civil society actions, despite the fact that it can represent serious threats to social stability and cohesion. Ultimately, the solution to defeating communalism and establishing a more tranquil and wealthier world is to construct open and pluralistic societies that respect difference and advance social justice.