This article deals with Communalism’ . This is part of our series on ‘Society’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here.


Communalism can be defined as allegiance to ones own  ethnic/religious group  rather than  to wider society . It is exclusive in outlook, a communalist considers his own religion to be superior to other religions.

Stages of Communalism

Communalism is manifested at three levels

Mild When people belonging to same community believe that they have same secular interest .
Moderate When people belonging to different communities believe that they have different secular interests .
Extreme When people believe that they not only have different interests but mutually antagonistic and hostile interests (i.e. one community can prosper only at the cost of other community).

Note : Communalism is an ideological tool often used by upper class to mobilise people to achieve their own political goals .

6 types of Communalism

Often there is perception in the society that communalism is threat to national security . But , it is not a threat to national security per se . It depends upon type of communalism we are looking at.

According to Sociologists, there are 6 types of Communalism .

Types of 
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Assimilationist When large religious community tries to bring into it’s fold small communities. 
Eg : Hindu organisation projecting Tribals as Hindus .
Welfarist When religious community makes effort for welfare of the members of that community .
Eg : Christian organisations doing welfare work for Christians .
Retreatist When the religious community forbid their members from participating in political affairs .
Eg : Bahi Community  .
Retaliatory When members of the religious communities are made to believe that their interests are mutually antagonist to interests of other religious communities .
Eg : Hindu-Muslim community .
Separatist When based on religious identities , people demand a separate state within the federal framework .
Eg : Punjabi Suba Movement by Punjabi Sikhs.
Secessionist When based on religious identities , people demand secession .
Eg : Khalistan Movement.

Last three are threat to national integration but first three aren’t . Hence, we cant say communalism is always threat to national integration.

Characteristics of Communalism

  • Communalism is an ideological concept. 
  • It is total commitment to a set of beliefs & unwillingness to accept other beliefs .
  • It mostly rests on prejudices . 
  • It close the self and is highly emotional .
  • It causes rivalry and violence among masses. 
  • It is used by the higher class people and elites as an instrument for division and exploitation.
  • It strikes at the roots of secularism and national integration.

Evolution of Communalism in India

The genesis of  communalism in India can be traced back to the British rule

  • With the emergence of secular education,  new educated middle class emerged . But the aspirations  of the middle class were not getting satisfied in the absence of adequate economic opportunities. Communal Politics emerged to get largest pie for their community .
  • In India, Socio-economic classes coincided with religious distinctions. Eg :
    1. Hindu Zamindars vs Muslim peasants in Bengal, Kerala etc .
    2. Hindu Banias vs Muslim (Jatt) Peasants in Punjab.
  • Divide and Rule Policy of Britishers : To counter the growing national movement .

However, the overthrow of colonial state was only the necessary condition to fight the menace of communalism but not sufficient condition . There were other forces at play too. Even in post-independence period , Government failed to control communalism. Even post-independence, communalism persisted and has been the biggest threat to the secular fabric of our nation . As a result, following communal violence outbreaks happened in India :-

  1. Anti-Sikh riots of 1984
  2. Mass killing and exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir Valley (1989)
  3. Riots after Babri Masjid demolition (1992)
  4. Godhra riots of 2002
  5. Assam violence between Bodos and Bengali speaking Muslims (2012)
  6. Muzzafarnagar riots (2013)
  7. Delhi riots (2020)

Causes of Communalism

Failing of Minorities to integrate in Mainstream

  • Muslims failed to intermix in the national mainstream and insist to sustain separate identity.

Vote Bank Politics

  • Various religion base parties use Communalism to consolidate their vote banks .

Communal way of History writing

  • British historians like James Mill described ancient period  as the Hindu period and  medieval period as the Muslim period .

Economic Causes

  • If certain religious community is economically weak , it leads to feeling of relative deprivation and leads to rise of communalism .

Absence of Uniform Civil Code

  • In absence of Uniform civil code, there is  perception that all communities have divergent and contradictory interests. 

Psychological factors

  • Hindu groups consider that the Muslims are crusaders , fundamentalists and unpatriotic.
  • On the other hand, the Muslims believe that they are  treated as inferior in India . 

Politics of Appeasement

  • Political parties try to appease communities for votes. Eg : Shah Bano Case . This promote Communalism .

Provocation of Enemy Countries

  • Eg : Pakistan foster Communal feelings especially in Kashmiri Muslim Youth .

Social factors

  •  Issues like beef consumption, Hindi/Urdu imposition, conversion efforts by groups etc., further created a wedge between the Hindus and Muslims.

Present issues related to Communalism

Love Jihad

  • Ultra Right Hindu outfits allege that organised conspiracy is going on under which Muslim males marry Hindu females with sole purpose to convert them into islam.
  • Although term ‘love jihad’ has no legal basis but states like UP, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh are planning to make law against ‘love jihad’.

Problems in State Machinery to fight Communalism

  • National human rights commission (NHRC)  fights for  communal violence related causes . But it’s recommendations are advisory in nature .
  • Various commissions have given suggestions to  solve the issue of communal violence. Prominent among them are SACHAR COMMITTEE  and RANGANATH MISHRA COMMISSION.
    • Sachar committee (2010) : Recommended to set up Equal opportunity commission (EOC) . 
    • Ranganath Misra Commission : Recommended reservation for minorities  .
  • There is not any special act to deal with communal violence and targeted violence. It was also held in Sajjan Kumar vs State (2018) .
  • Role of police in communal riots is highly controversial. This is further aggravated by large scale concentration of dominant caste in police .

Impact of Communalism

On Politics Organisation of political parties on communal basis .
– Voting in elections also happens on communal basis .
– Large scale riots  near elections to polarise votes .  
On Society It has created wide rift among the people .
Hampers unity of nation and creates various sub-national feelings  .
Curbing of Progressive voices . Eg Voices for abolition of Triple Talaq is being opposed .   
On Economy – Vandalisation of public property like burning of buses, trains etc.
Badly impacts the investors confidence .

Ways to eradicate Communalism

  1. Building solidarity and assimilation of various religious groups by fostering a secular culture eg. celebrating each other’s religious festivals.
  2. Swift and prompt response to radicalisation by a militant group on social media through police action and psychological counselling.
  3. Ensuring that political parties refrain from using religion in order to h votes through strict vigilance  by institutional mechanisms such as the Election Commission .
  4. Stern law should be framed by the Parliament against communal violence.
  5. CBI or a special investigative body should investigate communal riots within a stipulated time frame. Further, special courts should hear such cases for quick delivery of justice to victims.
  6. Pluralistic settlement where members of different communities live should be encouraged by removing existing barriers as religious segregation strengthens communal identities and reinforces negative stereotypes of other religious groups.
  7. Government should not ban minority practices in order to appease the majority group. E.g. the state should not show a preference for vegetarianism.
  8. Uniform Civil Code should be formulated and implemented with the consensus of all religious communities so that there is uniformity in personal laws.
  9. Equal Opportunities commission  should be formed .
  10. State should show zero Tolerance toward riots . 
  11. Promote Indian ideology of Vasudeva Kutumbakam i.e. whole world is a family .

Previous year UPSC questions on Communalism

  • Distinguish between religiousness/religiosity and communalism giving one example of how the former has got transformed into the latter in independent India.

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