Of late, communal violence in India has assumed alarming proportions. Hardly I a year passes without a communal incident in one part of the country or the other. It dislocates social and economic life. It leaves behind atrail of bitterness and terrible memories. It weakens the task of national consolidation. Unless systematic, vigorous and effective measures are initiated to contain the growing communalism, it does not appear probable that our society can usher in an era of enlightenment, social cohesion and economic well-being.
Growing feeling of communalism is a by-product of development of nationalism. The British were seen as outsiders, enemies of the nation. While mobilising the people to fight the British and to drive them out of the country, inspiration was drawn from j the acts of bravery of heroes like Sivaji and Rana Pratap, who in their own way, fought with the Mughals. The Mughals were then seen as representing the forces inimical to the nation. They were seen as desperadoes who inflicted humiliation on the native Hindus.
The memories of the destruction of Hindu shrines by Mehmood Ghazanavi and Md. Ghauri as well as imposition of Jizia by Aurangzeb on the Hindus were revived to put the Muslim community in the dock. Past was called in to aid chauvinists to fix the guilt on the contemporary Muslims for the supposed deeds of their ancestors. Thus were sown the seeds of Hindu militancy in the late 19th and the early 20th century.
Although the Hindus and the Muslims have co-existed in this sub-continent for more than a thousand years, the social interaction between them has not progressed beyond formal relationships in agriculture, trade and industry. Closer intimacies between-the people belonging to these communities are barred by a long tradition going back to the period of earliest contact between them. There are historical precedents of Mughals marrying Rajput princesses; such occurrence appears to have been a very limited exception to the rule and was more for diplomatic reasons rather than for bringing the two communities socially closer.
Inspite of the irreconcilable differences between the ways of life of the two communities, incidents of communal clashes between the two communities prior to the present century are hardly noticed. The layout of different localities and houses in traditional villages and townships prevented closer interaction between the two communities and there was tacit acceptance of the basic differences between their social mores which made for permanent non-interference in each others' affairs.
The beginning of communal strife can be traced in the crisis of identity faced by the two major communities in the wake of political dominance of the British and the increasing westernisation following industrialisation of Indian cities.
Worthlessness of the present and hopelessness of the future mingled with a nostalgia for the glorious past (of the golden Hindu age or the days of the Moghal empire) stir them to activity and rouse them sufficiently to perform the acts of heroism by way of stabbing or lynching hapless victims of the other community. Any opportunity that comes their way is readily seized by them. But for such opportunities, their valour might have gone unnoticed and their heroism unsung. They would not make any attempt whatsoever to throw water over the communal fire; they will rather pour oil of malicious slogans to stir up the flame.
Communal flare up has a few manifest causes and many underlying latent causes. Men's behaviour is the result not so much of conscious motives at play, but a very great deal of it is due to machinations of the unconscious. The same explanation applies to group behaviour or the behaviour of an incendiary crowd. Act of aggression or violence is the language of the unconscious. Unless unconscious motive is understood and explored, we cannot make head or tail of communal conflagration.
Communal hatred, of which violence is extreme manifestation, is rooted deep in the unconscious of the people of Indian sub-continent. That people are born unequal in different castes or religious denominations is almost an unshakable belief in the minds of the H'ndus. This belief has almost fatalistic overtones. It is a product of social determinism. The legislation on removal of untouchability, adult suffrage and reservations has made little impact on the illiterate and the uneducated. They know that to hear something is different from personally experiencing the same.
Whereas stratification in terms of Brahmin, Bania and Sudra are indicative of caste affiliation, the distinction between the Hindu and the Muslim indicates a supra-caste system, a more irreconcilable difference than is denoted by the different castes. There appears to be no meeting ground between them socially. The Hindus and the Muslims look at one another with a sense of mystery and at times with pathological suspicion as if they do not belong to the same species of Homosapiens, but to different species. There is a deadlock of communication between them. Industrial society has brought the.two together in factories, in trade, in office and in living quarters.
They have mostly formal relations among themselves. Intimacies leading to marriage ties are not "the done" thing; these are singular exceptions.
The prejudices contracted in the past have not lost any intensity with the'lapse of time. They have rather fed on fresh developments like the partition of the country, popular elections and cutthroat competition in the scarce job market.
It is a point for consideration whether persons with known criminal records perpetrate communal violence or the non-criminals join the fray under provocation. It has been the experience of the investigators of communal violence that the overwhelming majority participating in communal "violence is that of non-criminals. Crime is singularly secular in nature and flourishes with equal felicity among all religious denominations and communities. It is experienced that even mild mannered persons, who would not kill a fly, can be roused to communal frenzy under sufficient provocation.
This fact demonstrates how strong is the hold of symbols of religion - temples, mosques, scriptures, idols - on the psyche of the people. This hold is stronger than the hold of living fathers and mothers. If you ignore these symbols, you cut yourself from all bonds with the community. Once this happens, no matter what is your rank or status in the society, you cease to belong to the in-group of the society. You are as good as social outcast.
There appears to be a close relationship between industrialisation and communal violence in India. Insecure people, where insecurity is due to emotional, cultural or economic factors, tend to have predispo-sition to uninhibited communal frenzy and irrepressible inclination for violence and destruction. Factory workers are living a precarious existence in industrial cities. They no longer have the emotional sustenance and social security they used to get in their village homes by engaging themselves in traditional professions.
They are always apprehensive of being cheated by city dwellers - a Baniya or a trade union leader. The farther away they are from their moorings, from their ego-ideals, stronger attachment they feel towards them (resurgence of Hindutva sentiments in the American and the British Hindus is an apt illustration). They glorify everything that belongs to the past. The slightest disrespect shown to their religion or culture or language wounds their self-esteem. They are enraged. They want to wreak vengeance. This vengeance assumes the outburst of communal violence.
Driven to improvised labour colonies/slums by sheer economic compulsion, the wage earners coming from different villages, communities and religions have no strong social bond. They feel that they cannot relate to one another meaningfully. This inability makes them feel repressed and uncomfortable. The loss is felt all the more keenly as they have left out a much fuller social life back home. A communal conflict provides them with an opportunity to identify themselves with one of the contending parties. The membership of the Hindu or the Muslim community at such a time caters to their self-esteem. They distinguish themselves as an in-group of the communities by destroying their opponents, damaging their property and inflicting defeat on the enemy.
The problem of communalism at the present stage of societal development in India is almost intractable. This is as difficult as eradication of prejudices from the human mind. It is easier to part with money or comfort, but it is much more difficult to part with one's pet prejudices. These prejudices have resided in human mind for centuries; framework of years or even decades appears to be too short for ridding the human psyche of prejudices particularly those relating to colour, religion and language. But this realisation should not act as a deterrent in coming to grips with the problem and chalking out a purposeful plan of action to contain it and ultimately to solve the problem.
The task of curing India of communal virus is no less difficult than transforming her from a semi-feudal superstition-ridden society into a modern enlightened society. The hold of the past on our people has to be loosened by developing in them futuristic orientation. People of various communities and religious persuasions joined together in the common endeavour to overcome their present disabilities and to attain a prosperous future would have little time and inclination for petty squabbles and recriminations.
They will labour together in fields, factories and laboratories to increase the food production, consumer goods and sophisticated devices and gadgets to improve the quality of life. Economic linkages between people of different communities will provide an antidote to communal virus and heal the wounds of the past. The educational institutions, particularly the universities, can play a pivotal role in enhancing awareness about the anthropological and sociological findings that confirm the equality of races and communities.
While elimination of communal feelings requires multi-pronged strategy involving educational, social and political measures, prevention of communal conflagration requires alertness and immediate response from the law and order administration. The District Administration should regularly update itself about the various developments likely to cause communal ruckus.
It can initiate preventive detention of mischievous elements from the concerned communities and can thus reduce the chances of a communal conflagration. The local magistrates should keep themselves updated with the happenings in religious congregations and should be on the lookout for any serious portents of communal trouble. Timely information can ensure preparedness of the administration for unpleasant situations as it will not be caught napping.